Japan Travel Blog April 2015: Matsumoto Castle

If I could name one country that has mastered the art of combining breathtaking nature with history and technology, then Japan certainly has done it. They’ve done it with such a sense of zen and order that amazes me at every turn. It’s never a surprise to find that in the middle of a busy metropolis there will be a historical structure that stands proudly, asserting that it belongs to this present time as much as everything else while still maintaining that obvious contrast of being from another era.

It was another glorious springtime day in Japan when we paid a visit to Matsumoto City, in Nagano. Since it is surrounded by mountains Matsumoto is known as quite a scenic city, but we didn’t tour around the city proper. We jumped straight to the city’s main sightseeing stop– Matsumoto Castle (松本城).

Matsumoto-jo is a National Treasure and is said to be Japan’s oldest castle. It’s been standing for 400 years, and the efforts to preserve it as far as I can see have been nothing short of superb.
Let’s explore Matsumoto Castle! >>

Meet the Lemon Cookies of my dreams

I’m curious to know: how many people here actually like lemony baked goods? When I say that, I mean those that have the REAL lemon feels. As a huge lemon-pastry lover it’s important to me that when a certain pastry is heralded as “lemon”, the lemon flavour isn’t just an afterthought, or worse, merely for scenting up the pastry. Lord knows I’ve been disappointed by labels many times.

If you’re going to sell me a lemon pastry, make it something that actually has the zingy tang of a lemon, am I right? This is one of my pet peeves especially when it comes to lemon bars. Lemon bars HAVE to be tangy, otherwise what would be the point?

I must admit I find it frustrating that I’ve never encountered any store-bought lemon cookie that goes beyond being just sweet with a very mild lemon essence. Most cookies I’ve eaten just rely on the lemon scent to kind of flavour it. Are they afraid that people would shy away from a bit of sour citrusy tang? Then I guess these people have no business eating any lemon pastries… Luckily in my world, cookie problems are really easy to solve. You just get into the kitchen and experiment of course! And after trying out several different versions, I finally found the one recipe that I love.

These cookies aren’t shy about their identity. Lemon cookies through and through, they really mean business. And that’s why I adore them to bits.
Get the recipe! >>

It’s a Turkish Bread Baking Party! 

It’s no secret that I love bread, but admittedly, I love making bread a wee bit more than eating it. There’s so much magic in the way that powdery flour and yeast and eggs and water transforms into that beautifully golden on the outside, soft on the inside creation that we call bread. To me, there’s also something soothing in kneading the dough and forming it into the shape I desire. Which is why when I got an invitation to a bread-baking class sponsored by the Turkish Flour, Yeast, & Ingredients Promotion Group (TYFI) I was more than happy to say yes!

I mean we’re only going to learn about Turkish breads; and Turkey just happens to be one of my bucketlist countries to travel to. No big deal, right?

For this event I asked one of my BFFs Gilbert (his blog is called ItchyToesAdventures) to accompany me once again. I think at this point he qualifies as an honorary staff member of The Tummy Train already! We arrived a little early and so we got the chance to get our hands dirty ahead of everyone else. Guest Chef Emin Aydenir was already working on some dough and he invited us to help out. Apparently we had to pay for our bread today with some muscle.

We were worked like dogs. HAHA! Just kidding! 😛

Gilbert assisted the chef in coating the dough with sesame seeds, and though it may seem like he’s sweating from all the effort, the guy is just a natural sweat-fountain. He says it’s because he’s hot. (Okay…)

Writing this now and looking back at the baking class, I have to say I haven’t had this much fun in a while!

This event was held with the help of the Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association, Inc. (FCBAI), whose teaching kitchen is like a five-minute walk from my house. (I was so shocked to find out too haha!) So I took it as a sign that the fates were aligning in my favour, and I’d be foolish not to grab this chance to learn about Turkish bread since I know pretty much nothing about them.

In preparation for my travel to Turkey in the future? 😛
Let’s learn about Turkish bread! >>

My first visit to Kettle SM Aura

After sharing a recipe on homemade Oven-Fried Buttermilk Chicken, I thought now would be the perfect time to write about the meal I had in a restaurant that specializes on traditionally fried Buttermilk Chicken. Yup, I’m talking about the real fried kind, in hot oil and everything. And if you’ve been on the loop about popular restaurants in Metro Manila, then you’ve probably heard about Kettle. Or better yet, eaten there before I have, in which case, why don’t we compare notes? 😉

I feel like locally there’s been a lot of recognition for buttermilk chicken recently, because indeed buttermilk as a magic ingredient somehow provides an added tenderness (and consequently even more juiciness) to the chicken. In this case, I do totally understand all the hype.

Ironically it took us a while before we were able to try out any of the famous buttermilk chicken places, with Kettle being the first. Lately I haven’t been in the mood to chase after restaurants, which can be bad for a food blogger! 😛 Sadly I live in a city that’s a long drive from most of the good restaurants so I either settle for home-cooked meals or something close and familiar. (Makes it sound like I live in the middle of nowhere.)

But finally while we were out and about in SM Aura, the family decided to make our way to Kettle to get a taste of that famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken once and for all. Funny thing is it isn’t even my favourite dish from those we tried that day. Kettle has plenty of interesting dishes, and the chicken is just scratching the surface.
Continue reading about my Kettle experience! >>