Becoming Graceful


Japanese matcha with strawberry daifuku

This past January, I was given the opportunity to learn chado, or the Japanese way of tea.  I was excited to delve deeper into Japanese culture through this disciplined and intricate process. Little did I know how much I was biting off…

Chado is complex. Very complex!  There are over 16 different procedures. The major factor in determining the procedure is the season, winter or summer. This changes the layout of the room, what equipment is used and if you need to open/close the shoji screens. From there, it varies based on any number of reasons. If thick or thin matcha tea is being served. Whether there’s a table or not. What type of pot/kettle is used for the ceremony. And the list goes on and on.

Outside memorizing the actual procedures, the hardest aspect for me to grasp is being fluid and elegant in my hand movements. I think it’s safe to say that “graceful” is rarely a term used to describe me. I definitely could have benefited from some ballet classes in my younger years! But over the past few months, I have started to become slightly graceful. I no longer have “the claw” hand while its resting on my lap and I’m able to flick the “sexy wrist” elegantly as I’m cleaning the chawan, or tea bowl.

It’s only been 3 months of chado practice at this point. I’m a poor tea host as I can only serve thin matcha tea. But with time, I will expand and begin to learn more complex procedures. I just need to master the table procedure for thin tea that I will be performing (*gasp*) in front of Japanese nationals who will attend the open base event this late April.

It’s been challenging, overwhelming and incredibly complex (the thought of 16 procedures is still boggling my mind!) yet it has become my happy place.  I look forward to meeting each Wednesday morning to focus on being in the moment, sampling new Japanese sweets and achieving perfect foam on the tea.

Crostata alla Nutella (Italian Nutella Tart)


My friends and family know I have a slight major Nutella obsession!

It started young when our Italian neighbors in Dublin, Ohio let me enjoy my first taste of this chocolatey hazelnut goodness.  It quickly became one of my favorite treats. Years have passed since that day and I still love Nutella. I put it on anything and everything. I host an annual event in celebration of Nutella Day. Even the year I joined the Public Relations Bateman Competition in college, the product happened to be Nutella. It was obviously a product I could get behind!

Yummy nutella treat

Enjoying crostata alla Nutella in Italy (2006)

I always knew the French loved their Nutella on toast and in pastries. They do it well so I thought there was little competition. But when I first visited Italy, I realized that Nutella’s homeland took it to a whole other level. During our 2-week journey, we spent 3 nights in Alba, Italy. Yes, the home of the Nutella factory. The factory is very secretive so no tour (sad face) but walking the streets to the smell of chocolate-hazelnut was divine.

During this trip, my husband and I were museum-bashing Florence and needed a recharge so we ducked into a small café for a macchiato and treat. Little did I know I would come face-to-face with a dessert that I still dream about, the crostata alla nutella. A sweet shortbread-like dough with a thick Nutella layer. Utterly sinful and delicious! Served with a thick, strong macchiato and it’s a match made in heaven.

In an attempt to recreate this delicious food memory, I have scoured the internet translating Italian recipes, comparing Italian-American recipes and taste testing several versions (yes, it’s a hard job!). This recipe is a mix of all the research and the closest I’ve come to the “real thing”.

Crostata alla Nutella

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold and cut into cubes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups powdered (icing) sugar

4 egg yolks

¼ tsp vanilla extract

1 large jar (750 g) Nutella

Powdered (icing) sugar, for decoration


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius). Butter and flour tart pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine cold butter cut into cubes with a little over 2 cups of all-purpose flour until it resembles sand. You can use pastry blender or your hand.

Dump the butter and flour mixture onto a large working surface and make it into a mound. Add a little over 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar on top and make a well in the middle.

Into the well, add four egg yolks and a dash of vanilla. Slowly begin to incorporate the egg yolks and vanilla into the sugar, butter and flour mixture. This process will take awhile so be patient. Continue mixing and kneading until the mixture resembles firm cookie dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for two hours.

Flour your working surface and roll the dough into a circle large enough for your tart. You will want the dough to be thicker, approximately ¼- ½ inch thick.  Use extra dough to create decorative strips for the top.

After the dough is in the pan, use a fork to poke several small holes so it doesn’t bubble while baking. Take the jar of Nutella and dump the whole thing into the tart pan.  Note: I have used less and it’s fine. I actually prefer a higher pasta frolla-to-Nutella ratio.

Place tart in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes. The pasta frolla seems to brown too quickly so I usually lightly cover with foil for the first 30 minutes. Remove and let the dough get golden brown and the Nutella will turn a dark brown.

Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar prior to serving.

Note: Nutella can be swapped for marmalade. I used homemade mikan orange marmalade one time and everyone really enjoyed it.


Message in Youth Hostel in Florence. I totally agree!!

When life gives you bad beer, make cupcakes!


My hubby loves beer. Let me clarify, my hubby loves GOOD beer. The word good being the key and he’s very particular about it. Good equals flavorful, hoppy, non-fruity, microbrews, specialty beers, and the list goes on and on. You can imagine his delight when the base’s mini-mart received a shipment of American microbrews. He snatched up a few sampler cases to enjoy.

Overall, he was happy with the new brews and was enjoying them until the Kona Brewing Company’s sample pack. It included a Koko Brown Ale which was described as having a toasted coconut flavor. He thought he’d give it a try but immediately put it down. Too tropical for beer! He pondered keep them or just empty them.  I suggested making cupcakes with the beer.

I’ve played around with chocolate stout cupcakes before (think home-brewed chocolate-hazelnut stout with Nutella & cream cheese swirl icing) so I figured the recipe could be worked to enhance the coconut flavor. I did some adjustments and they turned out great. Hope you enjoy as well!

Chocolate Coconut Ale Cupcakes

Adapted from My Baking Addiction’s recipe (see notes below for link)

3/4 cups Koko Brown Ale (or similar flavored beer)

1/4 cup coffee

1 cup unsalted butter

3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

½ TBSP baking soda

¾ tsp salt

2 large eggs

½ TBSP coconut extract

2/3 cups sour cream

Cake Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. In saucepan, bring stout, coffee and butter to a simmer over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. In large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat eggs, coconut extract and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.

4. Add stout-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat until just combined, taking care the stout mixture is cool enough that it will not cook the eggs. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Divide batter equally among cupcake. Bake cupcakes for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin and cool completely.

Coconut Buttercream Icing

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

3 -4 cups powdered/icing sugar

1 tsp coconut extract

Heavy cream or milk, as needed

Coconut Buttercream Directions:

Beat butter until softened and fluffy. Add one cup of powdered sugar at a time until incorporated. If using a stand mixer, use a low speed to ensure that it doesn’t spray everywhere. After adding the third cup of powdered sugar, add the coconut extract and blend until smooth. Adjust consistency by adding more powdered sugar or heavy cream. Note: You can use coconut milk in place of heavy cream/milk to intensify the coconut flavor (for those coconut addicts out there!).

Toast sweetened coconut flakes over medium-high heat until they are fragrant and have a light brown coloring. Stirring frequently to keep from burning.  Cool to room temperature.

To assemble, ice cupcake and then roll in toasted coconut flakes. Enjoy immediately. The cupcakes are best the day they are made but will last 1-2 days in the fridge.

Makes approximately 24 cupcakes.

Note: Recipe inspiration from My Baking Addiction’s Chocolate Stout Cake. Recipe at:

Welcome to My Table


Hello my foodie friends!

I decided it was time to take the plunge and start my blog. I’m always asked if I have a blog to share my adventures in the kitchen and abroad.  To be honest, I was scared after my first blog attempt. I started it in 2010 when we first moved to Japan but I think I took on more than I could handle at that time. A new culture, house, way of life, food, language, etc…..the list went on and on. I needed some time to figure my way around my new “home” and of course, that started in the food department. Did you expect anything less from me??

Join me as I share my adventures around Asia and in the kitchen. I will also be sharing memories, travel recommendations and recipes that remind me of my time in Europe. In between, there will be a few kitchen disasters and fun. That’s a guarantee!