Hello friends! How were your Easter holidays? Whether you went adventuring to new frontiers or cozied up in familiar shores I hope it was wonderful, and everything you wanted it to be.
I did a little bit of both this past holiday break. Before the actually Holy Week commenced (which over here is Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday), Little C and I flew off to Tokyo to celebrate my best friend K’s daughter’s birthday. She was turning 7 and instead of a big party (which they had been planning) she asked K if she could take a trip with Little C instead. K asked me if I was up for it, and, since I am strongly of the camp that believes travel is much better than parties, I said yes!
The trip was special as it was my first (official) time to visit Japan (I technically have been before, but because it was a re-routing due to volcanic eruption I do not count it). And it was the first time for me and my little girl to travel together, just us.
Really, I cannot tell you which I enjoyed more: the magic of a new land (and one that I have already loved from afar…especially for the food) or the magic of being on an adventure with my daughter, just us.
There is so much I want to tell you about the trip. The excitement on our little girls faces at practically everything, but most especially at being together. The politeness of the Japanese people, and how I fell in love with them as we stood outside the elevator, each saying with our eyes “please, you first”. The way they always had a smile and a soft “kawaii!” for our children. The adorable little stores that seem to be just about everywhere. The toilets (I always travel, even to the mall, with a mini arsenal to disinfect public toilets…Japan was like my paradise)!!! The first blooms of the cherry blossoms and the communal excitement that goes with it. The food (and to think we didn’t really didn’t have any fixed food agenda since we were at the whim of the two little girls)! All the parks where you could sit and let your mind meander while the kids run around. Moomins! How my daughter seemed to have grown more independent in just five days of traveling. And she learned to use chopsticks, real grown-up chopsticks!
All this on an itinerary that was crafted mainly for children.
So, I have no fancy restaurant recommendations, or high-brow cultural must-sees for you. What I will share though, is what you can do in Tokyo if you are traveling with children. And believe me, I feel we just scratched the surface here.
Disneyland – the most obvious, of course. You don’t need me to tell you that there are not one, but two Disneyland parks in Tokyo. What I can tell you though is this: Disney is a lot easier at night. The day we arrived we got to the park at around 7PM and stayed until just before closing. The lines were much shorter. We were able to enjoy a number of attractions, some even twice (I don’t think I’ve recovered from the Teacups yet though!). And you get to see the light parade and fireworks. The next day we went in the morning. The lines were mind-numbingly long and the park much more crowded. For me, it was worth keeping the kids up a little late for the logistical ease of a less full park…and they were on holiday anyway!
Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo – This may have been Little C’s favorite! She even made some friends there! More activities than I thought there would be, and not too many people. It’s a little outside the city but worth the trip if you have Lego lovers in your family.
Kidzania Tokyo – Unfortunately our Kidzania Manila passports don’t work there but I won’t quibble small details. Seeing all the Japanese equivalent Kidzania establishments was so much fun. There’s a Shiseido salon inside! Our girls love Kidzania Manila…so this was a big hit with them. And can I just say the Zupervisors there are super (zuper!) nice and encouraging!
The parks – Tokyo has a good number of parks, and they are big and clean and perfect for children to play in. It’s a nice, peaceful, open space where they can run around while you rest your feet and relax. You can even pack a picnic lunch (not hard to do in Japan with they have brilliant takeaway food)! And if you go during cherry blossom season, well then you will have an awesome show care of Mother Nature. Especially great for city kids like mine.
Tokyo Zoo (Ueno Zoo) – It was closed when we went (sob! I was so ready to see pandas for the first time!) but I am sure it would be a great place to bring children. Despite the zoo being closed, the kids had fun playing in the tiny amusement park that is right at the entrance of the zoo. The zoo is part of a large park (Ueno park), which is equally nice to explore. Another great place to be during cherry blossom season
Kiddy Land – The ultimate shopping experience for kids (and kids at heart). Six floors of all manners of cuteness. We each took a basket (yes adults included!) and went to town! If you are not into shopping you can skip this…but I stand proud by my vices! How Marie Kondo and Kiddy Land can exist in the same country is a mystery I will never understand.
Eat, eat, eat! – Experience another food culture with your child! Encourage them to try new things by painting it as part of your big adventure. There are a plethora of gastronomic offerings in Japan and I am sure your child will find something he or she likes. Crunchy tempura (beloved by both our girls!) or chicken karaage (Japan’s answer to fried chicken). Hot ramen soup, all the excellent Japanese grills (I love the grills of Japanese cuisine…yakitori, yakiniku, you name it), or an excellent steak. And there is sushi of course, although my little girl has only ever done cooked sushi (for now!), she does love nori (and would nick some from our hotel breakfast). Your little ones may even surprise you with what they pop in their mouth and declare delicious!
But, just in case you are armchair traveling at the moment (as I am most of the time!), here’s a little something you can enjoy right at home!
(from Yummy Magazine, April 2014 issue, recipe by Aileen Anastacio)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter, cubed
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 (5-ounce) can condensed milk
- 3/4 cup + 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
– In a medium bowl thoroughly whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
– In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar on medium speed until pale yellow, about 3 to 5 minutes.
– Add the eggs and vanilla extract, then mix. Add the condensed milk, and then mix.
– Bring the mixer to low speed and add the flour in gradually, mixing until just combined. Do not over mix. Add the 3/4 cup grated cheese and stir through just until distributed evenly.
– Scoop batter into paper-lined muffin tins until the cups are 3/4 full. Top each cup of batter with 1-2 teaspoons grated cheese from the remaining 1/4 cup (you can add more cheese if you feel it isn’t enough).
– Bake in a pre-heated 350F oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
– Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack before serving (although I like them slightly warm).
Cheese cupcakes smacks of childhood for me. This was something I ate at children’s parties or school cafeterias. And even at their densest, been-out-on-the-store-shelf-too-long state, its familiar not-too-sweet bite always brought a smile to my face (and tummy…if tummies can have smiles, as I highly suspect mine does). When I saw this recipe by my Yummy co-columnist Aileen Anastacio I immediately filed it away to make. And, predictably, only got around to trying it out two years later. Sigh…better late than never!
The taste of nostalgia is strong in this one. It was still the fairly tight crumb, with bits of cheesy pockets, that I remember from my childhood…but not as dense or heavy. The next time I make this though I will really pile the cheese on atop the cupcakes…as I will almost always try to sneak in more cheese on anything. And I may just try a version with corn…corn and cheese cupcakes! Am I the only one that finds the idea captivating?
So…whether you are off exploring foreign lands, or baking in your kitchen back home, I hope I’ve been able to help, even just a little. If you like the Tokyo tips please let me know in the comments…maybe I’ll add more bits from future travels instead of blathering on about food all the time!