g0X0RAdmV5daaoB_FItIZcL_NbQ BakeFail

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

a bronze blog-iversary, the 5th year

It's that special time of year, y'all. August 5th, the Bakefails Blog-iversary. And this year, the bronze year, the 5th year, I have a very special surprise:

I'm discontinuing this blog and starting a new one from scratch.

I started this one so long ago, before I knew anything about blogging or baking, and I'd like to think I've learned a few things in the last four years. My personal mantras of "if no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would've painted the Sistine Floor," and "I have to run headfirst into the wall three times before I can find the door," are still very important to me and will be the guiding principles behind the new blog, just like this one. However, I feel like it's time to upgrade. I'm using a new website (in progress right now), and I'd like to be able to provide some of my own recipes and insight, instead of just "oops look how I've messed up someone else's recipe."

this time a year ago: my three-year blog-iversary
two years ago: last tid bits
three years ago: failed crostata
four years ago: first blog 

I'm currently going through the process of creating a better website and working through a few recipes, so I can hit the ground running. I'll save all of my posts here but I won't be posting here any longer once the new site's ready.

To be honest, I'm impressed with myself that the blog lasted so long, and that it actually managed to lead me to more opportunities. Bakefails has, ironically (but also predictably), been a success. I hope that new and improved Bakefails, whatever it may be called, takes me even farther than I've come in the last 4 years. 

Check in soon for more information about the new site. I hope to have it all set up before September...

Always yours, 

Nick P. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

this time a year ago

Just popping out of my summer shell to say hello before I get swept back up into the oppressive heat. 

It was this time a year ago that I boarded the plane in Atlanta for Tokyo. A year ago tomorrow, I landed in Tokyo and tried my hardest to stay awake until bed time. A year ago Monday, I started my first day of my first post-college job, dressed awkwardly in a suit that I thought looked good when I bought it but haven't worn since. A year ago Wednesday, I was welcomed by a wall of humidity, accompanied by my vice principal, at Takamatsu Airport. On August 5th, I met my base school for the first time. 

Last Thursday, I watched my school's soft tennis team at the prefectural tournament. I managed 8 hours with 5 layers of sunscreen and no sunburns (that is also a first in my lifetime.) 

And then I "helped" my friend pack up her apartment (I sat on her floor stuffing my face with Dominos pizza because she was already done packing.) And the next day, I carried boxes to the post office for my neighbor. 

I can't believe it's already come to this! The new ALTs are on their way to Tokyo now, then Kagawa on Wednesday, and we'll be together as one big Udon Family on August 8th, for the first time. 

Two years ago: oops, I conquered the world
Three years ago: history of croissants

Until last October, I felt like I would only do one year here. As of October 25, 2013, I knew I wanted to do at least two. I want to do everything a second time. I want to do everything better. 

And I never, ever, want to do another self-introduction again. (But I know I'll have to a few more times before I leave.) 

I don't remember what I expected a year ago before I arrived, but I know it wasn't anything like the reality. And I know I'll never be ready to leave, even years after I've moved away. 

I haven't blogged much lately because I didn't do much this month. I've been baking multiple times a week, trying to practice some poundcake recipes (vegan and gluten-free. The gluten-free is great...the vegan ones need some work.) I've noticed my rate of posting here has dropped severely this year. When I started this blog, I hoped it would last for decades and I could always go back to it to see where I came from. Now, I'm not so sure. I don't know where it will go yet, but I can say with certainty that it has done a lot for me. Keep your fingers crossed for BakeFails and whatever incarnation, evolution, form, it might take in the future!

See you again!

Nick P. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

tokyo weekend run-away

Well, that depends on who you are...but not likely.

Why did I run away, you ask? Because I love Tokyo. What did I do? I walked. I walked some more. I think I walked 500 miles. I got home a week ago and I can still feel it in my legs. I just wanted to see the city again. I did so many tourist-y things when I lived here, and could only think of so many that I would be interested in doing this weekend, and that I would have time to do. 

I still forget just how trendy...and crazy...Tokyo is. I was overwhelmed the moment I left the airport and I didn't really get a moment to rest the entire weekend. It was nice, though. A pleasant change of pace from my quiet city in the corner of the country. I was so worn out at the end and I think it'll be much longer until I visit again (except in December to go home, and I'll give myself at least a full day to chill in Tokyo before flying home.) 

On the one hand, it felt familiar and I knew my way around to places I could only remember by sight. On the other hand, I saw a lot of unfamiliar and new things. The coffeeshop in Harajuku under Rainbow Pancakes closed, for example. And it looked like they were renovating Kanda station, too. The bathrooms didn't smell like regret anymore. 

My favorite kind of smile, honestly.

Being in this city, and Hiroshima, and Osaka, and Los Angeles...well...not Los Angeles because sometimes people are lazy there...always reminds me that I'll never be able to dress as well as I want to...

And instills in me a nasty passion to earn enough money that I can afford $75 socks and pants that make me look like I crawled through the crust of the Earth. 

Friday evening I spent walking around Daikanyama, one of the fashion capitals of Tokyo, where my uncle has his store, Denham. I didn't go in. It's expensive and I've already been inside. I've walked that walk and cried those tears already. But around the corner was a coffeeshop I remember from that time I got terribly lost in this very neighborhood. It's called Mocha and it uses only beans from Yemen, the owner's home country. There was no espresso, and as I have discovered recently, drip coffee makes me feel funny (it's too strong and I crash sooner.) I think I need to stick with espresso from now on. 

That being said, the drip coffee was pretty frickin good. Yemen knows its coffee. You can also get pastries, such as orange cake. 

Saturday was dedicated to Shibuya and Harajuku. I got up at the buttcrack of dawn before anything in the city was open, and took a train to Shibuya. I strolled from Shibuya to Harajuku, passing through the fancy Aoyama neighborhood, and down Omotesando, the boulevard of broken haute couture dreams. It was supposed to rain all weekend but it was totally clear until Sunday morning. It was mostly a food weekend, even though my plans changed constantly based on my stomach's whims. And my stomach's whims gravitated often to coffee and pancakes. 

But first, the non-food. I visited Yoyogi Park, a famous park in Harajuku, that I thought I had never seen before but it looked strangely familiar...

And right across the street was a Jamaican festival, One Love. Granted, I have never been to Jamaica (I have been to Antigua, which is another island near-ish to Jamaica), and I know nothing about the country...but I'm pretty sure there was only a little bit of Jamaica at this festival, which was mostly served by Japanese food vendors and some Native American craft tents...

I was hoping I could, ironically, learn a little bit about Jamaica and its culture, but there wasn't a lot about that. It was still an interesting 5 minutes and if I hadn't just eaten, I would have gorged myself on jerk chicken. 

Even if it's something so small as a quick stroll through a park you've visited before, or a peek into a festival that wasn't quite what you expected, at least it feels satisfying, energizing, to know you accomplished something. I did some research on things to do while I was in Tokyo and both Yoyogi Park and the festival were on the list, and I felt such a rush when I crossed them off the list and added notes to the margins. Because I do that. Because I'm a dork. 

Three years ago: hygge bakery

From Yoyogi Park, it was time to get more food and more coffee. I had a list of coffeeshops to visit, but some time during this weekend, I heard of a famous and really popular coffeeshop that a horde of snobs critiqued on Foursquare. Naturally, I had to go. I walked through a part of Harajuku that I had never seen before, and just as my feet were about to melt into the pavement, I found it: Streamer Coffee. I felt like I was in Los Angeles again. They had a bigger menu than any other coffeeshop I've been to in Japan, with full espresso equipment..AND SOY MILK. 'Allelujah I am saved. (I am lactose-intolerant sometimes.) It's near an uber-posh school near Omotesando, in an uber-uber-posh neighborhood. The coffee was beautiful, the interior was beautiful, the soy milk was beautiful. The owner, Hiroshi Sawada, was the first Asian world champion of a free pour latte art competition in Seattle, earning the highest score in history at the competition. 

And I didn't even plan this in advance. Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest impression. I wanted to spend all evening here and come back the next day, but alas, the traveller must push on.

By this time, it wasn't as late as I had expected, so I decided to fit in another half day of exploring. I went to Aoyama Cemetery, supposedly another famous Tokyo site, and one I may have stumbled upon unknowingly when I lived here two years ago. It was a cemetery. It was pretty, and quiet, and peaceful, but not morbid at all. I like my cemeteries morbid, no disrespect to any of the residents of the cemeteries. From there I wandered all the way back to Shibuya to find a burger. A specific burger...

A W.P. Gold Burger, which, if you say it in Japanese, sounds conspicuously like...Whoopi Goldberg-er. Every burger on the menu was themed and named after a celebrity. I got a Kevin Bacon burger. Can you guess the theme? Bacon. I'll bet you couldn't guess that. That was a difficult question. 

I forgot that Japanese bacon isn't really bacon. It's just ham. I took it off and ate the rest and it was the weirdest, newest, and best sensation I had experienced that weekend. The burger was a little more like steak than ground beef, but heavily peppered and smoky, and massive. And yet the bar was like most other Japanese bars: small, funky, smoky like the beef, and crowded. I get goosepimples thinking of all the burger opportunities I'll have when I go home for Christmas (CookOut, please and thank you.) 

All of this and it wasn't even dinner time yet. But I was pooped in a major way, so I went back to the hostel, Khaosan Tokyo Ninja in Nihonbashi (10/10 would recommend), to rest and recharge...literally. My phone died on the way back. And then I went back out for dinner in Ebisu, a bar neighborhood near Daikanyama, where I was always too afraid to go bar-hopping in college. I only made it to two: a Thai restaurant and an Italian bar before I had to get back to the trains so I wouldn't miss the last one. 

Sunday was a little slower than Saturday. I wanted to make sure I could get to the airport on time and without too much trouble (I did), and I was pooped from the day before. I wandered all over Shinjuku waiting for things to open and looking for a coffeeshop I'd read about. I got to it an hour early so I turned around and went to Tully's instead. But a friend from my prefecture recommended another pancake place near the station so I found my way there for breakfast number 2. And lord was it worth the walking and the waiting in line. 

Slappy Cakes. Hands down the best pancakes I've had in Japan, even better than Rainbow Pancakes (my favorite Harajuku haunt.) Rainbow Pancakes is good, and the pancakes are thick and weird, but Slappy Cakes has a bigger menu, a bigger (and nicer) interior, and weirder flavor combinations. I'd had a BLT pancake at Rainbow Pancakes, and a lemon blueberry pancake at Slappy Cakes. The lemon blueberry pancake was the size of a big plate. It was big. I sat at the counter, so I didn't get a personal griddle, but the people at the tables did. Washed it down with a hibiscus lemonade, and passed the next hour wandering around the world's busiest train station trying to find the shopping area. 

From Shinjuku on to Tsukiji, home of the famous fish market. I got there late in the morning, so all the fish stuff was done for, but I was there for another coffeeshop...owned by the barista who opened Steamer. As I discovered when I wandered into Turret, his Tsukiji shop. This place was tiny. Smaller than any store I'd visited in Japan. Business probably isn't very good, but it was a cute shop, and the coffee's great, so I hope he's able to stay in business for a long time. It's rare to find places like his in Japan, where most places only serve drip coffee (and ironically don't carry soy milk.) He served me my iced vanilla soy latte (god I sound like a yuppie hipster...but I don't regret it) in a mason jar with a handle, and I sat on a tractor bed with some cushions. Can this man marry me? Can he turn my apartment into his very own coffeeshop? I wanted to buy a mason jar but he wasn't selling, and when it came time to pick out a souvenir from the other shop, I panicked and skittered out the door. 

It didn't occur to me just how exhausted I was until I got back to Takamatsu that night. Something about my city makes it feel wider than Tokyo. It's less crowded and less frenetic. I love Tokyo, but I'm not sure I could do another impromptu Tokyo Weekend Run-Away any time soon. I, and my wallet, need some time to breathe. 

O-tsukare-sama deshita,

Nick P. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

kobe weekend paradise

Hey yo. The travel bug has bitten me again, but this time I'm all burned out :/ I'm gonna need a long break before I travel again...

I ran off to Kobe this past weekend. Semi-spur-of-the-moment-but-actually-planned-in-advance. As soon as I got back from Tohoku last month, I was itching to run off again, so that week I booked a hostel and bus tickets for Kobe. 

I took a bus from the mall near my apartment on Friday evening and arrived at my hostel three hours later, in the Shinkaichi district of Kobe City. I wasn't rushed to eat dinner, clean my apartment, and make it to my bus, and I didn't leave my phone at school, unlike my last trip. The trip was off to a blissful start. (But spoiler alert: I dropped my lens cap near the port and watched it roll into the water like a sad puppy. I should probably buy a new one.)

I had looked up some things to do in Kobe on Google, and assumed I'd only manage a few things, but I ended up doing most of the well-known things, and more than once! I think I'm getting the hang of travelling, and it's only been 23 years...

Saturday morning, I woke up at the buttcrack of dawn because I went to bed early the night before, and I don't sleep in very often. Also, it's hot. I hate hot. I don't sleep well when it's hot. I strolled through Shinkaichi to Minatogawa, the next neighborhood over, waiting for stores to open, and discovered that there wasn't a lot to do or see on the way, but I did find a coffeeshop and that is always important. I ended up stopping for coffee three times on Saturday, and only regretting the second time. 

My first major stop was Harborland near Kobe Station. Kobe is surprisingly Western in appearance, because it was a major port of entrance for the west during the Meiji Restoration. In some places, it honestly didn't even feel like Japan. Harborland was vaguely one of those places, and it actually reminded me of downtown Durham in its architectural style. The buildings looked like the old train stations in Carrboro and the Lucky Strike factory in Durham. Nostalgia...

There were boat tours around the harbor but I never got around to taking one that weekend. It's still on my list, though, for another weekend. 

From Harborland, I went to Mosaic and Umie, an outdoor shopping district and a large indoor mall on the harbor. They were nice, but Mosaic was a little kitschy. But for anyone interested in Anpanman, definitely worth checking out, as there's an Anpanman museum and bakery in Mosaic. 

The next few hours were a blur of wandering along the streets following the train tracks, but fortunately, I happened upon a steak restaurant. The first, and most important, of Kobe's specialties is...Kobe beef. My friends recommended a popular restaurant that I never made it to, but I did shell out for a Kobe steak lunch set (¥3,000) somewhere in the Motomachi shopping district. I almost cried both when I tasted the steak, and when I saw the price of the most expensive set on the menu (¥7,000.) Only one of those was happy tears. Not even noon, and I've already accomplished my number one goal.

Two years ago: hiroshima and miyajima

Three years ago: pretzels 

More wandering, through Motomachi and Sannomiya, Chinatown (Nankinmachi, 南京町), more coffee and food, and then back to the hostel recommended by my Kagawa friends: Yume Nomad Hostel. Definitely a good recommendation. They have a cafe in the hostel and they roast their own beans, but I wasn't around during their opening hours so I have yet to try their coffee. Besides, I had already had far too much as it was. 

Sunday morning, I met a family who knows a family in my parents' neighborhood, and with whom I had been emailing for almost a year. They took me through the Old Foreign Residential District, which bore a striking resemblance to the Financial District of downtown Los Angeles. Nostalgia. I had been through this area on my bus from Osaka earlier in May, and the buildings caught my eye. In fact, it was seeing the buildings in this area that made me want to visit so soon. They were so unbelievably...western? I shouldn't be surprised because Japan has a lot of "Western" stuff, but Kobe was so unlike any other part of the country that I have ever visited. Even Tokyo is "Japanese." Kobe was very...American. I feel like I've said that about other parts of Japan, but I can't remember where. 

Kobe's a big port city, connecting Japan to other countries, the way Takamatsu connects Shikoku to the main island, Honshu (via...wait for it...Kobe!) The ferries from Honshu to Takamatsu leave from Kobe City, and stop at Shodoshima on the way. I desperately wanted to take a ferry either to or from Kobe this weekend, but the schedule is so inconvenient. But some other weekend in the future, I'll opt for a ferry one way, and a bus the other. 

Through the foreign district and onto Meriken Park. I assumed "Meriken" had something to do with "marine," as it is an outdoor park and museum at the ports. But apparently it's a mis-interpretation of "American." 

There was a flea market at the port, but I didn't see anything of interest. I would like to find some flea markets around Kagawa, though. 

We went up to Kobe Port Tower and surveyed our temporary kingdom, and then made our way to lunch. More Kobe beef, but this time, sukiyaki (すき焼き、a type of hot-pot with beef), something I hadn't had yet. Look at that, I'm doing travel-y things! 

The family was extraordinarily nice, and I would have loved to keep talking to them but I had to run off to see my study abroad friend in Kitano, another surprisingly-Western area. Kitano is known for the Herb Garden, Mount Rokko and the million-dollar view, and the ijinkan (異人館), the old Western houses. One of them was turned into a Starbucks, where we met. I only had about two hours in Kitano, but I could easily spend a day there, and I plan on doing so the next time I go. It was gorgeous, like being in San Francisco, or Atlanta, or any other pretty American city you can think of. 

And finally, before I found my bus in Kitano (at Shin-Kobe Station), I needed some souvenirs. The other two major specialties of Kobe are Kobe pudding, and black tea, so I bought royal milk tea cookies and Kobe pudding for myself, and a box of the tea cookies for my teachers. If you've never had royal milk tea (black tea with milk and sugar), you have to try it before you die, I guarantee. 

Kobe, I miss you already,

Nick P. 

P.S., Thank you so much to Halee and Carissa for showing me around the ijinkan, and to the Hoshijima family for taking me to lunch! I can't express enough how much I enjoyed it!


JR Shikoku bus: ¥3,700 one way (Takamatsu to Sannomiya/Shin-Kobe), and ¥6,400 round trip, cheaper for students

Jumbo Ferry: ¥1,940 one way (Takamatsu to Kobe, stopping at Shodoshima on the way), and ¥3,880 round trip

Yume Nomad Hostel: ¥2,600/night for the dormitory-style room (4 beds)

1-2-2, Shinkaichi, Hyogo-ku Kobe-shi, Hyogo, 652-0811, Japan
TEL: +81-78-576-1818
mail: info@yumenomad.com