Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Apple Fritters

One of the number one things that excites me about living in the US again is apple picking.  Granted, I have to wait about 6 months until that season is upon us.  I LOVE almost all things apple. When I came upon this apple fritter recipe on pioneer woman's blog (while searching for a dinner recipe)- I stopped in my tracks and began writing down the recipe.  Never again will I buy an apple fritter at Starbucks (never)!

Apple Fritters:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 whole milk (I used 1%)
2 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP melted butter
2 large apples (grated)

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk

1) In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

2) In small bowl, whisk eggs, add in milk, butter, and vanilla.  Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix to incorporate (use spatula or wooden spoon, batter is thick).

3) Toss grated apples into the batter.

4) Heat up pan with about 1/2 inch of oil over medium heat.  While oil is heating, mix together glaze (powdered sugar and salt in bowl, whisk in vanilla and milk) in a small bowl and set aside.  When oil is hot, drop scoops of batter in.  Let them cook about 1 minute, then flip and let them cook about 2 more minutes.  Don't make scoops too big, maybe like a doughnut hole sized scoop.  I used a small cookie scoop.

5) Let cool on a plate covered with a paper towel.

6)Dip in glaze.

No one can eat just one!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Disaster Strikes

On Friday, March 11, there was a major earthquake in northern Japan.  Exactly three weeks prior, my four children and I relocated back to the US.  Exactly two days prior, my husband did the same.  I have received a lot of calls and emails from family and friends, as well as my family receiving calls from their friends and coworkers too,  to ensure my family's safety.  First of all, I would like to thank everyone for thinking of me and caring enough to check.  I lived in the city of Kobe, which was over 600 miles from where the earthquake struck, so it was not affected.  I know a few of my husband's former coworkers saw projectors shake and some of my neighbor's children had to hide under their desks at school.

I remember when I first moved to Japan, my son hid between two buildings and my husband freaked out that if there were an earthquake, he could be sandwiched between the buildings- that's when I had to really become aware that the potential for that type of disaster was there every second of the day.  But, no matter how much you are aware, you can never truly be prepared for what this disaster can bring with it.  Sitting in my parent's house, watching the events unfold on the news, I realized I had no true sense of how bad it could really be.  I don't think anyone truly does until it happens to them.

I am very relieved to be safe at home, yet my heart is aching for the people of Japan and all my friends and neighbors I left behind.  Even though we were so far away from the devastated area, if nuclear problems amount to something, you just never know.  There are talks of rolling blackouts throughout major cities to redirect power to the north and hoarding at grocery stores and gas stations.  I have even heard of some countries that are trying to remove their citizens from Japan until the nuclear threat is under control.  I know my husband's company is doing a great job of keeping its employees and their families informed.   Even though I know if I were there, they are not allowing civilians to go up to the affected areas to help, it's hard to know I won't be there when that might be a possibility.  That country was my home for the past 4.5 years and I grew to have the highest regard for the Japanese people.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was going to post about ways to help Japan. I have come up with a few, most of them you probably already know, but in the case that I reach one person that didn't, I helped Japan a little more.

1) Donate money to the Red Cross.  I have been looking around online and honestly, am not a fan of donating to big organizations.  I always wonder is my money going to pay for administrative fees or will it help.  They actually have a blog, and I read about their initial response and then I read ALL of the comments to their post.  A lot of people are hesitant to donate because it is Japan relief and Pacific Tsunami fund.  Most of us are feeling like the Pacific Tsunami wasn't a big deal at all and all the money should be sent directly to Japan.  Only a small amount will be sent to the Pacific, and the Red Cross did send 10 million dollars upfront, not to mention, they have store houses of supplies around the world, which they are releasing a lot of these supplies to the people of Japan.  I think at this point, given the fact that we are so far away, and dealing with a different currency, this organization might be the best and easiest choice as far as an organization to donate to.  (I am looking for places in Japan that will accept foreign currency donations and I know are in direct need).

2) Donate to one of the organizations on this link, I read this article on CNN that warned of fake organizations, especially ones that show up as soon as a disaster has occurred, those people should certainly be ashamed of themselves.

3) Donate old clothes/shoes to Salvation Army. They might reach Japan.  They are currently NOT looking for direct clothes, food, water donations because the shipping cost to Japan is so high and in the affected areas, postal service is actually stopped.

4) If you have a friend, classmate, coworker or neighbor that is Japanese, has family in the affected areas, or is a former expat from Japan, do something nice for them.  Initiate a Random Act of Kindness.  In many cases, if a person is here away from their family in Japan, it is too expensive for them to go back right now, not safe for them to go back, or just plain not possible.  Imagine how it must feel to be here not knowing or feeling helpless.

5) Encourage your children to donate some money from their piggy banks, let them help you choose which organization to donate to.  Have a bake sale or car wash to raise money, teach your children about  giving.  I plan on making cupcakes with my kids and putting a pick with a Japanese flag on top and selling them at our local grocery store, after the baby of course.

6) If you know someone with family or friends in the affected areas, ask how they need help, maybe you can directly send them money.  I plan to ask a friend of mine whose husband's parents house was destroyed if I can send her money to help them and their neighbors fix up their house.

7) Make paper cranes.  I went to Nagasaki while living in Japan, and many of my visitors went to Hiroshima and there are millions of paper cranes hanging there.  There was a story about the 1000 paper cranes, when a girl was ill after the atomic bomb and the cranes are a symbol of peace.  I say make the cranes to symbolize a wish for peace for the Japanese people affected by this earthquake.  I have been in numerous places in Japan, when my children were handed paper cranes from Japanese school children, it is a small gesture to show we wish the best for you.  I looked online and found out there is even symbolism in the colors:  green is for healing, harmony, and finding balance; white is for hope, a fresh start, and innocence; and tea (light brown) represents remembering and fond memories.  Of course, you can make any color crane you want but these colors would represent wishes we have for the Japanese people now.  I plan on posting a tutorial when I get out of the hospital.  For now, here is a link to a video.

8) Be positive.  This week, I noticed on the news and then online forums, there are just rotten totally negative people out there who have nothing better to do with their time than criticize a country that has had a national disaster.  No one deserves to be in that situation, not to be punished for how they built something or what their ancestors did in wars past.  If someone is being rude, mainly it's to draw attention to themselves, walk away, change the channel, or just plain set them straight.

9) Accept things as they are.  It is frustrating to be far away and not be able to help.  Let this be a time for you to initiate some type of volunteer effort near your home where there is a need for your presence.  Also, accept the fact that every where in the world poses some type of threat from natural disaster and DO NOT criticize the Japanese people for living in the ring of fire or close the the sea.  I have lived in many places, each one posing their own potential threat (northeast US- hurricanes, southeast US- hurricanes, snow disaster due to ill preparedness, midwest US- tornadoes, in fact, I am currently building a house in tornado alley).  Japan- earthquakes, I didn't even have a disaster relief kit and didn't even have the emergency numbers posted in my house.  I didn't have an "it can't happen to me attitude", just a "it won't be that bad if it does happen".  People all over the world live near nuclear facilities and use their power, after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, people are still vacationing in Thailand and Indonesia, people still live in New Orleans after the hurricane disaster, and people are still living all around the bases of volcanoes world wide.  So, please, if you can do nothing else, do not criticize, but accept the fact that no matter what, we can not completely protect ourselves from natural disaster and that when disaster strikes, people need to be helped, not criticized.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to reveal a secret club my kids and I had started.  In light of recent events in Japan, I have decided to reveal what we've been doing- we've been acting as the Shioya Random Act of Kindness Club.  I feel like maybe this will be an inspiration to others to start doing the same thing.

The Shioya Random Act of Kindness Club was something I had on my mind for a very long time, but took forever to implement.  Basically, I just wrote a nice note, with a small gift and left it randomly at a neighbor's house.  This past Christmas, I was inspired by this blog of a photographer named Katherine Marie.  For Advent, she had her kids do a random act of kindness a day, something I plan to do next year. Then, in January, she implemented 52 weeks of Kindness and provided links to some more inspiration, this one I really liked, Secret Agent L.  I finally decided to start my own Random Acts of Kindness Club.  I feel like it is teaching my kids a valuable lesson about doing nice things for others when they least expect it.

Disappointed by the fact that he did not get a golden ipod for Christmas, my oldest son asked me if I thought Cupid would bring it for Valentine's Day or the Easter Bunny for Easter.  I began to realize the expectations he has grown to have for the holidays.  I wanted him to have a better sense of the feeling of giving and not just receiving and that a holiday wasn't necessary for giving.  I noticed myself that it is always around Christmas that we send packages to homeless families and give more money to Salvation Army.  The other time we really give is when a tragedy strikes, such as the recent earthquake in northern Japan.  Why do we wait until such times to give or let someone know that we care.  I wanted to let my children know the excitement that comes with truly surprising someone with a random gift or uplifiting someone when they least expect it and mostly that people need things at times other than just holidays.

Living far from home, it didn't take much to think of ideas for my neighbors.  Each one received a special note and gift- I found some inspiration for the notes from these sites, kindness quotes, friendship quotes, motherhood quotes, and smile quotes.

First, was the neighbor who was home alone with three kids while her husband was away on business:

Then, there was a neighbor whose husband was working very late A LOT and had a particularly bad morning with her kids:
A neighbor who is always so cheery, and had recently been feeling sick:
A few neighbors who had recently moved in:
A neighbor celebrating yet another birthday far from family:
A neighbor who had recently got some news about someone's health in her family, always hard to hear, especially when you are so far away:
There are the neighbors who have lived away from their home countries for so long, but still get pangs of homesickness and forget about the special treats stores sell around the holidays.  There are neighbors, who like myself, are getting ready to move and sad to say goodbye.  Neighbors whose kids are in college, neighbors who seem completely wonderful with no care in the world, neighbors who learned English in Japan, so they could communicate with us.  The bottom line is, there is always someone somewhere no matter what that can use a nice note and a good smile.

With the tragedy that is upon Japan right now, I am more encouraged than ever to keep delivering "random" notes and smiles to people.  While a holiday gives us a perfect reason and forces us to let people know we care, I challenge you to try it on a non-event day. Even if you can only do it once a year, once a month, or once a week, you can send a card, an email to someone you lost contact with, make a call, give a gift card to a completely random stranger.  You don't want to miss the chance to tell someone you care, that they are special, or that you love them.  Take the time to notice someone today.

In the past few days, many people have been asking me how to help the people in Japan that are suffering right now, and that is something I am trying to figure out.  I have a few ideas and will be posting more on that in the next few days (may be a slight delay due to the arrival of a new baby), but I can say they are more than deserving of whatever act of kindness we can send their way.  Stay tuned.

A favorite quote I've come across in doing this:

"Today, give a stranger one of your smiles.  It might be the only sunshine he sees all day."  ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

A few weeks ago when I had jet lag, I thought of some cupcakes that I wanted to make.  About two days later, my brother asked me to make some cupcakes for my sister-in-laws 30th birthday.  The timing couldn't have been better!

The idea started one morning when I was thinking of all the types of ice cream I wanted to make with my new ice cream maker, mint chocolate chip being one of them since it's my oldest son's favorite.  Then, I began thinking about mint chocolate cupcakes and since I recently made the chocolate chip cookie dough ones for my son's birthday, the ideas morphed into these cupcakes.  (which, by the way, were very very tasty!)

For the cake, I used the chocolate cake recipe I used when I made the Peanut butter dulce de leche cupcakes, it's from Martha Stewart Cupcakes.  For the filling, I tweaked the one from Annie's Eats for her chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes.  Finally, for the icing, I adapted the whipped icing from the triple layer cake I made from the Pastry Queen cookbook.

OVEN:  350'


3/8 cup cocoa powder
3/8 cup hot water
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
5/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter (3/4 cup)
1 1/8 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

In small bowl mix cocoa powder and hot water, set aside.  In saucepan, over medium low, melt butter and stir in sugar until combined.  Place butter/sugar mixture in the bowl of the mixer, with paddle attachment and beat until cooled.  Add in eggs, one at a time, scrape down sides of bowl.  Add in vanilla.  Slowly add in cocoa mixture.

In separate medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In alternate additions, add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and the sour cream.  Scrape down sides of bowl, mix until combined.

Pour batter into muffin cups- I made 24 mini cupcakes and about 9 large cupcakes.  For the minis, bake about 14-17 minutes and the large about 19-23 minutes ( when a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean).  Let cool completely on baking rack.


2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
3 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
3.5 oz sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup mint chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and brown sugar, add in sweetened condensed milk, mix.  Scrape down bowl, add in flour and vanilla, mix and scrape down bowl.  Fold in the chips.

To fill the cupcakes, I used the cone method, once they were cooled to room temp and added a scoop of filling into each.  The filling is very thick and I would not recommend using a pastry bag or similar tool to fill them, the cone method is definitely easiest.


2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp peppermint extract
5/8 cup confectioner's sugar

Beat the cream in a bowl for about 5-7 minutes until stiff peaks form, it will be like cool whip.  Add in confectioner's sugar and peppermint extract, beat until combined.  I added in a few drops of green food coloring for effect and I used our rotary cheese grater to add in some flakes of mint chocolate.  After icing, I used the rest of the flakes for garnish.

I think the light fluffiness of the icing offset the richness of the filling and cake and made me feel better about the amount of frosting on top of the cupcakes.

Note:  All of these recipes are half of the originals that I linked to.

I love having a big family because there are potentially lots of birthdays to bake for.  Happy 30th!

I linked this up to to Sweets for a Saturday #8 at Sweet as Sugar Cookies Blog.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Super Mario Brothers Birthday Party 2- Luigi

Luckily for me, another one of my sons wanted a Super Mario Brothers birthday party, and even more luckily, he likes Luigi better than Mario.  For his birthday, of course, I made him a shirt (fire Mario is lighting the 6 candles):
The back:

The party was the night before we were leaving Japan, so it was a quickie and wasn't as elaborate as it would have been if we were not moving the next day.  For the table, I used my giant roll of paper, and then I cut out printouts of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach and scattered them about.  It turns out, the kids had fun picking which ones they wanted to have near them while they ate their cake.  I found the images for the printouts by googling the character names and then I right clicked and saved them as clipart. I put them in a word document multiple times and made them each about 2 inches tall.

They made great cupcake picks too:
For napkins, I bought plain yellow ones (much cheaper than design ones) at Target and using my sharpie, drew question marks on them, like hint boxes:
I bought plain green plates and bowls too, since Luigi wears green.

I had my brother and his wife, who are much more artistic than me, draw a Luigi on a piece of cardboard and we cut out the face, so the kids could "pose" as Luigi:

And for the crazy part of the party, if you didn't know, Luigi is a plumber.  I cannot stand that my kids are always saying "poo" and "toilet", so I thought since Luigi is a plumber, I'd take the party to a different level than I normally would.  I decided to go for the plumber/toilet aspect of Luigi and for a game, we played pin the poo in the toilet:
Yes, unkachan is an actual cartoony character in Japan, so I googled unkachan and downloaded some pics, cut them out, and we were good to go.

I even found some unkachan lollipops at our grocery store for party favors (don't you just love Japan and it's kawaii factor?):
I wanted to do so much more, but there just wasn't time, if you want to have a plumber Super Mario party, I'm sure the possibilities are endless.  The game got lots of giggles and my kids didn't take it overboard, so I was happy.

For the cake for our family, I had strict instructions it had to be a Luigi face.  Using the images I found for the wooden dolls I painted the kids for Christmas, here's what I came up with:

The cake was a double layer chocolate chip cookie dough, turns out the icing for that cake is the perfect flesh tone (in case you ever need to make a face cake ;)  I made the whole amount listed on the link, it was enough to make 24 mini cupcakes (which I'd recommend with this recipe since they are rich) and 2 shallow 9" round cakes.  I smeared the dough filling in between the two round cakes and used cone filling method to fill the mini cupcakes.  Yum yum yum.

Here is a link to the other Super Mario party we had last summer.