Super Japan phone cam fun: Yamazaki distillery

It’s exactly a year since Chris and I were in Osaka visiting my brother, which seems like a good time to assail you with the last of our Japanese photos. Lucky you.

We stayed only five days in Japan (thanks, gainful employment!), so we spent the whole trip in a slightly hysterical jet-lagged state, plus we both picked up terrible colds on the aeroplane. When we got home, it was like we’d had a mutual Lemsip-induced fever dream*.

Chris’ big bucket-list item was to visit Yamazaki distillery, so on our final day we took a train to the town of Yamazaki. What a green and lovely place – those are rice fields in the foreground.

Yamazaki

We had to cross railway lines to get to the distillery. The group of mums-with-buggies in front of us just sauntered across, but I ran over that thing like my arse was on fire.

Distillery

Inside, it was whisky heaven for Chris and Graham. First, the tour group were gathered in the ‘whisky library’, where whiskies of all origins and ages are held for reference and comparison. Here’s Gra demonstrating the whisky library:

Whisky graham

Here’s Chris, inside the corridors of his own mind:

Chris yamazaki

After a tour of the (spotless!) factory floor, we were taken to the tasting room, where we realised we’d made a terrible mistake with our timing.

At 10.30am, I drank three single malt highballs (a popular way to drink whisky in Japan’s hot and humid climate. It’s atrocious.), while the boys and a couple of other Europeans in the group insisted on getting their whiskies neat. With only complimentary crackers and a piece of chocolate to steady us, we were then released back into the whisky library, where we could buy tiny drams of dozens of different whiskies to taste. Our most terrible purchase was a 100 yen dram of raw spirit; whisky before it’s been aged. It tasted like it could either kill you or make you immortal.

At barely noon, we staggered back to the station, sat on the train trying to stay awake, then somehow got back to Gra’s flat. All three of us slept on the floor for a few hours, then we had to get up and go to our airport hotel, the impossible Star Gate Kansai**.

So on our final night in Osaka, we sat whey-faced and snotty, hungover and delicate, at a fantastic table overlooking the sparkling city and the black Pacific. We ate fries with chopsticks and retired for the night before 9pm. Gra told me that he’d asked to book the table for a special going-away party – the staff must’ve thought we were the most lacklustre bunch of sadsacks they’d ever seen.

Gra gave us each a fantastic pair of wooden chopsticks from the distillery, carved from Yamazaki barrels, then he disappeared into the night. In the morning we woke up in our dizzyingly high room, then made our way to the airport using a mix of intuition, luck and nodding.

Star gate hotel osaka

It still feels like a fever dream, but luckily there’s hard evidence – check out Chris’ podcast from the Yamazaki distillery, in which you can hear my distant disgust with the raw spirit. And if you like these photos, you can also see more of his much-better-than-mine photos over on Flickr.

Cheers!

* One of Lemsip’s ingredients is illegal in Japan. A hard-won piece of knowledge. Also, Japanese tissues were too delicate for our boorish western noses. We sneezed them to pieces.

** Don’t miss the deeply charming message at the top-left of the Star Gate homepage.

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How to do a TV Day

We’ve had a tiring summer, so to recover we enjoyed a fantastic TV Day, where we wore pyjamas and watched telly all day long. You might think TV Days are for bored children and sickly adults, but you’re wrong! They’re for everyone who’s knackered and cranky. Here are some top tips for hosting your own TV Day:

Prepare

The house is going to have to be vaguely clean and tidy, otherwise you’ll get The Guilts halfway through TV Day. Do your chores on the preceding weeknights – I KNOW. That part is tricky.

If you have small children or pets, you’re going to have to offload them on an unsuspecting relative, or just turn them out into the garden at the start of TV Day and chuck out a baguette every couple of hours.

You’ll also need alcohol and food that’s easy but time-consuming to prepare.

Schedule

If you don’t plan TV Day properly, you’ll end up watching nine hours of crap you’re not interested in, eating an entire box of sugar-based cereal, then falling asleep on the sofa with a burning sense of having wasted an entire day of your mortal life. Terrible.

So plan what you’ll watch and when – we chose a series of Parks & Rec plus Doctor Who and our favourite shows on Food Network. Then plan a few breaks so you don’t lapse into a coma – we cooked soup and chicken katsu together and walked around the neighbourhood to look at the first autumn leaves.

Own it

Completed your TV Day? Good job! Now own it. You will be faced, either on Facebook or back at work, with people who had very adventurous or productive Saturdays. You will be tempted, when asked what you did at the weekend, to say Nothing really.  But stay strong.

We watched telly for a whole day. In our pyjamas. With wine. It was bloody fantastic.

I promise those marathon-runners and picnic-havers will be at least a little bit jealous.

That’s it! Enjoy your TV Day. You deserve it.

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Old Sarum

Continuing our Poorly Structured Tour of West Country Historic Sites, we went to Old Sarum. It’s amazing; if you go to see Stonehenge, make sure you stop here too!

It’s best to check out aerial photos online before you go, so you can make sense of the massive structure you’re clambering over. My photos just look like loads of grassy slopes.Old Sarum Old Sarum 2 There’s an airfield nearby, and you can see lots of little private planes flying overhead, banking to take photos of the site. Weirdly, there were lots of parachutists jumping on the day we visited. It was spooky to look up from an isolated spot and see dozens of tiny people falling out of the sky.

The site is also very popular with dog walkers, so if you’re an avid befriender-of-random-dogs, it’s the best day out ever. A dog called Eddie gave us a tennis ball.

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Chris’s favourite frozen margarita

frozen margarita

Chris is crazy for these frozen margaritas; I like them too, but I can only drink half of one before I fall over and cry. This is a boozy mofo but it tastes like fresh lime sorbet – be careful, cocktail fans!

Note: I usually hate recipes that require overnight prep, but the freezing step is the only way to get that super-slushy texture for your drink. Mmm!

Note 2: We honestly did try making these less alcoholic… but it was rubbish.

Frozen margaritas (makes 2 large cocktails)

Equipment
Blender
Citrus juicer
Alcohol measure (we use a 40ml measure, slightly under a UK double measure)

Ingredients
160ml good tequila (4 x 40ml measure)
40ml triple sec (1 x 40ml measure)
20ml sugar or sugar syrup (½ a 40ml measure)
Juice of 2 limes
2 cupfuls of ice
Salt

Method
Step 1: Freeze it!

  • Mix together the tequila, triple sec, sugar and lime juice and freeze for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
  • Stick a couple of not-too-delicate glasses in the freezer too.

Step 2: Blend it!

  • Sprinkle salt onto a plate.
  • Get the frozen glasses and place them rim-first on the salty plates. That’s the rudest sentence I’ve ever written.
  • Put 2 cupfuls of ice in the blender and chuck in the frozen margarita mix; it may not have frozen solid, but that’s okay.
  • Run the blender for ten or twenty seconds at the slowest, ice-crushing setting, then when the ice is mostly broken down, crank it to the highest setting to make it really slushy – probably about ten to twenty seconds again.
  • Serve in the salted glasses.
  • Fall over and cry (optional).

Top tip from Chris! It’s a faff to have to make the mix, and not much more difficult to make multiples as to make one, so consider spending ten minutes making up the mix in ready-to-rock batches in small freezer tubs. There is nothing better, on a hot day, than getting home, popping some mix and ice in the blender, and making a fresh, home-made margarita in seconds.

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Super Japan phone cam fun: Part two of many

Let the record show that I’ve had two x-rays in two weeks – I’m expecting my new superpowers to kick in any day now. I keep finding moths in the flat, so maybe that’s it. Mothra the Moth-Finder! I’ll learn to fly, but only directly at lightbulbs.

Anyway, here’s another shaky camera snippet from Japan. We went to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan very jet-lagged and culture-shocked, but we were still totally bowled over by this huge tank and gorgeous whale shark, Yu-chan. I’ve left the sound on for the full effect of EVERY CHILD IN JAPAN standing right behind us.

ETA: Apparently there is already a Mothra. Damn.

 

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The continuing adventures of the tiny pan

The tiny pan is not just for tiny omelettes! No, you can also use a few boring ingredients:

sweetcorn fritters ingredients

To make fancy Thai sweetcorn fritters!

sweetcorn fritters chilli jam

Er, you may notice that because we left the prawns out of the recipe without doubling the sweetcorn, they are really more ‘Thai pancakes with occasional sweetcorn excitement ‘, but they were still delicious. We ate ‘em with slices of lime and chilli jam. Give it a whirl, tiny pan fans!

 

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Don’t leaf me this way

japanese maple leaves pressedCALL ME CRAZY, but I really like autumn leaves. So last year I collected loads of fallen leaves* from Westonbirt Arboretum and pressed them in heavy books like a weird overgrown child.

But now look! I’m sticking them in an album so I can look at the lovely leaves whenever I want. Suck it nature! Kiss my Mod Podge! I’m in control now!

pressed autumn leaves

(Chris took photos, like a normal person.)

*Don’t pull leaves off trees, kids.

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