January Favourites

It’s a brand new year so I thought I would inject some new enthusiasm, positivity and happiness into the blog, it’s not all travel, travel, travel.

So here for this month are my FIVE JANUARY FAVOURITES!

My January Favourites - QuirkyLittlePlanet.com

1. Gingerbread popcorn

Anything that combines two of my favourite things HAS to be a winner! I love gingerbread and I actually think I might need to go to some sort of popcorn rehab or something. This Butterkist popcorn is coated with cinnamon and ginger flavour toffee, I had to stop myself from eating the whole bag in one sitting. It is limited edition, which is probably a good thing as I could quite easily get addicted to this stuff!

2. Barry M Twinkle Twinkle nail polish

I’ve developed a little obsession with the colour rose gold and I’ve been hunting around for a cruelty-free rose gold nail polish that is affordable. I found this beauty being sold exclusively in Superdrug and was not disappointed! It’s a lovely colour, my photo and my strangely unphotogenic hands really don’t do it justice. Just one thing though, much like the popcorn it is limited edition so go get it quick!

Barry M Twinkle Twinkle Limited Edition rose gold colour cruelty free nail polish

3. Safari animal gloves

If my unphotogenic hands prove too much for you, then good news! I can hide them with these quirky gloves. I went into Sainsburys for some travel currency and ended up leaving with a tub of ice cream and these ridiculous gloves. They have safari animals on the fingertips! I promise you they are adult gloves, but I literally can’t do anything in them because they are that ridiculous. However, they are pretty good for putting on impromptu puppet shows!

Safari animal gloves

4. American sitcoms

As much as I enjoy gripping shows like The Walking Dead and fascinating programmes such as Planet Earth II, I will always find something soothing in watching a sitcom. Friends, to me, was the television equivalent of a large mug of tea and a snuggly duvet, and now The Big Bang Theory has filled that void. Just recently, Melissa & Joey have been there to nurse me through a hangover, while New Girl reminds me that it’s ok that I don’t have my shit together. I’ve also recently got into watching The Goldbergs and I think I’m starting to turn into the mom… except my snuggle monster is my cat 🙂

5. Yoga

One of my Christmas gifts was a yoga mat. I wanted one because I feel like it shows commitment. I have been going to a Wednesday evening yoga class, I did start going last year (and using one of the weird smelling mats they have at the gym) but with my own mat I can then practise a little at home too. I’m well aware of the benefits of yoga and I think it will be good for me, both in body and mind. Don’t worry though, you won’t see any instagram shots of me doing the tree pose on the beach just yet. Teehee!

How was your January? What helped you through the January blues? Leave me a little comment below or tweet me @quirkylilplanet

Alphabet Dating J is for Japanese Food

Alphabet Dating – J is for Japanese Food

We put Alphabet Dating on hold for the busy and expensive month of December, which meant that our ‘J’ date fell in January. As we both love Japanese food we decided to try out a new Japanese restaurant.

Black and red decor inside a Japanese restaurant

We went to Love Sushi in Maidstone, Kent on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon. The restaurant was pretty quiet but was kitted out in a smart, stylish black and red oriental style. We had the option of sitting in a booth or next to the sushi conveyor belt. We chose the belt although it was pretty pointless given that there were barely any dishes circulating the belt. Still, we grabbed a random one to share and ordered some hot food – tempura prawns and chicken udon noodles. I also ordered a Philly Cheese sushi roll.

Japanese food - an idea for letter J Alphabet date

Tempura prawns - Japanese food

The food was really good, probably one of the best tempura prawns I’ve tried outside of Japan – and I don’t even like prawns unless they’re covered in tempura batter! The noodle dish was also large and filling and the sushi all very tasty and beautifully presented.

As much as we enjoyed the food, we felt that the restaurant was lacking in… something I can’t quite put my finger on. It may have helped to have a picture menu a la Yo Sushi to help identify some of the sushi dishes and perhaps the atmosphere lacked a little as it was quiet, I don’t know. Still, I’d go back but just not on a Sunday afternoon!

Udon noodles

If you enjoyed this post then whet your appetite with some other of my Japanese foodie adventures, such as my Kaiseki meal at a Japanese Ryokan or my recommendation of 10 foods to try in Japan. Or if you’re London bound then how about an Asian Fusion restaurant in Soho with an interactive menu?

You might also like to read about my other Alphabet Dates!

A Japanese Ryokan Experience

No Japan bucket list would be complete without a stay in a ryokan, so here is my guide to a Japanese ryokan experience.

What is a ryokan?

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You may have seen them on tv or in books, they’re the ones with paper screens, low tables and futons instead of beds.

Japanese Ryokan Experience

How do I choose which ryokan?

Ryokan aren’t cheap and the ones that are cheap are most probably not that authentic. We started by looking on Tripadvisor at some of the best ryokan in Kyoto but found many were fully booked for the time of year we were looking at (April – Cherry Blossom season). One of the most famous and historic ryokans is the Hiiragiya which was slightly out of our budget, so in the end we opted for Hiiragiya Bekkan (annex) an authentic but more wallet-friendly option.

Hiiragiya Bekkan Japanese Ryokan in Kyoto
Outside Hiiragiya Bekkan

Other things to note when choosing your ryokan, is whether it includes a private bathroom or any meals, as of course this will affect the price. Our room at the Hiiragiya Bekkan included a private toilet and sink but shared bathing facilities (more on that later) and it also included a kaiseki meal (Japanese haute cuisine) in the evening and breakfast the following day.

Japanese garden view at our ryokan
Japanese garden surrounding our room

The initial experience

When we arrived at Hiiragiya Bekkan we were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and as is custom in Japan, we were asked to remove our shoes at the door and wear the slippers provided.

We were shown to our room which overlooked a pretty Japanese garden and then we had to remove our slippers. I can’t quite remember how many different pairs of slippers we had, but if you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how much they love their slippers!

Matcha and sakura teas
Matcha and sakura teas
Japanese tea served at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn)
Japanese tea

We were shortly served three different types of tea – matcha, sakura and Japanese. The Japanese tea was nice but the matcha and sakura are a bit of an acquired taste.

After tea we changed into the yukata (cotton robes) provided and spent some time relaxing and soaking up our surroundings!

Wearing yukata (cotton robes) at a ryokan
Looking dashing in our yukata

Kaiseki dinner

Upon arrival at the ryokan we chose a time we would like to have dinner and promptly at this time we received a knock on the door from our maid (for lack of a better word) bringing us the first course of our meal.

The April menu at Hiiragiya Bekkan
Menu

Some ryokan have communal dining areas, but the other thing that attracted us to the Hiiragiya Bekkan was being able to dine in the privacy of our own room.

Dinner at the ryokan was a seasonal menu and brought to us course by course. I didn’t really know what much of it was so I took a photo of the menu. It started off ok and I enjoyed the first few courses but I’m so glad we had this meal as part of a ryokan experience rather than at a kaiseki restaurant as I really struggled with a few of the courses. Sadly the bamboo shoots and the deep-fried bean curd with sea urchin weren’t to my taste.

Slideshow below.

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Bathtime

In Japan, bathtime is a bit of a ritual. So after dinner we were ushered off to the communal bathrooms. Similarly to pre-booking a dinner time slot, we also had a bathroom time slot too. A friendly old man had prepared our steaming hot bath for us and then gave us our privacy and left us to it. Basically in Japan, bathing etiquette dictates that you perch on a little stool and then soap and rinse yourself with a handheld shower before getting into the tub. The tubs are then for soaking once you are squeaky clean. Our tub was wooden and square, which was different but we had already had previous experience with onsen (hot springs) bathing which I will write about another time.

After our hot, relaxing baths we toddled off back to our room where our maid (who may or may not have been a ninja) had switched our room around from a dining room with low table to a bedroom with futons! The futons themselves were fairly comfortable, however the Japanese pillows, which I believe are filled with buckwheat, weren’t the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on, but they certainly weren’t the worst!

Room at the ryokan set up for bedtime
All set for bed!

In the morning

The morning routine was almost like a reverse of the night before. We awoke early and went for our shower/bath and while we were soaking ourselves, our room was being whipped up from a bedroom back into a dining room, ready for breakfast.

Breakfast included an assortment of Japanese nibbles, the fish was delicious, however I struggled to stomach the rest of it. As I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway (yeah yeah I know it’s the most important meal of the day!) and by this point in our trip I just fancied something quite boring like toast. I know. I am a terrible travel blogger for saying that.

We checked out fairly early as we were due to travel on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and upon check out we were presented with a gift – a neat box with chopsticks inside! Very sweet and thoughtful!

Japanese breakfast at a ryokan
The bit that looks like a nice apricot yogurt is actually raw egg >_<

Top tips

  • Advance booking is recommended as the ryokans are quite small and have limited availability.
  • In order to not have to worry about lugging our big suitcases with us for our one night stay in the ryokan we used a luggage forwarding service, quite a common thing to do in Japan and something that can be arranged at your hotel. We used this service a couple of times during our trip, so we had our luggage sent from our Kyoto hotel (where we stayed before our ryokan visit) to the hotel we would be staying at after departing the ryokan. Very efficient and helpful!
  • Follow ryokan etiquette regarding the removal of shoes, showering before bathing etc. And be sure not to place anything in the sacred alcove (pictured below with the wall hanging and flower arrangement).

Inside a Japanese ryokan

If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 foods to try in Japan or some of my other Japan adventures!

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Our Japanese Ryokan Experience in Kyoto - what to expect.

Alphabet Dating - D is for Dinner Date

Alphabet Dating – D is for Dinner Date

D is for Delayed.

We missed June completely because of returning from Cuba, hubby’s birthday and just generally not knowing what to do for our ‘D’ date. I had found the perfect date – watching Dirty Dancing at the Drive-In Movies, but I saw it advertised far too late. D’oh!

‘C’ date (aka Cuba) was quite an expensive date, so for ‘D’ we decided to go budget and just have a simple dinner date at home. My hubby was in charge of dinner and I was in charge of dessert. The dishes were meant to be surprises but when you share a kitchen, share a fridge and go grocery shopping together, the element of surprise is kind of removed. Oh well, I don’t really like surprises anyway!

For mains we had Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken served with rice and salad, which in my book, tomato + mozzarella + pesto = win!

Baked Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken Breastsserves 2

Pesto, mozzarella and tomato chicken served with rice and salad

Ingredients
2 x skinless chicken breasts
1 x tomato
1 x 125g mozzarella ball
5 tbsp green pesto

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Smother the chicken breasts in the pesto. My husband used around 5 tablespoons but feel free to use more/less depending on your taste.
2. Line a baking dish with foil and place the chicken breasts on top. Cook for 30 minutes.
3. Slice the tomato and mozzarella. Place on top of the chicken.
4. Place the chicken back in the oven and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and salad.

Dessert was a sweet and simple Eton Mess – yeah yeah I know it’s easy but I’ve never actually made one before and there’s a good reason why I’m not a food blogger!

Eton Messserves 3 (yeah I made too much!)

Eton Mess - a delightful mess including fresh strawberries and blueberries

Ingredients
Approx 140ml whipping cream
Approx 160g fresh strawberries
Handful of blueberries
3 x meringue nests
Small can of raspberries (optional)
Strawberry sauce (optional)

Method
1. Whisk the whipping cream until it forms peaks.
2. Crush the meringue nests into small pieces and spoon into the cream.
3. Chop the strawberries and add them, plus the blueberries, to the cream and meringue mixture (you may wish to save a couple for garnish)
4. Spoon in a few raspberries and their syrup to give the mixture a sweet pink hue.
5. Mix together and serve. Drizzle some strawberry sauce and garnish with remaining fruit if you wish.
6. Voila! Eton Mess. And your kitchen will probably be an Eton Mess too!

After Dinner comes Dessert, and after Dessert comes… Dishes! Sigh!

If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for E… it’s Exciting!

Alphabet Dating - B is for Bridges and Beckett (and Bowie and Beehive and Burgers!)

Alphabet Dating – B is for Bridges and Beckett

Ok so we cheated slightly with this one in that we already had 2 events booked that would fit in with our ‘B’ date, but y’know, April was quite a busy and expensive month anyway so worked out quite well.

The o2 Academy in Brixton, London. Leon Bridges is playing.

First up was a Leon Bridges gig which just so happened to be in Brixton at The o2 Academy. We arrived early and decided to go for a drink beforehand. And whaddyaknow the local Wetherspoons is called The Beehive – couldn’t have worked out better if we had planned it! The Beehive was buzzing (LOL sorry!) so with no tables available, we had one quick drink and departed.

A pub called The Beehive. Perfect place for a drink on the letter 'B' of Alphabet Dating. Entirely accidental.

Leon Bridges and his support act, Andra Day, were both fantastic! Such perfect voices. Andra’s vocals reminded me alot of Amy Winehouse and Leon was the perfect soulful gentleman.

I didn’t know much about Bridges before we went to his gig but hubby has his album which we played alot in the car on our New Zealand road trip – so the music brings back good memories.

Soul singer Leon Bridges performing at The o2 Academy in Brixton

After the concert, we had the munchies so grabbed ourselves a Subway sandwich each, where I found outside painted onto a wall, this beautiful tribute to David Bowie.

Tribute to David Bowie. Brixton, London.

Beehive, Bridges and Bowie – 3 B’s and it was only the first half of our alphabet date.

Our second ‘B’ date occurred 2 weeks later when we went to see comedian Rob Beckett on stage. There were no other ‘B’ coincidences this time around and photography wasn’t permitted so I can only really show you this flyer.

Rob Beckett Tour Flyer

The show was funny but I didn’t do my cry-laughter thing until right near the end when he told his “Ed Nohead” joke (I won’t spoil it).

I appreciate that Bridges and Beckett are quite tricky ‘B’ date options if you’re reading this for your own ‘B’ date inspiration, so I do have one more…

Burgers. We went to our nearest branch of Gourmet Burger Kitchen because I was missing those delicious New Zealand style burgers and a refreshing can of L&P, and hubby had never even been to a GBK before so I had to take him. Oh my, L&P you are definitely in my top 5 things I miss about New Zealand!

What would you do for a ‘B’ date? If you missed  it, you can find our ‘A’ date here. Oh and stay tuned for ‘C’ – I promise it’s a good one!