Chocolate PB Tofu pie and other Holiday Cooking

Happy New Year everyone!

Since it is time to start thinking about 2012, I realized I better clean up from 2011.  This means sharing with you some great recipes I made this past fall, including for the Holiday season.

First up is my go to Thanksgiving side dish.  I have made this the past 2 years in a row.  It's a sweet quinoa dish with dried fruit and nuts.

1 cup dry quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3-1/2 cup cashews

1. Place water, apple juice, raisins, cherries and quinoa in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and cook for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.
3.  Stir gently to bring fruit up from bottom and mix evenly throughout the quinoa.
4.  Add cashews and gently mix in.  Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to soften the cashews some.  Toss a few extra cashews on top for garnish.

When I make this dish I am usually taking it to a party, so I actually double up.  Once I add the cashews I transfer to a serving dish and cover with foil.  By the time I get to the party it is still warm and the cashews are a nice consistency.
Next up is a recipe I came up with one night after I spotted these gorgeous local Unno sweet potatoes (remember local for me is northern Japan, on the island of Honshu, not as far north as Hokkaido).
After I scrubbed these I found the nice purple color I heard everyone talking about when they mention the sweet potatoes here.
They have a nice orangish color inside.  I decided I was going to turn these into a nice soup.
So I cut them up into smaller pieces.
I started off with onions and garlic, and added a little black pepper.
Then I added the sweet potatoes and cooked it all together.
Once it was soft I added some some veggie broth.
That's when things got really fun!  Hello immersion blender!
But then I realized it was way too thick, so I added a little more veggie broth and some water.  The last step was adding in some slices of zucchini for added texture.
Wow, it turned out rather nicely if I do say so myself!  Plus, my hubby loved it!

Sweet Potato Soup with Zucchini

  • 2 pounds sweet potato
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 29 ounces vegetable broth
  • 1 large zucchini (sliced into round pieces and then quartered)
  • ¼ teaspoon sage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

1.Sauté onion in olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in stock pot or dutch oven,
until translucent.
2.Add diced sweet potato (with skin on), 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/4 teaspoon sage. Place
on medium to medium high heat, cover and cook 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent
          onions from browning on the bottom of pot.
3.Add 1 can vegetable broth and bring to a boil, cooking for 15 minutes or until sweet
potatoes are softened.
4.Using immersion blender, puree the mixture until mostly smooth and almost all
chunks are gone.
5.Add 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and stir.
6.Add 1 can vegetable broth (and/or water as needed), cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
7.Add the zucchini and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the zucchini is soft.

Nutrition Info per serving/Recipe makes 6 servings
Calories: 190
Fat: 4.5 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Carbohydrate: 35 grams
Fiber: 5.4 grams
Sodium: 634 mg
Next on my list was the recipe I promised to share later since I was busy showcasing my own special recipe for Raspberry Lemonade Tofu Pie.  I got my inspiration for this from my sister.  She makes an insanely good vegan PB tofu pie.  Recently I entered this recipe (on behalf of my sister since she was unable to enter this herself) into a contest, so cross your fingers and let's hope this wins for my sis!

This is the same idea as my raspberry lemonade pie, so the tofu gets pureed first.
Then the chocolate chips (we use Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips) get melted in either the microwave or using a double boiler.  The the PB gets added and melts in because the mixture is already heated.
The chocolate PB mixture gets added to the tofu and then you pour into a pie shell.  I used store bought again, but you can make at home.  My sister has even tried a pretzel crust.  The top gets some more chocolate chips and then drizzle with some melted PB.  You can find the full recipe posted HERE.
I made this pie to send with Ryan to work since they were working long hours during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  Some of the spouses made sure the guys were well fed on all shifts by sending all kinds of goodies in.  I also made a tortellini stew one night for everyone.  My husband said everyone loved this pie and wanted to eat this before even getting to eat their dinner.  Once they were all done he let them on the secret that this was made from tofu.  He said no one believed him.  Yes, it is that good!

Last up is by far the most unhealthy of all my recipes, but still a homemade (mostly since did not have enough time to make my own PB cups, although that is a possibility for the future) treat for the holidays. I spotted the recipe on the back of the PB cup package and really just got a craving and felt compelled to make these.  Another reason was that I had 1/2 a jar of PB left over from the PB pie and I wanted to use it up.  Check the full recipe out HERE.
So I made my dough...
peeled all those PB cup wrappers off...
baked up those cookies (in mini muffin tins)...
then stuck the mini PB cup into the centers!

All of these recipes turned out well.  I will be making ALL of these recipes again.

Have a SAFE and HAPPY NEW YEAR!  See you all in 2012!

QUESTIONS:  What was your favorite recipe of 2011 (please share links if you have them)?  Have you ever created a recipe entirely from scratch?  Where do you get most of your recipes?  Have you ever won a recipe contest?

Thursday Thoughts: Adios 2011

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

This is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic. Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses. Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting. In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

Well, being that this is the last Thursday of the year I wanted to make one last Thursday Thoughts post, but I also want to keep it simple.  So here are my thoughts for saying goodbye to 2011 and welcoming in 2012.

1) Be safe!  Don't drink and drive.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Tell a friend or family member where you are going and who are going out with.  Don't post to the world that your house will be empty all night or other things that may put you at risk.

2) Enjoy the evening!  New Years Eve is always a big party night or at least a time to enjoy with those you care about (or just like to have fun with).  Don't get hung up on broken resolutions from the past year and goals you are looking to start early.  Relax instead and enjoy the time you have celebrating.

3) Reflect!  Take this time to reflect over the past year.  Don't harp over the negatives, just think about how to make those into positives for the coming year.  Make your reflections fun.  Get your friends and family in on it.  This will help you gain support for future goals.

4) Call your family!  Maybe you aren't with them for the evening, but take the time to call them and wish them a Happy New Year.  Tell them what you liked best about your memories with them in 2011 and what you are looking forward to in 2012.

5) Get some sleep!  Staying up to midnight is fun and usually well worth it, but staying up until the next morning (or longer) just isn't worth it.  You may feel groggy and moody from lack of sleep and it may be hard to get back into the swing of things when it comes time to head back to work.  Unless you have a really good reason for staying up until well into the morning, make sure to get some rest.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself!

Happy New Year!

QUESTIONS:  What are your tips for having an enjoyable and memorable NYE celebration?

Raspberry Lemonade Tofu Pie

My sister makes the most amazing chocolate peanut butter pie (don't worry, that's coming soon in another post), which in turn inspired me to create a pie that was just as good, but contrasted her go to party pie.  So, the raspberry lemonade tofu pie was born.  Good thing I was able to perfect the recipe before the deadline of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group New Years Recipe contest.  While I didn't win the contest, you can still find my recipe on their website.  Plus, you might want to check out the other recipes as well.

I used frozen raspberries because not only are they cheaper, but they were in better shape than the fresh and you can't tell once you have pureed it anyway.
Tofu is used as the binder and it provides a nice creamy texture.  If you have ever tried a tofu pie before then you know what I am talking about.  Since the raspberries and lemon were adding more liquid, I made sure to press this tofu even though it is not entirely necessary.
I pureed my tofu, then added the raspberries to it.  Pureed some more and added my lemon juice.  I used pectin as my thickening agent.  My first attempt was, un well, messy!  So pectin on later attempts made a huge difference.
I used a store bought pie crust, and yes you can find vegan options, or make at home.
Once my filling was blended I poured into my pie crust.
For garnish I used some fresh raspberries.
After about 2-3 hours in the fridge it was ready for serving.  YUM!

Yield: 8 servings – 1/8 of the pie
Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • 1 – 12.3 oz pkg Mori-Nu® Silken tofu, firm, pressed to remove excess water
  • ¼ cup Granulated sugar
  • 1 cup Frozen raspberries, thawed and drained to remove excess water
  • 1 each Lemon, juiced
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon zest
  • 1 – 1.75 oz pkg Sure Jell® (pectin) or similar brand of pectin
  • 1 – 9 inch Graham cracker pie crust, prepared (or similar/homemade for vegan crust)
  • Fresh or frozen raspberries for garnish
Additional Items Needed
  • Food processor preferably, blender (optional)
  • 1 flexible spatula
  1. In a food processor or a blender puree tofu, sugar, raspberries, lemon juice, lemon zest and pectin until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary.
  2. Pour into graham cracker crust and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until firm.
  3. Garnish with raspberries.
  4. Chill until ready to serve.
Calories: 211; Total Fat: 8.7 g; Saturated Fat: 1.7 g; Trans Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 187 mg; Carbohydrates: 29.9 g; Dietary Fiber: 1.6 g; Sugar: 19.3 g; Protein: 4.5 g; Vitamin A: 250 IU; Vitamin C: 16.2 mg; Calcium 30 mg; Iron: 1.26 mg

Tour of a Japanese Grocery Store

The Airmen and Family Readiness Center on base offers a variety of awesome cultural classes to help Americans living in Japan learn more about the culture and life in the local community.  I absolutely love taking these classes and going on these excursions.  Many are free, often you carpool to a location, and if you do pay, you get something in return (like when I did the weaving and glass blowing classes).  I even took their Survival Japanese class already and I plan to take the Beyond Survival Japanese class next month.

The one activity I wanted to do the most was the grocery store tour.  I wanted to go right away, but the time always conflicted with the live seminar I teach for Kaplan.  Now, you may or may not know this, but I am working on writing an iPhone app for Eat Well Global.  I am so excited about this project and I enjoyed writing about what I have learned about Japanese food from living here in Japan, along with being able to communicate with locals about what food and nutrition means to them.

Here is a description of Eat Well Global from the website:

Eat Well Global, Inc., founded by Julie Meyer, RD, is a nutritionist-led global communications company bringing together a stellar network of nutrition experts to offer YOU the inside scoop on eating well at home and around the globe.  Eat Well Global travel apps provide tourists, residents and arm-chair travelers with local information on: health/nutrition trends, tips and insights;  food safety; organic labeling; restaurant, market and food tourism destinations; recipes from local chefs and special considerations for those traveling with special food needs and allergies. These nutritionist-in-your-pocket guides are available for iPhone and Android.

Well, the app is almost done, but I said better late than never on this grocery store tour.  Not only did I get the chance to confirm everything I had learned, but I was able to teach Mayu a little too about regulatory code and labeling in Japan (she had no idea about organic food labels!).

We went to a smaller supermarket, making sure to go on a Tuesday because this is known as 100 yen day at Yokomachi's.  Some, but not all, of the produce is sold for 100 yen.  How much is 100 yen? Right now that is about $1.30.
You can bet I asked question after question, and because most of my work is done on the app (yes, it will be available know you want need it!), I took to asking questions that would help me personally to determine what I can and can't eat with my vegetarian food prefs.  The Japanese do like their pork lard, so you really never know.

Right at the entrance there was a nice display of local produce.  I will say this is great and I love the local goods, but if you are looking for organic, Japan is not the place to go.  Organic is a fairly new concept here and is confined to major cities, like Tokyo and Kyoto.  According to Mayu, this region (we live in Aomori prefecture) is based in agriculture, and this industry supports everyone, so no one questions their food source farming methods, they just buy what they have to support local farming and the local economy, which in turn supports their families.  Also, and I believe it is similar in the US, the conversion process to turn a farm from conventional to organic is a 2 year process where the land is unusable.  These communities, in my opinion at least as I have not confirmed this with any farmers, can't afford not to farm during that time, especially not after the earthquake and tsunami.  So, I happily buy local goods, and make sure to wash my produce well, which in all honesty is what I do with American produced goods too, or at least for most items.  I will almost always choose local over organic any day (less pollution from transport and I can still wash my food).  Aomori, where we live, produces the most apples in Japan (and are insanely delicious), so the best advice if you are visiting here and concerned about the pesticides and apples would be to wash well, and use a produce wash if you have it available.

Back to the local produce...
If only I could read Japanese!  The produce comes labelled with the farmer's information so you know exactly what you are getting.

Here you can see the label for 100 yen.  So each broccoli bunch here is 100 yen.  Not a bad deal seeing as Japan is notoriously expensive.
More 100 yen produce!  This time it is mushrooms.
More mushrooms.  Boy, good thing I LOVE mushrooms.
These are chrysanthemum petals.  They are edible and used often in this region.  Now you see why the Chrysanthemum Festival is so big around here.
Ever heard of shirataki noodles?  Perhaps you have, especially if you have tried losing weight or sought out very low calorie foods.  These are made from a yam known as devil's tongue.  Not only do they come in noodle form, but you can buy blocks as well.  It is gelatinous in consistency, but very low calorie.  Many US stores now carry the noodles.  I know before I moved to Japan I saw these, and they are listed as tofu, so it is possible in the US they are made from soy instead, but in Japan (where they originate) they are made from devil's tongue, also known in Japanese as konnyaku.
In the refrigerated case you can find noodles that are ready to go for traditional noodle based dishes, like yakisoba.
Miso is a very important ingredient in Japan, and you can find a variety of miso in the store.  It really helps to know some Japanese, but if not, I suppose trial and error can work too!
Lots of options too for vinegars, including some sake based options.  They also have lots of soy sauce around.  The Japanese word for soy sauce is shoyu.
Like I said before, organic is rare in the smaller communities, and Mayu had never seen the label before. Boy was she surprised when I described it to her, and then she spotted this in the soy milk section.  Yep, we found organic soy milk.  Not surprised that of all things it was the soy milk.  That JAS symbol in green is the organic symbol in Japan.
In the future I will post some more pictures from markets (check this out if you missed my post on the local fish market) with produce and things you can find here in Japan.  The grocery store was very busy because it is a major shopping day with the 100 yen special, and I did not want to be climbing over people to get pictures.  On the way out I did snap one more picture as we passed by the bakery.  This is mochi.  It is a traditional, glutinous rice cake, often sweet.  Many of you may know this from the US, perhaps in the ice cream version.
I also wanted to share what might just be the healthiest fast food meal ever.  One day we stopped by Sukiya, which we pass often.  It is a local chain and our impression was that there would be nothing vegetarian on the menu.
Well, we were close.  Ok, not entirely close, but the main dishes are all meat.  However, the side dish menu offered some surprising options.  I wasn't too hungry, but if I was I would have also ordered the side salad.  Instead, I just went with grilled salmon and white rice (come on, it's Japan, of course there was white rice with this).  Like I said, adding some veggies to this would have really made a nice addition, but overall I was really impressed.  I am glad we stopped in.
Ryan ordered from the regular menu, which was basically curry type dishes.  I am sure we will go back again, especially if we are in need of a quick meal at an off time (many places close between lunch and dinner, and Europe is the same way so this is not new for us).


QUESTIONS:  Have you ever tried mochi?  Do you have an Asian market in your town?  Have you ever heard of shirataki noodles?

Thursday Thoughts: Goal Setting

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

This is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic. Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses. Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting. In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

Some of you may have read my post last year for Thursday thoughts before New Years, but if you didn't, I wrote about New Years Resolutions.  I am not a huge fan of resolutions, as I mentioned in that post, because it makes it seem like you were doing things all wrong before and you need to resolve this poor actions, transforming them into something good.  To me, the whole things seems to negative.  Instead, I like the term goal.  

Goals are something we can set any time and work towards in the short term or long term.  They are binding like resolutions, but I think the accountability factor with a goal is different.  When it comes to resolutions I think most people think we might stick to it for a month or so, but generally a few months in have given up.  Now, this is obviously not true for some people, but for those that are not actively setting goals year round, I find this to be more true.  So here are my thoughts on goal setting.

1) Pick something that gives you a result that you are looking for.  This may seem like common sense, but a lot of times people aim for something that has an outcome that someone else wants.  It is a lot easier to work towards something that you will enjoy or be proud of in the end.  Goals should be designed with you in mind, not what you think will please others.  

2) Goals do not have to be limited to diet and exercise.  Goals for physical health are great, but you can set other goals too that will in turn have an effect on your physical health.  Many of those other kinds of goals (like scrapbook more often or learning to play an instrument) work on your mental health, helping to reduce stress, and in turn benefit your physical health.  The goal should be something you want to achieve and will make you happy.

3) Goals should require some effort and work but at the same time need to be attainable.  Setting goals too far out of reach will only set you up for failure.  Make sure that when you set a goal you have a reasonable time line in place and know that this can be achieved with some effort as long as you stay focused an on track.  Do some research in advance and make sure that you are not setting goals that are unlikely to be possible.  For example, trying to lose 5 pounds in 1 week is not attainable within reasonable health and safety limits, but 5 pounds in one month is definitely attainable.  If you have never played the piano before, learning 3 songs in 1 week is not attainable, but learning one song in 1 month might be more practical for you.

4) Set short term and long term goals.  Working towards a big goal is a good idea, but not having smaller goals (or milestone markers) along the way can possibly be a set back.  The joy of successfully reaching a goal is a good motivator to stay on track.  By creating small goals that can be met along the way to your big (long term) goal, you give yourself some positive reinforcement that you can do it and this will help as you work towards the next short term goal, and ultimately that long term goal.  For example, you might want to lose 40# in 6 months.  This might be a good goal, but by 2 months you may need some positive reinforcement to keep you on track.  Without smaller, short term goals along the way there you might start to feel like you will never reach that goal.  But, if you also set smaller goals, like losing 6-7 pounds a month, you can feel like you have accomplished something and you are still working towards that bigger goal.  With the piano example, your long term goal might be to play in a recital 6 months down the road, but perhaps along the way you might want to learn how to play 2 new songs a month.  You can get a little boost in confidence and motivation when you reach those smaller short term goals.

5) Don't keep your goals a secret.  At least write them down so you have a reminder of where you want to be down the road.  Share them with your friends and family, and especially those you know will be supportive.  This will help keep you accountable.  If you have fallen off track, avoid getting defensive when you are asked about your goals by friends and family.  Remember, they are just trying to help.  Instead, let them help you get back on track if by some chance you have strayed from meeting your goals.  Sometimes that fresh perspective or outside opinion is enough to jump start your motivation, giving you that little nudge that you needed.  

So those are my thoughts on goal setting, which is a big deal, whether we like it or not, for the new year.  Another thing to keep in mind is that we are forever changing.  Circumstances change, life changes, and our environments change, so it is OK to reevaluate your goals and see if they need some changing too.  Just as long as you still have something you are working towards, whether it be health related, education related, or relationship related.

QUESTIONS:  What you are thoughts or tips on goal setting?  Any goals you plan to put in place with the new year?

Also, wanted to say HAPPY HANUKKAH!!!

Living in Japan Bucket List

I'm not the first one to do this, but I thought it would be a fun idea instead of working so hard on New Year's resolutions.  I know some other military spouse bloggers that have posted their must-do lists, or bucket lists, for their base.  Military families move often, sometimes with only a short time at each base, and a list of things you want to do while stationed there is a great way to make sure you don't miss out on anything.  Plus, it gives you some goals to work towards and ideas for activities when you are just not sure what to do.

This is my list of 100 things I want to do while living here in Japan.  From time to time I will come back to the list and update it, marking off things I accomplished and see what I have left to do before these next few years fly right by.  Some of these we have actually done, but I am keeping them on here since they were on my list before publishing it here.  I'll make sure to come back and update the list after the New Year since a few of these may happen over the holidays.

1. Take Survival Japanese
2. Visit Tokyo
3. Visit Kyoto
4. Visit Osaka
5. Sapporo Snow Festival
6. Ride the Shinkansen
7. Go horse back riding
8. Learn to ski
9. Learn to snow board
10. Visit Hirosaki Castle for the Chrysanthemum Festival
11. Visit Hirosaki Castle for the Cherry Blossom Festival
12. Aomori Nebuta Festival
13. Make okonomiyaki
14. Try takoyaki
15. Make my own sushi
16. Take Beyond Survival Japanese
17. Buy a kimono
18. Visit Oirase Gorge
19. Visit Big Buddha in Aomori
20. Visit Aomori Art Museum
21. Visit Towada Art Museum
22. Take a cruise on Lake Towada
23. See a snow monkey
24. Go snow shoeing
25. Take a trip to Thailand
26. Take a trip to Australia
27. Climb Mt. Fuji
28. Go to an onsen
29. Go to Tokyo Disney
30. See Tsukiji Market
31. Travel to South Korea
32. Go to Universal Studios (in Osaka)
33. Buy something with Hello Kitty on it
34. Write a blog post during an earthquake (any idea what just happened! LOL)
35. Visit Okinawa
36. Go to a Sumo tournament
37. Drive to Tokyo
38. Go to the beef and garlic festival
39. See the Ryusendo Caves
40. Volunteer for Tsunami/Earthquake relief (from 2011 Earthquake)
41. Go to a Japanese baseball game
42. Go ice skating
43. See Kabuki theater performance
44. Travel to Hawaii
45. Take the ferry to Hokkaido
46. Try green tea ice cream
47. Visit Sendai
48. Attend Shabbat services in Tokyo
49. Go apple picking
50. Go cherry picking
51. Visit a Buddhist Temple
52. Visit a Shinto Shrine
53. See the wild horses
54. Go to the Rokkasho Salmon Festival
55. Drink sake
56. Visit Tokyo National Museum
57. Visit Hiroshima
58. Visit Kenji World
59. Visit Morioka
60. Eat shabu shabu
61. Visit Tokyo Tower
62. Have a traditional vegetarian Buddhist meal
63. Buy fresh fish from a market
64. Buy an antique
65. Attend a tea ceremony
66. Dine Japanese style (sitting on the floor)
67. Go to a concert in Tokyo
68. Learn to use chopsticks
69. Use a Japanese toilet
70. Buy a heated toilet seat
71. Go hiking
72. Go camping
73. Visit Nagoya Castle
74. Visit Nagano
75. Visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
76. Dine along Dotombori
77. Visit Ueno Zoo
78. Buy a Hard Rock shirt from all locations in Japan
79. Visit a Japanese beer brewery
80. Play a round of golf (all 18 holes!)
81. Drink apple wine
82. See a fire works display
83. Swim in the ocean
84. Visit Shipwreck Beach
85. Build a snow man
86. Eat tofu on a stick
87. Visit the Tokyo Sky Tree observation desk
88. Visit Disney Sea
89. See a professional Taiko drum performance
90. See the deer in Nara
91. Visit Sensoji Temple
92. See a Noh theater performance
93. Go dolphin and whale watching
94. Check out Harajuku
95. Sing karaoke
96. Eat a sea urchin
97. Make a kanji painting
98. Learn how to spell my name in Japanese
99. Ride the subway in Tokyo
100. Be a good ambassador

QUESTIONS: If you were traveling to Japan, what is the top thing you would want to see or do?  What is on your bucket list where you live?

Hirosaki Castle, Chrysanthemum Festival

Back in November I had the chance to visit Hirosaki for the Chrysanthemum Festival.  Hirosaki is a town in the northern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  

The main point of interest here this time of year is Hirosaki Castle and the surrounding gardens.  Another major highlight would be the apples.  Aomori prefecture is the top producer of apples in Japan, but when it comes to cities within the prefecture, Hirosaki tops them all.

For the most part this post will just be pictures.  I wish I could say the pictures tell the whole story of the beauty and tranquility here, but sadly, the pictures can't even compare.  The whole area was covered in the most amazing autumn colors, and the gardens were packed with beautiful floral displays.

This is the road as we were approaching the entrance.
Since this is a castle area, of course you would expect to find some water surrounding the area.
This is at the entrance of the garden area.

Here I am, just enjoying the crisp fall day in Hirosaki.



This is for all of you that really like pandas.
This is for the elephant lovers (yes Mer, this is for you, but I already sent you this picture)
This is for any giraffe lovers out there.
You can see they are really big into the chrysanthemums, and they even eat them in Aomori.  One of the Japanese girls I know said that Americans will buy the petals in the grocery store and sprinkle them around the table thinking they are decoration, but the Japanese think it is funny because that would be the equivalent of the Japanese sprinkling spinach around their table.  It's supposed to be eaten, not used as a decoration!  Glad I learned that early on!

Another major component to this festival is the displays of dolls dressed using flowers.
They even have scenes of warriors made from flowers too.



I believe these were on display for judging.


You can see more of those dolls off in the distance.
They even had them staged in boats.



Inside this little house were more dolls.
This is on the inside.

Look at the deep red color of the leaves.
I found it so relaxing and I had some time before the bus headed back home, so I took a nice stroll through the wooded area in the gardens.


Nice and relaxing!


Then I proceeded through this gate to head up to the castle area.
Check that out!  So beautiful!  I hear it is even more beautiful in the Spring for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Inside there are displays of swords and other samurai gear.




These stairs were seriously steep.  I was impressed some older visitors were able to navigate up and down them.
Here it is from the other side, as I was leaving and heading towards the other end of the park.
I stopped to enjoy the mountain view.
Then I stopped by the water to enjoy the scenery.

Before I headed out I stopped to try a pancake filled with red bean paste.
Then on the way back to the bus I found these guys hand making crackers.
Those were all made by hand.  I thought it was so neat, and I thank them for letting me take pictures.
He starts by putting some nuts in the mold, then adds the dough, and then they are pressed and cooked.
I am a huge pistachio fan, so I bought some to take home.
Had I known they were going to be amazing I would have bought more.
See, they are apple crazy here.  They have apple everything on sale.  I even bought apple wine.
Of course I also could not leave without buying an apple.
One last tasty purchase for the day.  On the bus ride back, when we stopped for a bathroom break, I tried my first ice cream out of a vending machine.  It was awesome!
Yum!  Just as I expected, it was not too sweet.
So that was it for a fun filled day at Hirosaki Castle for the Chrysanthemum Festival.  It was well worth the trip and I look forward to heading back in the Spring for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

QUESTIONS:  What's your favorite kind of apple?  Have you ever made crackers?  Do you get to experience a true fall where you live?