Tuesday, November 18, 2014




Tarte tatin was the result of an accident. Or so I've read.
There are a few versions of the story but it is commonly said that Stéphanie Tatin, one of the two sisters that ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, was overworked one day and while trying to bake her specialty "tarte aux pommes", accidentally placed the apples and sugar in the pan before placing the pie crust first. In a rush, she threw the crust on top, baked the whole pan in the oven and turned it out on a plate upside down . . . and the rest is history. An accident turned one of the most famous french desserts of all time. "An accident in the kitchen story" surely does not get better than this. But that does not mean there aren't other good stories.

The storyline is a bit different but these tartes tatin was a result of an accident too: there were some figs trying to be caramelized and they collapsed. Luckily there was an apple.


As the Tatin sisters' story tells us, the kitchen is a place to learn that not all accidents are failures — quite the contrary, some of the most beautiful and delicious things can be a result of one. How odd to welcome these "accidents" when all my life I have been more than careful to avoid (m)any, going to great lengths at times. It is like looking at the world (or the kitchen) through a different pair of glasses, and improvisation and spontaneity and a few spills and crumbles here and there . . . it is all welcome. Accidents do not end as mere accidents but become happy accidents. Which brings us back to the tartes tatin.

Saturday, September 20, 2014





Every year, as I grow older, time seems to pass by quicker each and every year; hour by hour, day by day, month by month, and season by season. This summer was no exception — if not, it was the fastest I had felt a season slip away, and the hot languid days passed by in a hazy blur. How could that be?
But summer was here and I have memories to prove that I had a good one: buying a new pair of sunglasses at my favorite shop and having ice cream on the way back home, having long languid conversations with close friends over champagne and dinner, going to the aquarium — for the first time in a very long time — with a close friend and then later in the week helping her move out of town (I miss her already), grabbing drinks at a tiny beer cafe with Yu on a random weeknight, lunching with my dear friend in our high school neighborhood just for old times sake (she was wearing the best hawaiian print button down shirt over a long flowing skirt), going on a girls-only outing to Hakone with my grandmother, mother, and aunt . . . Even a trip to Disneyland with my brother and his girlfriend which is something I would not be up for during any other season.
But even with all these good memories (and more), I am still not quite ready to let go of summer. There are sweaters and coats displayed in the shop windows, and the days have been much cooler with grey clouds and the rain taking place of the harsh summer sun. There are no more cicadas crying in the trees, and when the wind blows it is no longer a summer breeze. Whether I like it or not, autumn is right around the corner — or maybe it is already here — but I am still holding on. Wearing my favorite pair of summer shorts/white shoes one last time, buying the last of peaches and plums at the grocery store, listening to Lana's Summertime Sadness, and making good use of my ice cream maker.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014




An extraordinary grandfather is a wonderful thing to have, and fortunately, I am one of the lucky grandchildren in this world to have one. A Grandfather N to be exact, whom my brother and I call J. He is, and will always be my hero; a role model, a mentor, maybe even a superstar that I will always look up to no matter how old I become. He is that wonderful.
On May 19th, J passed away. He had been ill for some time, and the last 7 months of his life were spent in a hospital room, close enough from his home but still away from it (which is a shame because he loved his home). He went peacefully in the sole company of my grandmother, his beloved wife to whom he had been married for 62 years. As you can probably imagine, the event left me devastated.
But today, I am not going to write about my heartbreaking sorrow. Nor am I going to write about all the wonderful memories I have of him. I am going to tell you about my beloved grandfather's beloved dessert.


J was a dessert lover. He had a sweet tooth, and dessert, along with 'ocha' (tea time) which is around 4 o'clock at my grandparents's house, was something he looked forward to immensely. I remember particular treats he was fond of; the most light and delicate cheesecake, a swiss roll filled with fluffy cream, (both from the 'depa-chika' of department stores he frequented), classic choux à la crème from a neighborhood pâtisserie, ice cream from the grocery store (he loved häagen-dazs), slices of fruit (cantaloupe was his favorite), and his go-to treat: crème caramel.
During J's 7 month stay at the hospital, everyone in our family took turns visiting him, with the exception of my grandmother who was there practically every single day. (Ah, true love, no?) We would talk to him, hold his hand, rub his feet, play his favorite music on the iPad and . . . deliver his crème caramel of the day. Being diagnosed with diabetes at the time, J was on a strict diet, but because he ate so little while he was in the hospital, he was given permission to have treats. Crème caramel was one of the few things he would eat even when he didn't have much of an appetite, and the pudding texture was ideal for his swallowing (he had aspiration pneumonia); hence began the daily delivery. It was the highlight of his day, the moment he had his first spoonful, giving me or whoever else was present a huge boyish grin.
I think about all the times in the past we had crème caramel together at the kitchen table back at his house. I don't think it was ever his "favorite" dessert. But you see, J is the kind of person to fall madly in love with a certain dessert requesting it over and over again, only to fall madly in love with a different dessert after a few months, sometimes a few weeks. His sweet tooth "affairs" come and go most of the time, but I could remember various times in between various affairs we had crème caramel together. Crème caramel is, and I am suspecting always has been, his female companion; the friend he goes back to and has nice conversations with when the affairs tire him out, the friend he is loyal to and never ditches no matter how long it takes for him to visit again. She is gentle and sweet and wholesome (well in a chic way — after all, creme caramel is French), and suits any occasion including the occasion you are sick in the hospital.

Less than a week before J passed away, I made this dessert with him in mind. He hadn't eaten in a while . . . maybe he wouldn't be able to ever again. I wish I had thought of making this earlier while he could still eat, but I was afraid of making him sicker — 'what if I give him food poisoning?' was a thought I couldn't shake. They turned out perfectly, an all too rare result for first time recipes, and I couldn't help but think that J must be sending good vibes to the little oven in my kitchen. He passed away the following Monday.


It has been two and a half months since that day and I have made crème caramel exactly three times since then. Each attempt has turned out perfectly. Of course I am thinking it is because of J, that he is still sending good vibes . . . good vibes from heaven. Which makes me think I will never fail at making crème caramel. The thought is enough to make me feel invincible — even if it is only for those few moments I am making this dessert — and it is a lovely feeling. It feels very much like love.

Thank you J, for being the extraordinary grandfather you are, for showing me to do the things you love to love the life you live, for loving me unconditionally, and for all the good vibes from heaven to my oven. You are indeed my hero.

* { crème caramel adapted from : Masahiko Hayashi via kyounoryouri (みんなのきょうの料理)custard pudding (カスタードプリン) }
— click on the images above, or continue reading for the recipe