real madrid

when london was to celebrate queen elizabeth’s golden jubilee weekend from june 1 to 4 in 2002, i flew to madrid for a spanish long weekend. actually, though i’d visited barcelona and several cities in andalucía before, i’d never been to madrid, i’d known of madrid only through visual and written information until then.
so, that was real madrid. you might know this if you were a football fan: “real” in spanish means royal, incidentally. my hotel there was villa real, which is not a super hip but really cool hotel with 5 stars. matter of fact, it was the 1st prize of a travel essay contest organised by a spanish travel agency and mr geek, whom i went out with at the time, won. mr geek, who is a self-claimed anarchist, invited me there to escape the golden jubilee together.
the weather was brilliant in madrid as you can imagine. by day, we rambled about town visiting museos such as the prado, reina sofía and thyssen-bornemisza for master pieces of velázquez, goya, el greco, bosch, but picasso’s guernica was “away’ unfortunately, and jardín botánico was a real oasis for chilling out. by night, we went out for tapas, or a meal at 1 michelin-starred zalacaín, or to teatro real for the modern adapted “madam butterfly” where i needed a bucket for my tears.
it is always so nice to go on holiday with a companion who has lots in common. still, to be honest with you (and with me too), my memories of being a traveller can be more vivid somehow when i travel all by myself. maybe, because i’m too selfish and greedy to have all experiences in foreign countries to myself? and, because i want to be free anytime for taking pictures without keeping anyone waiting. in this sense, our madrid trip was fun but tends to slip out of my memory.


my babes mean herbs

late may – i am so happy to see my babes growing. my babes? yes, my edible babes, i mean, herbs. i’m not a green thumb, really. but, once i take a herb home from a garden shop i look after it with love, just like pet owners. if any of them gets sick or a pest attack, i will be very sad. herbs are much easier than cats or even goldfishes to look after, though.

at the moment, my little green babes are italian parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, coriander, nutmeg geranium (i don’t know how to use this for cooking, but it flowers almost all year around and its heady scent is addictive!) and 3 varieties of mint. they are all fine, growing lush, on my south-faced balcony.

i love using herbs for cooking. they sometimes even overwhelm other ingredients in my case. basically, i prefer vegetables and fruits to meat, so my dinner plate always looks colourful. meanwhile, one of my favourite japanese herb is 青紫蘇 ao-ji(shi)so (green perilla). as i’ve found that growing it in a pot is difficult, i get leaves from a supermarket.

青紫蘇 goes with pasta. you can use it like basil. since japanese cuisine has become a global trend, you’ve possibly already tasted it, no? and, i love japanese mushrooms. we have great variety of mushrooms, actually. mushrooms and 青紫蘇 go very well. what about 水菜 mizuna? it is versatile and can substitutes rocket. i always use it for pasta and salad (pics are: linguine with水菜 and mushrooms; 水菜 salad with chopped pelican mongo and balsamic vinaigrette.)

other dishes i’ve lately cooked with my babes are avocado salsa with shrimps. surely, i used coriander, which is a new face on the balcony. another dish is paella. my paella can impress guests, because not only parsley but saffron is genuinely home-grown. my mother grows saffron crocus every year for me. isn’t she wonderful?



i’ve noticed that peony is probably the most popular flower among girl/lady bloggers at this time of year. matter of fact, like vale says, i, too, prefer delicate and subtle beauty of flowers to dominant and obvious beauty of flowers like peony. still, i do love every flower. when i visited my mother on tuesday, several peony buds in her living room caught my eye naturally. i remember that my parents used to grow peonies in our garden. one of her friends grows peonies and brought a couple of stems to her.

“wow! 牡丹botan (peony)” i said. “no, it’s not 牡丹, it’s 芍薬 shakuyaku (peony lactiflora)” my mother denied and added, “牡丹is tree but芍薬 is not.” oh, is that so? indeed, i know at least the difference that bloom of 牡丹is bigger and more powerful in a way than 芍薬, which is taller than 牡丹 although the characteristics of both flowers look the same. in japan, we have a saying for a beautiful lady that “she’s a 牡丹when she stands up, she’s a 牡丹 when she sits down.” anyway, i always associate both flowers, especially this shocking pink, with china, though, because it’s a floral symbol of china.

as for colours, if i had a choice, either tree peonies or plant peonies, i prefer pastel shades to shocking pink. but when i my mother offered me one bud, i of course took it home. and it fully opened up yesterday. no doubt. it’s gorgeous. i hope you all are enjoying the season of 百花繚乱 hyakkaryoran (a hundred of floweres profusely blooming)!


happy mother’s day

it’s mother’s day. it’s sunday and sunny (going to be a scorcher ) over here. oh, i don’t need anything else… do i? in japan, sending red carnations to mothers is sort of a peculiar mother’s day tradition. every year, i’d wonder who started it. the picture is the one my lovely daughter sent me one year ago. i’ve already sent my mother a pot of hydrangea (this year again, though) and told my daughter i’d want no mother’s day gift this year. whatever you want for mother’s day, have a good one!


bluebell report

in japan right now, we are in the middle of spring break. people have gone on holiday somewhere. me? i do love spending this pleasant season staying at home (no, not because of the swine flu pandemic), because, you know, i have a beautiful park adjacent to the premise of my flat. so i couldn’t be happier to find spring flowers, especially bluebells, in my park than going anyplace crowded. for me, bluebells associates with springtime in london. many english people associate magnolias or rhododendrons with spring, maybe. the bluebells took my breath away when i had a walk in the park between sprinkles of rain last sunday.

in retrospect, i was a big fan of cocteau twins who sang “blue bell knoll” in the late 80’s when i lived in london. over there, bluebells could be seen anywhere. but sadly, i lost my own favourite photos of a bluebell wood of newbury. i can get identical images from here or blogs like vanya’s, though. also, i once had an opportunity of working on a magazine assignment with a renowned japanese photographer ages ago. we had a photo-shoot at kew gardens. that image of the bluebells seems to remain in my mind for good. by the way, i believed those ones were common bluebells. perhaps, the ones i now see in my park are spanish bluebells, which, i’ve just learned, invade areas of native common bluebells in england. so they are precious now.

the bluebell season looked nearly over when i had a walk yesterday. still, i could enjoy sort of a residue of the english spring image. i sometimes spotted a white variant in london. in fact, i’m always attracted to white or greenish flowers. along with bluebells, clearly green hellebore also passed their prime, however. now that white lace flowers (orlaya grandiflora) must be the queens of the garden in my park. there were other whites such as tulips and 姫空木 hime-utsugi (deutzia gracilis). if you took a closer look at flowers, you would find tiny green creatures like a spider and a grasshopper busy working on them. despite the fact that i have a terrible arachno-phobia, that was another lovely discovery!

trees were beautiful, too. 花水木 hanamizuki (dogwood) can never be an eye-opener, but it brightened up the path in woodlands. do you remember my post on 梅 woo-may (prunus mume) blossom back in february? when i walked through the 梅 orchard, i saw swelling green fruits on the branches already rounding. and, what about the post on burning 紅葉momiji? lacy soft green leaves, trembling to the breeze, now made me a green canopy while walking up to the main path. then, on my way home, i found that each 柊南天 hiiragi-nannten (mahonia japonica) in the shrub near my flat had dozens of fruits, which exactly look like gems of jade.

back in my living room, a couple of white bawls of lace-up hydrangea, a new face among my pot-plants, looked just serene. for me, it was heaven on earth, for a moment or two.