Saturday, October 30, 2010

Non-no July 2010

This is an older issue of Non-no magazine from July 2010. I bought it because of the freebie, of course. It's a really cute canvas bag so I couldn't pass up even if the magazine is a backissue.

Luckily, Amazon Japan still has stock and I got a my magazine in 2 days! It's amazing how fast shipping is here. Love it!

Just a little side note, but this cover makes me giggle. I think the model is going for that Agyness Deyn's signature pose but ends up looking a bit, umm, silly. But I digress...

The Alba Rosa bag turns out to be smaller than expected. Also, it's not all canvas but a mixture of canvas (the denim body) and polyester (the pastel plaid bottom and handles).

The craftsmanship and quality are excellent! In fact, this is probably the most well-made magazine freebie I've got thus far! ...Though I haven't gotten very many... :/ There are no exterior or interior pockets, but the inside seams are all covered with piping. The inner side of the pastel plaid polyester is white nylon, and the whole bag feels quite sturdy with the handles' stitching tracing all the way to the bottom of the bag instead of a simple line or square at the top.

Below are a few cute items the magazine featured. I really like this black and pink tote with the bow.

And that yellow pair of Converse with ruffle ankles is definitely on my shopping list.

I'm still contemplating this pastel blue blouson top. It's super adorable with lace lining at the bottom and embroidery on the front with a bow on the side, but 13,440yen for a shirt is completely ridiculous in my opinion. Given the wages in Japan, I really have to wonder how people can afford to pay all these crazy prices!

Here's a picture of the model holding the freebie bag.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Avon Moisture Therapy Oatmeal Hand Cream

This Avon Moisture Therapy Oatmeal Hand Cream is the 3rd Avon item I received in my recent care package. It's my favorite one too, and hubby promptly snatched it from me because it's just that nice ^.^

It's not too thick but is moisturizing. It feels clean after application, no greasy residue or sticky feeling at all! And best of all, it's unscented! Over all, this hand cream is great but nothing spectacular. That said, I also got it during an Avon promotion for only $0.99 xD For that amount, it's more than worth it. If I had known its quality before hand, I'd buy 10 tubes at that price! So yeah, if I see another good deal for this hand cream, I'd probably stock up!

Avon Moisture Therapy Oatmeal Hand Cream:
***List of ingredients from

Kanagawa Custom Home Summer Autumn 2010

Why Kanagawa Custom Home magazine?

Because the freebie nylon eco bag is kelly green with white polka dots and comes with a matching coin bag xD Gotta love Japanese magazine freebies xDD

And plus I get to ogle fancy Japan houses. What? I'm not allowed to daydream? I've got to escape this boxcar...erhh...apartment somehow.

It's just an ordinary nylon eco bag, the kinds that grocery store chains (like Coop) give as gift when you sign up for a point card with them.

Actually, both this green polka dots one as well as the Coop eco bag feel a bit on the thin side, so I guess I won't be carry heavy groceries with them. They'll be my exclusive mall shopping bags for things that won't break them (but will break my piggie bank instead... :X).

Check this - the coin bag even has arms and legs!!! xDD

There are no interior pockets, and the inside seams are exposed

Seams inside the coin bag are also exposed, but it's so cute I don't care :P

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tom Yum Goong

One of my favorite Thai soups is the ubiquitous Tom Yum Goong and having ordered this soup at every single Thai restaurant I've been to (and they all tasted different too...), at one point I was determined to make it my darn self. Why? So I can have it just the way I want :P

Tom Yum Goong from Thai Avenue, Boulder, Colorado.

While researching online, I found this nifty online Thai grocer In addition to selling Thai fresh and/or packaged ingredients, ImportFood also posts Thai recipes and even videos of street vendors in Thailand cooking the dishes. Seriously, whomever came up with this website is one hell of an entrepreneur! Give people the recipes, then sell them the ingredients - what a great idea! I only bought from them once though (great service, by the way, and lightning fast shipping!), and they were the ingredients I couldn't find at my local groceries. But I do go back to the websites quite often for more recipes. I think the idea here is that if I keep going back often enough, I'll buy again. We'll see. I'm trying very hard to resist ^.^

Tom Yum Goong made at home in the states where more ingredients were readily available.

Anyway, among the various Thai recipes from ImportFood, I found this Tom Yum Goong recipeand started from there, tweaking just a tiny bit to my liking. It shouldn't taste any different from the ImportFood recipe though, since I do stick to the required key ingredients.

Here is what I use to make Tom Yum Goong, note that I'm not calling it "my" recipe, because it's not.

- Shrimps, 3-4 medium per serving, peeled, deveined, and quickly dunk in boiling water or pre-cooked
- Onions, 1-2 medium, sliced thickly
- Straw mushrooms, 1 can (big or small can your choice, any brand will work), halved
***Picture from
- Lemongrass, preferably fresh but dried is okay too. If fresh, use 1-2 3-inch stems sliced into 1-inch chunks and slightly crush each chunk with the end of the knife handle to release flavor. If dried, a few pinches of the dried stems. What I usually do is buy a bundle of fresh lemongrass discard 1-inch at the end as well as a couple outer layers depending on how dirty the lemongrass is. Then I wash the rest well, pat dry, cut them into 3-inch stems and freeze :) They freeze really well and will thaw in minutes if you run them quickly under warm water.
- Galangal, preferably fresh but dried is okay too. If fresh, use a stub half the size of your thumb. If dried, use 2-3 slices but soak in hot water first for several minutes to "reactivate."
- Kaffir lime leaves, 3-4 double leaves (6-8 single leaves), further break each single leaf in half. Again, fresh leaves are preferable but dried leaves works just as well.
- Lime, 1.5 - 2 whole fruits, juiced. This is probably the one ingredient that must be fresh, in my opinion. If lime isn't available, you can substitute lemon, but in my experience concentrated fruit juice will make the soup too harsh and tart.
- Cilantro (coriander), as much or as little as desired, rinsed and pat dry, for garnish.
- Optional: fresh chili pepper, crushed, if you want to give your soup some bite ^.^ I usually crush 5-6 peppers.
- Optional: tomatoes, 3-4 medium, quartered, then halved. This is completely optional, some people likes to add it, others don't. While Kim, the owner of Thai Avenue, said he has always eaten his Tom Yum Goong with tomatoes, however his chef said she added tomatoes only to give the soup some color. My hubby likes his Tom Yum Goong with tomatoes, but I actually think the sweetness in the tomatoes "blands" out the lime in the soup, so I never put tomatoes in. Unless hubby wants to learn how to make this for himself, he's going to have to make do without tomatoes in his Tom Yum Goong muahahaha... xD
- Optional: fried tofu, just because I love fried tofu ^.^
- Optional: there is a newer and creamy version of Tom Yum Goong, and you can make this version by adding 1 can of coconut milk (not juice, not puree, milk!). I use Chaokoh brand almost exclusively, but any brand will work. However, please note that adding coconut milk will make the soup a much heavier dish, so if you want to keep your soup light, don't make this creamy version.
***Picture from

- Nam prik pao (roasted chile in oil), 2 teaspoons
***Picture from
- Thai fish sauce, 5-6 Tablespoons
- Chicken broth, canned or powder, 3-4 cans, or 3-4 teaspoons/cubes dissolved in 2-3 quarts of water.

- Bring chicken broth to a boil and add galangal and lemongrass, cook for 5 minutes
- Add prik pao and mushrooms, bring to boil again
- Reduce heat, add tomatoes if use, fresh crushed chile if use, kaffir lime leaves, and season with fish sauce
- Add onions, stir in lime juice
- Add shrimps last, just before serving as to not overcook shrimps.
- If you are making the creamy Tom Yum Koong, add the coconut milk right after the shrimps. Carefully stir the soup to dissolve the coconut milk.
- Serve hot and garnish with prigs of cilantro.

Tom Yum Goong made here in Japan with dried lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bún Thang

Bún Thang is a northern Vietnamese rice noodles soup that calls for some very intricate (and long and tedious) preparations. According to this Vietnamese cooking blog, the dish was made famous by Mrs. Nguyễn Xiển (nee Nguyễn Thúy An, though some sources say Nguyễn Thị An) who whips it up from scratch to entertain her professor/party-official husband's colleagues. When asked why she calls it "Thang," she said her family tutor taught her that the Chinese character for the Vietnamese word "Thang" - 湯 (also pronounced "tang" in Mandarin and I would guess a similar sound in Cantonese also) - means "soup," and that in China, brothy dishes usually has this character 湯 added to indicate "soupiness." Yet among all the noodles soups in Vietnamese cuisine, none has this word "Thang" attached, and so Bún Thang it is, literally Rice Noodles Soup.

While this is a fun story, I'm not sure how accurate this account is as the blog vaguely quoted "internet research" as its information source with no actual source URL provided. Either way, "Bún Thang" is truly a unique name as there is indeed no other brothy dishes in Vietnamese cuisine with the word "Thang" in its name. I can't find much information on the dish in English, but here's a brief description on Vietnamese Wikipedia, and you can check out pictures from Google. Both my parents' sides of the family are originally from the North, so they've been making Bún Thang for at least a few generations. My mom gave me the shortened recipe because neither she or I have the patience or energy to "endure" the traditional recipe ^.^ But don't worry, while this easier recipe is not as complicated, the end result is still a delicious rice noodles soup. It's hubby's favorite noodles soup of all time alongside with Phở.

Here's the recipe for Bún Thang.

- Rice vermicelli, 1 package.
These rice vermicelli are dried and translucent, fine angel hair-like rounded sticks in packages, the same kind they put in the non-fried Vietnamese spring rolls. At home I use exclusively Sinbo Brand, but any brand that says "Jiangxi Rice Vermicelli" will work and your local Asian grocery store should carry at least several different brands. Note that your package may say "rice sticks" or "rice noodles," and if the dried noodles inside are flat and not rounded, you may have gotten the dried Pho noodles instead and what you really need is the rounded rice vermicelli. It's confusing, I know.

Some of the packaging do look very similar, which only adds to the chaos. However, they all say Jiangxi Rice Vermicelli and the dried noodles inside are all fine and rounded. These are what they use to make the non-fried Vietnamese spring rolls they usually serve at any Vietnamese restaurants in the states.
***Picture from Wikipedia.

- Chicken thighs with drumsticks, 4-5 medium thighs, skinless but with bone.
- Eggs, 3-4
- Chả lụa, or Vietnamese ham/sausage, 1 stick. You can find this in the frozen section of the local Asian grocery store. They come in a rounded 6-inch burrito-like bundle wrapped in either aluminum or dark green banana leaf. Just make sure it says pork and not fish or chicken. Do not buy the "pork paste" in rounded white/translucent plastic containers as these are raw ham/sausage meant to be boiled or deep fried in dollops at home.

Vietnamese ham/sausage
***Picture from

- Ginger, 1 stub, sliced into flat slices lengthwise.
- Lime, several slices, for garnish.
- Scallions, chopped, for garnish.
- Cilantro, several sprigs, for garnish.
- Lettuce, shredded, for garnish.
- Bean sprouts, leave whole, for garnish.
- Mint, shredded, for garnish.
- Thai basil, shredded, for garnish.
- Optional: fresh chile peppers, crushed, for garnish, if you want some spice.

If you want your Bún Thang to be truly authentic, I recommend finding the 2 extra garnishing ingredients below:
- Rau răm, or Vietnamese hot mint, shredded. This herb is an abundant in Southeast Asia but is pretty tricky to find in certain parts of the US of A. I couldn't find it in Jersey at all, searching through several Asian grocery stores. Mean while, there are plenty of it in Colorado where Vietnamese food is much more popular and widely eaten. If you live in Texas or California, congratulations, you've just hit the Vietnamese culinary jackpot and have no reasons (or excuses) to go without your Vietnamese hot mint!
***Picture from Vietnamese Wikipedia.

- Dầu cà cuống, or Southeast Asian giant water bug essence. Just dipping the tip of a toothpick into the essence and then stirring this tiny bit into your bowl is enough to give the soup broth a distinctively spicy and unforgettable fragrant aroma. I know you're thinking bug essence = eww + yuck + gross, but honestly speaking the essence of this insect is what truly makes this noodles soup unique. I would even go as far as to say that one cannot claim he's had authentic Northern Vietnamese Bún Thang until he's had it with the water bug essence. But of course, due to the high culinary demand in Southeast Asia, this bug has become super scarce and the vast majority of the essence sold on the Vietnamese market are mere imitation. The genuine stuff is almost impossible to find and when found would be ridiculously expensive. So see, you don't have to worry about having *real* bug essence in your Bún Thang - you probably won't be able to find it even if you're adventurous! My family has only 1 itty bitty little glass bottle the size of a sample perfume glass vial and my mom treasures it more than her pearls!

- Salt, 1-1.5 teaspoons. You're making a huge stock pot!
- Sugar, 1 teaspoon.
- Black pepper, generous sprinkles.
- Vietnamese fish sauce, for garnish only. DO NOT season your broth with fish sauce or you will be very sorry!

- Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil (I prefer olive) in a stock pot and brown the ginger slices. When the ginger is golden brown, turn off heat and remove pot onto a different eye, let cool.
- Mean while, mix the salt, sugar, and black pepper into a rub and rub it onto both sides of the chicken thighs. Carefully place the chicken thighs on top of the browned ginger slices, marinate for at least half an hour.
- Use this marinating time to prepare (rinse, dry, shred and/or) the scallions, cilantro, herbs, lettuce, and bean sprouts for garnish.
- Once done marinating, reheat the stock pot and fry both sides of the chicken thighs until golden. Remember to move the ginger slices to the top to avoid burning and add more oil if necessary to prevent the chicken sticking to the pot. If you like your broth a darker color (like me), then fry the chicken until golden brown.
- When the chicken thighs reach the desired color, fill the pot with water and cook the chicken thighs thoroughly, usually at least 1-2 hours (hey, I only said this is a shortened recipe, I didn't say it was quick!). Pay very close attention to the broth and skim all foams and excess fat gathering at the top to keep the broth clear and preventing it from turning murky. If the broth is too bland, season it with more salt to taste.
- While the soup is cooking, beat the eggs well with 1 teaspoon of fish sauce. Fry in thin layers on separate pan, then cut into thin strips.
- If you are using Chả lụa, or Vietnamese ham/sausage, use only half a stick and freeze the other half for later use. Slice the half into thin medallions and then further cut into thin strips.
- How do you know when the soup broth is ready? When the meat falls off the bone! Use a pair of cooking chopsticks to pick up the chicken thigh by the drumstick. If you can lift the entire thigh out of the soup intact, the soup's not yet ready. When the chicken thigh falls apart the moment you try to pick it up, the soup is done.
- When soup is done, reduce heat down to simmer, and fish the chicken thighs out of the broth carefully and set aside.
- In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and gently place the dry vermicelli noodles in. Boil for about 3-5 minutes, occasionally stir (be gentle!) to prevent the noodles sticking at the bottom of the pot.
- While the noodles are cooking, quickly debone the chicken. It should be super easy since the meat will fall right off without any effort on your part.
- To test when the vermicellis are done, pick up bunch with your chopstick, then let go slowly until only several strands are left in your [chopsticks'] grasps. Pinch a bit at the end and, well, eat it. If it's still firm or tough at the center, it's not ready. Vermicellis are done when they feels sticky to the touch and melt in your mouth. If you try to pick up a bunch and the vermicellis break, remove from heat at once - they're overcooked and will fall apart becoming mush if you don't strain and rinse with cold water immediately.
- To serve, first spread a handful of fresh bean sprouts at the bottom of the bowl, place the cooked rice vermicelli on top, then arrange the shredded herbs and lettuce, thin strips of fried eggs, Vietnamese ham/sausage, and pieces of chicken meat around the bowl.
- Ladle in the hot soup broth until vermicellis but not all ingredients at top are submerged. Then pinch in the chopped scallions and add a few sprigs of cilantro, squeeze in a slice of lime.
- Add the final touch of undiluted fish sauce, and crush a fresh chile pepper in if you want your noodles spicy.

I couldn't find any Vietnamese ham/sausage here in Japan, so I had to make do with imitation crab meat. I didn't really go with the dish, but better than nothing. And as you can see, I'm also missing a bunch of other herbs too. Oh well, it was still good ^.^

Avon SkinSoSoft Soft & Relaxed Night Softening Hand Cream

This Avon SkinSoSoft Soft & Relaxed Night Softening Hand Cream is another item from my recent care package ^.^ But what a mouthful! Did you notice there are 3 instances of the word "soft" in that name? Urgh. Come on Avon, be more creative!

Anyway, this hand cream has Night Blooming Cactus Flower extract in it and it promises to make your hands soft overnight with regular nightly use.

I honestly like this hand cream much better than the other WinterSoft Intense Concentrate. I know it's not fair to compare these two because the WinterSoft Intense Concentrate is a treatment targeting problem areas and isn't meant to be applied else where, not even as a hand cream. However, I do have to use my hands to apply it onto the problem areas, and I really hate the sticky feel it left behind and would have to wash my hands every time to get rid of it.

This Night Softening Hand Cream has a better texture and leaves my hands instantly soft after application. It absorbs quickly and completely, leaving no sticky feelings. I use it on my feet too, and it's only been 3 weeks but I'm already about half way through the tube. This one smells better too, a citrusy scent that ends up smelling like generic soap, which is kind of odd for a hand cream, but I would pick this over the super strong old flowery grandma's perfume any day!

Avon SkinSoSoft Soft & Relaxed Night Softening Hand Cream:
***List of ingredients from

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sanrio Fan September 2010

Saw the freebie review for this issue of Sanrio Fan September 2010 and the kid in me wanted to have it. The freebie is a super cute "Romantic Border" Tote with mini bag charm, both in a pastel pink and cream stripey Little Twin Stars Kiki & Rara print.

While Amazon Japan no longer has it in stock, I found a copy of it browsing the local bookstore last Friday (same place where I found HbG Autumn/Winter Mook). When I said it was purely coincidentally that I found it, hubby gave me a suspicious look ^.^ but I happily ignored him ;P

Gosh, I can totally imagine any little kid would get so excited to get a magazine like this. Just look at this little bag charm, it's so freakin' adorable!!

Both the tote and the mini bag charm are made out of polyester. Considering it's a kid's freebie toy from a kid magazine, the tote is surprisingly detailed with white satin ribbon border on the outside and the seams inside even have piping to prevent fraying. There are no inner or outer pockets though.

On a pink metal ball chain, the mini bag charm is an exact replica of the tote, down to the white ribbon border! That said, the charm definitely looks like a toy with no inside piping and the handles have raw edges.

Still, it's pretty darn cute! If I had a mini stuffed teddy bear charm, I'd put it in this bag charm and secure it with a mini pink safety pin xD

Inside the back cover, there was a cute wall calendar for 2011!

Back cover.

It's strange, but now that I got this little bag, it's so cute I'm afraid of using it! May be I should save it and gift it to my friend's daughter xD

Friday, October 22, 2010

HbG 2010 Autumn/Winter Mook

The HbG 2010 Autumn/Winter Mook is available in 2 versions (same content though), each with different cover and a different freebie bag style:
1. We Love Cameron version has a Juliette style bag measuring 21(height) x 34(length) x 19cm(width, though more like diameter because the base of the bag is rounded), and a Cameron charm.

2. Graffiti Sunshine version has a rectangular bag measuring 19(height) x 40(length) x 9cm(width), and a heart charm.
***Picture from Amazon Japan.

After seeing a Japanese review for the both the We Love Cameron as well as the Graffiti Sunshine versions, I decided to get the We Love Cameron version because the bag's print is pretty and it looks well-made. The official release date is October 23, but while running about town last night I saw it on sale at a local bookstore. Needless to say, I grabbed one ^.^

The HbG "Juliette bag" has a rounded bottom, 3 large front pockets, and a middle button, but I didn't realize "Juliette" is the name of that style of bags until I flipped through the mook itself! Totally clueless here :D This We Love Cameron freebie is a replica of the smaller version of the Juliette bag.

Boy do I totally see why these HbG mooks fly off the shelves! The bag is really damn well made for a mere magazine freebie! The outside is made of glossy PVC material with a gold tag. The 3 large front pockets has gold piping and the flip sides of the handles are gold as well.

But I am really impressed with the construction of the bag. Not only it is entirely lined with pink polyester fabric, it's also padded throughout, making the whole thing fluffy and cushy to the touch. The stitchings are all neat and even, and the bag looks and feel substantial and not flimsy or cheap. At home something like this would have easily retailed for at least $40!

The only downer is that there is no interior pockets. Can't have the cake and eat it too now, can we? :P You can sort of see how the bag is padded from the picture as the interior looks a bit puffy.

The Cameron charm is much smaller than expected, but cute nonetheless on a golden ball chain.

Now that I see how nice these bags are, I'm definitely going back to get the Sunshine Graffity version also. In addition to the craftsmanship of the bag, its candy purple lining probably tipped the scale for me, even though I'm not too keen on the dark print outside :P

Here are a couple of pictures of cute bags in the mook.

The top row middle bag is a mini Juliette bag in the HbGxMy Melody print.

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