After a crazy night sweating it out with our friend Takeshi, plus about a million or so others, at Gion Matsuri (Kyoto's famous Gion festival) we needed a little sustenance to see us through the next day's jaunt to Arashiyama.
While its not very Japanese, French toast with blueberries, maple and toasted hazelnuts - and bacon...., seemed like a good way to get us up and going in the intense heat.
Here's a quick recipe from my head - for 2-4 people - depending on your appetite!
Blueberry Hazelnut French Toast
4 thick-cut slices of bread of your choice
2 best quality eggs
200ml milk or a mixture of half milk and cream (or just over 2/3 of a cup for those of you in the USofA)
a dash of pure vanilla extract
a quick shake of ground cinnamon
butter for frying
a small handful of Hazelnuts, halved or roughly chopped
Organic Maple syrup - as much as you like
a cup or so fresh or frozen blueberries
rashers of hot, crisp bacon
Cut the bread slices in half to form two broad fingers.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon in a wide, shallow dish. Place the bread, flat sides down in the mixture and press down lightly. Turn the slices and press down again. You may not have room to place them all flat in a single layer and if this is the case, rotate them occasionally while you let the whole thing sit for the next half hour. Its OK if some slices sit on top of the other for a bit - just swap them around when you think of it. Ideally you want the bread to evenly absorb the custardy mixture.
Meanwhile, melt a little butter in a pan over medium heat and toast the hazelnuts until they are lightly golden and smell so good you can't help but sample one. Set nuts aside.
Wipe out the pan then add a couple of good slugs of maple syrup (well as much as you think you might like to drown your french toast with) and heat over medium high until just bubbling. Add the blueberries and keep cooking for a few minutes or until the colour leeches into the syrup. Keep warm over low heat.
Heat a knob of butter in a large frypan (a good quality non stick pan is great for french toast - although I don't normally advocate their use) over medium high heat. When its bubbling - add the french toast in a single layer - making sure the pan isn't crowded - and cook on each side for a few minutes or until nicely golden - you will likely have to do this in a couple of batches. If you aren't eating the first batch immediately - keep it warm in a low oven.
Place the French toast on a platter and pour the blueberries in maple over them. Sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts and serve the bacon on the side. Don't forget the coffee!!
Variation: as I was typing this up his I had a pang for French toast again so whipped up a batch but instead of blueberries I used the amazingly juicy, flavoursome peaches on hand. One of the few things I like about Summer in Kyoto. I didn't add them to the syrup - instead simply sliced them fresh over the top of the cooked french toast... oh and I added a wee slurp of bourbon to the maple when I heated it. Some toasted almonds would have been nice had I note been in the process of minimizing kitchen supplies in preparation for our departure at the end of the week.... eeek.
So off we wobbled to the bus-stop post feast. It was a challenge in the searing heat - and this was at around 9:30am so you can probably imagine how the day might have panned out. Waiting for the bus nearly killed us all. Yes, it was that bad. And no, we weren't hungover. And no I am not being overly dramatic... well that depends who you ask.
Catching a bus in Kyoto is always interesting. On this particularly trip we found a local dressed as, well a pseudo Samurai, we suspect. At first we thought he must have worked at Toei Uzumuasa Eiga-mura - the Samurai set movie village near Arashiyama ... but we found out later that was not the case...
Anyway... it was soy milk soft-serve with red beans on top... almost healthy.
We wandered, very slowly, through the main streets below then up through part of the temple precinct into the bamboo forest where we anticipated cool relief.....
Tanuki... looking a little loco. No doubt a direct result of the heat.
I love this small pond and bridge near Tenryuji temple - even in winter when it is stark and dangerous looking, spiky with dead stems and murky with rotting plant scum. This was my first time to witness it in full greenery - with actual lotus flowers in bloom. Summer in Japan IS good for some things... who knew. (ps - use Google Chrome to translate any Japanese links)
Within a short time of strenuous photo taking - one of us was in need of another icy treat. We turned down the dango and other traditional sweets in favour of....
Finally... we made it to the cool...errr, maybe not so cool bamboo forest... perhaps even more humid in parts than out in the direct sunlight... this is where we REALLY started to feel the heat. Might have had something to do with being in the middle of the day by the time we set foot on the shaded path. Tropical. Jungle like. Feverish. Incoming!
Seems some people had the right idea...
I guess it might look a little cooler than it was... and that, in Japan, is often the point. To have something appear to be cool in Summer is the first step towards it "feeling" cool and therefore refreshing.. get it.. that's why you see cool colours in everything from tableware, to wall hangings, to summer wagashi (sweets).
OK, that's enough bamboo forest .... (it looks almost cool reviewing it now..which is helping me through my steamy morning, but it was more than unpleasant to actually live it ). Once we left the main section we continue walking and stopping off for refreshments ever 15 minutes or so. Yes, really, it was that necessary to rehydrate ourselves. We were parched within a very short time, our bodies purging more liquid than we could get into us. I was suffering terribly this day and had it not been for two boys pushing me I could easily have collapsed into a cab, ordering the driver to deposit me ANYWHERE with air conditioning...
Pretty stops like these make even the weariest travel feel happy
Onwards we travelled....
Before spotting the sign below...
It kindly invited us to stop and enjoy a little something in their garden - so how could we refuse? Boy were we glad we did - not only was the homemade plum juice to DIE for, as was the plum jelly and other sweets - it was simply the most lovely little garden and ceramic store. Well worth a look if you are in the area - good prices too. A charming experience. A few other shops are close by selling mainly bamboo related products - including beautiful lamps.
Couldn't get away from freakin' Tanuki... him and his sticky-beak family kept following us.
Ice cold Ume (plum) juice, ume jelly, preserved Ume = stunning on a Summer's day
And on we travelled upon the preserved street of Saga Toriimoto towards Adashino Nenbutsuji (a temple to the many dead who's bodies were abandoned here in desperate times of war, famine and epidemic during the Heian period).
Such a pretty street dotted with gorgeous souvenier shops - below is the back garden to one of them
Daruma with long eyelashes... another first for me - he's usually far less hirsuit
Finally, we reached our destination Adashino Nenbutsuji. For a place steeped in such harrowing history it is indeed beautiful and serene.
Not far from here is another related temple but we had no access. As we tried to climb futher up the hill we found not only many homes and businesses that had been drenched in the mudslide but also a rather large hole in the road where it had collapsed, under the weight of the mud, into the small river below... we respectfully left them to the cleanup and headed home. To sleep off the heat. Another sweltering Summer's day in Kyoto officially over.
PS - if you are reading this before September 22 2012 - jump on over to my Zenbu Zen Competition page for a chance to win a signed copy of my new book - Zenbu Zen! Out 01 October 2012. Go on - do it now!!