Everything Tastes Better in these Handcrafted Japanese Bowls

A bowl of udon

Just like beer tastes better in a proper glass than a can, and cappuccino tastes better in a ceramic cup than a paper cup, it’s no surprise that Japanese noodles taste better served in a proper, handcrafted noodle bowl.

As soon as we received these new donburi (bowls for noodles or rice) from Koito Pottery in Japan, we knew we’d have to give them a try. That night we whipped up some ramen noodles (NOT made from scratch – that is not something that can be whipped up), and it was honestly the best quick-made ramen we had at home. The next day I made some tofu-tamago-toji-don (stir-fried tofu and spinach encapsulated in a fluffly egg-omelette-type thing, served over rice), and again, the bowls somehow turned it into a fancier, tastier version of this rather basic meal.

So yes, these noodle/rice bowls are magic. The blue-black coloring – a unique characteristic of the pottery made by Dai at Koito Pottery – enhances the visual appeal of the food it contains. The not-so-smooth texture gives you a tactile experience of the wabi-sabi concept. Each bowl is one-of-a-kind, a product of a 100% manual process that requires steady, expert hands and decades of experience.

Last night we had some left-over tempura (thanks, mom!) so naturally, we had tempura udon. I was ready to dig in when I remembered at the last second to snap a photo – so let it be known that taking this photo delayed me attacking my bowl of udon! But boy, was it delicious. I don’t know when I can enjoy a hot bowl of udon in Japan, but at least with these bowls, I can have a little taste of Japan at home, anytime I wish.

SUPER Quick and Easy Japanese Cod Roe Pasta Recipe

Japanese Cod Roe Pasta

Japanese Cod Roe Pasta
Japanese Cod Roe Pasta with Nori Seaweed Topping

As a kid and recent immigrant to the US, I remember being teased by a classmate because “you people eat raw meat!” As a kindergartner, I must have been offended by his derogatory tone – but what I remember more clearly is my amazement at how misinformed he was. “Are all Americans this ignorant?,” I wondered.

Thinking about it now, that kid was probably referring to our consumption of raw fish … something that was probably considered barbaric by the average American way back then. But fast forward a few decades … and my bets are on the grown-up, hippy version of that kid being a “woke”, proud, self-proclaimed lover of sushi. I supposed we have come a long way in cultural acceptance, at least in the food – or foodie – sphere.

Cod roe pasta is not something new to the Italian menu, but the Japanese version of it has such a wonderful mix of flavors that it’s become a popular item on the Japanese menu.  Butter and soy sauce is truly a match made in heaven, and the addition of the cod roe elevates the umami to a whole new level. This pasta is incredibly simple to make – yes, you can prepare the sauce while the pasta is boiling – and requires just a handful of ingredients. If you can get your hands on some tarako (Japanese salted cod roe), the flavor-to-effort ratio is off the charts!

Ingredients:

  • One pack of dry spaghetti (1 lb)
  • Two sacks(?) of tarako (Japanese salted pollock roe) – or mentaiko (spicy version)
  • 1/3 Cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • Cut nori (dried seaweed) – optional
  1. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water – keep it al dente, and reserve some pasta water
  2. While the pasta is cooking, mix the tarako, milk and soy sauce in a small bowl
  3. When the pasta is ready, drain and toss with butter
  4. Mix the tarako sauce into the pasta, add pasta water (1/2 Cup or more, to desired consistency)
  5. Sprinkle with cut nori and enjoy!!

I know it’s only 10am, but I am already looking forward to my lunch …  leftovers!

New from Il Bisonte: A Collapsible Travel Bag in Technical Fabric

Collapsible Travel Bag

Collapsible Travel Bag by Il Bisonte
New! CAMAIORE Collapsible Technical Fabric Travel Bag by Il Bisonte

With the new Spring/Summer 2018 collection, Il Bisonte introduced a lot of new Italian leather handbags. These will of course appeal to the ladies, but thankfully, there are plenty of new mens/unisex bags as well. Take the new CAMAIORE series, for example. By combining nylon and cotton, they’ve come up with a technical fabric that is more durable and resilient, and pleasing to the touch. One such product is a travel bag that can be folded up when not in use.

Because seriously: how many times have you gone on vacation, only to come back with overweight suitcases or having had to buy an extra luggage to carry all the souvenirs home? Well, if you throw one of these into your suitcase, problem solved. It’s light-weight, doesn’t take up a ton of space, and you still don’t have to give up your sense of style with this handsome technical fabric travel bag (with Italian leather trim, I might add)!

If you’re already familiar with Il Bisonte, the bag is consistent with their high quality in both craftsmanship and materials. If you are new to the brand, I encourage you to read all about Wanny di Filippo and how Il Bisonte became world-renowned for the quality and timeless beauty of their products.

Il Bisonte: High-Quality Italian Leather Goods with Minimalist Style

Il Bisonte Before and After

Il Bisonte Logo Tote
Il Bisonte bags and accessories are designed to pursue what they call “classic originality”, marrying clean lines and functionality.

Last summer, while playing my weekly co-ed recreational soccer game, I got an email. It was from a company called Il Bisonte, reaching out because they thought that our philosophy of preserving the way of the artisan would be a good match for their products. While we receive a lot of business solicitations along the lines of “trendy leather bags, very cheap price!”, it’s rare to get a thoughtful email from someone offering products that are in tune with what we are about. I showed the photos of their products to my teammates and received immediate positive feedback, so I hurried home to share the excitement with Daniele, slowly allowing myself to become cautiously optimistic about this brand.

Fast forward 9 months and here we are, proudly carrying a selection of these Florentine leather goods ranging from business card holders to tote bags. With the long-anticipated arrival of the Spring/Summer collection at the end of the month, our catalog will more than double – expanding into categories such as backpacks, weekenders, coin purses and key cases. In the meantime, we have quickly developed an admiration for Il Bisonte’s philosophy of creating high-quality, minimalist leather goods, where the amazing quality of the vegetable-tanned Tuscan vacchetta leather takes center stage. Yes, for me, it’s the leather – it’s always been about the leather. I was pretty much sold the moment I laid eyes on this before and after comparison showing just how gracefully Il Bisonte products age:

Il Bisonte Before and After
See How Beautifully Il Bisonte Leather Ages!?

I immediately invested in the large Il Bisonte logo tote (shown above) and am looking forward to watching the leather deepen in color and acquire that wonderful patina over the years. If you Google “Il Bisonte”, it’s not hard to find fans worldwide boasting about their “20-yr old handbag” or “30-yr old key case” – and I absolutely love that.

How Our Search for the Best Leather Care Products Came to an End

We get a ton of solicitation emails on a daily basis – mostly from leather factories in China or India, boasting “best quality leather goods, cheapest prices.” So imagine my surprise when we were contacted by Luke from DropForge Leather Care and found them to be an upstanding, legitimate business willing to back up their claim to be “the best in leather care.” At the risk of scaring them away, I immediately began firing off a million questions, all of which were answered promptly and confidently. Then they proceeded to send us samples of their products, which we gladly put to our test. Here is the result of our initial test:

Peggy volunteered to test the cream on her beloved black backpack. It had been around the block, and the color had faded into a yellowish grey. With one quick application to a small section of her backpack, we heard Peggy shout, “Oh my gosh!” Based on the decibel level, we feared that the lotion had burned a hole in her backpack or bleached it white. Peggy immediately rushed over, bag in hand. Luckily, she had a delighted look on her face. She showed us the result of her initial application of the cream, and it was as if a film of dirt was lifted from the surface of the leather:

Leather Cream in Action
Peggy’s initial test of the leather cream. Can you tell where she applied it?

We of course did some further tests on other items – from Daniele’s shoes and Colombo messenger bag to my boots and more. Did the new leather cream stand up to our test? Well, in short, yes … but since there are a lot of photos and even a video to show you, the full results will have to wait for a future post. For now, I’ll leave you with a link to literally the The Best Leather Cream We’ve Found.

Testing the new RSS feed

Three-screw wall hook

We’ve been wanting to display a few of our most recent blog posts on the home page of our website. Today, I finally sat down to take a look at what’s involved. At first, it seemed quite daunting. I am not a WordPress expert by any means, and my knowledge of PHP is pretty much limited to the fact that PHP files have a file extention of “.php”.

Surprisingly, it was quite easy! I just googled “how to add an RSS feed to website”, and found a nifty website that would take the RSS feed URL, accept a few parameters like the color of the blog titles, and voila! It automatically generated the code for me to cut and paste into the website. Then, I realized that the code basically pointed to a third-party website which took my RSS feed and converted it to javascript … which means if that third party website goes down, then no RSS feed. Blah. So I kept on researching how to accomplish what I was set out to do … and eventually came across an online tool that generates an iframe for whatever content you wish. Great! That way I can point the iframe to our feed URL and style the iframe the way I want! Fantastic!

… But no, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Going this route, no matter what I did, there was a huge “Subscribe to this feed …” box appearing at the top of the frame. Truly annoying. I tried to figure out how to remove that box … read up about how I’d have to customize the functions.php file for the WordPress theme I was using, etc., but in the end … I just couldn’t figure it out. So I gave up. Good news is, I found a clean-looking version that did most of what I was looking to do at http://feed.mikle.com/en/ I don’t mind giving them credit for the code, I just hope they don’t start spamming our feeds with ads. Until then, I’m fairly happy with our new home page … what do you think??

Three-screw wall hook
A three-screw wall hook by Antartidee. It has noting to do with this blog post, but I just needed a photo to test the feed.

New Campomaggi Bags Received!

So I haven’t been writing much lately, mainly because I have been feverishly working to ensure that we have plenty of Campomaggi bags in stock for all you fans out there. Some bags are so popular that despite our best efforts, we just can’t seem to keep them in stock. I apologize in advance for that, and to those of you who will have to wait months before being able to hold their bags in their hands.

The first fruit of my labor arrived this week … a shipment to replenish some sold out items and, more importantly, a bunch of new bags!! Because it will take many days before we get around to posting all of the new bags on our website, we put together a quick video to show you what we got. If you see anything that interests you, please let me know! I’d be happy to provide more photos or video. Oh, and one last bit of good news … three new Campomaggi briefcases are expected by the middle of next week. Enjoy!

PETALO GRANDE Large Laser-cut Leather Handbag by Caterina Lucchi (Product Review)

PETALO GRANDE laser-cut handbag
PETALO GRANDE laser-cut handbag. By the way, I am 5'5" and the bag in no way feels too large for me.

When we write product descriptions, we try to go beyond simply listing features and convey the essence, or the “personality” of the product. Often I’ll let a product sit on my desk for days before I feel like I am familiar enough with it to write about it. If it’s a handbag, I might try carrying it on my shoulder to see how comfortable it feels, or try filling it with different items to see what kinds of uses it might be best suited for.

With the Petalo Grande Laser-cut Leather Handbag, I wanted to try something different. So I had Daniele take photos of me as I was toting it around. The result was somewhat surprising … the image I had of the bag was not the same as what I saw in the photos! Because the bag is so light – one of the big pluses of Caterina Lucchi‘s leather bags – I hadn’t realized how large the bag seems from a distance. (I also realized that my sepia-colored sweater does not really bring out the nuanced java color of this bag). The bag IS quite large. You can fit quite a bit of stuff in it. But you won’t feel like you’re toting around a bowling bag, because even though it’s real Italian leather, it’s calfskin … super soft and supple, and light-weight.

I love the Batik, two-toned look of this bag. It’s subtle enough as to not detract from the gorgeous laser-cut flower motif, but offers just enough of a contrast to remind us that the understated brown is most definitely intentional. A very nice feature (also typical of Caterina Lucchi’s handbags) is the removable leather strap. I thought this bag would be first and foremost a handbag, and secondly a shoulder/cross-body bag, but to my surprise, it looked fantastic worn crossbody style – perhaps even better than high on the shoulder. I loved this look so much that I decided to take even more photos with my 1-day old HTC Vivid and play around with some of the nifty effects that would take several steps to do in Photoshop! These two were my favorite.

Camera Effect 1
Depth of Field

Camera Effect 2
Vintage Effect

Anyway, now that we have smartphones that can take high-quality photos and videos that can be uploaded to our server with just a couple of key strokes, we hope to post more photos and videos of our products going forward. Hmm, maybe I can use this as an excuse to go shop for some new clothes!