Simple Mozzarella and Spinach Pasta Recipe

Tax season is upon us in Japan and I’ve been really busy getting my things in order so I can make the March 15th deadline. Unfortunately that leaves me with not much time to write even though there’s plenty I’d like to write about. However, I thought I’d take the time to share this quick, nutritious, and tasty pasta lunch I’ve come up with. Most afternoons I’ve got a hungry baby demanding food when I’m trying to put something together, so I usually have to whip up something quick. Baby J loves when we have this for lunch. I usually serve it with cow’s milk and buttered bread; I also give her some fruit if she’s still hungry.

I was in a hurry to feed her when I took this photo, so next time I make it hopefully I’ll get a better picture.

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Ingredients: (Makes 2 servings)

  • 250 g (about 9 oz) of a type of pasta that’s easy for a baby to pick up (I like penne)
  • 330 g (12 oz) of your favorite tomato sauce
  • 3 cups of baby leaf spinach
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a boil in a pot and boil the pasta for however long it says to boil them for on the package (for penne it’s 11 minutes).
  2. Pour the tomato sauce into a frying pan and add in the spinach.
  3. Pour the cooked penne through a colander and then put the penne on plates.
  4. Heat up the tomato sauce and spinach. Stir until the spinach becomes wilted.
  5. Add the sauce to the penne. Sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and mix it into the sauce so that it melts.
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The Quest for Daycare Part 4: The Saga Continues

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If she fits, she sits.

Last week allergies were really getting me down and I’ve been busy with work, so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write very much recently.

It’s been over a week now since Baby J had her half-day at daycare. It did not go very well, but that’s no surprise. My neighbor has watched her a couple of times, but that’s about the extent that she’s been away from her daddy and me. She cried the whole time and didn’t eat very much. No wonder they charge the same amount as a full day!

Since we got that half-day out of the way, that made us qualified to make reservations for they refer to as emergency daycare (kinkyuu hoikuen). They take reservations for daycare spots for the following month on the fourth Monday of every month. There’s a lot of competition for it and I wasn’t sure if I had a chance at getting through the line. In fact, it took me calling over 150 times to get through! Thank goodness the redial button is just a tap away now, but I really wish I had an app or something that would auto-redial.

I was actually really surprised when I heard the phone ringing. When they picked up I asked how many days they had open still and it turns out that they only had 5 days with a spot available left for the whole month of March! Wow! Even though they were on days I wasn’t really I wonder if we got the very last spots for the month. They’re not the most ideal days, but some days throughout the whole month are better than none.

I was glad we got those days for March. Honestly I didn’t think we had much of a chance to get in for part time daycare since there were ten people waiting in front of us. So, I thought that would be the end of the saga for now.

Imagine my surprise though when I got a call from the daycare on March 1st telling me that they have space for us three times a week! Maybe it’s because I said my days were flexible? Starting in April, Baby J will be attending daycare on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays! Since she wasn’t too happy her first time at daycare, they want to make her second time there a half day too. I’m kind of afraid they’re going to make all five days this month a half day so she can get used to it slowly. It’s a good idea, but I had been looking forward to having whole days to focus on work stuff. Hopefully Baby J will adjust quickly and learn to have fun with her new friends though.

Her second half-day at daycare will be tomorrow. Good luck to us!

A Little Bakery Called Juin

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While where we live isn’t the most ideal of locations since it’s located on top of a hill in a very hilly area, there is a one advantage to where we live: a little bakery called Juin. It’s run by two kind older ladies, and it’s the perfect place to run to on the weekends or early in the morning when we realize we’re out of toast for breakfast, or just need our pastry fix.

The bakery itself is small, maybe only a couple of people can fit in there at a time. However, they have a nice selection of bread and pastries. There’s even a schedule posted behind the register so you can know when they’ll have fresh loaves of bread ready. Some of the pastries they offer are even shaped like popular characters from kids shows.

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They even offer freshly made seasonal pastries, like the one above. This one is shaped like a cherry blossom with an actual cherry blossom in the center. The filling is cherry blossom flavored anko (red bean paste). Delicious!

The Quest For Daycare Part 3: The Shopping List

The daycare gave me a list of things that Baby J will need every time she attends. I was missing some of them, so it was time to go shopping!

The list consisted of…

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Shoes since she can walk. Boots and sandals aren’t allowed, so I had to get her some real sneakers! I also got her some new pairs of socks because most of hers have gotten too small. She has pretty tiny feet though, so I imagine these will last her awhile. Even the shoes were 1.5 cm bigger than her feet even though I got her the smallest size, though I know it’s good to give her room to grow!

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A nice fluffy towel-like blanket for naps.

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Two towels for wiping her face with, and another towel with a string for wiping her hands with. They had a variety of characters to choose from. I almost got her some pretty Hello Kitty ones, but in the end I went with her favorite characters, Wan Wan and U-tan from the kids TV show Inai Inai Baa!.

 

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Two bibs and a cup. I got her a couple of new ones because we can’t have too many bibs! I was hoping they would have Inai Inai Baa! ones, but my only options were Hello Kitty and Anpanman, unfortunately.

In addition to the above, I’m also going to have to prepare 3 pairs of clothes and plastic bags for bringing dirty laundry home. The list also mentions formula and bottles, but after being away from her for a long period of time for the first time since October over the weekend, I think she’ll be OK without it (which definitely saves us some money!).

Chicken and Spinach Gratin Recipe

I really need to make this recipe more often! Unfortunately it takes a bit more time to prepare than a lot of my other favorite recipes. This gratin recipe is great on cold days when you want something to warm yourself up with.

I’ve edited the portions of how the original recipe is written on Cookpad a bit to reflect how I usually make it.

Ingredients: (Makes 3-4 servings)

  • 250 g of noodles of your choice
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 2 bunches of spinach
  • Any other vegetables that you would like to add, such as onions or mushrooms
  • About 5 tablespoons of butter
  • 6 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups and two tablespoons(450 cc + 30 cc) of milk
  • 1 chicken flavored bouillon cube
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • As much shredded cheese as you want (sliced cheese works too)

Directions:

  1. Boil the pasta and put it into a separate bowl for later.
  2. Cut the vegetables and chicken into bite-size sizes. Boil the spinach.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180º C (360º F) if you’re using a regular oven. If you’re in Japan and using the oven function in a microwave like we do, preheat to 190ºC.
  4. Season the chicken with some salt and pepper. Heat up a small bit of oil in a pot and cook the chicken.
  5. After the chicken becomes a cooked color, add two teaspoons of butter and any other vegetables you plan to include aside from the spinach. Cook well and then add another 3 tablespoons of butter.
  6. After the butter has completely melted, turn off the heat and add in the flour.
  7. Once the flour has covered everything, turn the heat back on and mix them all together.
  8. Add two cups (450 cc) of milk and the bouillon cube in. Stir until it gets thick. If you were frying the the previous steps in a pot, then just add all this on top of the fried stuff.
  9. Add another two tablespoons of milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta and spinach into the pot, and mix them all together.
  10. Butter a baking pan, and then pour the contents of the pot into the pan. Use as much cheese as you want on top. I like to pile it on!
  11. Bake in the oven until the cheese turns golden. It takes about 20 minutes uncovered for me, but I’m sure it’d be much faster in a real oven.

The Quest for Daycare Part 2: The Interview

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I had been anxiously awaiting this interview part of the process for the past few weeks. Although they called it an interview, it was more like an info session. Before the interview, I had to make sure to fill out a form and I had to make a copy of Baby J’s latest checkup. The form wasn’t too difficult, though I was embarrassed about my terrible handwriting. I think she was relieved to see that my language skills are high enough to be able to read and write in addition to speaking, since she spoke to me at her natural pace.

When we first went in I could see the people in the office gathering around the window and probably commenting about how cute Baby J is. I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit about one woman who covered her mouth with both hands in awe.

I was greeted at the door and then brought into their office, which was pretty hot. I had to keep Baby J on my lap the whole interview, which became a bit of a challenge as time went on. The lady brought some toys though, which was entertaining for J for a little while. However, for the most part J was more interested in the clear file that I brought to hold the documents I prepared. The lady went over the details on the paper I was given explaining the daycare and then showed the specifics of what types of things I need to pack for her each time she attends. She then asked about J’s daily schedule and eating. It turns out that she’s considered stage 4 (kanshoku) for solids, which is the last stage. Yay!

Unfortunately, there’s ten people on the waiting list. Not sure if that includes us or not, so a spot for us might not open up until the end of March if at all. In the meantime I can try my luck each month at securing a spot in their “emergency daycare” program. But first we have to have a trial run at the daycare. The lady scheduled us for the required half-day trial run next Thursday.

I was a bit surprised to hear that this daycare doesn’t accept breastmilk though since they don’t have a refrigerator. I gave up on pumping months ago so it’s not such a big deal, but this might mean that I’m going to have to buy some formula. I’ve started introducing her to cow’s milk, but so far she’s not impressed. I hope I can get her more interested in cow’s milk soon so we can avoid the cost of formula.

In the meantime though, I’m going to have to go shopping for all of the things Baby J will need! Hopefully it own’t be too expensive. I think I need to buy labels that I can stick onto her belongings too.