Japanese Tea Cakes at Hogetsu Bakery

I have traveled to the west side of Chula Vista many times because my best friend used to live there. In my many years of traipsing around Chula Vista with Keyanna, I never came across this bakery even though it was only about half a mile from her home! Shane and I only recently discovered this gem on a search for the infamous wagashi, Japanese tea cakes.


Hogetsu is hidden away in a tiny shopping center, not visible from the street. The exterior of the building looks a little industrial, therefore not so much like a warm inviting bakery.  However, when you step inside, magic happens!


I about died when I saw the colorful little tea cakes! Above, were our purchases from the bakery. Afterwards, we quickly resented placing such a small order.


The bakery is owned by an old Japanese couple that make all the wagashi on the premises.  They certainly have a special talent for making beautiful, tasty objects out of rice! The brown tea cake on the right, was the first one we tasted. It had a very thin, light pancake wrapping the outside and was branded with cherry blossoms. Inside was a sweet mochi, rice dough, and this was one of the softest textured mochi I have ever eaten! It was like biting into a pillowy cloud. It became very clear that the pastries were just freshly made! Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what the names of these individual tea cakes are, however, teacake #1 was delicious!

We read a suggestion on Yelp that it was best to come to the bakery right when it opened to get first pick, otherwise the best selections would have already disappeared! We certainly didn’t want that to happen, so we showed up right at their opening time, 10am, which fortunately is not too terribly early.

The second tea cake we tried was the rainbow colored mochi. It looked like colorful toy sashimi because it was rectangular in shape and the bottom was white like a bed of rice. The rice was equally soft as the first, however, this was my least favorite. The top colorful portion was slightly salty in flavor making this mochi more savory.  Shane’s description of it’s flavor was very accurate, “like the finest play-doh”! He did find this play-doh quality odd but, strangely, he took a liking to it. Come, on! Admit it! We all tried to eat play-doh as kids and remember it’s distinctly salty taste. Although, I have to admit I was a little exceptional in that I tried to eat many non-food items as a child which included silica gel and my mother’s contact lenses!

I digress! At any rate, tea cake #2 received mixed reviews. Shane liked the rainbow mochi and I did not. Although, If you have a strange desire to reminisce about your play-doh eating days, definitely give this a try!

The third tea cake we reviewed was the purple, plum-shaped mochi. They certainly do not overlook details at this bakery because they made a little green stem coming out of the plum from agar-agar which is a seaweed derived gelatin. The plum mochi was my favorite! It had same soft rice dough on the outside, except it had this extraordinary melt-in-your-mouth quality! Inside, was a soft, sweet, smooth red bean filling.  Shane and I both loved this, so we definitely recommend tea cake #3!

The last tea cake we tried was the mochi shaped like a white peach. They even captured the beautiful color gradation on a real peach as the color transitions from pink to white. This too had a little agar-agar detail except this was a little green leaf. The peach mochi had the same incredibly soft rice dough on the outside. The inside had a sweet white/yellow bean paste that was more firm in texture than the plum-shaped mochi. This was also, tasty and we recommend this as well!

We came to Hogetsu with our friends, Chrissy and John.  They, very smartly, purchased many items which you can see below.


I will definitely come back to Hogetsu and purchase more amazing tea cakes! I hope you have an opportunity to visit Hogetsu as well! 🙂

Shane, Chrissy, John and I made a video review of our purchases from Hogetsu.  If you want to watch some silliness, watch our video below!

Kracie Fishing Candy Review

We have another Japanese candy review! This is another crazy candy kit from Kracie, which is the maker of Popin’ Cookin’! The Japanese name of this fishing candy set is Asobo Sakana Tsuri.

Front of Package

Front of Package

Back of Package

Back of Package

Below, you can see the contents of the package.

fish candy3

Unlike other Kracie kits, this doesn’t involve actually making the candy. The candy is pre-made and comes in the purple package. What makes this kit unique is that it is a fun game that you can play with other people! The first step to play this game is to put the candy pieces in the clear blue “kiddy pool” above.

fish candy4

You then pop out the colorful paper board hooks, which you then use to “fish” for your candy. The candy is a gummy marshmallow and is shaped to resemble sea life.  There are crabs, squid, seashells and fish.

fish candy5

The candy is artificially grape flavored and unfortunately does not taste very good. The candy seems to suffer from an identity crisis as it seems to hover in that twilight area between gummies, taffy, bubble gum and marshmallows.  Since the candy doesn’t quite cross over into any clear category, the resulting texture is confusing. It is both hard, foamy and chewy. Not delicious, however, taste, as with most Kracie Popin’ Cookin’ kits, seems to play a secondary role to its interactive quality.  In other words, buy this kit to play the game! The fun factor more than makes up for any lack flavor!  Here is the link to the candy:

Asobo Sakana Tsuri
Asobo Sakana Tsuri
Asobo Sakana Tsuri


I get many questions about where to get other Popin’ Cookin’ kits, so here are more links below in case you are interested.

Popin’ Cookin’ Happy Sushi House
Popin’ Cookin’ Funny Cake House
Popin’ Cookin’ Make Bento

If you would like to watch the video of Shane and I taste-testing and battling it out over the fish candy, you can watch the video below!


Haystack Mountain School of Crafts Residency and Scholarship

In January I made the decision to apply to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts artist’s residency program. Haystack received an anonymous grant that allowed them to offer artist’s residencies for the very first time!


For a period of three years, starting last year, Haystack started offering a juried artist’s residency program. I attended Haystack on scholarship in 2007 and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life! Because I have such fond memories of my time there, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity since I knew that this program will only last for a limited amount of time. So off to work I went and I scoured over my application for two months before I submitted it! Fortunately, my hard work paid off, and I am very happy to say that I will be one of the artists in residence this summer at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts! Fifty artists from varying craft backgrounds from across the country will be participating in the residency.  We have the opportunity to utilize all of Haystack’s incredible studios to make our art! I truly look forward to having this two week period of time completely set aside where I can focus making my own personal work! I certainly recognized some of the well-known metalsmiths from the list of artists chosen: Jeffrey Clancy, Tina Rath, and Lauren Kalman.

I will talk a little bit about my past experience at Haystack so I can paint a better picture of what an incredible school Haystack truly is! Haystack Mountain School of Craft was founded in 1950 by a group of craft artists in Balfast, Maine.  The school is located on the coast of Deer Isle, which is a remote area in Maine. The school is tucked away in a beautiful forest next to the ocean. The scenery is breathtaking!  Anyone would feel inspired just walking the grounds at Haystack!

one of the cabins at Haystack

one of the cabins at Haystack


I was awarded a scholarship from San Diego State University School of Art to take a class at Haystack. I wanted to experience working in a completely different medium, so I decided to take a table making class. The instructor was Matt Hutton, who is head of the furniture department at Maine College of Art.  Matt had two teaching assistants: Yuri Kobayashi and Cory Robinson.  All three received their MFA from San Diego State University studying under Wendy Maruyama. Yuri graduated from SDSU while I was still in the graduate program and was happy to see a familiar, friendly face!

Matt Hutton (instructor on the far left), Yuri Kobayashi (TA in the center) and Cory Robinson (TA on the far right)

Matt Hutton (instructor on the far left), Yuri Kobayashi (TA in the center) and Cory Robinson (TA on the far right)

As I mentioned earlier, the studios at Haystack are well-equipped and well-maintained. Below are some images inside the wood working studio.

Woodworking Studio

Woodworking Studio

Woodworking Studio

Woodworking Studio

The atmosphere at Haystack is wonderful. My fellow students were friendly, supportive and driven. We had 24 hour access to use the studios to make our work. There were many instances when I hobbled out of the studio at 1am or 2am and still saw students working away in other areas. The students understood that this was a special opportunity to focus on creating art at this amazing school and therefore, everyone wanted to fully utilize their time at Haystack.

Arthur, one of my classmates, was in his eighties taking his very first woodworking class! He was a retired doctor and he very generously invited us to visit his home where he could show us his breathtaking craft collection! Arthur had traveled all over the world and had acquired well-known works of art, including original Hokusai Japanese woodblock prints. The few pieces that really stood out was his collection of original George Nakashima furniture pieces.

George Nakashima coffee table

George Nakashima coffee table

When Arthur was living in Pennsylvania, Nakashima was a neighbor of his.  Before his career took off, Arthur purchased several furniture pieces which included a dining table, chairs and coffee table.  George Nakashima was born in 1905 and was given the title of “Living Treasure” by the emperor and government of Japan in 1983, which is the highest title any crafts person from Japan can achieve. Some of his furniture pieces have sold at auction for over 100,000.

In my furniture class, I decided to make a very small table, since I knew I would have to lug this back on the plane to California.  I designed the table to look like a tree and be about the size of a foot stool.

Full-scale rendering of my table design

Full-scale rendering of my table design

Table in progress

Table in progress

I made my table out of cherry wood. Above, is the table top, the foot of the table and a small leaf-shaped shelf.

All meals and housing are provided when attending Haystack.  Generally, people have the impression that camp food isn’t very good. I certainly did. Oh, was I so wrong! My classmates and I would often joke about students coming to Haystack simply for the food!


All the meals were freshly prepared with local produce. There were plenty of vegetarian options as well. Of course, we cannot forget about the dessert!


Someone was so inspired by the desserts at Haystack that they chronicled their experience through sketches! The desserts were amazing and always eaten up very quickly!

I became friends with many of the students in the textiles area.  I went on a walk through the forest with a few of the students and their instructor, Jon Eric Riis. Jon is an internationally recognized fiber artist whose work resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian and Metropolitan Museum of Art just to name a few.

Jon Eric Riis (wearing turquoise blue)

Jon Eric Riis (wearing turquoise blue)

An example of Riis' recent tapestry work

An example of Riis’ recent tapestry work

At the end of the two week session, the students displayed their work in the studios for everyone to view.

Caleb's coffee table

Caleb’s coffee table

My classmate Caleb made a beautifully designed coffee table.  He was barely twenty and was clearly very talented. I love how his modern table doubled as a magazine rack!

Below are the furniture pieces that my classmate, Arthur, made.

Arthur's table and wine rack

Arthur’s table and wine rack

He made a Chinese Go table and was ambitious enough to make a second piece: a wine rack.

Matt Hutton's tables

Matt Hutton’s tables

Above, are the tables that my instructor, Matt Hutton, made for Haystack’s auction.  At the end of each session, artists donate some of their work which go to auction. The proceeds help to support Haystack’s programs.

Below, is my “finished” table.  I finished all the components of my tree table but didn’t finish the assembly.  It took a little longer than expected to carve. 😛

My "finished" table

My “finished” table

I just taped the parts together so people could get the idea of what the table would like when complete.

Below, is an example of work made in one of the other craft studios.

garlic paper

garlic paper

In the paper making class, the students made sheets from alternative materials, namely vegetables and fruits.  The above paper was made from thinly sliced garlic.


I took this picture while standing at the top of Haystack’s famous wooden flight of stairs. I wanted to capture a view of the trees, the school and part of the ocean on my last day at Haystack.  These images above were a sampling from my Powerpoint presentation that I gave to SDSU’s School of Art in fulfillment of the requirements of my scholarship to Haystack.  I hope these images inspired you and I cannot wait to step foot again on this amazing campus.


Cherry Blossom Festival and Japanese Candy Review

The Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park, San Diego organizes the Cherry Blossom Festival every year! In recent years, this event has become a little more exciting as the expansion project of the park comes closer to completion.  The park acquired the lower canyon area where they have planted one-hundred-fifty cherry trees and will have an additional exhibition space and tea room. Shane and I attended the festival both in 2013 and 2014.  Below are images and footage taken from the 2013 festival.

cherry candy7

Most of the pictures that I took are in the lower expanded area of the park.  Many of the plants are new and have not yet fully grown.  The Japanese Friendship Garden is going to be amazing when it is complete!

cherry candy5

cherry candy3

In the above picture, you can see some of the sectioned-off areas that they are still in the process of landscaping.

cherry candy2

cherry candy4

Above, is one of the wood bridges spanning across the man-made stream.  Of course, since this is a festival there were several booths set up selling traditional Japanese street food. We first purchased our food tickets and then eagerly went on to taste-test the various offerings: yakisoba, taiyaki, and takoyaki.  We first went on to try their yakisoba. This was a noodle dish with small pieces of cooked and pickled vegetables. The dish was mild in flavor but good.  Unfortunately, I don’t have images of the yakisoba to show, but if you watch the video at the end of the blog post, you can see us try it!

Next, we tried the taiyaki which is a fish-shaped pancake filled with sweet red bean paste.

cherry candy1

This was definitely our favorite of all the foods we tried at the festival! The exterior pastry is just like a light, fluffy pancake! The red bean paste inside is smooth and lightly sweet.  If you like mochi, you will love this!

The last prepared dish we tried was the takoyaki. We were very lucky because we were one of the last people able to purchase this before they ran out! Takoyaki is dumpling with pieces of octopus inside. The dumplings are covered in a sweet soy sauce mix, drizzled with a little mayonnaise and finally sprinkled with bonito flakes.

cherry candy13

This could have been really delicious, however, the cooks rushed in preparing this dish trying to keep up with the long lines of customers. The batter wasn’t fully cooked, leaving the takoyaki a little soggy.  Otherwise, this would have been excellent.

Now onto our Japanese candy review!  Shane and I decided to walk down to the lower portion of the park and sit in a sunny patch of grass to conduct our review. The candy we tried is a special treat that comes out specifically for Cherry Blossom season in Japan and is called Tanesei (Hishiuchi).

cherry candy6

cherry candy12

Shane found this at Nijiya Market in San Diego and was immediately drawn to the bright colors of the candy! Being that this was a special treat that comes out once a year he definitely had to pick this up and give this a try. The candy was rather large. Each diamond-shaped piece was about 6 inches in length! Despite their size, they were light and airy.

cherry candy9

cherry candy11

Upon looking at this product, one wouldn’t necessarily assume this was food. At first glance, it looks like hand soap because of it’s large size, matte texture and bright color.  This is a rice flour and cornstarch candy.

cherry candy10

Well, it might come as no surprise that this did not taste very good.  The candy was hard, light and crunchy making it’s texture very similar to styrafoam.  If you took foam core and wafted a little sugar in its direction that would be a pretty accurate description of what this cherry blossom candy tasted like.

cherry candy8

Another way I can describe this is if you have ever participated in holy communion in a Catholic mass and eaten host, this tastes like a very thick, hard version. Unfortunately, Shane and I gave this candy two thumbs down. 😦  If any of you out there is familiar with this candy, definitely let me know! Maybe there is a special way in which this would be eaten in Japan and I’m just not familiar?

Shane and I had a wonderful time at the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park and would definitely recommend anyone attending!  If you would like to watch our video review of our experience you can watch it below.

April’s Kitty Necklace

I recently made a silver kitty cat necklace for April of AprilJustinTV and AprilAthena7.  She has three little cats, Charlie, Bob and Sunrise, that she adopted from rescue centers and have become a part of her family. April and her husband, Justin, shower their kitties with all the love and affection they could possibly hope for! Below are the initial sketches of the cats that I made before I made the necklace.


Below are close ups of the three little cat pendants I made. I wanted to make cute, little cartoon versions of April’s kitties. I cast these parts in ancient bronze.

kitty necklace1a

Charlie is the gray cat with the tuft of white fur under his chin.  Sunrise is the orange tabby cat with stripes.  Bob is the kitty that is half gray and half white.

kitty necklace2a

kitty necklace3a

Below are is an image of the whole necklace.  I fabricated the clasp and charm out of sterling silver.

kitty necklace4a

Here is April’s video featuring the kitty necklace I made! She shows the necklace in about 30 seconds into the video. You can even see April wearing the necklace when she and her husband go to a restaurant.

April and Justin are such happy, cheerful people! I enjoy watching their channel because they exude such positivity! I hope you enjoyed looking at the kitty trio necklace I made! I have much more jewelry and candy posts coming in the near future!