canada

How to Make Totoro Rice Cakes — A Tutorial

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Before I go off into the fascinating world of Totoro Rice Cake’s, there are lyrics from The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home I must share.

It goes:

Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the colour of green
Ground had arose and passed it’s knees
By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top

I climbed the tree to see the world
When the gusts came around to blow me down
I held on as tightly as you held onto me
I held on as tightly as you held onto me

Combining these lyrics along with my favourite Hayao Miyaziki film hero—Totoro—I can just about envision the furry beast standing beside his acorn seeds, climbing on tree tops, and roaring his head off in ferocious grace for all that have ears to hear.

It is incredible to think that someone thought of stringing these words together into a song that is a perfect soundtrack for making Totoro rice cakes.

I think these things lead to a certain kind of excitement in being a creative. Knowing that you possess a skill or ability to create something that resonates with the rest of the world. For this season, that being me, in my studio where I dream of ideas and set about creating them.

To know that I have at the tip of my fingertips the ability to command to life an army of Totoro’s is quite empowering. While this post is to share my love for rice cakes, I hope that we all find and pursue diligently that medium where we bring much joy to ourselves and to the world.

Without further ado, here are steps to making your own Totoro rice cake, for you and for me.

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You will need:
Ground sesame powder
Cooked sushi rice
Piece of sliced cheese
Sheets of nori
Clean boba straw
Toothpicks
Leaves to decorate

totoro_rice_cakes_sophia_hsin_tutorial-13.jpg1. Mix sesame powder into rice for desired shade of grey. Puncture cheese with boba straw for Totoro eyes.totoro_rice_cakes_sophia_hsin_tutorial-14.jpg2. Use plastic wrap to mold grey and white rice into appropriate size for torso, abdomen and ears.Totoro_Rice_Cake_Tutorial_Sophia_Hsin-4.jpg3. Trim circles of nori for eyes, nose, and half moons for belly. Insert ears into Totoro torso and secure with toothpicks.Soot_Sprites_Totoro_Rice_Cake_Sophia_Hsin-12.jpg4. For Susuwatari (Soot Sprites) — roll rice ball onto nori sheet, soften edges of nori with water to shape. Decorate with eyes.
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5. There you have it, Totoro and soot sprite rice cakes. Better when they match your socks.
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Photograph them on black.yay-5.jpgGift them to a friend.Totoro_Rice_Cake_Tutorial_amelia_hedgehog-5.jpgIntroduce them to your hedgehog.

Do enjoy.

The end.

Find tutorials to Alpaca Rice Cakes here & Panda Rice Cakes here.

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Toronto City Guide: 10 places to eat, visit and photograph

CN_tower_toronto.jpgTaking in the city from the CN Tower

The last time I was in Toronto was two decades ago when my parents took us on a family holiday to Niagara Falls shortly after we moved to Canada. I remember being drenched in my raincoat under the falls and the thrill of knowing I was in a place where everything seemed new and exciting. It was wonderful to be back and experience the city as an adult, this time accompanied by my camera.

Toronto was fast paced, it was cold, grey and very diverse. I stayed in the heart of downtown where high rises loomed like giraffes and everyone seemed like they had a place to go. The city felt a little overwhelming for a newcomer but the temptation to explore was far too great to keep me at home. I loved the excitement of knowing there was so much to see and do and enjoyed discovering the pockets of peace and quiet in a bustling city.

Here is my list of favourite places:

Eat

baddies_cafe_toronto.png1. Baddies Cafe
The story behind Baddies is that Alex (the owner) found himself with the space after his dad passed away without realizing his dream of opening a cafe. Needless to say, that was exactly what Alex did. The words “You Beauty” written on the walls are favourite quotes from his dad, whom you can find in photographs on the cafe walls. The chia pudding tasted as delicious as it looked and the smashed avocado on polenta with chilli jam reminded me of India and all that is well in the world.

the_drake_hotel_brunch-1.jpg2. The Drake Hotel
I have always been a fan of The Drake General Store and was extra excited to visit the hotel known for brunch and funky interiors. The chicken and waffles were delicious and meant to be shared with at least two friends.

See

art_gallery_ontario_toronto.png3. Art Gallery of Ontario
The AGO was by far my favourite place in the city with it’s abundance of exhibitions, the beautiful space designed by architect Frank Gehry and a quiet cafe to sit and watch the city go by. If you are an art nerd like me don’t miss out on the AGO.

aga_khan_museum.png4. Aga Khan Museum
I could have spent an entire day at the Aga Khan marvelling at the architecture and reading books on Persian folklore in the museum library. I am always amazed by the intricacy of middle eastern art and the space is beautiful with a great curation of artefacts and modern Islamic and Persian Art. The museum is a little far out of the city but definitely worth the trip.

_toronto_sophia_hsin-9.jpg5. Sugar Beach
I am in love with the water and look for it wherever I go. Here I found a quieter corner of Toronto and stood here taking in the sunset, beautiful even in the cold of winter. I can imagine coming here often in the summer.

university_of_toronto_chapel-1.jpg6. University of Toronto
The interiors of the Trinity Chapel was what drew me to this location. There is so much history about the campus grounds and the university felt like another city to explore in itself. The campus is best to walk around with a local friend.

Do

7. CN Tower
If it’s your first time visiting Toronto I recommend checking out the cityscape and nearby islands from 180 floors up in the sky. The view is breathtaking and the CN Tower is next to the Aquarium which makes it a great outing for families and children.

8. Ripley’s Aquarium
If you love aquariums and fish Ripley’s is your ideal place to visit. The sting ray tank was like a giant lake and I especially loved the underwater tunnel and interactive areas where you get to pet sleeping sharks and hold tiny shrimp.

Shop

souvenir_studio.png9. SOUVENIR
A minimalistic boutique shop and studio on College Street run by Danielle. An inspiring place for the creative. The area reminded me so much of New York and here I found familiar brands from Vancouver and a beautiful curation of gifts and souvenirs. Queen Street is also a lovely place with shops like Old Faithful, Warby Parker and countless boutiques. My favourite concept lifestyle store Mjolk Shop is just a little further away.

Stay

hazelton_hotel_toronto_yorkville.jpg_toronto_sophia_hsin-12.jpgView of Yorkville and pancakes to start the morning 

10.  The Hazelton Hotel
If you’re looking for an independant luxury boutique hotel to stay in Yorkville this is it. I spent a evening at the Hazelton with my sister and had great evening unwinding in a quiet area of Toronto. The neighbourhood is beautiful though I have to say nothing beat the blueberry pancakes that arrived in the morning. The staff is very personal which made it a great stay.

Other than that, Ossington, Koreatown and The Distillery District were places I wish I had more time to explore. The diversity of Toronto is amazing and despite being fast paced, everyone seems to have a story and are very open to sit down for chat or stop to point travellers in the right direction. I felt tiny in the city but found comfort in discovering areas that reminded me of home and connecting with an array of interesting people. I hope to be back again.

Till next time, Toronto!

Photographed in partnership with Tourism Toronto | @SeeTorontoNow.

Photography and writing by me

Vancouver City Guide: 10 places to eat, visit and photograph

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Sunset at Whytecliff Park

I cannot believe that February is already here! It feels like the holidays have barely gone by and now we are hurtling towards a season of warmer weather and exciting projects.

I made a list for a friend planning to visit Vancouver and thought I would share it with all of you. Vancouver is one of my favourites cities with beautiful things I tend to forgot about the longer I am here.

When I think about travel, I think about all the places that fill me with wanderlust. New cities, people, humid air, markets and different cultures that make my heart skip a beat as I am sitting home writing about my city.

So bear with me while I take a step back and revisit Vancouver through the eyes of a tourist. Though I am sure that you will agree that friends, food, nature and art will make any city in the world a good destination to visit.

Eat 

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Hello from the green interiors at Finchesvancouver_finches_cafe_pear_brie_.jpg
Pear and brie prosciutto sandwich at Finches. An all time favourite

1. Finches Tea & Coffee House: No words. If you are ever in Vancouver do take time to try the pear, proscuitto and brie sandwich.

2. The Birds & The Beets: A wonderful green and cosy place with great miso bowls, kombucha and an neat place to escape the rain. The owners Matt, Sean and Francis are also super lovely people.

3. Sushi! Taking this moment to thank the abundance of Japanese food in Vancouver considering I have Japanese five days out of seven. My favourites: Toshi (authentic little nook, no reservations and expect a line), Samurai (best brown rice sushi in the city with great slabs of sashimi) and Miku (nice place to take your parents).

Beaches

4. English Bay: I spent a summer living in an apartment five minutes away from the water. To this day it remains my favourite summer filled with memories of the Honda Celebration of Light, countless evenings watching the sunsets and picnics by the water.

5. Whytecliff Park: This is probably my favourite place to visit and get out of the city. The seals, porpoises and view of Vancouver Island will never fail to take your breath away. Plan your visit around low tide so you get to climb on the giant rock in the park that leads to a most promising view.

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Minimalist piers at White Rock Beachwhite_rock_beach_gelato-1.jpg
You cannot visit White Rock without getting gelato or Fish & Chips

6. White Rock Beach: This beach is located further out in Surrey but a must visit if you love minimalist beaches and handmade Italian gelato by the pier.

Arts and shopping

7. Vancouver Art Gallery: A smaller gallery than I am used to but hello it’s art! Tuesday evenings are pay by donation if you are on a travel budget. The gallery cafe offers live music in the summer with a delightful patio and garden.

libtery_bakery_vancouver.jpgBest patio seats at Liberty Bakerylo_and_sons_camera_bag-1.jpgWhite walls of Sun Yet San with dog, many shoots have taken place herebeaucoup_cafe_vancouver.jpg
The irresistible selection of baked goods from Beaucoup Bakery in South Granville

8. Main Street/Mount Pleasant Area: A neat area filled with restaurants, bakeries and cafes(Le Marché St George and Liberty Bakery are my favourites) and boutique shops. Plan to spend at least half a day here. 

9. Gastown: Have to put this one down because it is a tourist must. Great places for coffee like Timbertrain, Revolver. Spend your night at The Diamond for cocktails and Old Faithful Shop for nice things. Skip the steam clock. 

10. Chinatown! I had a season where I was addicted to chicken buns and egg tarts at New Town Bakery, white space at Sun Yet San Garden, pick me ups at Matchstick Coffee and the best ramen with squash and miso broth you can possibly get at Harvest Community.

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Summer sailboats at Whytecliff Park

So here is to travel. To places where you discover or lose a little more of yourself and to journeys that make you appreciate the comforts of home.

All photos here by me. Photo of me by Isabel

A Hedgehog Story II

A few of you may know my current obsession with hedgehogs and you’ll be pleased to know that there’s more photos to follow.

After saying goodbye to a splendid month in Taiwan, I was presented with a gift at the airport… Amelia Hedgehog 2!

I’m really loving coming up with new concepts and themes for my projects so here is a little impromptu shoot I did featuring her travelling from Taipei-Beijing-Vancouver.

Hedgehogs after all, are born to travel.

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Amelia dreams of travel + on the plane

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Beijing airport and hedgehog spa

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Matching seats + Amelia in a bed of flowers

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Home at last and meeting the real Amelia Hedgehog

You can find follow Amelia’s adventures on Instagram and get prints here. I mean, we can all use a little more seriousness in our life.