Today I looked out of our bedroom window and realized, it’s been exactly one year since we visited this countryside. Tokamachi. My husband’s hometown. The place he grew up. And though we’ve visited a few times in the past, I could never get tired of the view, be it in summer or in winter or spring and maybe fall (we will yet to experience fall soon!).
Last year when I was here with the kids, it didn’t occur to me that we’d be moving back to Japan. Much more, live here. Not at all. We stayed for less than a week but we loved all the green fields that extended as far as our eyes can see, the laid back and slow life and even embraced the noise of the frogs at night like it’s white noise lulling us to sleep.
The place we lived before, Dubai, is hideous by June, weather wise. That’s the time of the year when the kids couldn’t even go out or stay out for longer periods of time during day time due to the heat so we weren’t looking forward to going back soon. Summer in Japan is the other way around – it’s perfect from May when all the snow has melted and everything comes alive!
Little did we know that a year after, we’d end up living here, experiencing our third season (we arrived in the middle of winter!) and raising the kids here.
WHERE IS TOKAMACHI?
Tokamachi City is located in southern Niigata Prefecture, along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Though it’s a ‘city’, it’s far from being the big city in Japan that you might imagine. Five regions make up Tokamachi City and most of the area is covered by lush green forests, rice fields and suffering from huge population decline so most towns are sleepy towns, literally.
With the Shinano River flowing through the center, the city consists of a basin and surrounding hilly and mountainous areas. It is the heart of Japan’s snow country with three to four meters of snow each winter. Rice is cultivated widely in the city, a production area of well-known Uonuma Koshihikari rice.
It is about 240 kilometers from Tokyo and accessible by bullet train from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa and the local Hokuhoku line from Echigo-Yuzawa station. You can reach Tokamachi City in two hours from Tokyo.
WHAT IS IN TOKAMACHI?
Clean, unpolluted air.
Delicious water from the mountains.
Vast green spaces.
Fresh food from nearby farms.
Slower pace of life.
Stars in the night.
Fireflies in the garden.
Warm and friendly locals.
While travelers tend to be drawn to Japan’s major cities, there’s much to be savored in its quiet countryside, where a different, deeper kind of beauty awaits. We have only one regret moving here. And that is, why we didn’t do it sooner.
Are you ready to explore more of Japan than the heavily congested cities full of tourists? Come visit our countryside, you will get to see less buildings and more serene shrines and temples. Less people and more natural landscapes. Afraid to get lost physically and in translation (because yes, it does happen if you don’t know the local language)? I’m happy to help! I’ll write more details about it soon.
As per statistics, the number of foreigners who visited Japan in 2017 has reached to almost 30 million, with most flocking to its vibrant capital city, Tokyo. The big city of Tokyo is great and overflowing with things to do, but there’s so much to Japan beyond the busy Shibuya crossing.
Have you been to Japan? If you’ve been to Tokyo, did my photos make you want to visit the countryside next time?
This beautiful Low Carb Keto Carrot Cake is layered between creamy cheesecake and cream cheese frosting! This pretty cake is Nut Free, Gluten Free and Grain Free.
Even if you’re not much of a baker, you can make this lovely cake for a special occasion. It’s not as hard as you might think, but does take some prep work to prepare this beauty.
This beautiful cake is everything you need to make any occasion special! A layer of sugar-free cheesecake and a layer of the best low carb carrot cake you will ever have, all covered with sugar-free cream cheese frosting! Friends and family will be shocked when they taste it and then you share this is a Healthy Low Carb, Gluten Free, Sugar-Free Cake!
I’d never call myself a baker. I’m certainly not much of a cake decorator. It doesn’t come easily to me and I struggle with making desserts pretty. This cake has been on my mind to make for a long time, hubby loves carrot cake and I love cheesecake. When I looked around on Pinterest for cakes similar to what I wanted to make, I saw this beautiful Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cake from Shugary Sweets and it inspired me to finally get a sugar-free low carb version done! I adapted my Carrot Cake Mug Cake recipe and one of my cheesecake recipes to create this beauty. I made this for Easter a few years ago and no one could believe it was low carb!
The best part about this luscious cake is that even days later kept in the fridge, the carrot cake never became dried out! All the cheesecake and frosting kept it as perfect as the first day we ate it and I’m talking up to 5 days later, we still loved it!
But some of you are thinking you can’t have carrots on a keto diet, right? Wrong. There is only a 1/2 cup of shredded carrots in this entire cake which has 12 servings. Now if you ate a 1/2 cup of carrots that may spike your blood sugar, but in a serving of this cake you are getting less than a tablespoon. I don’t think we should free certain foods on a keto diet.
The inside of the carrot cake does not contain nuts. Only the top has nuts on the frosting to decorate it. So if you have a nut allergy in the family like my youngest child does the nuts on top can be eliminated and you’ve got a beautiful allergy friendly cake for anyone!
Place the cream cheese and sour cream in a stand mixer and blend until smooth. Add the heavy cream, stevia, extract, Swerve and salt and blend on high until combined.
Add one egg at a time and blend until well incorporated.
Pour the batter into a greased 9 inch spring form pan. Wrap the bottom and half way up the pan with aluminum foil and place into a roasting pan. Pour hot water into roasting pan to half way up the sides of the spring form pan.
Bake 45 minutes until golden but still jiggly in the center.
Allow to cool then refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the first 5 ingredients into a stand mixer and blend until combined.
Add the remaining ingredients and blend until combined.
Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool 1 hour.
Prepare frosting by adding all ingredients into a stand mixer. Taste and adjust sweetener if needed.
Remove spring form from around each cake.
Place the cheesecake onto serving platter.
Lay the carrot cake on top of the cheesecake.
Spread frosting over the top of the cake and sides. Decorate around the outer edge of the top of the cake and add a sprinkle of chopped nuts if desired.
Keep refrigerated until serving.
Net Carbs: 5g
This recipe was first published in April of 2017 and with updated content and video in February 2019.
Please weigh your measurements with the dry ingredients which can tend to be different when using cup measurements. Weight measuring is the only accurate way to get the best results and perfect texture.
There are natural sugars in the dairy products and carrots which is where the sugar grams are coming from.
Cream cheese frosting could be reduced by half if you decide to only frost the top of the cake as opposed to all around the sides as I did.
Crushed pecans on top are optional and not included in the nutrition information.
If you don’t like stevia or use it I can tell you my hubby is not a fan, but I can promise you he tasted no aftertaste whatsoever! He was in love with this cake!
Please use whatever sweetener you like but only use a small amount and taste it before adding more. You can always add more but never can take any away once it’s been added. The cheesecake layer can be tasted before adding the eggs and you can do the same for the carrot cake and frosting.
Carrot Cake Cheesecake
Amount Per Serving (1 slice)
Calories 446 Calories from Fat 369
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 41g 63%
Saturated Fat 22g 110%
Cholesterol 170mg 57%
Sodium 506mg 21%
Potassium 240mg 7%
Total Carbohydrates 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Protein 10g 20%
Vitamin A 41.7%
Vitamin C 0.8%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
What should you put into your travel bag if there’s a need for packing light?
Almost 11 years ago, I did a guest post for the once-mighty Gadling blog called What’s in your pack Tim Leffel? At the time I had been traveling through Europe for two weeks with just a large duffel bag and here’s a flashback to my younger self from that trip:
It’s fun to look back that far and see all the details of my wardrobe, gadgets, and toiletries. Too much information for some probably, but maybe interesting if you’re looking for a sample packing list or gadget/travel clothing ideas. I have to say I packed pretty darn well for that trip as a light traveler, so this one is kind of a case study on what actually worked. With no wheels and not much weight, I was able to move quickly through cobblestone streets and had no problem with small train overhead racks or budget airlines.
Back then I was trying out a lot of new clothing and gear: at the time I was doing two reviews a week on the Practical Travel Gear blog.
I sold that site a few years back and don’t have the UPS man showing up at my door a few times a week anymore with new clothing or luggage. The positive side of that is I have really learned which items held up and which haven’t.
What I Pack Now for Travel
Anyone who reads this blog regularly has seen the “My Favorite Travel Gear Brands” series I’ve had running for a while. If I’ve called out a brand by name on here, that’s because I’ve been using their gear for many years and it’s travel gear I couldn’t kill.
Those things are all still regulars today. I also usually have something from Columbia, Clothing Arts, or Craghoppers packed as well. Quality quick-dry clothing. I usually have several pairs of hiking socks, but from a variety of brands depending on what was on the clearance sale.
There are a few differences in what I packed 11 years ago and what I pack now, partly because smart phones have eliminated a few items: flashlight, alarm clock, and music player to name a few. As a pro travel writer though, I still carry a notebook, 14-inch laptop, real camera (Panasonix Lumix these days), mini tripod, and various chargers. I find I sometimes carry two sets of earphones or earbuds now, which is kind of annoying: one Bluetooth, one wired for the plane systems or video phone calls through the laptop. If it’s a vacation, I’ll wedge in a small speaker to play music in the hotel room or apartment.
Toiletries can be a big issue for some women especially, but get a good hanging toiletry kit and stick to small bottles that meet TSA guidelines. Remember that you can buy things later if it’s a long trip, especially simple items like toothpaste.
The good news on all this is that traveling light has gotten a lot easier. The bags, the clothing, the shoes, and the gadgets all weigh less than they did a decade ago.
The Keys to Packing Light
The guiding principle of packing light with a carry-on is to take clothing that fits a few criteria: 1) It all goes together okay, 2) You can sink wash it and it’ll be dry by morning, and 3) It doesn’t weigh much.
Obviously this can get complicated if you’re going to a cold climate, but layering will take care of most warmth issues and you can help things a lot by wearing merino wool items that won’t get stinky after a couple days of wear. These can be costly, but they’re worth it in the long run. The top brands are Icebreaker, Ibex, and Smartwool. Wear a hat, bring a good coat, and you’ll be set.
What kills both the bulk and weight for most people is the shoes. You should usually aim for two pairs, three if you’re doing something specialized like river rafting or jungle hiking. More than that and you’re going to have to check a bag. That’s fine on Southwest, not so fine if you’ve got two connections where your bag could get lost and you’re on a fee-loving airline.
I tend to have a pair of double-duty shoes along that will work for city streets and forest paths from the likes of Oboz or Lowa, but there are lots of other good ones in my closet. Get something that looks nice enough to wear to a restaurant, but rugged enough to take years of walking before wearing out. You might have to spend $100 unless you don’t need to try them on and can shop online at a good time for sales.
Pack things that go together and you won’t need so many items. So it’s packing light is easier. As in every pair of pants should be able to go with pretty much any shirt in your bag. This takes a little planning, yes, but it ensures you’ve got something clean to wear until you’ve worn everything. And remember, if there’s any business to be done, erring on the side of nicer clothes is better than the alternative. If you’re just backpacking or on vacation, however, one “nice enough” outfit will probably do it. See some more tips on this subject here .
For a few years now, the big trend in travel clothing has been “trail to pub” wear that looks nice enough to go to a bar in, but is loaded with the technical features and durability you need for travel and the outdoors. So it’s much easier than it used to be to find travel clothes that don’t make you look like you geared up for a jungle safari. Many of the items coming from the big brands look nice enough to wear to an office, to a nice party, or to a meeting. Yet they’ll dry quickly and wick sweat for when you can escape into the outdoors.
Unless you don’t mind trashed beaches, roadside litter, and plastic in the fish you’re eating, carry a water purifier. There’s no excuse for buying bottled water every day and shoving more plastic that never breaks down into Mother Nature’s mouth. My favorite that has never let me down is the Steripen, but you can find other water purifiers for travel here.
Your turn. What’s in your travel bag that has helped you with packing light?
One of the things we love about living in Vancouver is that we can be deep in nature within a short drive. There are so many awesome day trips from Vancouver that it can be difficult to make a decision. Those who live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia rarely say, “there’s nothing to do this weekend”.
We visited the Sea to Sky Gondola shortly after it opened in the summer of 2014 (read about that experience here). Since then, we’ve hiked the Sea to Summit Trail a few times in the summer but had not yet visited during the winter. Our friends informed us that visiting the Sea to Sky Gondola during the winter was a fun experience. When we learned Santa Clause would be making an appearance, we thought it would be fun to take the boys up to the Summit Lodge and get their photo taken with Santa.
It was nice to finally put on our winter gear and play in the snow again. This was our first taste of snow this winter. We embrace winter and look forward to playing in the mountains whenever we have the opportunity. It had been a busy few weeks, so it was nice to get outside and surround ourselves with nature.
Fortunately, the weather co-operated during our visit. It had been raining for days and the temperatures were quite mild. We hoped to catch a fresh snowfall, but we settled for open skies.
Photos often tell the story better, so here are a few photos from our winter day at the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.
The gondola ride takes about 10 minutes to reach the Summit Lodge.
It’s a totally different experience during the winter months.
Incredible mountain landscapes from the Summit Lodge platform.
Panoramic views of Howe Sound from the Summit Lodge.
The dizzying Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.
The bridge gets a little bouncy in the middle section. Connor preferred to sit down while I took his photo. The bridge is perfectly safe, but I’m not great with heights. I have trouble crossing on my own, so it’s a little nerve-racking when I have a camera in one hand and a child’s hand in the other.
Nicole and Braydon crossing the suspension bridge.
The Christmas Forest Walk is a short trail that’s perfect for young families.
Some of the trees on the Christmas Forest Walk are wrapped to look like candy canes.
The trail has a few of these picture frames hanging from trees. Perfect for festive selfies.
It’s an easy forest trail that’s great for kids. It gets a little slippery, so bring proper winter boots.
Of course, we had to build a snowman!
The Christmas Forest Walk only takes about 20 minutes. Longer if you stop to build a snowman.
There are plenty of hiking and snow shoe trails that are accessible from the Summit Lodge.
The Chief Overlook Viewing Platform. It takes about 30 minutes from the Summit Lodge, round trip.
The view of Squamish from the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform. That rock formation is the Chief.
Views of Howe Sound from the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform.
Snow-capped mountain views from the Summit Lodge viewing platform.
Related: The Best Road Trip from Vancouver for first time visitors
This is the first Santa photo where Connor isn’t crying. Big moment!
What you need to know before you go:
The Sea to Sky Gondola is located 2 kilometres south of Squamish, directly on the Sea to Sky Highway/Hwy 99. It’s about a 45 minute scenic drive from Vancouver. More info here.
Parking is free at the base of the gondola.
The gondola, lodges, trails, suspension bridge, and viewing decks are open year-round, but the hours of operation will change depending on the season. During winter, the gondola is open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. More info here.
It’s cheaper to purchase your day pass online. Prices and ticket info here.
Come prepared for the weather. You will need proper winter boots and it’s wise to wear multiple layers, including gloves and toques. Weather can change quickly in the mountains, plan for it. Check daily weather conditions here.
If you are visiting in the winter, make sure you have proper snow tires for the drive from Vancouver to Squamish because the road conditions can change quickly and it can be a challenging drive with lots of snow.
Photos with Santa cost $15 for one picture or $20 for two. Plan to arrive early, around 10:00 AM, and go directly to the Santa Booth. You will receive a number when you check in. If you’re lucky, you can get your photos taken right away. If there’s a wait, go outside to the viewing deck or suspension bridge and come back closer to when your number will be called. More info here.
There are plenty of activities for the holiday season. Find out what’s happening here.
Have you visited the Sea to Sky Gondola?
Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below.
Para aquele café da tarde delicioso e clean que amamos 🦋 Póa 🦋
Peça já o seu kit 🦋
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