Monday, July 21, 2014

Mellow July

SMS in the Class B Finals
 SMS and I have had some pretty mellow weekends lately, which has been really nice.  Well, I should say that my weekends have been pretty mellow.  SMS has been busy.  Two weekends ago he had two photo shoots that took up his whole day.  Last Sunday, he competed in a bouldering competition at a local gym.  Gamba!  He was subarashi and did really well.  I was really proud of him and I was his #1 fan.
That evening, we hung out with two of our San Diego friends in Yokohama.  We ate at a Scandinavian place that I'd like to go back to and order the variety plate and several smoorebrods.  Maybe I should just learn how to make them- I think of several lunches I had in Denmark with very fond memories, especially at Ida Davidsen and the restaurant at Kronborg Castle.  Yum, yum, yum!  We ended up having a very leisurely dinner since we were trying to wait out a rainstorm.  It was a great night, even if we didn't get a chance to see the Yokohama fireworks.

Backtracking to Saturday, we went to Kamiooka and browsed through a camera store, had very expensive tea (oops, but still, it was just tea so it wasn't too bad) and then went to a mid-afternoon party at one of the anesthesiologist's house.  It was a really fun get-together and we ended up staying 4 hours.  Don't worry, other people did too!  It was great company and a lot of good conversation.  By the end, SMS and I were ready to leave but as SMS said, "Not overly ready to leave."

We've also had some pretty good local meals.  Sitar is becoming our go-to Indian restaurant.  It's about half-way between our place and the train station.  The dal is delicious- very savory and rich without being overly creamy.  The curries are really tasty- we've had the dal mutton, sag paneer, butter chicken and chicken keema.  We talk to the waiter and cook in a nice Jinglish mixture and we (unfortunately for their business) tend to have the place to ourselves.   The spice intensity can heat up quickly but "normal" seems to be working out for us lately.
Two mediums make a large!

SMS and I finally made it to Amiyaki-Tei Yakiniku together.  I had been twice before, but together, we had only been to Kalbi House.  Amiyaki is a little cheaper and delicious.  We had great meat, fried veggies and the best beer deal in Japan.  We each ordered a large and the woman comes to our table with four large glasses.  Well, they were actually "mediums" and according to her, "Two mediums, one large!"  They were out of large mugs so I think the math worked out in our favor.
Delicious Soup
Nope, nope, nope.

We also made it back to Hamakura, which has significantly upped the ante on their "Aigo no menu."  There are beautiful pictures and multiple pages.  I ordered "the popular set" which consisted of a whole fish (dead) arched on the plate surrounded by sashimi and sushi from that very same fish.  Once I was done, the owner took the fish away and 10 minutes later, came back with the fish chopped up in several pieces and stewed in miso broth.  Yum!  I most definitely did not eat the eyeballs, but almost everything else was fair game.
Part of Bird's Nest beautiful kitchen

Finally, today we had the set lunch at the "Bird's Nest Restaurant." I had heard a lot about it from the XO's wife and I've really wanted to try it.  Well, while we were on our way to Pepper Lunch, we decided to walk one more block and try it out.  For Y800, we had a delicious set lunch with rich miso soup, tuna bowl for SMS and fried fish for me (slight mistake, I didn't read closely enough but it was good) and unlimited oolong tea.  I definitely want to go back, not just for the awesome lunch but to also try the set course dinner.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fourth of July and Local Notes

SMS and I had a fun party for the 4th of July.  The base was having fireworks and we knew we'd have a great view from our balcony.  I cooked up a taco bar fiesta (chicken tinga, oven-fried carnitas, potato/egg/olive) and we had several friends over.  We had so much fun.  I feel really lucky that we've met such a great group of people and so quickly too.  We hung out, watched fireworks and played Cards Against Humanity.

July has been going well.  The hydrangeas are gorgeous, although the bloom season is almost complete.  The weather is starting to become very humid so I will soon start a hair products search for anti-humidity/frizz (fascinating, right?)

SMS and I went to LaLaPort, a mall up in Yokohama.  The clothing stores here are great for thin people and SMS had some really nice finds.  He looks very stylish and is a true ikemen!  In order to make sure he is able to fit in his thin clothes, we decided to eat a macadamia nut waffle.  It was delicious!  I love the Hawaiian restaurants in Japan- the food is superb!

Finally, here's a picture of our favorite yakitori place just outside our train station Horinouchi.  The yakitori is delicious and the people there, both owners and patrons, are really nice.
I'll take all of them!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Misawa Wrap-Up

After a great weekend, SMS and I left Misawa on Monday.  It's been a couple of weeks since I've been in Misawa so I wanted to write a few last notes, even if it's slightly disjointed.

*The weekend was made infinitely better by not staying in the Misawa Inn.  We stayed at a family's house while they were away and it was so nice to be in a home, even if it wasn't our home.
Takara Sushi.  Do you see the shrimp on the left.  Yeeks.

*During the week prior, we had some pretty good meals.  Thunder ramen was delicious.  We also went to Takara sushi, known locally by Americans as "Fear Factor Sushi" since they serve live shrimp sushi.  That did not appeal to me but someone I know was more adventurous and ate it.  Sagoy!  The sushi that I did eat was awesome and so fresh.  It was terrific!  There were aquariums in the store so I got to look at future dinners while eating my own.  Slightly disconcerting since I'm definitely a "fish and meat come from Styrofoam containers" type of person but I got over it since we went back twice!

*During the week, we went to the Misawa Aviation and Science Museum.  Misawa is very proud of that the Miss Vedol left from Misawa Beach on the trip to Washington, the first trans-Pacific flight.  SMS said it's because nothing has happened in Misawa since then (1931) and I'm inclined to agree.
Left: Pneumatic Tube/Top Right: Clearly, I think I'm in the Danger Zone/Bottom Right: Big Kid!

The museum was SO cool.  We were the only two people in there for most of our time, which seems so weird to me because it's American Summer Vacation and it seems like the perfect place for kids to explore and play, especially around the display planes outside that you can enter.  I found a big kid in one of the cockpits.

There were also a lot of interesting interactive science exhibits.  We flew a flight simulator.  We went in a pneumatic tube and got tossed around on an air column (we were strapped in seats, not free-floating like Charlie and his Grandfather in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  There was also a lens exhibit, sound tube, moon walk and helicopter steering ride. There was also a full-size impression device that I don't know the name of but it's a large version of the desk toy where you place your hands against blunt needle-like pins and it makes an impression of your hand.

*On the way home, we stopped at Ramen Alley in Tokyo Station.  We went to Honda, a shoyu-based ramen restaurant.  So, at this point, I've been to three of the ten ramen shops in Ramen Alley.  I'm not dying to try more, but if we are there, it would be fun to try a new one each time.  The reason I'm not dying to do it is that ramen isn't exactly good for the waistline.  I used to hear about people gaining weight when stationed in Japan and I didn't understand how that could happen in the land of sushi.  Well, even though I haven't gained weight, I understand how it's very easy because it's also the land of katsu, amazing pastries, ramen and all delicious fried things.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Misawa Weekend- Ryosendo Cave and Kitayamazaki Coast

Cement Factory- those sinks are for sale!
Sunday was a pretty epic road trip around the Aomori Prefecture.  We started with a quick trip to the cement factory, a collection of shops on the grounds of a former cement factory.  It's a huge used goods store and some of the finds are pretty awesome. The kitchenware store has everything you need to set up your own noodle or takoyaki stand.  I'm not sure if the equipment works but it was pretty tempting!  Alternate career, here I come!  There were also many statues, books, magazines and furniture.

Seafood for sale
Creative Display

Next was lunch at Hasshoku Center, informally known as the Hachinohe Fish Market.  We went to a restaurant with delicious sushi followed by a walk through the market.  It was awesome.  There were many vendors, including produce, meat and lots and lots of fish.  It was bustling and some of the seafood was unfamiliar in appearance to me.
Grill area and people waiting with their trays of food

The coolest part of the market was a section with many small charcoal grill coals where you could cook and eat your purchases.  Argh!  I was so full from lunch but it looked so cool!  People had shrimp, whole fish, oysters and scallops to grill.   Mmmmm, hopefully someday.  Even if I don't go back, I'm definitely hitting up the local Yokosuka oyster grill shacks next Spring.

Admiring Ryosendo Cave, picture by SMS
Then we piled into the car and drove down to Ryusendo cave.  It's a huge limestone cave with about 700 of its 5000 meters opened to the public.  There are three lakes and the blue water is so amazing, still and deep.  There are suspended lights in the water that provide hauntingly beautiful illumination.  Apart from the lakes, the other amazing thing was the huge staircase within the cave that brought us from the surface of the lake to about 35 m above.  I never thought I would have a fear of heights in a cave!  Actually, it wasn't the heights so much as the steepness of the staircase.

After admiring and walking through the cave complex, we headed back to the car and drove off to the East coast of Japan.  It's part of Rikuchukaigan National Park but we were specifically heading to the sea cliffs of Kitayamazaki Coast.  The park seemed closed apart from a busy construction crew but we headed out to the first and second (of three) lookouts.  It was totally gorgeous and I really wanted to walk down 530 stairs to the beach, but SMS pointed out that it was close to dinner and that there would also be 530 stairs to walk up.  I still felt up for it until halfway back from the second lookout along the fairly level stairs to the first viewpoint and then I decided I was weak from hunger.  So, no beach for either of us!

The coast drive itself was eerie and spectacular.  A lot of the coastline was devastated by the 2011 tsunami and now there are several industrial construction sites fortifying the coast with sea-walls, lock-type walls to regulate water levels and huge shoreline concrete reinforcements that look like a giant's set of jacks. It was Sunday and there was no activity so combined with the fog, it felt very other-wordly, abandoned and even post-apocalyptic.  I sense a new setting for the next successful dystopian young adult series!

We started to head home and ate at an Italian restaurant that was ok.  It fit the bill- food + now.  We had wanted to see the Kuji cliffs and the Japanese women Ama divers but we ran out of time.  It was a very full day!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Aomori Weekend- Oirase Gorge

I feel the weekend made the whole trip worth it.  Don't get me wrong, the professional satisfaction is great, yeah, yeah, yeah, but it was really nice to see a different part of Japan while I stayed up North for my Monday clinic/post-op follow-ups.

On Saturday, SMS and I headed out to Oirase Gorge.  It's a 5 mile trail along Oirase stream between Yakeyama and Lake Towada.  Lake Towada is a huge caldera lake in the Aomori prefecture and Oirase stream is its only drainage stream/river.  The gorge is heavily wooded and very pretty.  I suspect that the most spectacular time to see it is in the Fall with the colorful foliage, but it was really nice for a Summer outing too.
Walking Map

My hiking companion- this cute guy is on every trail post sign!
We parked at the Yakeyama bus stop, where there was a small market and a pizza/salad place across the street.  I believe the name is Stone Oven Restaurant, which fits.  It's in North Village and also has a small gear store on the second floor.  We ate lunch and it was awesome!  There was a pizza and salad buffet.  The Neopolitan pizzas were small and tasty but where I really loaded up was at the salad bar.  There were so many yummy, fresh veggies.  Some were straight from their garden.  My favorites were the fresh peas and the sesame-seed glazed kabocha squash.  Delicious!

After fortifying ourselves, we hiked up the trail to the Oirase Stream Tourist Center.  We "spoke" with the Japanese version of Silent Bob.  Although we asked for directions in (admittedly poor Japanese), he didn't really talk back.  He pointed at a schematic map but that's all we had to go off of.  While SMS and I might not be the best Japanese speakers, we can usually figure out what people are saying.  Unfortunately in this situation, to paraphrase Allison Krauss, "You say it best when you say nothing at all" was not the case here.  SMS and I promptly hiked a mile down a different trail until we came across a sign in English that taunted us with its "You are here" dot for where we were was not where we wanted to be.

So, we back-tracked to the tourist center and hiked up towards the lake.  It was a nice level trail that was mostly along the river.  The road follows the river and the path sometimes let out onto the side of the road for a little ways.  I would call it the shoulder, but the road was really narrow and shared among cars, buses, bikers and hikers along certain parts.
Kumoi Waterfall
The main draw is the waterfalls.  They were really beautiful and everything was just so green and lush. In retrospect, most of the highlights are between Soube and the lake so starting at Yakeyama isn't mandatory but we were happy.
Choshi Ootaki Waterfall
Due to our inadvertent detour, we were a little behind schedule to catch the last bus so we ran for about 1/3 of the trail.  It actually made for beautiful trail running and I would highly recommend it as a running route, but maybe without a big backpack.  Due to our time constraints, we had planned on a hike one-way, bus back and it was actually a great way to do it.  On the JR bus back (Y630 between Lake Towada and Yakeyama), there was a Japanese/English audio recording that pointed out all the main waterfalls.  The driver even had certain set stopping points along the way.

Lake Towada
We headed back to Misawa and went to Kaminarido (aka Thunder Ramen) for dinner.  I had a delicious BBQ pork black ramen bowl.  The BBQ pork does not taste like BBQ sauce, but is a thicker slice of pork.  The black ramen is a sesame seed broth with burnt garlic oil/paste.  It is not the most subtle broth in the world but it is absolutely delicious and perfect after a day of hiking.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Misawa TDY

SMS and I went to Misawa Air Force Base last week so that I could see an ENT clinic and perform some surgeries.  Professionally, it was a nice trip.  It's a remote little place but people are very collegial. I saw a lot of consults and performed 8 small procedures- 6 tubes, 1 tube removal and 1 turbinate reduction.  So, it wasn't a week that will be featured on the hit show, "The Glamorous Lives of ENT Surgeons," but it was nice to help out and address a big backlog.

Misawa is always described as so far from Yokosuka, but it was only 5 hours away by train and Shinkansen.  SMS and I were burdened down with two suitcases, one exclusively dedicated to medical equipment and home sleep study machines.  Unfortunately, the seats on the Shin were sold out but we were lucky enough (ha, ha) to get standing seats.  The standing seats are assigned between specific cars and while it wasn't terrible, it was definitely not great.  Standing that long on a train isn't much fun and I couldn't even act like a kid and sit on the floor because it was covered in freshly spilled beer.  (Hey!  Not ours!  It was there when we got on!).
When we arrived in Hachinohe, we went to a restaurant in the train station for dinner.  We said, in our finest Japanese, "We'll have the most expensive set on the menu!!"  Well, what really happened is we saw the food the people next to us had and ordered their set, the Aomori set.  While it was the most expensive set on the menu, it was totally awesome!  There was miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, salmon roe, fish and a cool scallop shell on a sterno cooking stove with the most delicious seafood soup.  Yum!  It hit the spot and since the most expensive item on the menu was still only Y2000, we thought it was totally worth it.

We got to the Misawa Inn, which smelled really badly.  I voted for moldy while SMS voted for old throw-up on the carpet.  Either way, it was definitely the low of the week.  Things picked up on the weekend when we stayed in the orthopedic surgeon's house after he left town for his own TDY.

The rest of the visit can pretty much be summarized in two posts: Misawa Eats and Aomori Weekend since the highlights of the trip focus on what we ate and what we did over the weekend we were there. Coming soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cooking bender

I've been on a cooking bender the last couple of weeks.  A few things have contributed to that fact.  One, cooking for someone else is really nice.  It's great to be able to show love through cooking and nurturing a person (Food is love!  Eat your feelings!).  Also, when someone else eats your cooking, s/he is usually obligated to say something nice about it which satisfies the inner first-grader-performing-in-a-talent-show (Look at meeeeeeeeee!).  I'm also going away for 9 days so it's nice to have home-cooked meals before enjoying the hotel's mini-kitchen's finest.  Finally, I think it saves money although it's sometimes a little hard to tell when looking at the grocery store final total.

So, what have I been cooking?  Thank you for asking!

I have started cooking from Jerusalem, by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.  Ottlenghi is a great London chef known initially for his insane vegetarian dishes, although he himself will eat meat.  The cookbook was released in 2012 and was a pretty big sensation.  There were a lot cooking groups and articles focused on the book.  So, I showed up to the party about a year later, par for course.  It's a great book.  SMS gave it to me for Christmas and he didn't even know that I had really wanted it for quite awhile.  Or maybe he did know, but in a he-knows-me-so-well-he-didn't-even-have-to-be-told type of way rather than a I-left-heavy-handed-hints-on-post-it-notes type of way.

Ok!  Are you still reading?  Here's what I've cooked from the book.  First, the baba ghanoush recipe is outstanding.  There actually isn't an official baba ghanoush recipe, just a write-up on how there's no consensus recipe for "real" baba ghanoush.  But never fear!  On the next page, there's a recipe hidden within the "Burnt Eggplant with garlic, lemon & pomegranate seeds." I've been roasting the eggplant on aluminan foil directly on low gas burners and it has been really, really outstanding.  Yum, yum, yum.
I've also made Chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom rice.  This was pretty good but I felt like there was something missing.  It may have been time because I thought it tasted better the next day.    I'm not sure.  I would give this dish four stars and I can't quite describe why I can't give it 5.  I have a similar feeling for the Open kibbeh that I made.  I described to our dinner party guests Emily and Zac as an Israeli Shepard's Pie because I am culturally sensitive like that.  Finally, I made a modified shakshuka.  This was pretty awesome as a egg and tomato dish with a heavy helping of mixed-in greens.  Next time, I'll leave the eggs a little runny but that's simply operator error there, not the recipe's fault.

Last night, we went to a Hail & Farewell for the CO and others leaving this early Summer.  It was a pretty awesome pig roast with a potluck for the sides.  I brought Amy's amazing corn pudding recipe.  I was a little sad that I now know it's delicious because of the butter and cream fat content but still, I can't argue with tasty!  I also brought a chocolate cake that is super dense and delicious.  I made it at home and quickly realized that leaving it here would be a waistline disaster so I brought it to the potluck and had a few slices to bring home.  Yay!

Finally, I trotted out my Chicken, carrot, ginger quesadilla recipe.  Unfortunately, SMS thought it would be a more Mexican dish…I think it was the quesadilla.  Don't appropriate that word for another cuisine flavor combination around a born-and-raised SoCal guy!  The quesadilla filling is binded by a ginger, soy, rice wine sauce so that really, it tastes like chicken wraps from P.F. Chang's rather than a dish you'd get at Alberto's.  It is also delicious, but I think I will crack open my Rick Bayless book and make some awesome Mexican food although this will have to wait until post-Misawa.