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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yokosuka Weekend

SMS and I had a pretty mellow weekend.  Since last weekend was busy and we have lots of plans for next weekend, a quiet weekend at home was great.
Interior of Snug Stay Door.  Very comfortable!
Hawaiian Magazines and the bar.
On Friday, we went to Snug Stay Door, a restaurant fairly close to our house.  It is a really cute place decked out in lots of Hawaiian kitsch.  It's a really comfortable environment, more coffee-shop than restaurant, but the food is incredible.  SMS had been once before and raved about the food.  I ordered the avocado cheeseburger.  Despite being on the diet menu, it was absolutely delicious.  Ok, just kidding about the diet menu, but it is true that it was delectable!  The toppings included mayonnaise, lettuce (oh thank goodness!), tomato, cheese, perfectly ripe avocado.  The bun was perfectly toasted and the burger was great.  On the side, there were perfect little potato wedges.  It was awesome!

SMS had the poke loco moco.  It was a rice bowl with tuna sashimi, a soft-boiled egg and seaweed sprinkles.  It was also tasty.  We split a Hilo Hawaii ice cream that had a little freezer burn and was just ok (but come on, it was still ice cream!).  Overall, the meal was amazing and we will definitely be back!
Wide-angle view of Kannonzaki Beach with the Rest House in the background (right)

Lighthouse and Rest House more visible.  If we were driving, we would have made a right
at the light by the rest house and then parked in the lot on the left.

Concrete Swimming Island.  No diving!  The water is only waist-deep.
 On Saturday, we had a mellow morning and an almost-as-mellow afternoon.  We biked down towards Kannonzaki Park.  We walked around the little pier, the beach and back up into the forest for a bit, aka until the uphill started and laziness kicked in!  I figured out that the Kannonzaki Rest House was where we should have made the right and parked when we went to the giant slide.  I took a picture for reference.
It's hydrangea season!
After that, we headed out to Ikego because SMS had his first family photo shoot.  I wasn't there but the photos look amazing and SMS was really happy with how it went!  Sagoy!  While SMS was busy, I hung out at Melinda's house with Amanda and Melinda. It was a lot of fun to hang out with friends with Orange is the New Black on in the background.  SMS came over and we stayed for dinner, including a delicious berry pie, before heading home.

On Sunday, I cleaned around the house, studied Japanese, cooked up a storm and went into the hospital a few times.  Yes that's right, a call day that I actually had to work!  SMS and I also went grocery shopping and went to Pepper Lunch for…lunch.  It's like bibimbap except that the order comes out on a hot, flat, cast-iron plate with raw meat and rice that quickly cooks.  It's delicious!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hakone: Owakudani and Venetian Glass Museum

Framing flowers…brilliant!
After our wonderful breakfast, it was time to check-o out-o.  No, the "o's" are not meant to be annoyingly cutesy.  Japanese has a lot of foreign words that they Nihongo-ize the pronunciation.  This can sometimes be a dangerous thing since it occasionally makes me feel like I know more Japanese than I do.  For example, picture me swimming.  Then the conversation uses actual Japanese words.  Help! Help!  I'm drowning!

Such an amazing place!  Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

We drove to the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  I was a woman obsessed.  The grounds were so beautiful.  I couldn't get over it.  I took a lot of pictures that didn't do it justice and just marveled at how gorgeous it was.  We also toured through the museum, which wasn't bad but it wasn't the highlight for me.  It is pretty amazing, though, how these super delicate glass pieces have last a few centuries and transport from Europe to Japan.

After tearing myself away from the museum, we were off to find Owakudani (大涌谷 lit. "Great Boiling Valley), a volcanic fissure with sulfur vents and hot springs where they boil hard-boiled eggs with amazing powers of adding longevity to a person's life (statement not FDA approved).  SMS had seen the building from our ryokan and thought it looked really cool.  Since this was his first time to Hakone, he got to pick the itinerary.  Not that I minded, I just didn't have super-strong feelings about what to do.

If I were 10, I'd make a fart joke.  Oh well, I'm older.  Sulfur springs, PEE YEW, HAHAHA!!!
We parked near Gora station and took the Hakone Tazon Cable Car up to the Ropeway station at Sounzan.  We bought round-trip tickets for the entire ropeway and headed off.

Excuse me Sir, where are the chickens?
At Owakudani, we hiked about 1 km to the site where the eggs are boiled.   SMS spotted the mini-ropeway used to shuttle the eggs back and forth from the site to the main building at the ropeway terminal.  I was hoping to see the wild chickens of the sulfur vents but they apparently do not exist.  Or do they?

After looking at the springs and smelling the fresh sulfur-tinged air, we walked back to the main building and had ramen for lunch.  It was tasty although not in the top three I've ever had.  Then we went back on the ropeway and took it to Togendai on the shores of Lake Ashi.  We saw the tourist line cruises ships that look like pirate ships but we headed back via the ropeway since we had our car.

This is the first time I took a car to Hakone and although it was great for getting to the ryokan (iPhone map app, not so much), I prefer using public transportation in the area.  I've done a day trip several times in the past and part of the fun is the different modes of transport- train, bus, cable car, rope way and pirate ship!  Also, the traffic was really heavy along the shore from Zushi to Enoshima.  Since the focus of this trip was an out-of-the-way ryokan, the car was perfect but for most trips, I'd recommend the Hakone Freepass, which really pays for itself.

We drove back to Yokosuka, which was much smoother since we didn't have anywhere to be.  When we arrived, we decided that although we had had a wonderful anniversary weekend already, we would go out to a fancy dinner to top it all off.  I was in the mood for a French restaurant and our research turned up Hananoya, an amazing French Restaurant.  We didn't take any pictures of the food because sometimes it's just not the time or place, but we had the most awesome dinner.  It was essentially a private chef experience since no one else was there.  We both ordered the course set and it was phenomenal.

It started with a vegetable tartine which seemed to be a Japanese-French fusion since the veggies were mushrooms, carrots and baby corn.  It was held together with a gelatin-like binder and wrapped in a border of cabbage leaves.  It sat on a spread of flavored mayonnaise (I love Japan).  Next was a delicious radish soup which had a French onion taste to it.  It was very smooth and rich.  I'm not sure if it was daikon or not but if so, I need to figure out the recipe since I'm currently at a loss as to what to do with daikon.

 Our main course was the red snapper, which came with the best calamari I think I've had in my life.  The dish was so good.  SMS and I usually get something different to try more things but last night, we both wanted the snapper and it was the perfect choice.  Finally, there was a trio of small desserts
that were awesome.  My favorite was the thickened crepe base with one strawberry and soybean ice cream.
 At the end, we complimented the chef and said we'd be back, both in Japanese.  That was pretty awesome b/c the look on the waiter's face was pretty priceless.  His look was basically, "Where the **$&%* did that come from?" because when we were ordering, we really bumbled through with our
Japanese b/c he was sort of mumbling Japanese and English so we had no idea how to respond.  So when we sounded good at the end, he was very surprised.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hakone Getaway

SMS and I decided to get out of town in celebration of our 1 year anniversary!  Sagoy!  It simultaneously feels way longer and way shorter than 1 year.  So much happened in a year's time yet I still feel like we're the two crazies who barely knew each other but decided to take a trip to Hawaii with my family after three weeks of dating!  We each collected more degrees via SMS' MBA and my board-certification.  We each moved to Japan and since moving is so much fun, we decided to move separately so we could experience it twice as a couple (ha, ha).  We took many, many trips both to see each other and see new places.  This upcoming year will mirror our final year in Japan since hopefully I will get into fellowship and we'll be moving this time next year.  I know, I know.  Maybe it seems a little melodramatic to say "final year" when we're only here for two (or even a little less), but there's so much seasonality to Japan that we want to make sure we experience the festivals, events and, most definitely, the food!

We decided to go to Hakone.  Initially, I was hoping for a trip where we could go on the Hakone sight-seeing loop to see the Open-Air Museum, little towns and the ropeway but that is best done when it's sunny and on Saturday, we woke up to the third day of almost continuous rain.  That's ok, though!  I mapped out the route and we headed out.

Entrance way and Yukata selection table.  I'll take them all!

We arrived at the ryokan right before dinner.  We changed into our yukatas and Hapi coats and headed downstairs.  We were ready for a kaiseki feast!  (I actually thought that this ryokan had in-room kaiseki meals but that was not an option.  I'm a little confused since my parents and I thought the same thing in Miyajima so somewhere along the way, something is being lost in webpage translation.)
Course 1
The food was amazing!  There were several courses and the detail and presentation is exquisite.  Our table was ready when we sat down with a (Japanese) cornucopia of delights!  There were fruit, vegetables, tofu, fish and several gelatinous creations all on one little dish.  There were so many mini-dishes within the dish.  I'm glad we remembered our wallets because dish-washing at this place would be no joke!  The little glass to the right was a shot of peach nectar- probably alcoholic but a little hard to tell.
Course 2
To be totally honest, I can't quite remember the order of dishes and I didn't take photos of every one.  The one I didn't photograph was the penultimate course of miso soup, rice with lots of whitefish :o/ and pickles.  There may have been one other that didn't make the photo cut but I really can't remember.  But moving on!  Let's call the sashimi course #2.  It was amazing!  The fish was so fresh and even though I normally have a rule about avoiding seafood in a mountain town, I'm fairly certain the sashimi had been caught that morning it was so fresh and tasty!  The presentation was also pretty awesome- a pottery sculpture set on a complementary plate.

Course 3
The next course was also tasty but the one I was a little squeamish about.  See the cup on the right with two fish tails sticking out.  Well, the heads were still attached.  When SMS ate it, I was kind of grossed out which the waiter found funny.  But I got over it and ate my two little fishes.  They were pretty good but I wouldn't eat a whole bowl full.  This course also contained conch, marinated leek, sweet potato, tofu and a small piece of sushi.

Course 4
Then it was time for us to do our own cooking.  A hot stone was placed in front of us and soon after, a small steak course with pepper and onion was served.  The steak was meltingly delicious.

Course 6
Then came the non-photographed miso, rice and pickles.  Finally, dessert was served.  My favorite was the macho-flavored tofu(?) pudding.

The next morning, we came down to an awesome breakfast spread.  There was steamed pork and vegetables over a burner in the top left corner.  There was a teeny-tiny fish, rice, miso soup, salad, an egg custard, pickles and a little bento box with omelet and a few gelatinous mini-dishes.

We loved the ryokan and highly recommend it.  Although the in-room kaiseki meal continues to be elusive, it was a small dining room and romantic setting.  It may be a little difficult to find but it's very worth it: Hakone Fura.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Using iPhone Map Apps in Japan

Interruption: A tip about using map applications in Japan.  I highly advise knowing where you are going before leaving the house.  "What?" you say, "Doesn't everyone do this?"  Well, maybe everyone else but I have had several Adam Sandler-like moments while navigating based on my iPhone map.

Yes, so anyway, for the third time in Japan (the first being Gion Center in Kyoto and the second being Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, both with my parents), I relied a little to heavily on the iPhone during our recent weekend trip and this was not the wisest decision.

First, the Yoko-Yoko expressway was closed due to the rain (flooding?  landslides?  My lack of Kanji knowledge limits my interpretation), which added about 45 minutes to the trip.  Then, the stupid app erased the address and just sent us to the town.  Now, it could have been worse but when we stopped in the 7&I (7-11), it was hard to get directions because the ryokan we were going to was fairly small and not well-known.  Finally, we were told that we were very close so we headed back to the car, feeling slightly better but not much.  After Googling in Kanji after finally figuring out how to cut and paste the Kanji, I finally figured out where the ryokan was and we showed up, 9 minutes before dinner.  Phew!  

BTW, due to the use of Adam Sandler .gifs, I could not use this in the trip roundup.  Talk about buzzkill.  

Friday, June 6, 2014


Hooray!  The year or so of stress is over!  I am now board-certified and I'm so happy and full of exclamation points!!!!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Giant Slides and Japanese Grills!

This weekend was filled with local mini-adventures, really good food and fun times with friends.  The weekend started a little early since SMS and I went out to lunch on Friday.  We went out to the 16 and I decided I wanted to try the famous Katsu place.  I had heard about it when I was on the Kitty Hawk but I had never been able to find it.  This always annoyed me since I knew it was on the base side of the street between the two gates and there aren't that many buildings located there.  Anyway, it's a very small storefront with a wooden sign over the door and if it's open, you'll see a three-paneled green door hanging and a small spider plant out front.  Well, Friday we were in luck!
It was worth the wait, although katsu isn't going to become a frequent eats!
When we sat down, we waited.  And waited some more.  Finally, we put our order in once he asked.  I had heard that the shop moves at the chef's pace and it's all true.  When we initially sat down, we thought we'd split a plate but by the time the food was ready about 50 minutes later, we were so hungry and each wolfed down our own separate place.  SMS and I both had the tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet) and it was delicious!

I went back to work way later than I meant to so I ended up staying late to make up the work.  I would have stayed later but then the network went down completely.  Well, I guess that was that.  I texted SMS to tell him I was on my way.  He was out at the yakitori place near our local train station and he asked me to join him.  When I went in, I saw that he had made friends with four Japanese construction workers who were very into arm-wrestling.  They were really nice and we had fun talking to them and a really nice lady next to our group.  SMS and I really intrigued them because I don't think many white people go in there.  Although everyone was super-nice, it's definitely a Nihongo-only place so you need at least survival Japanese+ to navigate.  Sometimes it's funny to me when I'm in a place near Yokosuka and people are surprised to see an American.  My life is so base-focused that I think, "Well, there's sort of a base nearby" but really, the base isn't all that big relative to the overall population density so sometimes, we're a novelty even if the base "Little America" atmosphere feels so close.
Zushi Beach
On Saturday, we met up with a bunch of friends in Ikego (Japanese side) for brunch, BBQ and beach.  We had delicious crepes (savory and sweet), yummy turkey burgers and condensed milk-filled strawberries.  Yum!  After lots of food, we got in our bathing suits (great timing!) and headed to the beach.  The water was so warm!  It was several degrees warmer already than San Diego at the height of Summer.  I am definitely ok with that!
The Start!
Today, we hung out in the morning and cleaned up the apartment.  We aim for cleaning it every week and, apart from travel, we've been pretty consistent.  This afternoon, we went out to Kannonzaki Park with Rose and her two kids and played on the various playgrounds sprinkled through the park.  The highlight was the huge roller slide where we really gained some speed. We used our new favorite Japanese purchase, the plastic slide sheets to help us go faster.  After sliding, we went to Rose's where we had delicious carnitas for dinner.  Yum, yum, yum!

Kannonzaki Park.  We parked at the parking on the bottom left, I would recommend
the Yokosuka Art Museum, center and slightly right.
Oh yeah!  We almost had a near disaster at Kannonzaki.  We parked in the lot and came back around 6:15 and the gates were closed and a note in Japanese on the windshield.  OH NO!  Fortunately, one of the gates was unlocked so we opened it and shut it behind us but we were nervous.  Note for next time- the parking lots close at 5!  Also, we went all the way around the point to where the rest station with the Italian restaurant was but it would be much, much closer to park at the Yokosuka Art museum.  The walk was lovely but the distance added up by the end of the day.  It's a huge park!

So, that was the weekend!  Not too much out-of-the-ordinary is planned for this week at work.  Paperwork, clinic, OR and a host nation emergency medicine conference on Friday.  Should be fun!