Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  SMS and I had an amazing day filled with food, friends and presents.  It was a little light on family unfortunately, but that happens when living in Japan where our Christmas Day is their Christmas Eve!  We did talk to SMS' family on Skype- sister, brother-in-law, Mom, Dad, Grandfather and Pam- and we will see my family in a few short days!  I'm super-excited.  Christmas was so much fun and I feel very lucky to have such a wonderful husband and life in Japan.

SMS and I had a really nice day.  We exchanged presents in the morning and I got an awesome Fuji Instamax camera.  It takes little Polaroids and is very kawaii (cute in Japanese).  It was fun b/c it was like getting a toy on Christmas, even at my age!  I opened Dad's present which said "calendar" on the customs slip.   It was an advent calendar...oops.  I wasn't sure if it was misdirection on the customs label so I kept it unwrapped.  Maybe save it for next year?  I think the chocolate is 50% plastic anyway so it might work.

Brunch Party, featuring lots of eating and our Christmas wine delivery!
  Then we went to two parties, a brunch and a dinner.  I ate a lot although I'm not sure if I was ever really hungry.  We watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation at the brunch party and received a case of wine that three of my friends and I had ordered a few days prior at a wine bar in Motomachi, Yokohama.  Santa's sleigh is real!
Dinner Party at Brooke and Aaron's house
  Next, we went to a friend's house.  It's a couple and I've known Brooke since the very beginning of my time in San Diego and her husband Aaron for the last few years.  The dinner was great and we walked to a nearby park and saw a light display- the Japanese are very into "illuminations" around the Christmas holiday.  I made an awesome peanut butter frosting chocolate cake (I feel I can say this b/c it's not my recipe, I just followed someone's instructions).  The cake layers were a little soft so a small portion of it experienced a cake landslide.  Although it wasn't the prettiest, it was pretty tasty.  I know think I've gotten my sugar fill for the next week.  

Merry Christmas at the Japanese Illuminations

My favorite Reindeer

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

What a wonderful day!  After a satisfying day at work (I know, a day off would have been great but I can't be greedy since I'm off Friday and I'm leaving for vacation on Sunday!), I headed out for a few last-minute Christmas errands.  I got home a little after 6:30 and got ready for a special dinner out.  I feel Christmas Eve warrants a celebratory dinner and since I didn't feel like cooking one up, I suggested going to a local Oyster House.

Oyster Houses pop up during the Winter months at various spots along the coast.  I saw a poster out in town for an Oyster House at Spasso, a nearby onsen.  SMS and I decided to try it and we had a great time!  It's outside but there are several small heaters they'll stick under the table at one's request.  On a side note, how can SMS miss San Diego when they are equally ridiculous here in heating the outside during Winter?!?

We ordered a basket of oysters, 2 scallops, sardines, pickled vegetables, bread, soup and calamari.  We brought our selections over to the table and one of the women fired up the grill.  There was a lid to cover the food as it cooked, although I think it was mostly for the oysters.  Oysters cooked for 3 minutes a side while scallops were cooked for 2 minutes, flipped and then cooked for 5 more minutes.
Multi-tasking at its finest.  BTW, see the beer vending machine in the background?
Once the oysters were grilled, we put on a glove and shucked them.  We put a few drops of the suggested sashimi shoyu choice and ate up.  It was awesome and filling.  The price was pretty reasonable and we were very happy.  The BBQ surface is pretty small so it's slow-cooking at it's finest but it makes for a well-paced dinner.  I think we will definitely go back or at the very least, go to a few other Oyster Houses in the area.

Now, I'm typing and listening to Handel's Messiah.  I'm getting a little sleepy so it might be time for me to go to bed and dream of Santa!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This post was brought to you by no pictures...

I think my iPhone has been delivered a death blow.  I'm not exactly sure what happened but over the last week and a half, the phone has been restarting on its own, shutting down, having spontaneous blue and/or striped screens and, in general, circling the toilet.  Yesterday, the phone died. Well, there are some agonal respirations right now but I don't think the prognosis is good.  I've tried to restore it to factory settings and get to varying points in the process but invariably, the screen turns blue and error 009 comes up.  I have Googled this problem quite a bit and it mostly focuses on when people inadvertently ruin the motherboard by screwing the wrong screws into the wrong holes while changing an iPhone screen.  I do have a cracked screen but have not changed the screen so I think it's a hardware issue that may not be recoverable.  I'm going to send my iPhone to the corner for a few days and let it think about whether or not it wants to play nicely with me.  If not, then I'm not sure.  Throw in the towel?  Take it to a pro?  Buy a garakei?

Wait, what's a garakei?  I learned the word today from the Japanese doctor who was shadowing me in clinic and I think it's super clever.  The following excerpt explains it best...

Japan kept making cell-phone that weren’t compatible with the rest of the world and only worked well within the confines of Japan. The development of Japanese cell-phone and mobile technology has been compared to the evolution of life on the very isolated Galapagos Islands. Nowadays, Japan-made flip open old-fashioned cell-phones are referred to as gara-kei. It’s short for Galapagos + keitaidenwa (携帯電話/cell-phones). It’s also verbal short-hand for saying “a cheap, uncool and out of date mobile phone.”

Isn't that funny?  What an awesome word!  I love it when languages have their own idiosyncratic words that is perfect for their culture.  Oh Japan, I will miss you.  On a related note, 6 more months in Japan!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekend Fun!

Sorry, no pictures.  I didn't take many and my iPhone is very sick and unresponsive right now; therefore, the few pictures I did take are inaccessible.

On Friday, SMS and I went out with the couple we're going to Sapporo and Niseko with in February. I wanted to go to Charcoal Grill Green but all three places were full.  Next time, don't call the day of for reservations!  We went to an Italian place in the neighborhood and it was pretty tasty.  We all had pasta except for Jeff who had a delicious, albeit fatty, chicken dish.  Then we walked to Motomachi which was a little farther than I realized but it was nice to walk through Yokohama.

Saturday was a crazy lazy day.  I just sat around the apartment and rested, read, ate and just hung out. Around 5, SMS and I went over to our friends for pizza and an Elf viewing.  We used our Dominos card from our Amazing Race winnings to pay for most of the pizza.  You do not get a lot for your money here!  The sizes are small and the specialty pizzas quickly climb to Y3000+ for a large.  We had a great time and I enjoyed watching one of my favorite Christmas movies.

Sunday was a little less lazy.  SMS went climbing and I had a fun local day.  First, I went on a 5 mile run which felt pretty good.  I showered and got ready for some Yokohama shopping with Melinda.  We went to Mr. Waffle, the Loft in SOGO mall (my favorite shopping in Japan, aka Japanese Target), Mango Tree Cafe for lunch, Red Brick Warehouse and Motomachi.  In Motomachi, we met up with Alaina and Amanda.  We went to the World Wine Bar and it was awesome!  We had such a fun time catching up and Amanda made a new friend with the mannequin in the window.  They were having a tasting event and we ended up purchasing a case of delicious Chilean wine.  We split the price four ways and I'm hoping the case will be split four ways.  I imagine it will be unless Melinda has convenient amnesia when the bottles are delivered.  BTW, let it be known that among the highly educated group I was hanging out with, we initially thought the Chile flag looked a lot like the Texas state flag.  It can happen.  We also checked out Tomei's wine bar on the back street of Motomachi, passed the Starlight restaurant that we want to go back to and finally headed home.  While Melinda had the next day off, the rest of us had to get home and asleep for work!  On the way back, we made another stop at Mr. Waffle (yay!) and a shall-not-be-named store to pick up some small gifts for my Mom and sister.

SMS had a great climbing day at Jogasaki and I think I'll go with him next time.  He said the three hour drive each way was a little long so maybe we can camp or stay at a guesthouse!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lake Yamanaka Fuji-san weekend

This past weekend, SMS and I headed out to the Fuji Five Lakes region to explore a new area and, in SMS' case, take beautiful pictures of Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san).  We were going to go to Tokyo but we decided to branch out and see someplace new.  Of course, we've seen Mt. Fuji a lot (and even hiked it) but it was very beautiful to see it from the shores and hills around Lake Yamanaka.
It IS shaped like a whale!
 Lake Yamanaka is the highest of the Five Lakes and is shaped like a blue whale!  This makes for some very nice anime cartoons.  It seemed similar to Big Bear Lake, CA in that it appears to be a Summer playground but there are things to do all year-round.

I went to the office holiday party on Friday afternoon, which was a nice gathering featuring lots of cookies.  Although I had fun, I wanted to get out of there to hit the road!  SMS and I left the apartment around 4 p.m. and apart from a small amount of traffic east of Yokohama, we were in the clear.
My new favorite chair! It may not be much to look at but it's awesome!
We checked into Yamanouchi Guest House on the south shore of the lake.  It was a nice hotel with tatami mat rooms, shared bathrooms and the hottest onsen I have ever been in.  It was a painful experience but I did feel squeaky clean afterwards!  The air temperature was cold in most of the rooms but the heater in our room was efficient and we were quickly toasty.
Other highlights of the hotel included an old chair that had two black knobs that acted as massagers- I loved it and want one!   The innkeeper was a spry old lady who spoke only a few English words but we managed to get by with our Japanese.  Although she seemed to think my Japanese comprehension was way better than it was- maybe I should stop nodding so much.  She cooked breakfast every morning, which was kind of a strange creation.  There would be an egg (cold fried egg day 1 and cold Japanese omelet day 2), salad with mayonnaise on the cucumber, deli meat slices, hot dog, thick cold bacon, rolls, yogurt and soup.  So there was a ton of food but it was a funny hybrid breakfast.  I'm always grateful for food but maybe it was too early and I couldn't completely embrace the concept of an early, Japanese/Western brunch plate.
View from our room!
After breakfast, we hopped in the car to explore the area.  Although there seems to be a great, although slightly infrequent bus system, we were happy to have our car since it gave us more flexibility and shelter from the cold!  Also, despite the picture on the booking website, the hotel was actually on the South shore nearest to Fuji so although we had a great view of Fuji from our room, we had to drive to the other side of the lake in order to get the lake and Fuji-san in the same picture.
So blessed!
First, we drove to Fujiyoshida, which was the traditional starting point for pilgrims trekking up Fuji-san via the Yoshida trail.  We pulled into a little shopping area/rest stop where there were several small stores and, on the left side, several spigots tapping the Mt. Fuji water, "blessings of Mt. Fuji."  SMS and I each filled up our Nalgene bottles.  The scene was pretty crazy as there were people there filling dozens of bottles, each 2-20 gallons.  I'm guessing it was for commercial use but it was pretty impressive how dedicated people were to stocking up on the water.
First, find this market (near Fuji-Q).  Next, eat tacos.
We drove around for a bit trying to find the torii gate that one can drive through (no luck).  Then we went over towards Fuji-Q Amusement Park to find a hiking trail, also unsuccessful.  But, we walked past a small food truck that looked like it was selling little Fuji cakes.  Then I noticed it was called Tacodor with a little Chili anime drawing and I thought, "Isn't that weird that a Fuji cake stand is in a taco cart?"  Well, it was also a taco cart!  The fairly young guy inside had been to Mexico and learned how to make tacos.  SMS ordered a delicious, chorizo-like taco that came 2 to an order on small corn tortillas.  It was so good!  We also had Fuji cakes for dessert and they were also awesome.  It was a great serendipitous find and the best Mexican food (and cheapest!) we've had in Japan so far (ok, ok, it's not like we came expecting great Mexican food but it's nice when we find it!).
This was an amazing hike!
At this point, SMS was getting antsy about going for a hike.  We decided to head back to Lake Yamanaka since the panoramas were likely prettier since the area was less developed.  We hiked up Mt. Hirao, part of the larger Mt. Ohira hiking course.  We parked in the town of Hirano off the 413, just down the street from the Ishiwarinoyu onsen.  It wasn't too long of a hike (but don't worry Mom and Dad, like many places in Japan there were still lots of stairs!) and the summit vista was breath-taking.

After the hike, we went to the photo spot for SMS to set up.  He had a clear view of Fuji-san and it really happy with his photography set-up there.  Apparently we were really lucky because the innkeeper said that Fuji had been obscured for the last 4 weeks.  Hooray for perfectly timed trips!

We warmed up with an early dinner of Yoshida udon, the traditional pilgrim's meal.  The udon is characterized as "thick and chewy" and the noodles are a little more flat and wide than regular udon.  It was considered a purifying food (white noodles, clear broth).  It was tasty, especially with the addition of kobocha squash.

That night, we decided that we would go back to the photo spot in the morning to take advantage of the "alarm clock filter," aka, the beautiful light at sunset.  Sunday came and it was cold, but SMS had another great photo session.  I took some pretty pictures of a swan that swam towards us although I started to get scared as it got really close.  I know that sounds ridiculous but after seeing geese attacks in Newport, RI, bigger birds scare me!  (God forbid I ever see an emu or ostrich!).
A foot onsen at a museum- brilliant!  See all the people coming in to join me?
We headed South towards Hakone and went to the Open Air Museum.  I was so happy!  I went so many times last tour and I hadn't been yet this time.  I was excited to show it off to SMS.  Old favorites were there, although the fried egg had moved locations.  It seemed a little smaller than I remembered, which was strange because that usually happens to things I remember from childhood, not adulthood.  Also, can I just say that a foot onsen at a museum is an amazing idea?!  When your feet get tired and achy at a museum, refresh them with a hot soak and carry on!  Sagoy!

On the way home, we stopped at Ebina SA, "The World's Best Rest Stop," as proclaimed by SMS.  We shared a nikuman (Chinese steamed bun), dumplings, a sushi rice bowl and an affogato.  Eclectic but all of it was wonderful.  There was no traffic on the way back and we hung out at home for the rest of the afternoon/evening.  It was a wonderful mini-holiday and I had a great time.  Next up, Christmas decorating and shopping!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dinner and Derby

Well, my workweek usually starts off pretty light and then accelerates to Friday.  This week, I had interesting clinics, a few intratympanic membrane injections (boo, sudden sensorineural hearing loss!) and a complex OR case on Thursday that went really well.  My OR patient was someone I knew from several years ago (acquaintance level) and while that extra fact made me a little nervous, the procedure went smoothly and was uncomplicated.  Yay!

On Wednesday, SMS and I went to derby practice followed by a late dinner at Pizza & Pancake in Zushi.  We split a Caesar Salad followed by a pizza each although we had some leftovers.  I ordered a pizza with cheese, miso-marinated ground meat and eggplant.  SMS got a Neapolitan pizza.  Both were delicious!

On Friday, we met up with a couple for dinner in Yokohama.  SMS knows the husband through his photography network and we both met his wife for the first time.  They were fun to hang out with since SMS and Gabe talked about photography.  Gabe also talked about working at a bilingual Japanese pre-school and a little bit about his life as a chef.  We had a great time and I loved the restaurant!

We went to Charcoal Grill Green, Gabe's choice.  I had no strong feelings either way although I wasn't overly impressed by the name.  There are actually three restaurants of the same name in three nearby neighborhoods; we went to Bashamichi.  The restaurant has several rustic appearing tables and a counter space.  It is cozy and awesome.  It seems that there is always one English-speaking waiter and there was a bilingual menu.

SMS and I shared local vegetables (including watermelon radish!) with a anchovy/garlic tapenade.  It was delicious although maybe not a first date dish for all you young lovebirds out there.  Gabe and Kristen shared a grilled Caesar salad.  I had a daily special for my entree- char-grilled salmon on a bed of clam risotto served with grilled root vegetables.  The salmon piece was on the small side, but perfectly cooked and the risotto was heavenly.  SMS and Gabe both ordered the char-grilled BBQ pork with wasabi coleslaw.  The pork seemed to be a delicious pork belly and the wasabi coleslaw was a revelation.  There was a nice underlying bite but nothing overwhelming.  It added a layer of complexity to what is normally a very ordinary side.  Kristen ordered char-grilled pepperoni pizza, which got good reviews from the rest of the table although I didn't try any.

At a restaurant this good, I felt we had to get dessert to cap it off!  Gabe and Kristen shared a chocolate mousse while SMS and I shared the daily homemade chestnut (kori or marron) ice cream.  There were huge chunks of chestnut held together by the background of ice cream.  It was delicious! I also had a coffee, which I like with dessert even though I occasionally pay for it at bedtime.

Afterwards, we decided to grab a drink at Antenna America, a bar specializing in American (and mostly West Coast) microbrews.  The pours are a little less than a pint and the atmosphere is nice.  We hung out a bit before heading back to Yokosuka.
Scoring is serious business!
Saturday, I hung out around the house while SMS went climbing with a new rock climbing partner we met at Thanksgiving.  That afternoon, we went to Ikego to watch a roller derby bout.  SMS and I ended up score-keeping which was fun, especially once we got the hang of it.  I'll be honest, I may have been looking at the wrong team for the first two jams, ha ha.  After the bout, we headed over to Hiyama and had salmon fish 'n'chips at Gazebo.  The salmon was delicious and the fries (with malt vinegar ) were awesome.  I think in the future I will be a little more of a fish 'n' chips purist and go with the flounder or mahi mahi.  At this restaurant, we had a salad instead of dessert.  Go us!

On Sunday, we had a lazy morning followed by a SMS photo extravaganza.  He had two back-to-back photo shoots followed by a photography class for me and our friend Jen.  I learned a little bit about my camera and then took Jen's sons out the playground while SMS and Jen worked on photographing for Jen's Etsy products.  This evening, I cooked from my Jerusalem cookbook- "Turkey & Zucchini burgers with green onion & cumin."  It's served with a sour cream and sumac sauce, except I used zitar instead of sumac and chicken instead of turkey.  It was a hit and I have a few more recipes from the cookbook planned.