Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dear 2008,

Look, we both knew it had to end eventually. This relationship had an expiration date, YOU had an expiration date, and there's no sense pretending otherwise.

2008, it's time to break up.

Don't act like you didn't see this coming. Sure, we had some good times, but you knew it wasn't perfect. I only wanted one thing from you, 2008, one thing - a baby - and you wouldn't give it to me. I don't want to upset you, but I hear 2009 has a surplus of babies and I've got a good chance of getting my hands on one from her.

On top of that, I didn't spontaneously lose 25 pounds or get perfect skin. Umm, helloooo?

Now I won't lie: there were some good times. Like January in South Carolina - look, even Josh wanted to welcome you!Then there was our birthday celebration at The Lazy Goat in Greenville with Mom and Dad - we had a great time.For our anniversary a month later, we went horseback riding. Then in March I quit my job and began this bizarre life of leisure, which is actually a life of cooking, which I love. April, May, and June were a blur of moving preparations and goodbyes, with the highlight being a week at the cabin in Maine. What a trip that was.

After that was The Big Move: what turned out to be eleven weeks of living out of suitcases first in Newport, then on an awesome Ladycation in Atlanta (love you, ladies!), then South Carolina and finally Washington, with Josh's family. I miss them like crazy too.

August 1 we arrived in Tokyo, exhausted and excited and more than a little freaked out. And the rest is history: the highs and lows of life overseas, Navy culture, and lots and lots of fish.

But as good as it has been, 2008, it has to end now. I'm moving on to bigger and better things: getting my house in order, planning a new career path, and maybe even a few visits home, here and there. Oh, and a baby - did I mention I'd like to have a baby?

It was a good run, '08, but this is the end. I expect all my books back in good shape, and I don't want to see any intimate details posted on Facebook, ok? It's probably best if you don't call me for a while.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Enviro Brag!

So a while back I posted about all the little (and not so little) things I do that I know are bad for the environment: overuse of the car, extravagant long showers, and more - and some of you shared yours, too. Now as the new year approaches, it's time to focus on the positive. Here are some of the things I do RIGHT for the Earth, and I want to hear about yours.

1. Bike! Okay, this one isn't really me so much, although I do ride my bike to the vegetable stand once a week or so. But Josh (remember Josh?) rides his bike to and from work every day, about five miles round trip, rain or shine. He is great about it, and really likes the bike commute. 10 points to Mr. Takes Tokyo!

2. The lights. This little baby, which is packing a compact fluorescent bulb, is our only light source in the living room. It draws almost no power and the ambiance is better than the bright overhead, so win-win.

3. The laundry. I'm really proud about this one, though I recognize it's only possible because I'm not working at the moment. We have a cold-only washing machine, and I won't lie, I miss the hot water terribly. But once the clothes are clean, they go outside on a sunny day:and inside on a dreary day:There are so many upsides to this that I can hardly name them: the inside rack keeps our bedroom humid enough in the cold winter. Our electricity bills are much lower. The sun miraculously kills all the stinks left in Josh's workout clothes and bike gloves after multiple washings. It's more work, but while I have time it's a great thing. Oh, and the towels really aren't that scratchy, swear.

3. Japanese heating. Okay, it sucks a LOT that our house (like most in Japan) isn't insulated. And we haven't even seen the coldest month yet; it's typically February. But there is no central heat in Japan, so we use these little guys instead.There is one in almost every room, and we really only use the one in the living room much. We cordon off the living/dining/kitchen area and I usually have something baking, so one heater set at 20 C (about 68 F) is more than enough. We're usually both wearing a sweatshirt and flannel pants - as Josh says, "we already paid for the sweaters."

4. Bed heater! You've got to get one of these.Oh my goodness. A couple hours before bed we crank this baby up, and when we get in the bed is already warm and cozy. We usually shut it off before we fall asleep, and until recently it was enough to keep us warm all night. Now we have to keep the wall unit set at about 59 F to keep the chill off, but that's still pretty good I think.

5. Water heater. This, like so many of the others, is a function of our Japanese home. We have a small wall unit instant water heater in the kitchen - you turn on the hot water and a little gas flame appears behind a heatproof window, and the FIRE heats the water. No big tank kept hot all the time. The downstairs hot water works the same way, only we can't see the big flame. But we do turn off the gas to the big one whenever it's not in use.

6. Grocery bags. You know, this is one of those things that seemed like a huge pain until I got in the habit, but now any other way seems like lunacy. For real: why on earth do we use dozens of new, sterile, petroleum-based plastic bags every week for carrying groceries?! Can anyone explain it? I still slip up sometimes and forget to bring my totes, but then I feel wasteful and perplexed at the double bags, the mostly empty bags...ugh. Anyway, most times my grocery haul comes home in a bunch of strong canvas and cotton bags. And I only use the plastic produce bags for veggies which are really small (green beans), really wet (fresh herbs) or meant to be eaten raw with peel.

7. Miscellaneous. There are so many little things that I try to do to even out my impact on the world, tiny little efforts that I hope will add up like buying the local Japanese produce whenever possible, recycling, finding uses for worn out clothes, containers, and the like, and giving lightweight, easy to ship gifts. Oh! And I think buying and cooking my own beans counts, because it uses less fuel to ship dry beans than cans.

I'm sure you have tons of things to add to the list - please do!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Grammy!

I am late! I wish Blogger had a way to retro-date a post to the proper day, but alas, I'm caught: December 26th was Grammy Sullins' birthday.Isn't she beautiful?

We love you, Grammy. Thanks for learning to use the computer just for us - and here's hoping next year there will be dry weather and kids visiting for the holidays.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I love sweet potatoes. Don't give me sugar, don't give me cinnamon, and for heaven's sake KEEP the MARSHMALLOWS on a STICK, not on the vegetables. But a plain sweet potato, made into fries or mashed or pretty much any ol' way, is heaven to me. Pretty easy to please, aren't I?

You'd think.

Unfortunately, it turns out a sweet potato isn't just a sweet potato. What Americans call sweet potatoes or yams (which are really quite different things) are brown-skinned, orange-fleshed, and very high in water. They're really good for pan-frying and roasting. In Japan, sweet potatoes have a purple skin and entirely white flesh, and contain very little water. They are incredibly delicious; sweet and velvety and great in soup or mashed.

But they WON'T FRY. You see, Josh and I have a go-to dinner, that thing you make when you're tired and hungry and want some comfort food: veggie burgers and sweet potato chips. These things are heaven, but they only work with "wet" sweet potatoes, which aren't available here.

UNTIL NOW! The commissary got a shipment of light-orange sweet potatoes from a particular region of Japan, the only place that grows them here. Here are the five I bought:
Oh my goodness.
The white sap is normal!

So I went to town on our favorite recipe: We slice clean sweet potatoes, with skin, into 1/4" rounds (even easier in Bertha) and toss them with olive oil and chili powder.
Spread on a cookie sheet,
bake for 40 minutes at 400F, and serve with a little mayo for dipping. We actually had garlic aioli leftover from an emulsion test case a couple days before, and I whipped up steamed green beans with a walnut-miso sauce that was, sorry to say, disgusting. But the sweet potatoes were incredible, and I'm going to go buy a bunch more today. SWEET.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

If the fates allow

I must admit, I found myself listening mostly to the wistful Christmas songs this year. I had a craving for "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - the real version, with the sad lyrics. Here's Judy Garland:

Isn't it beautiful, and melancholy? "I'll Be Home for Christmas" was big with me, too, for obvious reasons.

But really I haven't felt that sad - just not Christmasy. As I've mentioned, there are Christmas decorations everywhere on and off base, but neither of us felt like lugging a tree into our upstairs living room, or dragging out the lights. We didn't buy each other gifts this year, but made coupons to exchange with one another for chores and little favors, like making espresso in the morning. We got a few things - some nice gifts from family, but it was very low key this year.

Until last night!

For Christmas Eve, Nadine and John invited us and another couple over for a big fondue dinner. It was so sweet, and festive, and we all got into the spirit. They have a big real tree in the house, with red balls and a pretty silver garland. The house smelled like pine and cookies when we arrived - good sign! Around four o'clock the eight of us: Nadine, John, and Justine plus Josh and me, and another band member Daryl and his girlfriend Shiho, and their new baby David. Did you get all that? Here are some visual aids.I think we surprised John with that one - sorry buddy! I'm sorry I didn't get more pictures of Justine in her Christmas footie pajamas. She was the pinnacle of cute, and she looked SO BIG compared to David! She kept us entertained with coos and gurgles, and ate blueberry applesauce, and had a bath in the sink which was so cute I melted into a puddle on the floor.
Daryl and Shiho were so cute together, perfect new parents.

Nadine made incredible classic cheese fondue, plus a turmeric chicken broth and a beef and red wine broth fondue for dinner. She even baked fresh bread for dipping in the cheese, and laid out an impressive array of meats, shrimp, and red and green vegetables for the main event. After all that it was time for chocolate fondue with fruit and cheesecake for dipping - it's no wonder we were there for nine hours, huh?!

Oh, and in the midst of all that eating, I got to hold the baby. David is five weeks old, their first child, and didn't make a peep the whole time (in Japanese or English, haha). He still weighs less than ten pounds, and he fell asleep in my arms at the table.Who was a happy Mrs. Claus? I was, that's who.

After David and his parents had to go home for the night and Justine went to sleep, the four of us stayed up talking until it was Christmas! And then this morning Josh and I talked to our parents, opened a few gifts, and had some delicious espresso in the beautiful, brightly colored cups Mom and Dad sent.

Ooh! Speaking of which, another gift from Mom and Dad (besides Bertha, who is still getting regular workouts), was a cedar plank to cook fish on in the oven. Now, did they go buy cedar planks for their friends and family? No they did not.

They CUT DOWN A TREE, had it HEWN into PLANKS at a SAWMILL, SAWED it into boards, sanded it down for food safety, and made and printed instructions for using it. How cool is that?

So, anyway. Merry Christmas, everybody - enjoy your morning, your gifts, food, and family and friends. (Open the gifts, eat the food, hug the people - don't mix those up.) We miss our friends and family during this season, and Internet? You're in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scene from my living room

Yesterday afternoon, 3:00, I'm curled up on the couch with a down throw over my whole body, head included, while Josh is laying on the floor surfing the web. All of a sudden I jolt upright - not realizing I had fallen asleep - because I snored so loudly that it woke me. We laughed for about a half hour.

What do you think the chances are that that will get less cute as the years go by?!

I was so tired because I got up at 6:00 to go take care of the critters at Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS), the animal shelter on base. I was there four hours, working hard to walk four dogs twice apiece, feed and water seven dogs (the three puppies can't go outside yet) and about a dozen cats and kittens, scoop litter, sweep floors, wash dishes, clean kennels, do laundry, and clean an ungodly amount of poo off the puppies' play area floor.

Seriously, what is UP with puppies?! They just poo on the floor, then run through it and play IN IT. And how can that much poop come out of three tiny doggies? I don't understand. I know that's why they're so cute, because otherwise we'd have to kill them. I mean it.

PAWS is entirely volunteer-run. Entirely - there are no paid staff members at all. If anybody in Yokosuka is reading this, why don't you go by a couple bags of Iams or Science Diet food, or a couple big packs of paper towels, and drop it by the shelter? I'm going to do the same myself, and keep going there to clean poo and give those little critters some love and (in the case of the dogs) discipline. They need it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ow, my feet!

I promise this'll be the last post about that one trip to Tokyo. Here we are on the train around 8:30 in the morning - and no, I don't know what's up with Josh's expression in the second one.
We left the house at 8:15 and walked to Keikyu-Otsu station for a 90 minute trip to Tokyo. The trains are really easy to manage, especially if you map out the route and timing beforehand, which I had done. We also have a map in English, just in case.

The trip was easy, thanks to open seats and iPods. Next up was Tokyo Tower, a ten minute walk from the Metro station. The tower was designed to emulate the Eiffel Tower, although 1950s steel technology made it possible at less than half the weight of the Eiffel. It's very impressive in person, painted orange and white according to aviation laws.

Josh's expression there isn't too hard to decipher. Turns out tourism + empty, pre-buffet tummy = antagonism.

But we recovered and bought tickets to the first observatory, which is only about halfway up. I'd like to go again after dark to see Tokyo lit up - the trains are so efficient that it's easy to forget just how BIG it is. Here are a few shots from the observatory windows.

See what I mean? Wow. And the tower was pretty busy for a Sunday morning, but not so busy that we couldn't take feet pictures at the "lookdown window."
Look out below!

There's a shopping complex called "Foot Town" in the lower part of the tower - that's the foot of the tower, btw. We explored for a bit, and found some really cute gifts for a certain friend in D.C. who designed my business card, and a couple trinkets for ourselves. Like flat squid!Click to embiggen.

I allllllmost bought one for you, Tnua Arabrab, but I decided against it at the last minute. It is Christmas, after all. Then there were the Obama-caricature bean paste treats:and Japanese PEEPS!Also a Guinness World Records museum with a lifesize cast of the world's tallest man. Yikes - Japanese people looked even funnier next to this than I do.Remember, I'm 5'8" or so. The average Japanese woman is eight inches shorter. Oh, and by the way - Josh's mood improved as brunch hour approached.

Then there was brunch, and to see how that went, well, scroll down. Afterwards, to ward off carbohydrate guilt and motion sickness, we walked around the Harajuku neighborhood. Harajuku is famous on Sundays for teenagers coming out in costumes, Elvis impersonators, and fancy shopping. Apparently we weren't the only ones out for shopping the week before Christmas.
Yikes. We were both a little claustrophobic after that - but we did see some interesting costumes! I was too nervous to ask for a picture, so I had to take one on the sly. Our last stop of the day was the Meiji Shrine, which was nice, but WAY TOO LONG A WALK after walking all day long. Turns out it was worth it, though, just to see these little girls in ceremonial kimonos!
I have no idea what the occasion was, but I didn't care. There was a crowd around the girls, their mother, and a photographer, and the girls were definitely having the least fun of anybody, poor things. Here we are at the main shrine: and Josh posing with a HUGE taiko (drum).
It was a great day. Good food, a little exercise, and some interesting trinkets to take home. My only complaint was the train ride home. It's a crapshoot - usually, on the weekends or any time outside rush hour, you can find a seat within the first couple stops if you're quick enough. This was the exception. After a long, weary day and sore feet for me, we stood for the bulk of the trip. I love the trains here, but boy, a seat in the QE2 looks miiiighty inviting.

Bad American - I lack discipline.

Monday, December 22, 2008

All you CAN eat

Oh, the food. As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason Josh and I headed to Tokyo was to partake of the famous Sunday Brunch at The New Sanno hotel. The New Sanno is an interesting place - it's a privately-owned hotel in Tokyo that is only open to members of the U.S. military. The rates are incredibly low, it's a 5-10 minute walk from the Tokyo Metro, and it is a really nice place. Josh and I haven't stayed the night before, but some of our friends sang the praises of the brunch, so off we went. Here we are, happy and hungry, before heading in:This isn't at the Sanno; it's a restaurant in Tokyo Tower.
We were too hungry to get a photo together before eating - see the look on Josh's face? That's hungry.

We were also too hungry to take any pictures of the room or the food, so let me paint you a little picture. It's a pretty standard hotel ballroom with big, low-quality Japanese decor. There's a giant Christmas tree/photo op spot in one corner, and a jazz pianist in another. The servers are everywhere, bringing coffee, water, and cheap champagne with mind-boggling efficiency. Plates disappear as soon as they are set to the side, which happens frequently if one wants to taste everything.

I won't try to name all the food that was there, just all the food that Josh or I tasted. We avoided most red meats, which were plentiful, and most poultry, for that matter. I started with salads: small tastes of pasta salad, marinated beets, green salad, Greek chopped salad, marinated artichokes, and yellow potato salad. I also grabbed some of the first American-style sushi I've seen here, in that first round - spicy tuna roll and California roll. The salads were decent, with the beets standing out as DELICIOUS, but the sushi was awful - Japanese sushi chefs should stick to the real thing, I think.

Next was grilled swordfish with sundried tomato sauce, corn chowder, smoked salmon on toast points with the fixin's, and a little caviar. In the meantime, Josh put a hurtin' on a couple impressively large plates of scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, bacon, pork sausage links, and a vegetable and cheese omelet with more of that yummy sundried tomato sauce. I had a little of the breakfast items too, and then we headed for the waffle bar.

Oh, the waffle bar.

Waffles are one thing Josh and I don't make at home. We don't own a waffle iron and don't really want one - we'd have them all the time! So that was one indulgence we planned on for the brunch. The chef made smallish waffles, about the size of a saucer, right on the floor, and we each grabbed two. I had whipped butter and maple syrup on mine, with whipped cream and sweetened strawberries on the side. Josh went for the basics, and we were both floored. They were crispy, they were slightly sweet, they were cakey and light in the middle. Oh, nonny. The waffles.

After a couple bites each of a couple cakes, puddings, and some ice cream, we were DONE. D-to the-ONE. Observe:FLATTERING.

This is why I built a couple hours' walk into our post-brunch afternoon. There was shopping, there were costumes (not on us), there was religion and a long train ride. What a day! More to come.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in Tokyo!

What a day! Josh and I headed up to The Big City today just for fun - there's a big brunch at a hotel for military folks every Sunday, and we used it as an excuse for an outing. I couldn't possibly capture the whole day in one post, so here's the first installment: the Christmas decorations.This tree stands outside JR Ebisu station, where we transferred on our way to Harajuku. Pretty, huh? That guy in the corner is going to sue me for image rights.I know I should get over it, but I still find myself perplexed by all the Western decorations everywhere. These wreaths lined the streets near Shibuya (BOO YA!), where we walked to brunch.
Yes, its arms moved and it played Christmas music. Over. The. Top.Creepy Santa of the year, don't you think? This reveals a bit of where we went for sightseeing: it's a fortune-telling machine at the Guinness World Records Museum in Tokyo Tower. I'm pretty sure it's there year round and they just made or bought a round Santa hat to go on top. Still - would you want that face coming down your chimney? Yikes.
And here we have creepy Santa #2, the younger of the Noppon Brothers. They're kind of Tokyo Tower's mascots, which (I suppose) accounts for their, um, suggestive shape.

I'm sure this doesn't even scratch the surface of Tokyo's Christmas decorations. We were only there during daylight, so we missed any fancy light displays. And we didn't really go downtown today, just to the tower, then Harajuku. Knowing the cultural affinity for cuteness and glitz, it must be amazing! OOH, and related: did I tell you that I learned that Japanese women refer to unmarried women as "Christmas Cake?" Because everybody wants Christmas Cake until 24, (Dec. 24), but after that it's a big bargain (with little chance of a good marriage)?! DISTURBING.

I need to go sleep off a carb overload from that brunch - let's see if I can remember everything I ate for a post tomorrow. I'll leave you with the Tourist Quote of the Day, which comes from Josh. He got cranky from walking and I asked what I could do to plan a trip he'd enjoy, since I thought walking was it. His response:

Did it ever occur to you that I enjoy being miserable?