Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fuji climbing

Remember when Josh climbed Mt. Fuji? It wasn't that long ago, just over two months, when he got up at 3:00 and headed off to conquer the mountain.

Well, Fuji is back, and this time Fuji-san is doing the climbing. Internet, meet Fuji the Cat.I realize it might look like he's trying to get down, but the handsome kitty spent about five minutes up there, kneading Josh's shoulder and purring. Fuji-san knows he's a climber! Here's how he looked up until Monday, ever since his original owner passed away. Before Josh and I moved to Japan, we had a little cat named Luna, a stray who adopted me without mentioning that she was pregnant, and had a seizure disorder. We loved her to pieces though, and were sad to have to leave her behind with a friend when we moved. Luna's gone now, and we knew we wanted another grownup cat. I walked in to the Kitsap Humane Society and saw him right away - for both Josh and me, it was love at first sight. Please spay or neuter your pets, give to the Humane Society, and consider adopting an adult cat instead of a kitten!

I suppose I should apologize here for not blogging more, and I really am sorry. It's just that I haven't felt like writing these last few weeks. I'm trying like hell to get a job and pick my career back up, with incredibly frustrating results - of the two positions I've interviewed for, I've come in second both times. I'm facing the possibility of 20 hours/week commuting, or finding a job outside my career in the area just to pay some bills.

And yes, I know how incredibly lucky I am. We've got a nice house and a nice car, savings in the bank and a couple 401Ks and IRAs to our names. Our healthcare is comprehensive and free (thanks for those tax dollars!) and we've got good friends and supportive families to buck us up when we get discouraged.

But of course I do still get discouraged. I've got a bunch more cover letters to write and resumes to send tomorrow, and I'm sure the right thing will come along in the end. For now, though, I'm going to go curl up with the cat.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Emily Roasts Everything

So Costco. I had been to this place, this giant Buy 'N Large, this magical warehouse of the two-gallon mustard jug. There's one near the house and I visited with Irish, and figured out that I could get some good deals. We made a plan to go back together this weekend to stock up my pantry.

Then I got there and paid for a membership, and realized I needed to give Irish and Steve permission not to witness my consumer freakout. I must have spent three hours wandering around that store, and I filled one of those giant carts. I got rolled oats and tomato paste, band aids and deodorant and hydrogen peroxide, pepper jack cheese and butter and fifteen POUNDS of OxyClean. (This house needs it). And then I got to the produce section. And I go nuts.

See, we're both going to be working soon, God willing, and we still want to eat healthy. I need to break the habit of spending two hours a night cooking dinner, but I don't want to sacrifice our fresh veggie standards. So at Costco today I bought two pounds each of Brussels sprouts, haricots verts, and sugar snap peas; twelve Honeycrisp apples, and three pounds, yes three POUNDS of garlic. And then I got home and turned on the oven.I started with roasted garlic, of course, and only got to about half the bulbs in there. I did twelve in muffin tins with just a tiny drizzle of olive oil, and four bulbs poached in olive oil so I could save the oil too. The oil-poached ones are beautiful, and delicious.
Gorgeous, right? I took the cloves out of all SIXTEEN HEADS, ugh, and ground them up into a garlic paste for dressings, marinades, and spreads this week. Yum!

Then with the oven still roaring, I roasted half of the haricots verts with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stashed them in the fridge for dinner tomorrow. I remembered I still had some regular green beans, trimmed and washed them and roasted them with red onion and (yes, more) garlic. That mixture ended up in a whole wheat couscous salad for tomorrow's lunch, with tomatoes, sugar snaps, and leftover mustard sauce - more on that later.

But I still hadn't made anything for tonight's dinner yet. So out came the three pound salmon fillet, also from Costco, and a quick glaze of mustard, soy sauce, roasted garlic paste, honey, paprika, thyme, and rosemary. I glazed a third of the fish with half the sauce and tossed the rest into the couscous, then prepared all the Brussels sprouts for a quick roast. They burned a little, but tasted great as usual. I'm not very good at cooking fish, but this salmon was delicious and I hope I can find good recipes for the rest of it.
Once again, my photos are not so good - apologies there. For now it's time for me and the oven to take a break, and reap the benefits tomorrow.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sloppy Jogindra

I'm bummed I didn't take photos of the first meal I made in our new house. Josh and I have gotten a little, um, fluffier during this move, so we're trying to stick to lots of vegetables and lean proteins for the next couple weeks. Lame for an "eats everything" blog, I know, but bear with me.

So last night was spicy buffalo-style chicken strips sauteed with red onion and served on top of a big spinach salad. I made buttermilk dressing with just a little mayo to make it tasty. But I was tuckered out from moving, so we just ate and went straight to bed.

Which brings me to tonight's dinner, and the silly title of this post - I made soy sloppy joes flavored with garam masala, one of our favorite meals. Figures I took photos of possibly the most unappealing, unphotographable meal I ever cook and passed up the gorgeous colorful salad, huh? Ah well. Might as well get it out of the way: Kinda looks like somebody booted on our hamburger buns, doesn't it? Big old pile of vom. I SWEAR it's delicious. Just to clear your visual palate, I offer the roasted broccoli, roasting:
That's better, right?!

I really am sorry I can't get a better photo of this meal. It's so filling and nutritious, and sticks to your ribs more than many vegetarian sandwiches. The flavors are warm and spicy and sweet and comforting, and it comes together in less than half an hour. So if you don't mind closing your eyes, try this sometime.

Em's Garam Masala "Sloppy Joes"
2T olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
5 big mushrooms, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic (or more if you love it), minced
1-3t garam masala, or to taste
1t smoked paprika
1/2t marjoram*
1 package Morningstar Farms Grillers, still frozen is fine
Big splash of red wine
1 8oz can of unsalted tomato sauce
1 6oz can of unsalted tomato paste
1-2t jarred hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium and add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute 5 minutes or until onions and mushrooms are softening and garlic is fragrant. Stir in garam masala and cook 1 more minute, then add the marjoram and soy "meat." Cook a few minutes or until soy grillers are thawed and cooking, then pour in a glug of red wine and stir well.

Once the wine has almost completely reduced (there should be very little visible liquid), add the tomato sauce and paste and stir to incorporate completely. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for at 5 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and as much hot sauce as you like - I shook in about 5 glugs and it had a nice spicy kick. Serve hot over whole grain hamburger buns or toast - yum!


*Strange, right? But I had marjoram in my spice drawer and I never use it, and just a pinch tasted great in here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The house, and drama

WE HAVE A HOUSE!!!

Well, sort of. See, here are some pictures from our new abode. First we have the living room...then the kitchen,
the deck and fenced backyard (for little doggie-to-be-ours),
the family room with wood-burning fireplace,
and last but not least, the unevicted tenants.
Okay, so that last picture isn't from today. It's from here, actually, but the five bites on my ankles and tummy come direct from el nuevo casa de Sullins. Ugh. The good news is that there is a guy over there right now, cleaning and spreading flea treatment, and we SHOULD be bug-free by 8:00 tomorrow morning when the movers show up. Josh and I are getting a couple days' worth of prorated rent back out of the big check we wrote today, and we're hoping for a smooth transition tomorrow.

Still, between the thousands of dollars paid, the dirty house, the fleas, and a (great! but inconclusive) job interview today, I'm beat. Tomorrow plans to be another doozy, and we're gearing up with wine and our buddies tonight. Man, the hits just keep on coming.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The move-in

Tomorrow we get the keys to our new house, and later this week our big household goods shipment will be delivered. Of the several thousand pounds of possessions we've been missing, here is a very abridged list of what I have missed the most.

1. Our big, comfy mattress.
2. The bookcase.
3. My yarn stash and knitting books.
4. The piano.
5. A big soapstone Dutch oven.
6. My cast-iron skillet.
7. I'm not going to lie, people. The TV.

Just a few more days until we start rebuilding Casa de Sullins on yet another coast of yet another continent. When you move, what do you miss the most?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Feast!

Did I mention we've been staying with friends? Well they have been amazingly generous, managing to hang out and be friendly while still giving us lots of privacy and time to ourselves. Still, we're all glad to hear that Josh and I will be moving into our own place this week, and receiving our household goods shipment Thursday. It's time to be grownups again, and regular old friends with Irish and Steve. So tonight they made us a feast, to see whether I'd eat steak.

See, I'm not much of a beef person. After fifteen years eating no mammals, I've become quite fond of pork in its many forms, but after trying roast beef, sauteed beef, and a nice chuck burger, I had no passion for le bouef.

Until tonight.

See, tonight we didn't have your garden-variety beef. We had dry-aged, grass-fed good stuff, grilled to medium-rare perfection by Steve and accompanied by an incredible spread of marinated shrimp, wilted spinach, Alaskan king crab, and excellent wine. It was, well - see for yourself:Pretty great, huh? We added some spelt bread from a bakery in Tacoma and, well, you can tell I was enthusiastic.
So now it's my third-to-last night at Casa de Jordan, and I've got a full belly and a woozy winey head and a lot of hope for a successful move this week. It's time for sleep, and a long day tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Emily Eats Everything

Welcome to my new digs, friends. Thanks for all your great blog name suggestions this week - there were some great ones, but you know how I can't resist food. Now that I won't have any new Japanese adventures to share, I've decided to use this space to write about food and cooking, and how it creates and effects my life.

See, we've been in this crazy situation for about three weeks now, taking advantage of our friends Irish and Steve's generosity and living in their guest room. We've found the house we want and our household goods should arrive next week, so we hope to be in our own place soon, but in the meantime we've been enjoying their company and trying not to be too irritating.

One of the major perks has been talking to Irish about school. My girl got out of the Navy last year, and she started culinary school last week. I'm getting the benefit of her experience, learning about classic mirepoix, the Holy Trinity, the Asian Holy Trinity, and brown vs. white stocks - and that's after only two days. I've been job hunting and house hunting and trying to stay sane in the meantime, but cooking and talking about food is where I recharge my mental batteries.

But I don't want to cook professionally, don't get me wrong. I have no desire to work the hours of a chef, in the heat of a kitchen, or to deal with the massive egos involved in the restaurant business. I just want to cook and eat delicious, wholesome and mostly healthy food and make sure the kitchen stays the heart of my house.Here's my second weekly haul from the Poulsbo Farmer's Market - that's Washington Honeycrisp apples, leeks, cherry tomatoes, delicious rainbow chard, a red onion, beets, baby potatoes, and eight delicious pluots, a plum-apricot hybrid.

What's a recovering vegetarian? More about that later, but let's just say that after fifteen years of no red meat, I have discovered a deep love of all the salted cured meats. (Remember pepperoni?) At the same time, I've moved to the land of the locavores, the organic farms, and the raw foodies, some of whom work with Josh.

So that's my plan for this blog, dear readers, and I hope you'll keep reading. We'll talk about Smitten Kitchen, I'm sure, and raw food and whole grains and, oh yes, bacon. Because now that Emily Eats Everything, anything can happen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Name me!

Oh God, y'all, I've done it again. It's like there's a blogging filter set on the United States of America - or more likely, a BLOG RAY focused on the nation of Japan! I'm having a hard time Taking Tokyo these days, as you can imagine, or admitting that Tokyo took me and sent me packing after just over a year.

So I need your help: what should be the name, and theme of this blog for the next year? I don't want to change the URL, but I need a new title. Suggestions in the comments, please!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tomodachi farewell

I'm just going to ignore the fact that I've published seven times for the entire month of September, and ask that you all do the same. Can we agree to that? Because I've had an intra-continental move, a sibling's wedding on the other coast, at least six different beds and many tough farewells in that time, and I think we should all start fresh. So.

Let's set the Wayback Machine to Wednesday, September 9th, which was to be our last dinner with our dear neighbors, Chikako and Toshio. Ever since we first met, they'd been telling us about an incredible tempura restaurant in Tokyo, Bill Clinton's favorite place. When they heard we were leaving, they oh-so-generously invited us to join them for dinner there. Um, OKAY!

So we met Chikako on the 4:16 train from Yokosuka-Chuo toward Tokyo, and landed in Ginza with an hour to spare before dinner. Chikako slipped away for a few minutes of luxury shopping while Josh and I took in the sights, and then we all explored the Sony showroom before walking to Ten-Ichi (link goes to English review site), Tokyo's premier tempura restaurant.The service was incredible. Women in kimonos led us to a waiting room and brought hot tea and towels while we waited for Toshio to join us. They took our jackets and umbrellas and made sure we were comfortable.
Once Toshio had arrived we sat at a table for eight, wrapped around a tempura station with the chef in the center and another party to our right. More tea, beer, and three salads were waiting for us there, along with a bowl of grated daikon and tempura sauce and a dish of salt and lemon for lightly flavoring the shellfish yet to come.
The salads were our first bites of dinner, and they were delicate and lovely. The first was Western-style greens and vegetables with a sesame ginger dressing. Next came mildly flavored pickled vegetables, and third was my favorite: sweet strips of jellyfish (I swear!) and more julienne veggies with some light, delicious dressing.

But then the real show began. The chef prepares one bite at a time, moving the diners slowly through a full meal of tempura. We had our neighbors to help us decipher what was what, but honestly, every bite I ate that night seemed more delicious than the last. Everything was incredibly delicious, even the first item, which I admit had me nervous at first glance.See why? I'm still not sure exactly what part of the prawn this represents - legs and belly? Some part of the head? Its dignity? - but I can say that there was no actual meat present. I wasn't about to insult our hosts so I popped the whole thing in my mouth with just a little salt and lemon, and oh, Internet. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how delicious it was. It was kind of like the best popcorn you ever had, where you can still taste the oil but not feel it on your tongue, where the kernel is perfectly crispy without any chew at all. But add to that the taste of your favorite seafood, or really just the suggestion of it. That bite may have been my favorite of the evening.

But of course we were just getting started. Next came two different small pieces of fish, tail sections neatly butterflied and served with an inch of tail still attached and meant to be eaten like a garnish. The fish was perfectly tender and fresh, and the tails reminiscent of that first bite of prawn shell. Then came a shelled prawn, and then asparagus...
...and these, which were no bigger than sugar snap peas, but are actually tiny green peppers.
Bite after bite appeared on our paper-lined tempura plate, and sake arrived and was drunk, and conversation drifted between English and Japanese, and occasionally Josh and I would steal glances at one another to make sure this wasn't a dream. We ate tempura fried ginkgo nuts on toothpicks, and refilled our sauce bowls with daikon and sweet broth as the food kept coming.

Of course, it had to come to an end. The chef bowed deeply and more kimonoed ladies cleared our tempura plates and dishes, and brought miso soup and more pickles to cleanse our palates.
And then naturally they moved us to a different table for dessert: the most delicious fruit I've ever eaten, a mango that must have been grown by a little old man who has worked his whole life to produce the perfect fruit.
Josh and I were reeling after that meal, and we followed it up with coffee and a long train ride home with our dear friends.

We have led charmed lives, and have eaten our fill each and every day. We've been to California and New York, we've taken classes and taken advantage of friends' and family's formidable skill in the kitchen. But this meal was the best of either of our lives, and after a trying year in Japan, might just be one of the little voices from across the sea, calling us to someday return.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hoo, y'all

My big brother and his longtime girlfriend Glorie tied the knot this weekend and made me a brand new sister-in-law. Between the travel, coordinating wedding day, and a few fun family adventures, I'm all tuckered out again. But I'm so, so delighted for Benny and the new Mrs. Meixell - Melo is her middle name! - and I feel incredibly lucky to have been a witness.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moving

We're here! Since arriving in Washington about 36 hours ago we've seen three friends, cooked two meals, slept 17 hours, and bought 2 iPhones and one slightly used Honda Civic. (Love that car!) In the couple days before we left Japan, we ate the best meal of our lives with our neighbors and said a lot of difficult goodbyes.

I have stories and photos from both sides of the ocean to share, but right now it's time for another long sleep. So in honor of the many stresses of moving, I present my favorite photo of myself in Japan, taken just two days before we left. I think this sums moving up nicely, don't you? Please click to enlarge.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day at the beach

This weekend was the first time I've put my bathing suit on in Japan, and I did it twice! I'm so glad Nadine and I had arranged to hang out on Sunday, because when I called she'd been invited to the beach with Shiho (remember Shiho and family from Christmas?) and a few other friends. I picked up another friend - Dani - on base, and headed to Hayama. Josh stayed behind on this one, since he doesn't like the sun, or the beach, or picnics, or really people. He had a nice day working out and playing around on the computer.What a day. The five of us - that's Dani, Nadine, John, Justine, and I - piled into the van and drove to Morito Beach. After a long search for parking and a couple heroic moves by John behind the wheel, we arrived and walked onto that gorgeous beach. We shared a sand-seasoned lunch and conversation with a few other work people and some of Shiho's friends before losing our tee shirts and entertaining Juju on our towels. That's Justine, Nadine (with new baby cooking under that bathing suit! Eeee!), and Dani, enjoying the sun.
All five of us (including John) swam, too, or at least waded. Justine was almost scarily fearless in the water, laughing and plowing into the waves with abandon. I got about hip deep when I felt something sting my ankle - I don't know what it was, and it's not red anymore, but it freaked me out, so I didn't stay in the water too long.

Luckily, there was entertainment on the beach too! Band members Daryl and Jose came along, as did Daryl and Shiho's son David. He just keeps getting cuter! David, that is......although Daryl looks pretty funny in David's hat, too.
Those few hours at the beach were the perfect counterpoint to the stress of moving. Then today Josh joined me at the pool on base, where we splashed around with Nadine and family and went down the waterslide. We had hot dogs for Labor Day, too - my first American holiday hot dog since I was about ten years old. What fun!

It's starting to sink in that this is our last week in Japan. I've had my last weekend, my last Monday, my last night in our house and my final home-cooked meal. My first and last trip to the beach was bittersweet and lovely, and I was kind of glad to have felt a little sting.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I got 99 problems, but a house ain't one

We're out, people. After 355 days at ichi-no-nijuroku-no-jusan Maborikaigan, we're officially homeless and pitiful again. At the moment I'm watching Stand and Deliver in the hotel room, drinking a little Cabernet Sauvignon and loving my husband. Here's a little eye candy from the move - tales of days at the beach and Indonesian feasts are yet to come.




Yep, the movers brought a crane again to move the sofa.

The move went smoothly this time around. Everything that needed to go, went. The stuff that had to stay stayed, with the exception of our toothbrushes. Josh and I partook of the hospitality of our friends Kelsey and Mack for two nights, watching movies and playing with the puppy dogs while our house sat empty. We're lucky to be staying in a different place than last time - the Navy Lodge had some big downsides for us, if you recall, but the BOQ is great. We're near the gate, and best of all our room has a little divider between sleeping and living quarters - so no feud over bedtime.

Life is good. Time to go geek out over Calculus a little longer, and dream of six more days of sushi.

*Okay, so I blatantly stole the title from June Gardens, and also from Jay-Z. But I can't get it out of my head!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's MOVING DAY!

And test day! Josh is out kicking ass and taking names on the E-6 exam, and I'm expecting the movers to be here any minute. Also drinking coffee out of a water bottle with a squirt-top - it's going to be a good day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Moving

Things that are in my house right now:
All my stuff
All Josh's stuff
A bunch of stuff we aren't allowed to pack out
Mosquitoes
Me.

Things that aren't in my house right now:
Refrigerator
Stove
Microwave
Washer/Dryer
My sanity.

The packers/movers come for most of our stuff tomorrow, AND Josh takes his advancement exam. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stormy weather

It's like someone out there wants us to have every Japan experience possible before we leave. I mean, I haven't gotten married under a giant anime robot statue or anything, but we did get a tai-fun! videoI took this video yesterday morning, when the outer bands were starting to really hit us. The worst of Typhoon Krovanh reached our area midday Monday, battering our windows with rain, wind, and tiny debris.

The thing about Japan, though, is that the people of this big island have been getting used to earthquakes and typhoons for thousands of years. So every modern house not only has storm shutters, but big sturdy locking metal ones that easily slide out of their housing and over the windows and doors in seconds. The houses are built to exacting codes, especially on the water (as we are), and insurance coverage is comprehensive and reliable. If a more serious storm struck, I have no doubt our host nation would respond quickly and well to protect the people.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case with this storm. The closest it came to disaster was when Krovanh attacked our marriage, by way of Josh wanting to drive to base to work and run errands - during the worst of the wind and rain. I talked him out of it because I am a mean, mean woman and also possibly clinically paranoid (if you ask him) or because I don't believe in taking stupid unnecessary risks (if you ask me). We spent the day driving each other crazy, natch, playing Wii Fit and avoiding all the chores we need to do.

And oh, there are chores. Just today I've been to the vehicle office, the housing office, our insurance agency, the grocery store, and the post office. Tomorrow the nice men come take our fridge and stove, and the day after that ALL OUR STUFF WILL BE GONE OMG.

Come to think of it, the storm was kind of fitting. It's sunny and gorgeous today, but at our house, the wind is still blowing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Two weeks

That's it. We have two weeks left in Japan, and that's all forever. I can't believe it! I mean, things are moving forward nicely, and we feel as prepared as can be expected to make this move happen. Today I've cleaned out the pantry and put together a big box of slightly used dry goods to give away to my friends, cleaned the microwave, and taken all the magnets off the refrigerator. Josh cleaned out the car and I'm on my way to show it to a potential buyer - having that sold will be a big relief. And on Monday I'll cancel our internet service, so there may be a few days when we're incommunicado. I'm anxiously awaiting Nadine's return from Canada so we can spend some time together in that last week!

There's so much left to do, and so much that I know will remain undone when we get onto that flight next month. It's surreal.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tomodachi dinner

Remember our neighbors? Well, while Josh and I had our doozy of a year, they were having one of their own. Between health problems and their youngest daughter's wedding, we didn't see a lot of each other.

But all that is behind us now, so a couple weeks ago they invited us over for a seafood barbecue in the backyard. It's like every time we go over there, the food and drinks get better and more plentiful. My camera died as soon as we sat down, but Chikako and Toshio were kind enough to take care of documentation. It doesn't do justice to the food, though.

There was a romaine salad with mozzarella, skinned blanched tomatoes, basil and rings of the tenderest squid I've ever tasted. There were noodles fried with tiny scallops, and fresh cucumbers with miso dressing. And then the grilling started.

Have you ever had shellfish on the grill? I hadn't. I mean, I'm from Maine, so I've had clambakes and lobster on the beach. But the Tsukadas grilled soy-marinated slices of squid, whole prawns, scallops still in their beautiful pink and white shells. And then there were the drinks! Japanese beer that somehow stayed cold, and dry white wine and coffee later. We talked and laughed, and toasted our friendship. Josh and I revealed that we were leaving, and the four of us made plans for a farewell dinner in Tokyo in September.

We were so lucky to live across the street from our dear friends the Tsukadas. We'll miss them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How do you stay sharp?

Josh and I are still googly-eyed over the new sashimi knife we bought in Kyoto. And Melanie's comment reminded me how hard it was to find someone to sharpen her knives in Monterey, California.

See, when I was visiting Mel and Tony (and Nason and Fredo) last July, I cooked dinner once or twice. Their knives needed to see a whetstone, and I don't know how to work one, so I thought I'd get them sharpened as a gift. Monterey's pretty big, no? Especially when you include Marina, Carmel - basically a thirty mile radius! I searched the Web, asked at Williams-Sonoma and the farmer's market, and called around, and I couldn't find a single place that still offers knife sharpening by hand.

Mel finally found a place with an electronic pullthrough setup, but it chewed up the blades. Josh and I got our kitchen knives sharpened by hand in Japan for about $20 each, but in the States it seems like it's a dying art.

SO. Dull knives are dangerous, and we've all got to eat. What do you do?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kyoto weekend, part 2

Our train back to Yokosuka left at 2:00 Sunday afternoon, so we got up early to walk around sans backpacks for a while. We found some much-needed espresso and breakfast at a Tully's Coffee, of all things, and then walked to the famous Nishiki Food Market.


I'd seen it listed just that way on a tourist map, and our museum buddies from the night before mentioned a famous and ancient family knife shop there. We finished breakfast before eight o'clock, and arrived at Nishiki around then to discover:...that it didn't open until 9:00. We walked all the way through the market, listening to the friendly morning greetings among shopkeepers and marveling at the care they gave their little corners of the market. We saw old women scrubbing drainage grates with stiff brooms, young men washing the concrete floors with soap and water, and everyone sprucing up the storefronts for a busy day of business.

Nine o'clock rolled around in due time, and we took in the sights of the market. The tamago (sweet omelette) stand was one of my favorites - I've only ever seen it served cold or at room temperature, but this was the fresh stuff, still steaming from the pan.I snagged a pic of the chefs, too:
We saw lots of fresh, cooked, and pickled produce too, including "monkey bananas," each about the size of their neighboring figs.
And yes, oh yes, there was fish, in various stages of life (or lack thereof). From still swimming in a tank,to swimming in a big plastic bag,
to lots of raw fish and some whole ones already roasted on a stick.
Let me assure you that we did not indulge in that particular snack.

Finally, we came to the knife shop: Aritsugu. An English language brochure informed us that this family has been making knives in Kyoto since the sixteenth century - the SIXTEENTH CENTURY, I mean. More than four hundred years of expertise go in to making dozens of kinds of Japanese knives, from highly specialized eel knives to excellent quality everyday santoku.

We fell in love with this place. And after long conversations with each other and an English-speaking clerk named Minami-san, trials of half a dozen different knives, and a ten minute walk to 7-11 for yen cash, we ended up with a real prize to commemorate our time in Japan. And here it is:It's a handmade sashimi knife with an eight inch blade, and if you look closely you can see the fresh engraving, closest to the tip of the blade - that's our name, Sullins, in katakana. The staff gave us a deal on this heirloom-quality knife, then sharpened it and showed us how to sharpen it at home. videoMinami-san threw in a furoshiki square and wrapped the whole thing beautifully for the ride back to the States. We're thrilled!

So, after that little adventure we had to rush back to the hotel to check out, and once that was done we were STARVING again. See yesterday's post - after walking around aimlessly for another hour or so we ended up right back at Kerala for an Indian feast. The train ride back to Yokosuka was uneventful, except for a crazy person on the local from Yokohama who kept telling me about his $400 shirt and the sexy girls who hang around the American Navy base...and the 200mph bullet train speed, of course.

Kyoto is a beautiful city, and I'm glad we went, even just for twenty-four hours. We'll never forget it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kyoto weekend, part 1

Have I mentioned we're moving next month? Next month, which is approaching very, very quickly, we are packing up and moving back across the Pacific Ocean, never to return to Japan. Most of our time is spent getting ready, in one way or another, but there are a couple of Japan's greatest hits that I really wanted to catch before we get on that plane. This weekend we hit two of them: the Bullet Train and the ancient city of Kyoto.Photo is from JR website - click to visit.

The train is one of those things everybody knows about Japan - a national network of superexpress trains that reach almost 200 miles per hour. Our ride from Shin-Yokohama station to Kyoto was about two and a half hours, and frankly less impressive than I was hoping. I mean, regular trains are pretty fast, but Shinkansen tracks are set further from trees and landscapes, so it's hard to tell how much faster you're going. I guess that's where the real miracle lies - the superexpress gets us 230 miles in 150 minutes, and it doesn't even feel rushed.

As usual, I fell asleep on the train and Josh studied for whatever test is next. Once we arrived, I played Ferdinand Magellan (also as usual) and Josh walked three paces behind me and followed the ponytail until we reached our hotel. Hotel Okura was lovely, although charging paying guests thirty dollars apiece to use the POOL is ABSURD, in any culture.*

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Once we checked in we were starving, and my guidebook pointed us to an excellent Indian restaurant, Kerala (or in Japanese, Kerara). Check out Josh's "I'm too hungry to pose for a picture" face:and note the Tandoori chicken on his fingers. The food was incredible.

From there we hopped back on the subway and visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, which has the largest concentration of Torii gates anywhere in Japan. That's where the photo at the top is from, and these too:Inari is the god of rice in the Shinto tradition, and is represented by a fox, often holding rice or a key (to the rice granary) in its mouth.The Torii gates were incredible. Each one is sponsored by a local business looking for luck with the gods, and there are thousands of them. We took a long walk through the gates, which have the added benefit of blocking the murderous Kansai heat and humidity.



Josh and I both love visiting shrines and temples, and Kyoto has many of the most famous ones in Japan. But our trip to Kyoto was only about twenty-four hours long, so this was our only religious visit. We made sure to buy some inarizushi though, since it's a regional specialty and one of our favorites. It's a little packet of sweet fried tofu skin (aburaage) stuffed with rice. We even got to see the proprietor of a little restaurant make it for us, and it was delicious.Once we were back in Kyoto proper we walked around the old neighborhood of Gion for a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of geisha, but in the end just wore ourselves out in the heat. After the long train ride, the long walk, and all that humidity, we were ready for a nice relaxing dip in the pool, but you already know how that turned out. So instead we got dressed up and headed to dinner early.

Believe me, I know how this sounds, but you're going to have to trust me: we had the best Irish food I've ever eaten in Kyoto, Japan.

I know.

I know! But my friend of a friend Will, who lives in Kyoto, recommended we visit McLoughlin's Irish Pub for dinner. He raved about their chef, and since Josh doesn't like Japanese food we decided to give it a shot. The place did not disappoint.

We were a little surprised, I must admit, to arrive at 6:30 and find the place barely open. When do Japanese people eat dinner on Friday night?! But we got to meet the chef and manager, who was in fact Irish, because he was sitting at the bar when we walked in. And we had the full attention of the staff, which is always nice - we each had a beer and I sipped a shot of Bushmills while enjoying the eighth-floor view of Kyoto. Then came the food.
Josh had been craving a burger, and this one came with a homemade sesame bun and hand-cut fries AND onion rings, and it was delicious. And once again, I was enticed by delicious pork sausages.
My first ever bangers and mashed! OH MY GOD, Internet, they were soso good. The sausages are also house-made, and delicious. We were so happy.

Unfortunately, over an hour after we arrived, there were still no other patrons in the place. Our waiter let us know that there wasn't any music that night, so we decided to move on. Will will be disappointed to hear that we went to another Irish pub, right next door to our hotel, called The Hill of Tara. We were skeptical, I'll admit, and glad we'd already eaten when we saw this sign on the door:
Mmmmm, ye olde traditional Irish crab entrails! JUST LIKE HOME. I have no idea whether that's actually eaten in Ireland, but no thanks for me.

Still, they had beer and whiskey, and live music starting at 9:00pm, so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar and ordered another couple Kilkenneys. And you'll never guess who we met. I mean, is it unusual to run into a couple staff members of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, while at an Irish pub in Kyoto? Is that not normal?

The four of us talked and drank and shared Japan and New York stories for a couple hours, while they ordered non-entrail dinners. I gave them a couple ideas for their day in Tokyo this week, and they told us about the Samaurai weapons and armor show that will hit the Met in October - they were in Japan working on the official book to be released for that collection. HOW COOL. By the time we were ready to settle up and head in for the night, we didn't even care that the music sounded like an easy-listening cut of an Irish Spring commercial, or that we hadn't seen any geisha or visited the Golden Pavilion.

Our train on Sunday left at 2:00pm, and we had a lot of fun before then. More on that soon - just as soon as I can get a Japanese version of Danny Boy out of my head. "...from gren to gren, and down the mountainside..."

*No, we didn't pay for the pool. We just walked down there in our bathing suits and complimentary bathrobes, got denied, and walked back. But we hope the Japanese people who were disgusted to see us so undressed in public might at least have thought we were rich enough to be able to swim there.