Chili Con Chicken Cardboard!

Posted on Sunday, January 31, 2010 | 2 comments

   This weekend has been an utter bust in terms of doing anything that I could take pictures of. Having a sinus infection that leaves you vacantly drooling on yourself will tend to do that, though.
   We did go see Avatar last night, since we'd purchased our tickets before I got sick, and we didn't want the money to go to waste. I'm glad we forced ourselves to go--it was a great movie, as I'm sure you all know, since I'm probably one of the few remaining people who hadn't seen it until now. I'm definitely glad that we opted to see it in 3D, too. I'd had my doubts as to whether or not I'd make it though a movie that was almost 3 hours long (weak bladder, short attention span, spastic legs, plus a sinus infection), but the time flew by so quickly that I wasn't ready for the movie to end when it did!
  ....Tonight for dinner, we opted for chili, since it's idiot-proof if you use a seasoning packet, and I'm all for idiot-proof on a day when even staying awake was hard work. Plus, it seemed like one of the few choices I might actually be able to taste. The past few days, most things have tasted somewhat like how I'd imagine cardboard to taste: bland and chock-full of nothingness. Needless to say, I haven't exactly been eating like I usually do.
  Anyway, being the health freak that I am, we used chicken instead of the chili package recommendation of beef or ground turkey. Plus, you just can't find turkey in Japan, so it's a moot point anyway. I also threw in some shiitake mushrooms, for a little extra flavoring and an Asian-fusion spin. Sounds good, right?
  ...Now, it's pretty hard to screw up chili, especially chili made from a spice mix. But even to my dampened taste buds, tonight's end product seemed...lacking. Dull. More dull than dead-tastebud-dull. At first we tried blaming it on the poor chicken. 'Stupid low-fat ground chicken, you weren't good enough to season the chili!' Chicken had no rebuttal, not even a 'peep' in his own defense, but I soon gave up harassing him after my gummy-slow brain reminded me that I've used low-fat chicken in chili recipes countless times before, no problem.
  Yuki then stopped asking what was causing the problem and instead went out solving it, mainly by liberally pouring Cajun spice mix over every spoonful of chili. He had me try some, and it really did make a big difference. I looked at the nutrition label to see what was in the stuff...lots of salt! And it was at about that point that I realized I'd used a reduced-sodium package of chili spices when making the chili. There you have it, folks! Reduced salt = healthy = tastes like a packing box, apparently. Thank you, McCormick spice makers (I wish there were an option to make that drip with sarcasm).
. Next time, assuming that my brain has recovered from this sinus infection, I'm going to make my own recipe from scratch. I'm pretty sure that it'll taste better and still have less salt than the reduced-sodium cardboard version that's on the market!

                    At least it looked good....

Reese's Peanut Butter-milk Brownie Bars

Posted on Saturday, January 30, 2010 | 2 comments

    Today was a rather dull day, thanks for this lovely cold/sinus infection that has suddenly attacked my body. I know I'm sick when even the thought of my morning jog sounds like torture (and I don't skip my morning jogs!). This morning's outing was more of a walk, and a slow one at that. Afterwards, I literally collapsed on the couch for about a half hour!
 Food also hasn't really sounded good at all, but seeing as 1. I didn't want to lay around the entire day and 2. we had milk in the fridge that was due to expire, I decided to throw together some buttermilk chocolate chip muffins. At least, that's how the recipe started. I ended up using chopped up Reese's peanut butter cups instead (chocolate chips here are EXPENSIVE, and the peanut butter cups had been laying around for a while), and I poured the batter into a square 8 by 8 pan and made brownie bars. They turned out really well though--quite moist, thanks to all that buttermilk. Too bad I still don't have an appetite for them or anything else, though!

Pure Cuteness!

Posted on Friday, January 29, 2010 | 2 comments

  Here are some recent pictures of Wasabi. She seems to be going through a yoga phase!

                          And, hold for 1...2....3....

                   Practicing swimming through air


           She sleeps like this sometimes

           Looking scarily like the Wachifield cat that I love

Atami Ume Matsuri

Posted on Thursday, January 28, 2010 | 0 comments

Continuing with our recent Izu kick, we went to the Atami Ume Matsuri (Plum Blossom Festival) last Sunday. Atami is in north Izu, only about an hour and a half to two hours from here, not bad for a Sunday drive. We actually had our wedding reception in Atami, just about 2 years ago, so it was fitting that we went back around this time. We celebrated the anniversary of our reception there last year, too, so maybe we'll have to make it a tradition from now on. (If you're confused about this 'anniversary of the reception' bit, it's because the actual paperwork date of a marriage and the ceremony/reception date have no connection in Japan. You can basically fill out the paperwork, be officially married, and never have a ceremony or reception if you don't want to...or you can have your ceremony almost a half year later, like we did).
  ....The Plum Blossom Festival is held on weekends in the very early spring, and not all of the trees were in full bloom when we visited. Still, it was a gorgeous sight and well worth going: the plum blossom park in Atami has tons of different varieties of plum trees, along with other flowers and various styles of gardens.
As beautiful as the plum blossoms are, however, I have to admit that I really can't wait for cherry blossom season! 

Yuki with Miss Atami and Miss...Somebody. Whoever it was, he didn't seem to mind!

                       Yuki posing with my purse. He's an incredibly tolerant guy!

 Traditional Singers at the Festival



This variety of plum blossoms almost looks like cherry blossoms


Downtown Atami

 I couldn't resist


Hoshi Imo Season!

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 0 comments

      It's that time of year again! Yep, hoshi imo season. Loving food as much as I do (especially these little treats), I always eagerly await these next few months.
 For those of you who don't know what hoshi imo are (they were actually the topic of my first blog post), they're basically strips of dried sweet potatoes. But that's like calling Wasabi just won't get the entire idea until you see it, or in this case, taste it. Done right, their consistency is something akin to dried mangoes...only they're a lot more gooey. I like goo.
  Our neighbors down the road grow and dry these things every year, and their hoshi imo are so popular that people actually put in reservations for them. We lucked out and managed to beg some off them last weekend, and now we've got a reservation for this coming Saturday, too. It takes about a week or so to dry the potatoes properly, longer if it happens to rain during that time.
  Side note...Another neighbor has this adorable little dog, a mame Shiba (mini Shiba) that they leave outside on the porch, day and night. He's such a sweet little guy, and he always tries to lick me whenever I go past. For quite a while before we got Wasabi, I was actively campaigning for Yuki to let me kidnap him. I even named him 'Imo', since (as I mentioned in the previous post about sweet potatoes), the word 'hoshii' (I want) sounds suspiciously like 'hoshi' (dried). So I took to yelling HOSHII IMO! every time we'd walk past the little guy. Needless to say, Yuki's quite glad that I've shut up now that we have Wasabi to keep me occupied.

           Lovely hoshi imo

    Better-tasting than dried mango, even

           IMO was all set to eat some hoshi imo

       Too cute!

   Not to be outdone, Wasa also had to inspect the goodies

Someone Call Guinness: The Longest Concert, EVER!

Posted on Monday, January 25, 2010 | 0 comments

   We went to a jazz (sort of jazz...'jazzy'?) concert on Saturday night, since Yuki was dying to see an internationally-acclaimed bass player who would be playing along with a famous 14-year-old drummer and a couple of other guys who are well-known artists in Japan.
 The drummer (the young prodigy) is Riku Taira. He lives in Shizuoka and obviously has a lot going for him. He's something of a wonder here and seems like a great kid overall--Yuki has actually played with him a few times, having first met him when he (Riku) was only 11. This whole concert was put together for (and maybe by?) him, to celebrate his 14th birthday, so there were a lot of family/friends there to wish him well, along with his usual fans.
The bass player/lead vocalist, Kenji 'Jino' Hino, grew up in the US and comes from a family of musical greats--his father is well-known jazz trumpeter Terumasa Hino (the man has his own page on Wikipedia), and his grandfather was also a trumpeter. Kenji himself is obviously a very talented studio artist and has worked with artists such as Boys II Men, Jessican Simpson, Marcus Miller, and many others.
  Also comprising this group were: Masa Kohama, Penny-K, and Nobu-K. Masa is a guitarist working in Tokyo right now, but he lived in LA for quite a long time (I can't remember the exact number he gave me when we chatted during intermission, but his English was perfect and natural, so I'm guessing it was quite a while). I'm sure that it says more about him on his profile online, but considering that I can't read the Japanese, I'm afraid I can't go into more details on him here. Too bad, since he's a wonderful guitarist! I wish that I could've heard more of his playing, actually.
  Penny-K and Nobu-K were the keyboardist and bass keyboardist, respectively. Again, I couldn't find anything about them online in English.
  So now you know the group. As for the concert itself...I have to admit that I initially wasn't really looking forward to it, seeing as 1. I'm not a fan of instrumental jazz at all,  2. I have the attention span of a ferret, or maybe a cranked-up squirrel, and 3. did I mention that I'm not a fan of instrumental jazz at all??  But, Yuki asked me to go with him, and since I am a HUGE fan of my husband, I said ok.
 I was happily surprised to realize that I liked the first half of the show...Jino, who was leading the group, is also pretty good at singing, and the talent on stage was undeniable. Intermission came quickly, and I figured that my brain and rather antsy legs could easily survive another 45 minutes to an hour of the second half.
 HAH! Jino fooled us!
 For some reason, he begin performing more and more solos during the second act, while the rest of the guys just stood around listening or maybe doing some soft background accompaniment. The other guys did of course take their turns for solos, too, but Jino's were far more frequent and much, much longer. The first couple of times I was ok with it (although in my mind, one can only hear bass solo for so long), but after a while I slowly began to feel as if I was being tortured. And then I felt guilty for thinking that way...that thought quickly being followed by 'Am I uncultured? Should I be appreciating this??'
 Time dragged on...and on...and on. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. A very little bit. And I began to feel less guilty for imagining that I was trapped in a bad dream, since I noticed that quite a few people around me were either dozing off or casting ever-less-surreptitous glances at their watches. The other guys on stage even began to look pained, and slowly some bolder (smarter?) people in the crowd started to slip out the door.
 At 9:45 (the second set had started at 8 pm), I was about to tell Yuki that I was leaving at 10 sharp and taking the train home by myself, having determined that it was probably less rude to leave 'early' than to lose it during the concert, when Jino finally decided that enough was enough! YEA! I know that I personally was clapping mostly because they (he) stopped; I'm not sure about anyone else's intentions.
Of course, then there was the encore, but thankfully it was just one more song. We finally left (ok, I bolted out the door, I'll admit it) at about 10:20, well more than an hour past the expected ending time.
  Now, I don't want to sound like an awful, overly-critical person, and I really hope that I'm not coming across that way. Jino and the rest of those guys have AMAZING talent and were all great to see in concert. The first set, like I said before, was incredible. But I think the lesson from this experience (which hopefully some of us...'us' being you-know-who...have learned) is: all things in moderation...especially when it comes to performing solo after long solo and tooting your own horn (yep, bad pun intended!) at a child drummer's birthday celebration!

                           Kenji Hino with Riku Taira on the drums

    Penny-K on keyboard

           On the guitar: Masa Kohama

Valentine's Kit Kat: Raspberry and Passion Fruit

Posted on Friday, January 22, 2010 | 0 comments

    Another new product find! If I really wanted to, I could do a post a day just on the new products here, but then I'd probably also weigh 400 lbs from tasting them all.
  ...We grabbed a pack of this new Kit Kat flavor at the convenience store on the way home last night, since it looked rather interesting. Lately the Kit Kats haven't been all that tempting...I mean, they can only product so many 'new' varities of strawberry Kit Kats, and I have had absolutely no desire to try the milk tea, milk coffee, or Calpis Kit Kats, seeing as I don't really like those drinks in the first place. (Side note--Yuki told me that they had to change the name of Calpis when they exported it to the US. It's called Calpico in the States, since the original name sounds too much like 'cow piss' in English. Mmm, yummy cow piss).
  Back to this new Valentine's Day-themed Kit Kat. It's GREAT! They even went to the extra trouble of pairing the raspberry/passion fruit with dark chocolate, much better idea than trying to make it work with the usual milk chocolate. And there's 1.2% real passion fruit powder in every bar. Seems like a very small amount for the package to be boasting about, but I have to admit that the flavor's wonderful. This coming from a person who usually doesn't like the combination of raspberries and chocolate, too. If you want to try a pack, leave me a comment and I'll send a few lucky people some!

                       2 different packages, but apparently identical contents

               For him?

     And for her
......but Valentine's Day is only for men here in Japan, in case you didn't already know that little bit of trivia

Absolutely Googeous!!!

Posted on Thursday, January 21, 2010 | 0 comments

     Here's another new ice cream taste test, brought to you by the makers of Lactaid.
While grocery shopping the other day, we discovered that the Japanese chocolate brand Morinaga has come out with a new, tasty, and individually sized ice cream treat, called 'Googeous'. Don't ask me: I didn't come up with the name.
  Now, I was seriously expecting something 'gooey' and delicious, considering the very obvious name and all, but it was unfortunately not even a tiny bit gooey. It was, however, absolutely delicious.
   The breakdown is this: the bottom layer is coffee-flavored ice cream, which is then topped with what amounts to a very thin dark chocolate bar. Finally, the chocolate is covered with bits of almond, cookie bits (think Oreos), and some other white crunchy pieces that I think were also cookies. Overall, Yuki and I both agree that it should get a perfect 10 out of 10 rating (we decided to let the odd name slide, seeing as how good the actual product is). Especially when you also consider that it's only 100 yen. For a mere 315 calories per serving, you too may indulge in a bit of heaven! Oh, and one serving is enough for 2 to share, did I mention that? So about 160 calories each, unless of course you eat some of your husband's half. Then it's more like 220 calories per serving. Speaking hypothetically, of course.
 I'm really starting to like this whole dairy thing again. Fear of a stomachache is finally beginning to recede, too. Now excuse me while I go drink a bottle of bleu cheese dressing.

                   Packaging complete with eye-catching name

                     The contents

      And, a peek at the coffee ice cream underneath it all

Lactaid, Gift from the Gods!!!

Posted on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 | 0 comments

      I may/may not have mentioned that I tested out extra-strength Lactaid pills on one of the last days that I was back at home...and they WORK!!! Oh, the joy. I cannot even possibly begin to describe the sheer and utter happiness that's resulted from this lovely little supplement. Seriously. Whoever first thought of producing this stuff should get a Nobel Prize. I mean, imagine NEVER being able to eat cheese, milk, butter, yogurt, most dressings, or anything containing even a decent amount of these ingredients without having your stomach immediately spasm and cause you severe pain. And then of course there are the after-effects that we won't go into, but we all know what they are. Yuck. 
  Admittedly, they make some pretty good soy-based products that I've been substituting over the years, but some things just can't be reproduced. Plain yogurt, for example. Pizza with REAL CHEESE! Real cheese in general! And while there are a few soy ice creams that I like better than most real ice creams, it's still a pleasure to be able to have sooo many more varieties to choose from now!! Imagine going from: vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate soy ice creams that are offered here to.....just about any flavor imaginable!

                     My first piece of pizza with cheese in years. Dad, next time you don't have to buy soy cheese! 

  I thought for sure that I'd immediately pack on about 15-20 lbs now that I can eat dairy again, but the funny thing is, I haven't been eating all that much of it still. Plain yogurt for breakfast now, yes, and sometimes ice cream....but pizza is a little hard to come by here anyway (well, not hard to come by, but expensive to come by), and I think that the mental aspect is still playing a part. Every time I think about taking a bite of something with dairy in it, I still anticipate that all-too-real feeling of my stomach cramping up.

  That being said, I did sample this amazing little daifuku ice cream treat last night. Daifuku is a type of manju (see the last post if you don't know what that is), usually just a round ball with the motchi on the outside and anko inside, sometimes with beans spotted throughout the motchi. This kind of frozen daifuku had chocolate ice cream and fudge replacing the anko, though. After the first taste, I found it incredibly hard to believe that the calorie count was only 100 kcal per daifuku, but I went ahead and ate them both anyway. Delicious. Who knows, maybe I will finally put on a few pounds!!
                  Double Chocolate Daifuku

           Ok, so it doesn't look all that appetizing in this pic...

              This photo does it justice, though!

Day Trip to Shimoda (In Izu)

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | 0 comments

  This past Saturday, we were in the mood for both a drive and some sushi (sashimi, more specifically), so we took a lovely day trip to Shimoda, at the southern tip of the Izu peninsula.
 Shimoda has quite a bit of historical significance for being such a small current-day town:  it was a major port between Osaka and Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo Era, several of Perry's 'black ships' landed here, and the first American consulate was also opened at Gyokusen-ji (a temple). The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which opened the ports of Edo (again, present-day Tokyo) and 4 other Japanese cities to American ships was signed here at Ryosen-ji (another temple).. Finally, the Treaty of Shimoda was signed in this city (hence the name!!), which marked the beginning of official relations between Japan and Russia.
  It seems a bit ironic that one of the very treaties signed in Shimoda, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, also brought about its decline as a port city. After Yokohama was opened to American ships, the American consulate moved there, and Shimoda port was again closed to the US.
  Present day, there are just over 25,000 people residing in Shimoda, and it's mostly famous for great seafood, hot springs, beaches, and as a historical tourist attraction.
 Our first stop was lunch, seeing as we arrived there just after 2:30. We are not good at getting out of the house before 11 a.m. on weekends, what can I say.
 After a delicious and very reasonably-priced meal of sashimi rice bowls, we walked around the town for a bit, stopping in order to take some pictures of local temples and also to buy some manju. I may have talked about manju before, but if not, it's a traditional Japanese treat: basically, it's composed of 2 parts--sweet red bean paste (anko) that's been wrapped in sticky rice pounded until it becomes a sort of pasty dough (motchi). This is a terrible and un-appetizing description of manju however, and I highly encourage you to try it for yourself if you ever get the chance. It doesn't taste beany or gross at all.
  The little sweets shop that we stopped in had all kinds of gorgeously formed varities of manju, including some that looked like little demons, flowers, bunnies, you name it. And of course, some in the shape of Perry's famous ships. These weren't true manju in the sense of the word, since the outside was something akin to the stuff ice cream cones are made of, but the inside was still anko. I just can't remember the specific name of this variety at the moment.
  All in all, another great day, especially since we got to see a natural hot spring park on the way back, something that we had somehow never discovered before. We also drove by a shop named 'Wasabi no Neko-ya', which translates to 'Cat shop specializing in wasabi'. Of course we stopped there, too! Sadly, there were no cats to be seen, and the clerk couldn't say why the store was so named. They did have a great wasabi-flavored nori (seaweed) however, so all was not in vain.

          Amazing sashimi rice bowls (yes, there is rice hiding under all that)

           Adorable little demon manju

I would've bought one for Wasabi, but they were already missing their tails

Perry's Ship

The Wishing Tree

I can't remember the name of this temple. I do know that it's not one of the ones mentioned above.

Practicing my sumo moves

Another temple whose name I cannot remember. Again, not one of the ones mentioned, but judging by the tour buses, it was famous for something.

Remake of one of the 'Black Ships'

Huge Geyser!

An Incredibly Beautiful and Equally Expensive Inn Near the Geyser

Come on, like you weren't expecting a mascot for the geyser!

     Wasabi no Neko-ya, the wasabi product store that had nothing whatsoever to do with cats