31 March 2012

March 2012 :: a wrap-up

Living out of suitcases, 4 weeks in.
Girls day is March 3rd 
Now, imagine you're sitting on a toilet...
 and this is the flower arrangement staring at you from under the sink.
The Philippines!
Moving in. YAY.
Pen_s Festival
Fugu (blowfish), and we lived to tell the tale! 
Ordering in Dominos helps any homesickness.
Feeding the (aggressive!) deer at Nara
I thought it was broccolini at the store...
Turns out it was parsley. Crap.
(Give me a break; it was wrapped in plastic)
Calligraphy class
A rainy walk through Imperial Gardens in Tokyo
Setting fashion trends in Tokyo. Hello, kitties.
Pancake flavored kit kat bars. Naturally.
Nothing makes me want an Orangina like Richard Gere.
Good! Beer!
Fuji Island at the Light Festival
tuna and avocado donburi

30 March 2012

Adrienne Rich :: 1929 - 2012

I loved her.
The Fact of a Doorframe sits on my bookshelf.
It travelled across the ocean with me.
Perhaps, so that when I heard that she had died,
I could bury myself in it and re-read all my favorites.

She captures the essence of a women
when there is no choice in who you can become.
Your path is already laid out, decided.
No deviations allowed.

Life has changed since she was first published in 1951.
But I wouldn't mind if it changed a little bit more.
A fitting tribute to her memory.

The Fact of a Doorframe
means there is something to hold
onto with both hands
while slowly thrusting my forehead against the wood
and taking it away
one of the oldest motions of suffering
as Makeba sings
a courage-song for warriors
music is suffering made powerful

I think of the story
of the goose-girl who passed through the high gate
where the head of her favorite mare
was nailed to the arch
and in a human voice
If she could see thee now, thy mother's heart would break
said the head
of Falada

Now, again, poetry,
violent, arcane, common,
hewn of the commonest living substance
into archway, portal, frame
I grasp for you, your bloodstained splinters, your
ancient and stubborn poise
-- as the earth trembles --
burning out from the grain

29 March 2012

Solo Baking... er, Freezing.

More often than I would like, Amos has to head to work-only social engagements. I get a wee bit jealous, given that after a day of entertaining myself, I am ready for some social engaging (let's focus on me, me, me, me, me). I can't really complain -- try as I might -- when my day consisted of leisurely coffee, calligraphy class, errands to the drugstore (fyi: lotion or face cream is called face milk here; that was a tricky one to figure out), and a nap. I mean, I want to complain, but I'll lock it up. Stiff upper lip and all that.

I was faced with a unexpected evening to myself and in an effort to cheer up, I decided to give into my baking urges. I really wanted to make Orangette's peanut butter cookies, given that I had recently scored a jar of the elusive PB, but I was nervous about trying out our one teeny-tiny cooking sheet in the toaster oven. I thought I'd try that out ingredients I'm less emotionally attached to, given that I'm still a newbie in our kitchen.

I decided, out of fear / because I'm a big pansy, to skip the baking part of baking and stick to the freezer. Keep it simple, yes? My friend, Ty, had posted this delicious recipe to his Pintrest board and, as he is a great cook and I was feeling a tiny bit homesick, I decided to give it a go. Banana's + peanut butter + chocolate + freezer... this just might be doable in a Japanese kitchen. Dear Lord, what would being a expat be life pre-internet days? I shudder to think. Facebook, Vonage, Facetime, Pintrest; they all make daily appearances on my gratitude list. 

Amos isn't a huge one for sweets, and as I am already too big for Japanese clothes and not looking to make it even harder to find pants that fit, I halved the recipe. I also used dark chocolate, which is more Amos' style than mine. All things being equal, I would eat 90% of the desserts for his 10%. By combining two of his favorite ingredients, peanut butter and dark chocolate, I'm aiming for a more respectable 70/30 split. If it was just me and I had no regard for my waistline, it would have been milk chocolate all the way.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Bites
Adapted from Nom! Nom! Nom!

Slice one banana into coin shapes and spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you are expat in Japan, use your itty-bitty baking sheet. It will fit your one medium banana snugly. Take the peanut butter and put a small dollop on each slice (I used Peanut Butter & Co's Smooth Operator). Eat a tablespoon or two of the peanut butter straight from the jar for good measure. Your husband is out drinking beer with his boss! Live it up a little!

Break up 1 bar of dark chocolate. (My bar was 58 grams, but it was a bit short at the end. If you're using chips, I'd up it a couple grams.) To melt the chocolate, put a saucepan of water on the stove and then place a small bowl in the water. Put the chocolate in the bowl. As the water heats up, stir and your chocolate will slowly melt. Add a bit of water to the bowl if your chocolate is looking a bit thick. You don't want it too runny, but it will thicken up as it cools. Or, if you have a microwave, you can nuke the chocolate. 

When you chocolate has melted, remove it from the stove and lift each banana and dunk it. My bowl wasn't deep enough for a full dunk: I did a drizzle and then placed in the bowl and scooted to cover the sides. It wasn't elegant, but it got the job done.

Once your peanut butter bananas are properly covered with chocolate, pop them in the freezer. If you're like me & two of your bananas were not covered adequately, eat them now and call it Quality Control. Once they are solid (give 'em some time), you can store them in a tupperware or Zip Lock baggie.

Yield: 12 slices, minus the 2 I ate before the tray even hit the freezer.

28 March 2012


I am more obsessed with Purikuda than any person should rightfully be.

My scanner quality is crap.

I still have NO SHAME in uploading these for the world to see.

27 March 2012

Our Japanese Kitchen

When we moved, one of the things I was most excited for was our new kitchen. In our old apartment, the kitchen was one of my least favorite elements. It had charm, for sure, but it also had drawers and cabinets that wouldn't close, a fridge that literally sat on the countertop (and lacked a real freezer and didn't -- truth be told -- keep food all that cold). Its walls were dingy white; it had an exhaust fan that had a bird's nest in it, all the drawer handles, no matter how many times you screwed them on, were somehow always loose. The one redeeming quality was the porcelain farmhouse sink. That sink! Oh, it was a good sink. Well, until the pipe cracked and created a rust stain. Even that couldn't completely ruin the charm.

A sink, even that one, can only keep you going so long. After four years, I was ready to move on.

my grandfather's rolling pin and a hand carved cake stand we received as a wedding gift

When we were house hunting in Japan, I was pretty picky about the kitchen space. I didn't need huge sizes or massive cupboards; I was used to smaller spaces and wanted to keep it that way. I wanted space on the countertops, a good flow, and to not be cut off in a galley.

While the kitchen in our new place isn't perfect (it's a little narrow for two people to comfortably work, unfortunately), it's more than manageable and I'm smack dab happy with it. All the drawers slid shut gracefully and quietly; the countertops are smooth, spacious, and easy to clean; the sink, while not porcelain, is large and roomy enough to wash dishes; the breakfast counter and window flows to the living room; the fridge sits squarely on the ground. I confess to a content little sigh every time I walk into it.

We brought over an IKEA butcher block island for the one wall that didn't have anything on it. I looked at Natori and other Japanese shops and couldn't find what I was looking for. IKEA had it for $199 and it fit within inches. Some things are meant to be.

I don't know if I mentioned it before, but rental apartments in Japan lack all appliances, right down to the light fixtures. Renters buy them and move them with them as they go. It's annoying from our perspective, as we only plan to rent one Japanese apartment at this juncture of our lives, but I guess it makes sense from a long term rental perspective. At least it prevents crappy appliances from 1970 marring an otherwise decent apartment. Perhaps? I don't know; I don't make it a habit to ask too many questions of why things are done they way they are here. They just are, I accept, and we bought new appliances, including a new refrigerator. Oh, our refrigerator. Happy sigh.

It has an upper part, full of drawers and shelves, which is big news for us when you consider what we're coming from. What's more, it has a whole pull out crisper drawer for all the vegetables my little heart could ever want (and that Amos could ever stomach). It has an ice (!) maker (!!), a quick freeze drawer, and a pull out freezer. It's full of fancy buttons that we've labeled in English and whose function I only vaguely understand. It's only full of beer, peanut butter, eggs, and jam at this moment, but I have big plans for its future. Wait for it.

We don't have a dishwasher or garbage disposal, which after so long without one, I hardly even notice. Non issue for the two of us; we're not hard to impress at this point in our lives.

The only real downside to this beautiful kitchen of ours is the oven... or lack thereof. Every single place we looked at only had a fish grill, which is to say a teeny-tiny little broiler oven used to cook a fillet. That's it. I was used to half sized ovens, but even this is beyond my experience. We could have purchased an oven/steamer/microwave as an additional appliance, but they are rather bulky. In the end, Amos and I opted for the counter space instead. After all, we did recently get a toaster oven that does have degree settings up to 450. Between that and the fish grill - and some creative thinking and appropriately sized dishes and pans - I think we can make it work.

See the little thing to the left, under the stove? THAT is our oven...

I'm moving forward with optimism and bravado on that count. Get ready.

26 March 2012

NSFW :: the infamous Hounen Matsuri

On March 15th, a couple girls and I trekked up to a town called Komaski-shi to see the infamous Hounen Matsuri which is, decidedly, NSFW. In case this acronym is new to you: NSFW means Not Safe For Work. I take no responsibility for you reading this in your cube and your boss coming up over your shoulder and making it real awkward, real fast. Hokay? Hokay.

23 March 2012


You know Japanese men love to accessorize when this impressive sock display is one of the three available in the very average sized store. Damn! I wonder what Amos would say if I brought him home a pair of pink ones?

Aaannndd, I just realized there 3 pink options on that display. I love Japan.

On that, Happy Weekend!

22 March 2012

my symphony

To live content within small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly,
talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds,
to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony. 
                               (William Henry Channing)

21 March 2012

Police Man Pullover

Last Wednesday, per usual, I went up skiing for Ladies Day. As the end of the season draws near, I'm hell bent on getting in as many days as I can. Oh yeah, and it's also FREE.

My friend, M., was driving the van and on the way up to Gifu, and we were flying. Flying as in 140 to 170 km/hour. I was a bit carsick, but I thought the payoff of reaching the mountain in an hour was totally worth it (it usually takes at least an hour forty minutes or closer to 2 hours).

We skied until 4, then piled into the van to return to the city. As we were almost home and merging onto the Nagoya Expressways, sirens showed up in the rearview. Whaaa? M. had tamed down the speeds: were were going a slightly speedy but respectable 93 km/hour.

We would soon find out that the speedlimit on the expressway is an insanely slow 60 km/hour, which is about 40 mph. Whoops.

The police pulled in front of us and we followed them to the shoulder on the Expressway. Straight away, they came over, placed a cone behind our car to alert other drivers, and took M. from our car and put him in the back of their sedan. I would have been more nervous, but the policemen in Japan wear these white helmets even while driving their car, so it makes me smile endearingly at them instead of being afraid... which might not be the uniform's desired effect.

Helmet affection aside, we were in a bit of a predicament. Our driver was in the backseat of a police sedan.

The four remaining girls, well, we have no choice but to sit in the van, watch the car in front of us, take pictures of the situation, and try to text them to M. I'm sure he was super appreciative.

Apologies for the blurry photo, but did I mention that we were stuck on a highway at the time?!

We sit for almost an hour like this, just wondering WHAT is taking so long until we get a text from M. "My license is expired."

Well... shit.

20 March 2012

Things I learned in the Philippines.

I finally, finally, got the spelling of Philippines down. I could never remember if it was a double L, or double P, or was it a double N? I thought that I would learn it by osmosis from Amos, but that was NOT the case. Don't fret, the situation has been corrected and it's imprinted on my little dyslexic brain (or is it brian?)

I learned that the Philippine culture is decidedly different than Japan's. People are eavesdroppers, affectionate, outgoing, casual, and a bit in each other's business. It was definitely more my speed; I loved it.

19 March 2012

Moving in.

46 days. That's how long it's been since we turned in the keys to our old apartment and began living out of Marriott hotel while we waited to move into our Japanese home. I feel like a brat complaining about living in a four star hotel for a month and a half. It's impossible to kvetch when there are no dishes to do, beds to make, meals to cook. If you start to bitch about maid service? Well... there's no way to do that without sounding like someone who needs a swift kick in the panties. (Yea, I just said panties. Cringe all you want.)

But, sometimes, when we mentioned that we were still in the Marriott, other expats would look over at me with this very specific look in their eye. They KNEW. They knew what is was like to live in one room, to be surrounded by luggage and strangers and bellhops for days on end, to eat out for every single meal, to ask maids to come back because you really just wanted to stay in bed and watch Community for one more hour... or was that last one just me? Hm.

On Friday, the moving truck pulled in and began to unload. We were, officially, in business.

16 March 2012

Soon and Sooner.

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come where you are. Try something different. Surrender. 

It looks like, as of right now, our assignment will end in about half a year earlier than we originally expected.

(It could, as always, change in a heartbeat.)

Right now, I'm learning to be okay with it and not obsess on how and what I could, and would, and should, have done differently.

It's hard.

I have a goal now: to live in uncertainty with grace.

I think I'm getting better at it.

15 March 2012

happy white day! (a little late)

Going to make a blanket statement here, but the Japanese seem to LOVE holidays. Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's... heck, there is a Saint Patty's Day parade here in Nagoya this weekend. If your culture has a holiday, the Japanese will adopt it and celebrate the crap out of it. I fully support this, for what it's worth.

On Valentine's Day here (and in South Korea, China, and Taiwan), it's a bit different than the States: Women buy men presents. Men are -  for that day - totally off the hook. You get chocolates or sweets for husbands and boyfriends (or both, for the busier and more scandalous out there). These are called homei-choco (本命チョコ), which means chocolate of love. Coworkers and friends also get goods, which are called giri-choco (義理チョコ) or courtesy chocolates.*

One month later, on March 14th, comes White Day (ホワイトデー), and it's payback time. Three fold. Senbai gashi (三倍返し). So whatever candy and small gifts you gave to the men in your life are supposed to come back multiplied. I got Amos a jar of peanut butter on Valentines Day... so look out.**

I was expecting to find a long history of this holiday, given how old Japanese culture is and how they appreciate the past. Jokes on me: the holiday began in 1978 as part of a marketing strategy by confectionary company. It's nice to know Hallmark holidays are concept that extends beyond the US's borders.

* Gosh, I love the blunt and accurate descriptor of 'courtesy chocolates.'
** Wish I knew about the three fold thing a bit sooner. Would have changed my present selection, ifyouknowwhatImean.

14 March 2012

unpack. repack. unpack. oh, f*ck it.

Back in the real world, coming home from a trip on Sunday was always a drag. I knew that my suitcase would sit, unpacked and messy, until the work week ended and I finally had a chance to catch up. It would just sit there, taunting my inability to 'do it all' and my feeble attempts at 'work life balance.'

Now that I live in the surreal world of an expat trailing spouse, I have plenty of time. I've allowed myself to get distracted by a host of things: picking up our official Alien Registration Cards, getting keys to our new apartment, going to Karaoke on a Monday night, eating slightly better Mexican food on Tuesday, and now skiing on Wednesday.

Our hotel room might have looked something like this yesterday:

Wow. Sorry Amos. I never let it get that bad when I was actually, you know, working.

That's right... unpacking from the Philippines [pictures coming soon, I promise]... packing to move (!) into our new apartment (!!) on Friday (!!!). The month and a half of hotel living is coming to an end, and not a damn moment too soon.

Sorry, gotta run. The hills of Gifu aren't going to ski themselves you know. My life? It might not suck.

13 March 2012

Finding my style in Japan

I grabbed a cup of coffee, a book, and then found myself in a killer section in the Meitetsu department store. Predictably, I can't resist crafts, white dishware, and striped shirts... even in Asia.

09 March 2012

Philippine Fact #5 :: NOT Chicken Adobo

The original plan for today was to bring you Amos' Chicken Adobe recipe, which is just SO GOOD. However, I thought it'd be WAY more fun to show pictures of him making it in our new apartment... so you're going to have to wait until Mid March to get your paws on that.


Until then, please try and be content with the rather exceptional photo above, which was taken by Alfonso Lizares at the Mambukal Mudpack Festival. Don't know about the Mambukal Festival? Read below, dummy!

The Mambukal Mudpack Festival is held at the height of monsoon season. 

It celebrates the harmony of man and nature and encourages young peoples' environmentalism. The rich soil they cover themselves with is called Mumbukal Clay.

Well there you go! Hope you enjoyed learning a bit about Amos' almost native country (I say almost native, since he is US born, but his Mamma is Filipina). Back to regular posting next week! xo.

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