Meiling arrives home fairly late this coming Sunday evening, and believe it or not, she asked me if I would cook for her as soon as we got back to the house! I told her there’d be some things she likes on hand for her to eat, but that I’ll start cooking for her in earnest on Monday.
The first order of business for Meiling when she arrives on Kaua’i is always a trip up to Duane’s Ono Char Burger where I’m pretty sure she’ll orders her usual two burgers. I’m making Cheeseburger Pie for dinner on Monday night, one of her favorites, but I don’t think she’s going to complain about having cheeseburgers twice in one day.
Brett and I are doing the second half of our monthly Costco shop today to get ready for the happy occasion of having all the girls at home. We’ll be picking up one of their giant pizzas for our dinner tonight as we’ve all been craving pizza, and the leftovers will be available for lunches for the rest of the week. Otherwise we’ll be finishing up things we still have on hand, even after the big defrost, and saving our Costco purchases for the weeks ahead. Tomorrow or Thursday we’ll go back for a few more things at Big Save and other than our weekly trips to the farmers’ market that will finish our food shopping for the month.
Sunday: Sweet potato, kale and quinoa ravioli with pesto; grilled zucchini; garlic bread
Monday:Cheeseburger pie; onion rings; lettuce & tomato salad (the linked recipe is pretty close to the one we use, but we skip the eggs, and substitute 1/3 cup dill pickle juice for part of the milk, and add a 1/2 cup chopped dill pickle to the filling. We also bake our pie in a crust.).
We’ll need to pick up tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and (hopefully) some broccoli at the farmers’ market this week, as well as more bananas, but otherwise we have everything we need on hand.
And, hopefully it will be warm enough on Saturday to appreciate the cool, refreshing hiyashi chuka! It’s one of YaYu’s favorite dishes.
One of best things about traveling anywhere is the food! Not only do I not have to plan, cook or clean up in the kitchen whenever I’m traveling, but depending on where I’m going I not only get to savor old favorites but try new dishes as well. I’m one of those people who searches for restaurant recommendations, checks out menus, and finds out all I can about what there is to eat before I go somewhere, whether it’s Disney World or China or the Grand Canyon. I definitely don’t plan all my meals, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to try or eat wherever I go.
Food is one of the most important cultural experiences you can have anywhere you go, and there is a lot you can discover about a country or place based on their food and cooking traditions. Is presentation highlighted? Portion size? What are primary sources of protein? Carbohydrates? Where do people buy their food? How do they store it? Is there a street food tradition? What’s acceptable to eat outside versus at home? When and where do people eat? What utensils do they use? How long do they take to eat? With whom do they eat? and so forth.
Besides figuring out some of the above, here are some tips for enjoying the food part of your journey wherever you go in the world:
Do some research before you go. This can be anything from learning about popular or famous dishes or restaurants, to checking out menus and prices. TripAdvisor is a good source for restaurant recommendations almost any place in the world, and Yelp and other review sites can help determine great places to eat. I always take these reviews with a grain of salt though as everyone as personal preferences and expectations, but you can generally get a feel for whether someplace is worth checking out or not. I’m a big fan of eating at small, local food joints but it takes sometimes takes some research to find out which ones are worth going to (I’m still learning about places on Kaua’i). I also love to find out about grocery stores or markets before I travel and stop in or visit some of those if I have the time.
Yes, try the big, famous places if you can afford it. Meals at well-known restaurants are usually as wonderful as they’re reputed to be, and there are good reasons why they’ve become famous and/or exclusive. You can be disappointed though, especially after you’ve spent a ton of money to eat there. Do your research carefully, and have a good idea about what you want to order. We had an amazing meal at the top Peking Duck restaurant when we were in Beijing, worth every penny, but another highly recommended restaurant we ate at fell far short of expectations and we regretted the money we spent there.
Ask locals where they like to eat versus just asking for a recommendation. If you’re at a hotel, ask employees where they like to go out to eat with family and friends. Rather than being directed to the restaurant down the street, you’ll often learn of someplace you might never have heard of or tried otherwise, and have some pretty terrific food. If you’re in a new place for work, or to visit family, ask your local co-workers or your family about their favorite places for lunch, snacks or dinner. Again, you may find out about some places that don’t show up in the guidebooks or on the web, but that serve some pretty terrific food. Some of my fondest memories of living in Japan were meals we had at three little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood restaurants and bars that had been discovered by other navy families and that we probably would have passed over otherwise.
Have a sense of adventure. Travel to a new place is the time to step out of your culinary comfort zone and try something new. We all know our limits (no insects or grubs for me, thank you) but there’s otherwise no way of knowing whether you’ll like something unless you try it. When I went to Japan as a college student I didn’t especially care for rice, soy sauce, or fish but came home loving all three as well as sweet red bean filling, mochi, noodles, sushi and lots of other Japanese foods that I never would have considered before.
Give street food a try. Some of the best things you’ll ever eat will come from a street food stall or food cart. I guarantee it. It’s also an inexpensive way to try out different foods, or things you might not find in a restaurant.
Know when to step back into your comfort zone, if necessary. On one visit to Hong Kong, Brett and I decided we were going to eat nothing but Chinese food the entire time we were there, and had created a list of several different restaurants and dishes to try. We gave up after three days, and found a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. It was enough of a break though to go back to Chinese, although not as intensely. Sometimes giving yourself a chance to eat familiar foods, like a burger or a Frappuchino at Starbucks, can help you “get back on the wagon” and enjoy eating local for the rest of your stay.
If you have time during your journey, try a cooking class. If you’ve enjoyed a particular cuisine at home, and are traveling to visit the area, try a cooking class. For example, you can learn to make macarons in Paris, pesto, pasta or gnocchi in Italy, or mole in Mexico. There are tours and classes that allow you to cook “backstage” at some of the top restaurants in Las Vegas. Cooking classes can help you learn more about local ingredients, new techniques, and increase your appreciation for what goes into making some of your favorite dishes. Wine, sake, beer or other spirited beverage tastings can also be included in this category.
As always, travel is much more than seeing the sites. Travel gives us a chance to briefly observe and participate in a different culture, and learn more about ourselves in the process. Immersing yourself into the local food scene is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do that, no matter where you land, and another way to create memories to last a lifetime.
It’s been a busy week here at Casa Aloha: a bike riding, freezer defrosting, water drinking, language studying sort of week. But, it’s also been a cool, rainy sort of week, and there was enough rain Thursday night and Friday morning that flash flood alerts were sent out, and roads made impassable from all the water. Flash flooding alerts went out again yesterday afternoon, but were just cancelled. The county sent out word yesterday evening that several kayakers on the Wailua River had to be rescued yesterday, and one tourist drowned.
Did you know it snows in Hawai’i? Both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, on the Big Island, have received over a foot of snow this past week, and up to another foot is expected by this evening. Crazy days.
And, go to the beach? What’s that? I’m entering my fourth month without a trip to the beach, and I miss it! YaYu’s crazy schedule, my back injury, and a run of lousy weather have all combined to make even a short trip down to the beach impossible. Maybe this week though – a girl can hope.
We have one more week to go until our first not-so-little-any-more bird returns to our nest. Meiling arrives home next Sunday night, and I’m already so excited I can barely stand it. Brett and I got our Christmas tree up and decorated yesterday, and will be restocking the freezer this week in preparation for her arrival – she likes to eat! WenYu has another two and a half weeks of classes though before she takes off for home, but we’re hoping the time will pass quickly.
This afternoon I am:
Reading: I’m over halfway though The Wongs Vs. the World – it’s a good read. I had to put It Can’t Happen Here away for a while because it was making me cry every time I started to read it. By the way, Brett reread the entire Harry Potter series this fall, and finally finished the last book in the series this past week. I think I need to read them all again one of these days as well, but Dar at An Exacting Life posted a terrific list of books suggested by her readers that I intend to explore as well.
Listening to: It was very noisy outside this morning – lots of yard work, sawing, etc. going on, I guess as people rushed to get things done before the rain started up again. We heard thunder rolling through this morning too, but now it’s just the drip, drip, drip of the rain. The washing machine is also doing its thing so not so quiet inside any more.
Watching: Brett and I gave up on The Americans. It’s a well-done, intense drama, and the acting is superb, but I grew to hate the characters and couldn’t summon up even an ounce of sympathy for them. I didn’t care what happened to them, and felt disappointed and angry at the end of every episode that they were still operating, so I stopped watching, and Brett did too. Anyway, this week we have been watching Goliath (an Amazon series) which stars Billy Bob Thornton, John Hurt and some other great talent. There’s currently only one season available, so when we finish tonight we’re going to have to find something new to watch.
Cooking/baking: Breakfast was leftover chocolate chip pumpkin pancakes. Brett made them on Friday morning to use up the last of the pumpkin puree we made from our Halloween pumpkin. Dinner tonight will be yakisoba with chicken, cabbage, carrots and onions (no chicken for me). I kind of wish we still had our electric griddle because it would be fun to cook it at the table tonight, teppanyaki-style, but we gave the griddle to a friend before we moved.
Happy I accomplished this past week: I’ve ridden my exercise bike twice a day every day this past week, and have been drinking eight glasses of water a day too. I started back studying Japanese for 30 minutes each day, and am doing 10 minutes of Portuguese (!) language study every day as well. I chose Portuguese because I wanted something a bit more challenging than Spanish, but not too challenging. We got our Christmas tree up and decorated yesterday, and on Friday evening I got all the girls’ Christmas presents wrapped. And oh yes . . . we got the freezer defrosted!!
Looking forward to next week: Brett and I are going to do the second half of our Costco shopping on Tuesday, and a little more shopping at Big Save on either Wednesday or Thursday. I’ve got my fingers crossed for some good weather showing up again too – There’s a rumor that we might see the sun on Tuesday.
Thinking of good things that happened: I rode a total of 140 minutes, over 42 miles, and burned over 1400 calories this past week on my exercise bike! I’ve drunk 56 glasses of water. I saw the doctor and got my ears taken care of so I’m feeling pretty good now. Thanks to YaYu’s fundraising we got $26 back from what we paid for her swim team bathing suit and cap, and put $6 in the change/$1 bill jar.
Grateful for: As I hung the ornaments on our tree yesterday, I felt very thankful for the memories that comes along with each one – I can remember when and where we bought or received each ornament. We’ve really had a wonderful, blessed life together.
Bonus question: Do you have a personal motto or philosophy? Yes: No one ever steps in the same river twice; it’s never the same river and you’re never the same person. I figured out a long time ago, especially from watching my children grow, that everything changes, eventually and always. Sometimes it’s because of the passage of time, sometimes it because new events move things around, but sometimes it’s because I change and adapt. Things don’t always get better, or worse, but they will always definitely get different over time. I’ve learned that I can either fight change, or go along as best as I can, and try to figure out which fights are the ones worth having and which ones are not. Optimism has gotten me a lot further in life, and served me far better, than pessimism ever has. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic, sometimes I’m scared, but I keep moving forward because I know things will eventually change.
That’s a wrap for this Sunday! How was your week? How’s the weather where you are?
Located 31 miles to the south of Tokyo, the beautiful seaside town of Kamakura is an easy day trip to make from Japan’s capital. Once the capital of Japan itself (1185-1333, the Kamakura Period), this now-small city contains numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and is home to the iconic Daibutsu (‘Great Buddha’). While Kamakura was devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, everything was eventually restored. The city was not bombed during WWII so all historical buildings and statues remain original. Many have been proposed for addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Kamakura residents offer a wonderful service to visitors: free guided walking tours of the city given in English and several other languages. Sign-up for these tours is done online where visitors can choose the date they’d like to tour as well as the two or three sites they’d like to visit (two are allowed for a half-day tour; three for a full day). Guides meet their tour members in front of Kamakura station. Members are expected to buy lunch for a full-day guide, and pay any admission fees, but otherwise the service is completely free. One of the great things about having a local guide is that they know all sorts of back ways and interesting routes, and provide opportunities to walk through beautiful residential neighborhoods that might not be seen otherwise.
WenYu, YaYu and I signed up for a tour as part of our Japan visit in March of 2015. We opted for the full-day tour, and chose to visit the large Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine, the small Zeniarai-Benten shrine, and finish with a stop at the Daibutsu before heading back to Tokyo. We met our guide, Kumiko, at the station at 10:00 in the morning; she gave us a brief overview of Kamakura’s history, and then we set out on our way. Brett’s sister had planned to join us, but had an injured foot and chose to stay in the neighborhood near the station for the day.
Our first stop was the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine, just a short walk from the station. Kamakura is a popular tourist destination in Japan, and on the way to the shrine we passed several souvenir and other shops, several which offered traditional folk crafts. The imposing Hachimangu Shrine was first built in 1063, and moved to its current location in 1191. It is the largest and most important shrine in the city, and at one point was located in the center of Kamakura – the city basically grew up around it. We were able to observe a formal Japanese wedding taking place there when we visited, complete with traditional musicians and other accoutrement, which apparently had cost the family quite a bit.
After visiting Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu, we began our trek to the Zeniari-Benten shrine, founded in 1185, and located up in the hills that surround Kamakura. In spite of its small size, it is the second most visited site in Kamakura. The hike up to the shrine was fairly steep, but more than worth it once we arrived. It’s tradition there to ‘wash your money’ in the spring that’s located at the back of the shrine – doing so will supposedly multiply your money. Baskets are provided for this activity, and I ‘washed’ 10,000¥ (around $100). The next day Brett’s sister, who had no idea what I had done, handed me 10,000¥ and told the girls and I to enjoy ourselves while she stayed back at our apartment and rested her injured foot!
Our final tour destination was the Daibutsu, with a stop for lunch along the way. Except, we could not find anywhere to eat! Every single restaurant we passed was closed the day of our visit, for who knows what reason – our guide was completely baffled. We finally found a small place that served kare-raisu (rice with curry), and that hit the spot.
The Daibutsuis part of the Koutoku-in Temple, believed to have been erected in 1252. The statue was originally housed in a large wooden building, but a tsunami in 1493 washed away the building, and the giant bronze image has stood uncovered ever since. The Buddha is thought to have once been gilded as a small amount of gold leaf remains near the statue’s ears. The base was heavily damaged in the 1923 earthquake but repaired in 1925, and measures taken in the early 1960s to strengthen the statue against earthquakes. There is a small door in the back of the statue, and visitors can going inside and climb to the top – doing so is said to bring inner peace and beauty. WenYu and YaYu chose to go inside, and while they did that I was approached by several middle school students who wanted to practice their English with me, which was lots of fun!
By the end of our day it began to rain, so we hurried back to the station and arrived around 3:00 p.m. We stopped at the flagship Hato Sabure (‘bird cookie’) store located there and bought a box of cookies to bring home to Brett, and then boarded the Enoden line at Kamakura Station to begin our journey back to Tokyo. The Enoden line was famous for running its orginal wooden cars long after other trains had been upgraded, but modern rolling stock was introduced in 2005. The line runs along the shore to the town of Fujisawa, and offers beautiful views of the beaches.
It was raining by the time we left Kamakura, and we were exhausted, but we all agreed it had been a terrific day. Brett, YaYu and I are looking forward to visiting the city next March, but will (gasp!) do it on our own next time. We plan to visit the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine and the Daibutsu, but will go to the Hase-dera (temple) instead of the Zeniarai-Benten Shrine.
(Free walking tours are offered in cities all over the world. Visitors can search to see what’s available before they go, or check after arrival. Often all that’s required is a tip for the tour guide, but these tours are a fantastic way to see a city, its sites, and its neighborhoods through the eyes of a local resident).
Brett and I have decided that no matter what, we need to defrost the freezer next weekend. We will be finishing up the last of our food shopping for the month the week after, and need to have the freezer cleaned out and ready to go for that haul. I think by the end of this week we’ll have everything down to where what’s leftover can fit into the inside freezer or the cooler while the defrost takes place.
A big goal this coming month is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in our diet. I think we do a pretty good job already, but know we can kick it up a bit. YaYu consumes most of the fruit we buy, and eats a lot of vegetables, but we’ve stocked up on vegetables for snacking, and I am going to work at having at least two servings of fruit each day. Citrus season is starting here, and I’m looking forward to enjoying local mandarin oranges and tangelos, as well as making fresh orange juice.
Although this month I’m going to start eating meat again in small amounts, if desired, this week I’m still pretty much sticking to a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Appearing on this week’s menu:
Tuesday (this evening): Spaghetti with greens; meatballs; garlic bread (vegan meatballs for me)
Wednesday: Grilled chicken; vegetable lo mein (‘chickenless’ nuggets for me) – bumped from last week
Monday: Potstickers; steamed rice; Asian coleslaw (vegetable potstickers for me)
We won’t need a whole lot from the farmers’ market this week as we’re going to be using up what we have on hand as well as the last of some frozen vegetables. We will need to get some tomatoes and cucumbers though for the panzanella salad, as well as some citrus fruits and bananas.
As we get ready to enter the last month of the year, I’ve been looking back and assessing my one-month-at-a-time plan that I began last January. At the beginning of the year I put myself on a vegan diet, and added exercise. The goal was to stay with what I was doing for one full month, assess how it was going and how I felt, and then adjust as necessary when a new month began.
I have to admit that while I started out with the best of intentions, the exercise part of plan did not go well. I began the year with waking early to take a walk, but quit that in a couple of weeks because a) I hated having to wake up so early, and b) the walk was difficult because of the hills and the bursitis in my hip. I switched over to riding my exercise bicycle three times a day which went well until the humidity returned in the spring. Even with fans operating and breezes blowing I sweated enough to make the whole process exceedingly uncomfortable, and that form of exercise was given up. Exercise was changed to taking walks with Brett, but problems arose even with that when the bursitis in my right hip flared up to dangerous levels and didn’t subside. Injuring my back at the end of August sent me into what has become a three-month stretch of pure sedentary living. A couch potato probably gets more exercise than I have these past three months.
I’ve been happy overall though at how differently I approach eating these days because of the one-month-at-a-time plan. I’ve gradually added most things back into my diet, but am far more conscious now of what and how much I’m eating and how it affects me. I am aware of how little I need of some foods in order to be satisfied. Meat (poultry, beef and pork) remain the only things that have not returned, but probably will this month, in very limited quantities. I am going to follow Mark Bittman’s approach in the coming days, vegan/vegetarian before 6:00 p.m., and then a more varied diet at dinner, with meat included, if desired.
There will be some other new changes appearing on December 1:
Now that I have a recumbent bicycle for exercise, I am going to ride 30 minutes/day, in two 15-minutes sessions. The humidity will be dealt with somehow.
I am going to drink eight glasses of water every day.
Both of these will be tracked. When I complete both every day for a month I will reward myself at the end of the month, something a bit more special than a coffee at Starbucks or some such thing.
One other activity beginning December 1 will be to spend at least 30 minutes a day studying/reviewing Japanese, and 10 minutes each day learning another language, maybe Italian or Spanish (again).
I’m posting a day early this week because we’ll be out most of the day tomorrow with my friend and former high school classmate, Becky, and her traveling companion. Becky’s husband, Richard, passed away at the end of August, but as Hawai’i was one of her husband’s favorite destinations, she decided to go ahead and take the all-island cruise they had booked earlier in the year. We have a full day planned tomorrow with shopping, lunch, a rum tasting and lots of visiting. We met with Becky and Richard last March in Arizona, on our way to the Grand Canyon, and I’m happy to have the chance to see her again.
My new exercise bike arrived on schedule last Monday, Brett got it assembled, and then I promptly pulled a muscle in my left leg by overextending it while I rode for the first time. That has almost healed though, and I’ll be back on the bike on Monday (at a different setting!). But, if it’s not one thing it’s another, and I also seem to have somehow developed a case of swimmer’s ear, so will be up to see the doctor this week to get that taken care of. On the other hand, my back is doing great! I rarely experience any pain now, and am pretty much back to doing everything again. Brett is helping more though – there are some activities that we think it’s best that I not do any more, like bending over to do the laundry, and such.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving Day and dinner out at the Hukilau. We had our traditional viewing of The Descendants before we left for dinner and discovered even more geographical weirdness/impossibilities – I guess the filmmakers figured that not enough people from Kaua’i would ever watch the movie that they had to strive for accuracy. Our Thanksgiving meals were amazing – YaYu is still talking about hers! The Hukilau gives you a LOT of food for your money, and we all brought home leftovers.
This afternoon I am:
Reading: I’m still reading It Can’t Happen Here. I can only read a small amount at a time though because it’s too depressing otherwise. Another library book became available, The Wangs vs.the World, by Jade Chang, so I’m reading that as well.
Listening to: Another cool, overcast breezy day here today. It’s quiet outside, just the birds singing, but the washing machine is doing its thing inside so not all that quiet inside.
Watching: Brett and I are still watching The Americans; we’re into Season Three now. Such an intense show! We all watched The Descendents, with George Clooney, before heading out to our Thanksgiving dinner. Love that movie, but boy do they screw up some of the locations on Kaua’i.
Cooking/baking: Tonight leftovers are on the menu, so no cooking today. We brought home food from the Hukilau on Thursday, and also have plenty of King Ranch casserole left over.
Happy I accomplished this past week: I was able to return to the farmers’ market for the first time in weeks this past Wednesday, and enjoyed that again immensely. There wasn’t much on our agenda otherwise, but I got everything done around the house that I had planned, so feel good about that.
Looking forward to next week: Besides our day with Becky tomorrow, there’s nothing on the calendar this week. We have to get one more thing for Meiling, and will take care of that this week, but when it’s done we are finished with our Christmas shopping!
Thinking of good things that happened: We had a very nice week overall even though it’s been rainy and overcast most of the time. I got my hair cut, and Thanksgiving dinner was lovely. We had no food waste, and put $8.28 into the change/$1 bill jar.
Grateful for: Even though Brett and I are very different people with divergent interests and tastes, I’m grateful that we still enjoy each other’s company so much, and agree on the “important things.” After nearly 40 years together, I’m still his best friend, and he’s mine. I love too that he can still surprise me after all this time, always when I think I finally have him completely figured out.
Bonus question: Did you buy anything on Black Friday? I have never bought anything on Black Friday! There is nothing out there at any price that could entice me to get up early, or deal with the crowds. I try to have all my Christmas shopping done (mostly online) by the time Black Friday rolls around. Brett and I are picking up one more thing for the girls when we’re out on Sunday, and then other than picking up one gift card at Safeway, and finishing up our holiday food shopping, we are done and ready for Christmas!