Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ellena

Well, it's not fancy or anything and I hope you didn't just ride 10 roller coasters because it's mighty shaky. . .but here is our beloved grocery store that we wish we could pack up and bring home at the end of this adventure!

If you listen very closely at the ice cream part, you can here the AWESOME Ellena theme song that magically plays every time you enter the store.



Hope you get some laughs at least!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

nabe and fondue

First, I know just what you are thinking. Why would you have fondue?

Last night we went over to our friends house to partake in a lovely, and quite delicious meal experience called - Nabe. This is, in fact - very much like fondue, except that you don't dip things in, you take things out. So in a sense, the only thing fondue like is the giant clay pot resting atop fire in middle of the table.

Our hosts had prepared a feast of mushrooms, tofu (Brandon has embraced the tofu, but I am still coming around to the overall idea), chicken, chicken rolled into balls with vegetables, daikon radish, bean sprouts, cabbage, acorn squash, and since it's the new year - mochi. Mochi is basically rice, that has been pounded and turned into something that best resembles cookie dough, and then ends up flat, hard, and looking like pearl-like sugar candies from the Marie Antoinette days. It is a big new year's tradition. When steamed in Nabe it's gooey and delicious. As for it's other forms, well we don't really know about it's other forms so we couldn't respectfully relate.

All of the above awesomeness is thrown into the giant clay pot in which they are slowly cooked with broth. This can be broth of many flavor's, some of which include; miso, beef, curry(our flavor if the night), and "no flavor". Which I assume means - just water that possibly creates a stock of sorts.

Soon everything starts to look like this:

Once we devoured that - out of bowls of course - came the rice. That is correct, we are just getting to the rice. So, you mix the rice with the broth and top it with cheese creating a delicious, creamy, risotto oozing with flavors from left over pieces of mushroom, diakon, and cabbage. Which I don't really need to explain. If creamy risotto doesn't sound good to you then you don't really deserve to be reading this. Dare I say it? You probably shouldn't be our friend.

Just when you think you can't move your body and you have flash backs to your Mom declaring "kids starving in China" comes dessert.

So fondue.

We have never expressed a love of fondue. Although we did go on a fondue date once, back when Brandon was wooing me with his culinary intuitions which would later effect our future. I mostly loved the apple martinis. However, we managed to receive two fondue sets for Christmas (that's right Lindsey, two!). We took this as a major hint - as to what I don't know - but we prepped a tray of fruit and shortbread cookies and arrived with hands - err bags - full of chocolate. Chocolate, good. Fruit, good. Chocolate dipped fruit, GREAT. So, while we don't plan to be cooking any meals fondue style (why would you when you have Nabe?) we did enjoy the overall result. So don't be surprised if we ever show up at your house with all of the necessary items to make our new favorite dessert. Unless you are Laura, in that case we promise to never show up with a chocolate based dessert, but I can't promise we won't bring the fondue set up just for kicks!


*just to be clear: we loved receiving the fondue gifts. there is nothing more amazing then giving us something we have never experienced before. and we know that is why the loved ones that gave them did. thank you. we loved the experience!

Friday, December 25, 2009

christmas day

Here is a summary of how we spent our first Japanese Christmas!
What a great Christmas! The day was full of happy moments as we walked around town. The weather wasn't the greatest but we didn't let it rain on our parade. What's great about Japan is that since they don't really celebrate the same way Americans do, we had plenty of ways to entertain ourselves as we distracted our minds from thoughts of being home with family doing things like singing silent night at church or falling asleep under the tree to The Christmas Story. However, the Japanese seem to have caught into the whole holiday cheer idea, meaning there were families out and about having a great time among the decorations and various fair-like activities creating the "hustle and bustle" feel you often get in the states.
We took some presents to the staff to thank them for working so hard during the holiday time. Little things, like American chocolates, sausages, and jellies. They were novelty, but we thought it was a nice gesture for them. We later met up with Tom and Laura for coffee, which is never just coffee. We managed to find some friends that see the humor in both the simple things in life and the situation of immersing yourself in a new culture, they are always up for a good laugh. We went to the center of town area where they had "snow", which actually turned out to be more of an ice shooting machine into a space about the size of our apartment. After our not so white Christmas experience we stopped by Ron's Burger Shop to visit our friends Koichi and Mia. We brought them different American candies and chocolates and practiced some Japanese as well.
Then, it was time for the main event: KFC. We have been waiting since we first read the holiday portion of our Living Abroad in Japan book, in which it read "Christmas is celebrated simply by eating KFC and strawberry shortcake". So, being the type of people that pick up on funny little things like that, we of course planned our entire Christmas celebration around this fact. Come to find out, the book was right. They had a whole system to control the lines and every fast food restaurant in town had their own version of fried and rotisserie chicken you could pre-order and take home. So, now that we have had that experience we can search for our next one - which if we are in the business of knocking out "things you must do while living in Japan" then tonight will be one more thing to tally. Tonight we are going to our first Karaoke party!! So, here begins day two of the Christmas celebration!

Yes, that is me in the middle of all the kids. Yes, I threw a snowball at a kid. No, I don't think he liked it.

Playing in the "snow".
Coffee with Tom and Laura.


Igloo!! You can't see but it was sitting right next to the Godzilla light sculpture.
Bucket of KFC and necessary additions.
Note: From what we can tell, Christmas is not so much about the religious experience. It seems to be more about the merchandising and giving aspect. Which, since the Japanese are not a very publicly religious society-in general-this is not surprising. I did see March of Dimes and other charities with donation trees all over town, so they do believe in the charity of the season from what we can tell. According to our Japanese friends, it is common to exchange a gift with your loved one, eat a meal of American-like cuisine, and often go right back to work.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

bowling

When my friend Laura told me that bowling was a big deal here, I was slightly skeptical. We met up for dinner and bowling and a classic case of prove Jewell wrong. Not intentionally or anything, but I was proved very wrong.

cool Japanese bowling shoes
When we zoned in after our first game there were trickles of drunk or soon to be drunk 20-somethings, with crazy hair and awesome leather jackets filling up the lanes beside us. Then when we finished the last of our chu-hi's and after our second game there were people waiting for us to leave, because there was quite to line forming in the bowling ally. So, it's true...like Karaoke, bowling is a big deal. Jason and Erica would have been so happy.

Mario themed bowling, too perfect.

Notice the lady mid celebration dance to the right.

postal service high

The postal service experience has been very exciting lately.

It all started with this awesome package from the Heptner's for my birthday:



Then they followed by the Christmas tree and ornaments:



Then, today, we got the mother load of candy (along with a love handle or two) with some essential DVDs from Mom and Dad Willett:



And lastly, just in case you were wondering, we managed to fit a little Christmas cheer into our tiny place in Japan. Here is our Christmas nook:
Did you get out all of your packages in time? Hopefully you will receive lots of love and happiness this holiday season - and maybe a few surprise treats!

ramen

Brandon had his first attempt at Ramen. But, we bought noodles that were possibly one size too thick. Let's just say it came out like the best chicken noodle soup you have ever tasted. Except that it was pork instead of chicken.

noodles with pork, bean sprouts, and cabbage. brandon also made the fried rice.


Just for fun, this was my breakfast today:

grapefruit with honey

holy snow!

You can barely see it, but it was there. This morning as we left for the gym/work we had a very nice surprise!
Happy it snowed for 30 minutes day to everyone!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

travel japan blog

We have an "blog crush" on a certain American family living in Japan whose posts put our little blog to shame. He is a university teacher in Tokyo and his pictures are some of the most amazing images of art; capturing so many details about Japan and it's beauty. His documentation is breath-taking. If you ever have some time on your hands you should scroll through his blog. You wont believe your eyes.

Here are a few shots from Travel Japan to get you excited!


I included this picture because it reminds me of Sasebo, except our bridge is red.
Great inspiration!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ikebana - flower arranging with rules



I accompanied my new friend Laura to an Ikebana class-the Japanese art of flower arranging-today. We had a really good time. The class had a special holiday theme and even though it took place at a place called "America in Sasebo" we were the only Americans in the Coca-Cola covered office. It was pretty great though. The ladies teaching were of course the most sincere people I have ever met. There is a reason why there are Ikebana schools, it is almost a science. Thankfully, due to my college hand drafting and design classes I was able to catch on to placing everything at the correct angles, but the sweet teacher definitely let me know when I was getting a bit too creative and "coloring out side the lines." I really had a great time, and the whole idea is fascinating. It is an art that has been practiced for over 600 years creating harmony between the materials, everything placed in precise technique around the subject piece - which for us was a giant white branch. It is easy to see why gardening is quite the hobby here.

mine is the yellow one. so predictable.

Friday, December 11, 2009

blue cheese

Yow-zah! The head elf at the North Pole is surely the most fantastic event planner of all time. After much organization and lists, and a lot of walking, we have put every last Christmas package in the mail and stamped every last card. Now, whether or not everything makes it to the the tree it belongs underneath-that remains to be seen.

We took the owner of Ron's Sasebo Burger - that place with the crazy line that we finally got to eat at a while back - to Chili's for their first "all-American" eat-a-thon last night. They were as Brandon says, "champion eaters". This little couple consumed appetizers of chicken wings & fried cheese followed by steak, a half rack of ribs, loaded mash potatoes, veggies, and fajitas of shrimp, chicken, & beefu. We ordered a Chocolate Molten Cake-or as his wife says, "Octopus cake" (which makes total sense if you've ever looked at a picture of one), and it was so good they ordered another. They had a really, really good time. His favorite part? The blue cheese dressing. That's right, he put it on everything-the steak, the tortilla, you name it. Nothing else exists in America now to him except for blue cheese dressing. We sent him home with 2 containers and all he could say was, "I'll see you tomorrow morning for my refills!" It was such a great night, so many people have taken us different places and it was great to take someone else and introduce them to something new.




The other greatest moment? Convincing them there was no buffalo in the "buffalo sauce".

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

old man down

The streets of Sasebo are quite scary these days, in a humorous kind of way.

So, I am walking back from base with all of our laundry which I had to combine into two huge bags-because of a lack of yen in my pocket book. I don't mind though, it's about a mile walk each way and with about 15ish extra pounds I burn some crazy extra amount of calories while doing it. Now, if I had to do it every day then I'm not too sure I would feel the same way. Which is a good thing, because when I don't like something I can really complain about it. A lot.

As I said, I was walking back from base through Sake Town-the area of Japanese bars and Pachinko Parlors (which we still have yet to experience). This is a place where people get smashed 24hrs a day. A place where Brandon often has to step over people at 6:30am on his way to work that are passed out on the front steps of the bar that probably had to throw them out. There I am walking and this old man, probably someones grandfather no doubt, reaches out for an imaginary pole and falls to the ground. Then he rolled around a little bit, holding his head and pulling off his sanitation mask(bah!). He was literally right at my feet and I didn't see anyone move to help him-which is how I knew he was drunk- but I mean, he was right next to me. After working in a water park for close to a decade I can't just walk by someone who is on the ground moaning and bleeding from the head, unfortunately I'm branded good citizen for life. One issue...I really don't know enough Japanese to help. So, what do I do. I lean over him, take out my ear phones, and say, "Dijabu desu ka?". Which means, "Are you alright?", or something close to it. (I'm also sure I miss-spelt dijabu, but that's besides the point.) When he came too he seemed a bit weirded out to see a westerner standing over him with giant bags, like I was going to throw him inside and run off with him. His friend appeared out of no where with thank yous and apologies, and bowing. Thankfully meaning I was off the hook.

I threw my ear phones back in and kept walking. 5 feet away I cross paths with a police officer who had been watching the whole time, and I'm positive his story about the American who tried to help the drunk guy will be just as funny.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

curry

yellow curry on rice with snap peas, cabbage, onion, and sweet basil

Sunday, November 29, 2009

the first 3

The first three months have come and gone.

In celebration of this fine moment-that was actually a week ago-here is a list of all the things we have come to love since moving to Japan:
  1. our ramen shop
  2. sleeping on a futon mat
  3. eating everything with chopsticks
  4. the children's school uniforms-especially the hats
  5. curry stew cooked inside donuts
  6. packaging
  7. train rides
  8. brandon's acquired rice addiction
  9. little Japanese men dressing to the 9's to walk around town
  10. tiny plants
  11. Dutch theme parks
  12. taxi's
  13. shochu
  14. learning how to write about our adventures
  15. peanut butter, nutella, and honey
  16. big umbrellas
  17. gin
  18. toilets that make rain forest sounds
  19. getting mail
  20. stairs

Just for kicks, here are some things we don't really like:

  1. stairs
  2. our A/C unit runs on a 3 hour timer
  3. we can't figure out how to use the dryer
  4. we can stand in our bathroom and kitchen at the same time
  5. the weak US dollar
  6. the mean guy at Hotto Motto
  7. laundry
  8. being 6,559 miles from our friends and family

a picture from our first day in Sasebo-and our first meal.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

crock pot thanksgiving



The only thing that wasn't a success about our Thanksgiving was that our family was 6,559 miles away, asleep. We made the most of it though, as promised. The managers came over, with gifts of fruit-I love that in Japan strawberries and fruit tart covered lady finger cakes are hostess gifts. I also love that people actually bring hostest gifts.

We started the day early, searing off the pot roast and drinking eggnog. Two things that should always go hand in hand-hot pans and drinking. Then we watched classic movies like the Royal Tenenbaums while we diced up vegetables on our coffee table and cleaned our 20 sq. feet of our apartment. The smell in the apartment was insane by mid day and Brandon just had to keep "testing" the roast. I got my culinary genius on and thawed out a pecan pie...and let me tell you, it was awesome. Brandon, the guy with actual skills, wins the prize. He pulled together this dish at the last minute, I mean more last minute then these plans already were. The acorn squash I bought on base - first wrong move - was moldy on the inside, not doubt my karma for ignoring the amazing produce at both the street market and our neighborhood grocery store. So, there is this new food that we discovered. It looks like a tomato, but it's orange, it tastes sweet, but has the texture of a pumpkin...and it has the coolest name ever: Kaki. We bought 6 of them, then Brandon peeled and chopped them and finished them by tossing them in a frying pan with butter, salt, and pepper. So, I thought we needed squash for Thanksgiving, but I was wrong. Now, we will be on an endless quest for Kaki for the rest of our lives.

kaki & squash

In the end, things worked out fine, and we were just as full as any other stuff your-self-tired Thanksgiving we've ever had. Just as drunk, and just as happy. Just a different kind of happy because nothing replaces being with our families. Awe, I know...how sappy can this get right?


our little table-and chair- of food.

the plate


our company with Brandon


desserts!

Oh, and in case you were wondering. The second wrong move - was getting up at 3:45 to go wait in line at the base exchange for "black Friday". Three hours in the cold and I didn't even get anything for free...not even coffee. Pretty lame, I say.


threw this in just for a laugh. yes, the only place for our crock pot was on top of the washer.
and then there are dishes, which take over the sink all in every part of the world.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

tomorrow is...

The grey clouds are looming. But not the weather kind...tomorrow is thanksgiving!

We are starting to think that the holidays will be like the slap in the face we knew some people wanted to give us when we told them we were packing up and leaving our perfectly great life for two years. Just kidding, but in all honesty, while excited to be all married and making new memories of our own and stuff, I will be a little more humbled by that fact that I can't devour crescent rolls and my grandma's via mom asparagus casserole-or more importantly who will sneak as many Better Cheddars out of the box as she can with out mom noticing? Brandon will in turn be humbled by the fact that he can't devour his mom's cakes and riced mash potatoes and his dad's shitake mushroom gravy. What will it be like without our family? For goodness sake, what will it be like without a turkey! We have never known a Thanksgiving with out them-the family or the turkey.

But, you will be happy to know we are attempting our first Thanksgiving alone in Japan. It will be accomplished in a crock pot on a two burner stove, with no oven. See the video below if you don't believe it. We bought a chuck roast, and plenty of savory veggies, some rice and there will be mash potatoes and sauteed garlic spinach. Oh, and of course I bought a squash-because it's Thanksgiving and I simply must have a squash. There is also a ready to eat (booooooo) Pecan Pie but, it will do because we got Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The other reason why all of this will do is because we have stock piled massive amounts of gin and red wine. So, in the end, crock pot Thanksgiving is probably the best idea considering the foreseen alcohol consumption.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

"uheeeeeeeeh!?"

Things are getting physical around here. Here is something funny-today when I was crossing the street to walk home, I came face to face with a Japanese girl. Now, this happens quite often. They have been known to try so hard to avoid eye contact with anyone, that while they are giving every bit of effort to avoid you, they walk right into you. Even though you were yourself, trying to avoid the collision, knowing full well, if this nice person would just pick their head up they would see you. Who cares about your eyes, they would at least see you! So, in trying to avoid yet another awkward collision, I could see the process was going to be repeated, just another notch on the collision post. Well, she stops. Looks up at me. Goes "uheeeeeeeh!?"-think Tim Allen from Home Improvement. She abruptly turns around and starts to run away...in her high heel boots and dress-with black tights (I'm serious when I say it's all the rage). Now, I keep walking because I am trying not to draw attention to the fact that I possibly scared some innocent 20something so badly that she had to run away from me. But then, she hops into the passenger seat of a car parked on the side of the road. So here in lies the part that is funny to me. Did she forget something? Well if that was true, she wouldn't have stayed in the car, right? She would have just opened the door and got what she needed and walked back to cross the intersection. Was she in a fight and quickly regretted getting out of the car? Nope, not it...no tears. So, I am shamefully left to believe that she was going to part from her friend and cross the street, but something about running into me scared her so much, that she had to run as fast as she could a block and a half in heeled boots back to the car which she had just left. I used to think us Texans were lame with all of our waving and conversations with strangers about things you should never tell strangers, but at the current moment I miss that. However, I wouldn't be laughing my ass off right now...so it's a toss up I suppose.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Taipei: The Views

I took so many shots of Taipei 101, I loved it. I am a sucker for big buildings. We also had the pleasure of witnessing some great views, thanks to our hosts. So, to conclude these Taipei posts, here are a few last photos. Hope you have enjoyed viewing our trip as much as we enjoyed taking it!




Taipei: The Food

First things first, everything we read about Taipei referred to Stinky Tofu. While we respectfully tried it, and even kinda liked it, there was so much more food that we also fell in love with. Everything was spicy, and we have not had the pleasure of too much food that makes you want to rip your tongue off in quite awhile. Treasure alone was the look on Brandon's face every time a new pork dish was delivered to him. Talk about someones heaven, Brandon's would involve pork, pork, and well, some kind of spicy pork. We both agree though, the most amazing thing that touched our lips were the dumplings. These dumplings were perfect, with a-brace yourself-pork soup center. Here are some of our most memorable dishes, be prepared for your mouth to water.


every part of the duck imaginable-Street Food at the Night Market

Stinky Tofu-Street Food at the Night Market



Brandon's debut as a Travel Food Host...whoomp, whoomp.


Then there were these other amazing things:


Sweet Tofu Pudding with Peanuts, Ginger, & Lotus Seed


Chicken with Red Peppers, Green Onion, & Cashews

Bubble Tea!!


Braised Pork, with Turnip Greens on the inside

Beef with Green Onion & Chinese Eggplant

Did we mention that we went to a German Brewery?!
And, the best dumplings. ever.

Pork Soup Dumpling, Shot over Chicken Soup


We ate 3 Dim Sum Baskets Full!

And that concludes the Taipei Food Section!