January 17, 2010

Stuff I've been (cooking and) eating lately

Last night R. and I invited our friends A. and D. over for dinner. R. was working, and I had the day off so I spent the morning and afternoon in the kitchen cooking up dinner. A few weeks back we had some friends over for a Christmas dinner and that went pretty well, so I wanted to try it again. I scaled back the menu a bit, but still it took a lot longer to cook everything up than I expected. I'm a pretty poor cook, so that probably explains it.

Anyway, what was on the menu?

  • Honey Glazed Ham. I liked the ham I made last time, and wanted to try a larger-scale version of it. The problem: when I finally went shopping for hams, I couldn't find one as large as what I would expect to find in the US. The ham I did get, a Rosenheim 750g gift ham was about a third of the size that I would expect of a US ham, and more expensive to boot. Ah well.
  • Buffalo Wings. R. requested this, and it was a good call. I was originally going to buy some ready-made wings, but R. didn't sound too happy about that, so I decided to go from scratch. I dug up a hot sauce recipe and cut up some chicken wings. Also, made the sour cream blue cheese sauce for the wings, and bought celery (never had the time to cut it though.)
  • Mashed Potatoes. Made these from scratch this time, since someone on Flickr chastised me for using frozen mashed potatoes before. It was really easy to make them from scratch (took longer though) and since I often have potatoes laying around I'll be doing this more often. Might try french fries sometime too.
  • Corn. From a can. I love corn.
  • Butter and Soy Sauce Sauteed mushrooms and carrots. I like butter sauteed mushrooms, so threw some carrots in there too.
  • Ambrosia fruit salad.
  • Chocolate chip cookies

Pretty good! Our guests arrived and brought a bottle of champagne, so we had to try that. Actually we swapped that bottle out for one we had in the fridge, and then later moved on to beer. Dinner went well, and I think everyone had a great time. We somehow ended up on Youtube.com watching old Knight Rider and Baywatch videos. Not sure how that happened. Then The Cribs' Cheat on Me with Johnny Marr.

So, dinner was great. Today I'm just relaxing (I feel like I'm coming down with a cold) so I'll take it easy, write some blog posts, and catch up on paying bills and finances, as well as some cleaning and washing I suppose.

What else have I been eating lately? Well, you know I can't miss out when McDonalds Japan introduces a new burger: the Texas Burger. Looks like it is a 650 calorie burger. The picture on their site looks better than the ones I've got, but that isn't surprising. They are doing a whole series on Big American Burgers with Texas up first. It looks like it will be around for about 3 weeks before they move on to the next burger, the Big America New York Burger. Third is California, and finally they have Hawaii. (See the list with pictures here.) The Texas one looks best to me, with Hawaii coming in second. I'm not sure what the differences are on California and New York, so I guess I'll go and translate their descriptions.


テキサスの荒野が目に浮かんでくるような、ワイルドな味わいのテキサスバーガー。スパイシーなバーベキューソースとピリッとした粒マスタードレリッシュの2種類のソースで、ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)を、豪快にお楽しみください。生地を一つ一つ丁寧に手で丸め、色よく焼き上げた特製3段バンズは、弾力のある食感が特徴。サクッと揚げたフライドオニオン、チーズ、旨みたっぷりのベーコンのアクセントがクセになりそうな一品です。

ニューヨークの街角のカフェにある一皿を思わせる、スタイリッシュなニューヨークバーガー。この街が発祥といわれるクラブハウスサンドを本格バーガーに仕立てました。ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)と、アメリカ生まれのモントレージャックチーズ、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、トマト、レタスの洗練されたハーモニー。粒マスタードソースのピリッとした辛味が程よいアクセント。特製グラハム(全粒粉)バンズとの相性も抜群です。

カリフォルニアの自然とそこに降り注ぐ太陽からの恵みを感じさせる、カリフォルニアバーガー。一番のポイントはカリフォルニア産赤ワインを使用した特製ソース。ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)を芳醇な香りと深いコクで引き立てます。トマト、レタス、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、この地が発祥といわれるモントレージャックチーズとの豊かなハーモニーをご堪能ください。粉チーズをトッピングした香ばしい特製バンズも見逃せません。

世界で愛されるハワイの名物料理「ロコモコ」のおいしさをそのままハンバーガーに閉じ込めた、ハワイアンバーガー。深いコクのある特製グレイビーソースが、ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)、ぷりぷりのタマゴ、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、チーズ、レタスを包み込んだ幸せなハーモニー。粉チーズをトッピングした香ばしい特製バンズも見逃せないポイントです。

Texas Burger:

The wild flavor of this Texas Burger will have the wilderness of Texas floating right before your eyes! You can enjoy two different sauces, the spicy BBQ sauce and a refreshing mustard relish along with a huge quarter pound of beef (2.5 times larger than the normal beef patty.) The elasticity of the trio of carefully hand-crafted well cooked buns is the special characteristic of this burger. And you're going to love the crunchy fried onions, cheese, and accents of bacon filled with umami in this burger.

New York Burger:

This stylish New York burger will make you think of a plate from a corner cafe in New York. This burger is based on the club sandwich that is said to have originated from here. It's got a juicy quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with the refined harmony of Monterrey Jack cheese that was originated in America, bacon full of umami, tomatoes and lettuce. It is accented by a spicy mustard sauce. It has an unrivaled compatibility with the specially-made graham (all flour) buns.

California Burger:

This California burger will make you feel the natural blessing of the sunshine that falls down on the state. The main point is the specialty sauce that uses white wine from California. The full quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) is made with a mellow smell and deep flavor. You'll be fulfilled with the luxurious harmony between the tomato, lettuce, bacon with lots of umami, and Monterrey Jack cheese that was developed here. Don't forget the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Hawaiian Burger:

We have locked in the world-famous beloved flavor of Hawaiian Loco Moco in this burger. A thick special gravy sauce is on the large quarter pound patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with a jiggly egg, bacon full of umami, cheese, and lettuce make up this wrapped up harmony. You also can't look past the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Huh, sounds like they are all mostly using the same ingredients. Still, it should be interesting to see what the upcoming hamburgers are like.


January 11, 2010

Lawrence Watt-Evans "With a Single Spell"

A few days ago I started reading Lawrence-Watt Evans' "With a Single Spell". At first, I didn't like it. It took a while to get into the book. I didn't like the protagonist. He was a lazy, entitled, selfish boy. I had a really hard time empathizing with him. I feel like I've worked for where I am. I was never the smartest or strongest in high school, but I was determined, and I studied hard. I didn't get great grades, but I got into the advanced classes, got some college credit, and kept that work ethic up through an (admittedly relatively unknown) undergraduate program, and went on to an ivy league school where I felt like I got a great education at the graduate level. Now I'm somehow in my mid thirties, married, own property, and live in a foreign country. I never once felt like I was doing just enough to get by, and have worked hard, and enjoy that.

So the first two chapters of this book were really hard to me to get into. I almost stopped reading. But I kept at it (not so much out of perseverance as much as a feeling that the first book was so good this was bound to get better. Also, I had to go to the restroom and wanted something to read…)

Anyway, yesterday, and a bit more today (on my day off) I found myself getting more and more into the story. It is a good story. I really like this world of Ethshar which seems to have a well-thought-out magic system and a plausible history and geography. I liked this book in the final acts when it really got into the wizardly magic bits of things. It reminded me of reading through the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Dungeon Master's Guide with all the spells. What could you do with all those spells? How did they work? How would they fail to work? That is some really interesting stuff. I remember as a kid I would spend lots of time thinking about that, and planning out just how my moving castle would work. (I vaguely remember some sort of moving abode spell, can't recall the name now) and stuff like that. This book hits on some of those areas.

I also like the idea about the implications of a single spell and how it can be very useful when well-used. I always thought that the cantrips in AD&D could be more useful than people thought…

Anyway, I did enjoy the second book in the Ethshar series, but definitely the first book grabbed me more. I enjoyed this one enough to go and buy the third book, The Unwilling Warlord (although truth be told, I got it from fictionwise.com instead of Amazon, which just kills me as an Amazon customer. I can't bring myself to purchased a DRM-encumbered version of an ebook when I can get it without DRM.)

So, uh, four stars? Our of ? some stars? I enjoyed it, maybe you will too!


Movie Reviews: Up and Avatar

Grandpa Carl's flying (in the sky) house

A bit before the new year, R. and I went to see the latest Pixar movie, カールじいさんの空飛ぶ家. Simply "Up" in America, and "Grandpa Carl's flying house" in Japanese. I've noticed this trend before in Japanese movie titles, where the title is more expositive than the American title. Like, for example, 2012 might be "The day the world ends: 2012" or something like that. It is a little strange, but certainly makes the general idea of the movie a bit easier to grasp.

I don't see many movies in Japan: it is expensive here. There also just isn't the same culture we have in the US of heading out to the movie theater and showing up ten or fifiteen minutes before the movie starts. Every movie I've seen we have either bought our tickets online, or shown up one to three hours early to get the tickets. It is also expensive. R. and I have been seeing a few more movies recently because with her job at Tokyo Disneyland she gets an employee discount at the Disney-owned Ikspiari themed shopping mall that brings the ticket prices down to about $12 each. So we probably will be seeing more movies there.

I'll try to write a little bit about them here. If you want to keep reading, be aware that there are probably spoilers for Up and Avatar. Click the read more link to keep reading.

read more (1935 words)

January 5, 2010

Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Misenchanted Sword"

Note that I actually purchased the ebook from fictionwise.com. And it was cheap: about $2 when I got it, but now it is back up to $6 it looks like. Huh.

I found this book through Joseph Mallozzi's blog / book club. It sounded interesting, and I liked that the author took the time to answer the questions. The general impression sounded good and it sounded like an interesting book in the fantasy genre that didn't just throw around the same plot and cliches. (It has new cliches and a distinct refusal to accept the common fantasy plot.)

I really enjoyed the book, and found it a refreshing look at a fantasy setting. I really like that the focus of the story was not on saving the world and defeating an overpowering enemy. It focuses on a character and how the character is changed by magic and war. I am always interested in books that take conventions of the genre and do different and new things with them. I'm also interested in good standard treatments though. I am not sure that I could count the number of treatments of Lord of the Rings that I've read.

The story is well written and goes by quickly. The story really focuses on one character more or less but the other people you meet along the way keep things interesting also. I enjoyed the book enough that I went and bought the second book in the series. Apparently this is one of the author's less successful series, so if the second book is also good I think I'll look into tracking down some of his more popular stuff.

Anyway, another book to get if you notice it somewhere!

December 27, 2009

2009 Christmas Dinner at Tateru Yoshino Shiba Park Hotel

Every year, R. and I go to a nice dinner for Christmas. I really look forward to that every year. This year, I wanted to try a Michel Star rated French place in Tokyo. Well, the Tokyo part is because I live here, and the Michelin Star part is because I've never eaten at one of those places before, and I found Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, who is a producer on Stargate Universe (which I like) and coincidentally did a great write-up of amazing food in Tokyo. I was jealous. So for my revenge, I decided to go eat some nice food of my own. If only I had the budget to do this every night for a week or so. But I don't.

So, R. and I went out to Tateru Yoshino at the Shiba Park Hotel. It was probably my favorite of all the Christmas dinners that we've done for the past three years. For comparison, the other two were at the New York Grill, and the COUCAGNO in the Cerulean Tower. They were both very good, but I remember feeling like I would explode after both of those meals. This time, the portions were smaller or I've gotten fatter because I didn't feel like I would explode. We also drank less this time (only one glass of champagne and one bottle of wine) so I wasn't nearly as drunk as the other two times. We had a wine tasting menu at COUCAGNO which was great, but too much to drink.

Of the places that we have eaten, this one was at the lowest elevation, at only the first floor. The other two were forty or fifty floors up. The food was great though. The evening was full of truffes, but I have had so few of them that I can't really evaluate whether they were good or not. The stand-out dish to me was the fish (the Amadai, I don't know what it is in English or French.) It had a great crispy shell and was just marvelously delicious. I also really liked the cabbage dish, and R.'s deer with chocolate. I would have preferred that to my bird, which was also quite nice, but I'm glad we tried a bit of each. The cheese wasn't so great for me, since I am not a big cheese fan, but R. really enjoyed it. The dessert (the real one, with the ice cream and cake-like crunchy object) was also great. Overall it was a really nice dinner. We also split a nice bottle of white wine, which of course I have now forgotten.

I'm not sure what we will do next year - I want to try to get reservations at the Molecular Bar but who knows?


December 26, 2009

Adventures with Flat Everett

Flat Everett is a new friend of ours that arrived in the mail the other day. My cousin (non-flat Everett) had a school project where they make a flat version of themselves, and then mail them off to friends. Then the friends will show the Flat Person around the town they live, and take a few pictures, that sort of thing. Sounds like fun! It is a good reason to spend a bit of time around the town where you live.

One of the things that my wife and I sometimes do is have dinner at a nice sushi restaurant that her family has been going to for many years. They know the head chef there, and he's a really nice guy. The sushi place is about an hour out of Tokyo, so we needed to catch a train. We headed out to Shinjuku station, which is one of the busiest train stations in the world.

From Shinjuku station, we took the strangely named Romance Car out to Sagami Ono. We didn't have enough money to get a separate seat for Flat Everett so he rode (fairly comfortably I think) in the seat-pocket. Once we arrived, Flat Everett met two Japanese women dressed up like Santa. It was just before the Christmas holiday and so there was lots of themed Christmas advertising and trees. People in Japan don't celebrate Christmas like people in America do. Christmas is not a national holiday and people go to school and work on Christmas day. Christmas Eve is a time for couples and couples will often go to a nice dinner and exchange presents. People don't usually give presents or toys to each other on Christmas though. They traditionally have Kentucky Fried Chicken (they do a lot of business on Christmas and Christmas Eve, due mostly to strong marketing campaigns in the 70s and 80s) and a Christmas Cake. I haven't had a Christmas Cake yet, but all the big department stores take pre-orders for Christmas Cakes a few weeks before Christmas.

We walked to the Sushi place (a nice restaurant in the local department store) after doing some shopping, and Flat Everett met the Sushi Chef there. He also made friends with my niece. The dinner was great, and we all went home very full. Unlike Flat Everett, I am starting to turn round. I need to see what Flat Everett does to keep in shape.


The day after Christmas my wife and I had the day off so we decided to go out to one of our favorite places in Tokyo (the 54 story Mori tower's Mori Art Museum) and Flat Everett came along with us. We've gone there a few times in the past year, at least three or four, and there is also a great view from the top of the tower over Tokyo itself. I had also, a few weeks prior, made reservations at the nearby Tateru Yoshino in the Shiba Park Hotel (a French restaurant that received a Michelin Star rating the past few years) in the evening, so we planned to make a day of it.

There is a big Spider sculpture outside of the Mori tower, and Flat Everett got a picture there too. The thing is large, and creepy. At night it is lit up a bit, and is intimidating. It also moves slightly with the wind, and has moved six or so inches in the four or five years since the tower opened. Walking past the spider, we eventually get to the entrance of the Mori Art Museum, and Flat Everett wanted a picture there also. Inside the museum there is a strict policy against taking pictures, so we don't have any pictures there. The exhibit we went to see was the Medicine and Art exhibit, which looked at the study of medicine as art. There were lots of drawings of human anatomy through history, including three drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was a very interesting exhibit.

After the museum, Flat Everett, my wife, and I went up to the City View to get a look at Tokyo at night. One of the most famous sights in Tokyo is Tokyo Tower, a tower built in 1958 modeled after the Eiffel tower. We got a picture or two of Everett in front of the tower from the City View area, and then headed out to dinner. Our dinner was in Shiba park, and to walk there (about two miles) we would need to walk right by Tokyo Tower. So Flat Everett got to take a look at the tower up close. Since it was the day after Christmas, there was still a lot of Christmas decorations up. A lot of people come to Tokyo for Christmas with the girlfriend or boyfriend to just see all the Christmas lights and decorations. Tokyo Tower was no exception, with a big Christmas tree and lights and a little light show on the hour.

Right before we arrived at the hotel, there was an older Temple Gate with some statues in the gate. Flat Everett wanted a picture of that as well, although it didn't really turn out all that well. Flat Everett didn't join us for dinner, but it was really great.

I think we might try to visit a temple before Flat Everett moves on and visits a friend of ours.


December 23, 2009

A Pre-Christmas Dinner

I've been in Japan for a few years now, and I've really enjoyed Osechi Ryouri (the food Japanese people eat at the New Year) but this year, I really wanted to have a traditional American Christmas Dinner.

In our family we usually had Turkey and ham at Christmas. We also usually had corn, peas, sweet beets, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, and ambrosia fruit salad. I'm not sure why, but my family really loves ambrosia fruit salad. It is basically fruit coctail with marshmallows and miracle whip and way too much sugar.

That sounds like a pretty intimidating menu for me, since I'm not much of a cook. I usually make pasta, curry, tuna sandwiches, salad, stuff like that. I have made turkey before, but that is about it. So I pared the menu down a bit and decided on this:

  • Turkey. But I'll cheat: R.'s grandma wants to make turkey for Christmas, so if I buy her one, she'll make the stuffing for mine too. Great!
  • Gravy. Because, you know. Gravy.
  • Honey glazed ham. Doesn't look like it is too tough, and I love honey and ham and sweet stuff and pineapples. I don't see how I can screw this up.
  • Mashed potatoes. You can make those frozen ones easily and they taste great. Also, R. went to IKEA recently and brought back a bag of frozen mashed potatoes. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Corn. I love corn. And it is also easy to make if you have a bag of frozen corn. Which I do. Because I bought it. For tonight.
  • Cookies. I even made a bunch in advance. Chocolate chip (the best), sugar, and gingerbread men.
  • Ambrosia Fruit Salad. Like I said, it is an "our family" kind of food. I did make it a bit less sweet though.
  • Peach and Blueberry pie. Because it looks like it will be delicious and probably I won't mess it up. Because I bought a pre-made graham cracker crust, and frozen peaches and frozen blueberries. And I've got sugar and flour, and really, what else could you need? (Cinammon, and some other spices which I had already for the cookies. nice.)

So I actually started working on the cookies a few days earlier. They turned out amazingly great, if a bit flat. I need to work on that. I love the chocolate chip cookies, but wish they were a bit thicker. I think I can fix that though. Somehow. More flower, or more sutff to leaven the flour. Or who care. They are great! Just jam two of those things together.

In the morning I started on the pie. Why the pie? Figured I could re-heat it when we needed it and keep it in the fridge after it was done. Yep. It was easy enough: drain the fruits, add flour and sugar, mix them all together, throw into the pie crust (pre-made, I know, I am so lazy) and then throw them into the oven. It turned out great looking. (And later: it was great! But probably not really a real pie. But tasty.)

After the pie I started in on the turkey. Add some water, baste in brandy (Suntory style.) Every 15 minutes. And made sure the water doesn't disappear. Not so bad. Two and a half hours of that. But, on the plus side, it turned out great. Also, after the turkey was done, R. made some gravy from the neck and giblets.

After that I started in on the whipped cream for the ambrosia fruit salad. I wasn't able to find any miracle whip in any of the import specialty stores in Tokyo, so I just bought the 48% cream whatever it was. And a whisk. Then took one bowl, filled it with ice, and put a slightly smaller bowl in it. Then I started to whip. Whip it good. And man, that took a while. Like 10 minutes of whipping. Eventually thought the cream thickened up, and it looked good enough that I added some sugar and vanilla. (Side note: holy crap no wonder Americans are fat! I can't believe how much sugar and butter I used in all the cooking I did.) After whipping you just add the marshmallows, drained fruit, and well that is it. Refridgerate. Server later. But not too much later because you know, this is real cream here. (There is no way we will eat all this fruit salad before it turns into some sort of inedible something or other.)

After that was done and while the turkey was still cooking, I started on the glaze for the ham. Basically honey and butter with a bit of molasses (since I had some left over from the gingerbread man cookies and it seemed close enough to the dark corn syrup the recipe called for) heated in a double broiler. I didn't have one of those, so I went with the poor man's double broiler: one pot with water, one pot that is a bit smaller in that pot. Worked well. Enough. Man that sauce was strong. After baking the ham though, you really didn't get too much of the flavor, only a bit, and it was about right.

The mashed potatoes worked out well, and the corn too. Those are pretty easy.

Once the turkey was out, R. came home (oh yeah, I also vaccuumed and cleaned around the place) and started in on the gravy. I popped the ham into the oven and we let that go.

Just about 3 minutes before that was ready, my friends called from the station and were lost, so I went and picked them up. And we had a great dinner. Our friends brought some wine (we went through a bottle of Champagne, and the red and white that our friends brought) which we polished off, and then had dinner. The pie reheated really well, and the cookies went over better than I expected. The ambrosia was, as expected, too sweet. And it was a lot less sweet than what we usually have.

So the food went over well. Cleanup was a bit tougher. R. was passed out on the sofa, but that happens after drinking with a not unsurprising frequency so I didn't worry about that too much. Thankfully we sprung for the dishwasher (which are not very popular here or some reason) and after two loads pretty much I got through all the stuff. But our fridge is stuffed. And I am totally looking foward to the leftovers.

I am really impressed that we pulled this off. We've had two other dinner parties (curry and nabe) but this was by far the most planned. And the one that I had to do the most work for. And I really enjoyed it. Guess this post just comes off as a bit "what I had for dinner plus lots of bragging" and well, that is what it is. But it was good dinner, and I was able to eat better than I expected.


December 22, 2009

Up next on the ebook reader: Lawrence Watt-Evans "The Misenchanted Sword"

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar book series page.

But cheaper at Fictionwise.com. Sadly. Come on Amazon, get some good low-price options going here! I love impulse buying books that can be digitally delivered!

Over at Joseph Maolozzi's blog they did a book-of-the-month club selection of The Misenchanted Sword: A Legend of Ethshar (Legends of Ethshar). I haven't read the book, but it sounds very interesting, and I really enjoyed the interview (although I did do some skimming to avoid spoilers.)

The book is available on Amazon, but over at Fictionwise.com they have a non-DRMed version of the ebook for a mind-blowing $2.80. Wow! That is an impulse buy! So I impulse bought it. Now I have to load the thing up on my ebook reader and start reading. I am currently reading some objective-c programming stuff on there, but some good fantasy is so much more attractive than dry pointers and object oriented stuff. Well, maybe. In either case, "here there be dragons", as the old unix long-beards say.

December 21, 2009

Cooking (Cookies) by the Book

I committed to cooking dinner for my wife and some friends this week. One of the things I want to do is have some traditional Christmas desserts. So I decided to try making some Gingerbread Cookies. I've never really been a huge fan, but they are usually around at our house for Christmas. And if I was going to cook those, I could use it as an excuse to bake some of my favorite cookies: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I also figured I would throw in some sugar cookies because I know those are fairly easy and hard to mess up. First up were the chocolate chip cookies at my place. I have used the oven there to make brownies before, but never cookies. It's a convection oven, so you need to modify the recipe a bit (make the temperature a bit lower, or the time a bit quicker, or both.)

We also don't have many things in the way of utensils. No electric mixer for us. So beating the butter and sugar together took a bit more time and effort than I expected. I did eventually get it though. And the batter eventually started to look like cookie dough. I cooked the first batch a bit longer than I should have, and all the chocolate chip cookies turned out a bit thin (maybe I need to put in more flower or baking soda.) Still, I tried one of the cookies and it tasted great. R. tried one too, and said it was good. (But too sweet was the unspoken, and later spoken, implication.)

In the afternoon we went over to R.'s parents place since her sister and our niece is there for the holidays, and we thought it might be fun to make cookies there with her. At R.'s parent's place they do have a mixer. A drink mixer. A kind of one-handed electric mixer motor. We actually have one at home too, but lost the mixing heads during the move. So I wasn't able to try it at home. Using it here, the thing definitely is not powerful enough to deal with cookie dough well. It got super hot and then bad smelling. I know enough about electronics to know that once things start to smell funny you stop using them. Or soon you will be forced to. So I finished a lot of the mixing by hand.

I hadn't used molasses before. The stuff stinks. I'm amazed at the end at how good the things turned out. Threw some salt and pepper in there too. And lots of other spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, that kind of thing.) After making the dough for the gingerbread cookies, I washed stuff out and started in on the sugar cookie dough. That dough was a lot simpler but took a lot more muscle because there just was not much in the way of liquids in there. One egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

After running four batches or so through the over, R. and her sister started in on the gingerbread men. We eventually got that stuff working and put two batches through and then started to decorate a few. The cookies (sugar, gingerbread, chocolate chip) all turned out great, if a bit thin, and maybe a bit burnt on the edges. We've got a whole bunch of cookies for the Christmas (well, the 23rd, since that is the Emperor's birthday and is an actual day off) dinner. Now I've only got to manage to bake a pie (I'll cheat an use a pre-made crust and pie top) a turkey (I've done that before though, and am getting help on the stuffing) a glazed ham (but super small and I doubt I can mess that up) mashed potatoes (from IKEA! Seriously!) and some peas / corn / carrots. I think it will turn out great.

And if not, I've got loads of cookies.

December 18, 2009

Foreign takes on Akihabara: fight!

Go and read this post over at Colony Drop by Sean, and then read the comments.

I like Akihabara a lot. The first time I went there was back in the 1989 (I believe) when I came to Japan with my dad. I bought a portable CD player (a ridiculously impossible thing at the time) with the money I had been saving. I marveled at the computers in the shops. We had an Apple //e, I was just beginning to do some programming in Basic and Pascal at the time. The color MSX computers on display at the time were amazing. I had never known anything about Japan before my first trip there, and afterwards I was interested.

A few years (well, a decade and a bit) later when I finally moved out here in a professional capacity, and Akihabara has changed. I miss the focus on computers, and the whole area seems like a high commercialized anime marketplace now. I was into anime in high school and college, but it never really stuck with me. I have been reading and translating manga for many years, mostly because that is something I can do at my own pace and it is easy to work in translation in small chunks of free time, so I'm familiar with the culture. But it isn't really anything that I am too interested in. As a professional programmer though, I miss the focus on more unique hardware and DIY computer projects. That still is there - and hey, stop by the Linux cafe next time you are in Akihabara - but that really seems like less of a focus now.

I also am big into Street Fighter, and really enjoyed when SF4 was on play test at the Hey! arcade there.

Anyway, the comment thread is really interesting. I haven't ever met Max Hodges but know of him through the ex-pat blogosphere and like what he writes. I have no idea who this Sean guy is. I've seen Patrick Galbraith in Akihabara before, but I'm not really into the whole moe thing. Doesn't mean I look down on it; I'm just not into it.

But wow, total ex-pat nerdfight.


December 7, 2009

Top Chef: Tuna Sandwich

I've been watching Top Chef season 6 lately. I really enjoy that show. I like eating good food, but I don't know much about good food. I just like to eat it. I also like to eat bad food, which is great because that is the kind of food that I know how to make.

So the other day I was at home, R. was out at work, and I wanted to eat something. I decided to cook. I made a tuna sandwich. I used the toaster oven and it was great. Also, Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Tabasco Sauce is totally great. It makes all sorts of stuff taste better.

November 30, 2009

Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World" and Bich Mihn Nguyen's "Short Girls"

Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World"

I picked up this book a while back, and once I started reading it I had a hard time putting it down. This was my first time reading anything by Nick Harkaway, and I found his writing style to be a bit verbose, but very refreshing.

The setting is interesting; a broken world after a scientific disaster that allows the fantastic to leak into (or completely overrun) the world we are familiar with. The story isn't as much about the fantastic creatures and events, but about how people deal with things, and in particular, the protagonist and his circle of friends. There is also a very interesting comment on society and capitalism and the role of corporations.

Also, ninjas.

I really enjoyed the book, and in a way it reminded me of works by Haruki Murakami (one of my favorite authors) where there is some underlying fantastic element to life. It is much more obvious here, but I felt the same sense of an awakening wonder as I read.

Bich Mihn Nguyen's "Short Girls"

I also recently read "Short Girls" by Bich Mihn Nguyen. I haven't read anything by her before, but was intrigued by the cover (which depicts a ... short girl) and despite the warning not to judge books by their covers, went ahead and picked it up. I enjoyed the book, but it was a bit tough for me. The book centers on a Vietnamese immigrant family, and in particular the first generation daughters, Van and Linny, and their father.

Since I'm in an inter-cultural marriage, the focus on Van and her marriage to a American (of Chinese descent, but many generations out so just a regular American I suppose) was very interesting, and yet difficult for me. I can understand some of the sources of friction in inter-cultural marriages, and that whole aspect of the book led to a lot of introspection.

I enjoyed the book overall, but it isn't on my standard list of "entertainment" (science fiction or fantasy) books, but instead is more of an interesting piece of fiction that goes into a pile for understanding the American experience when you aren't American. Or trying to make your own American experience. I'm interesting in those sorts of stories more now that I'm in living in Japan and trying to come to terms with what that means for me and my family, and wondering about whether we will ever move to the US, and in that capacity deal with issues like these.

The book does deal with adult issues (marriage, adultery) and looking back, was not the happiest thing I've read lately. I still enjoyed the book a lot, and you might want to give it a try if you are interested in America and cultural assimilation / adaptation.

November 20, 2009

Very interesting Stardock Annual Report

I like Stardock a lot. They started out as a windows accessory developer, and then branched out into games. Now they are running an online distribution network for games and other stuff called Impulse. Their president, Brad Wardell, seems like a great guy.

I bought Galactic Civilizations 2 from them and really enjoy it. (Man, I wish I had a Windows machine so I could actually play it, but I don't have any windows machines any more.) I also bought a few other games from them over Impulse, and their weekend impulse sales, where they put really good discounts on games for just a weekend, are really tempting. Too bad I don't have a gaming PC any more. Hopefully I'll address that shortcoming in 2010 or 2011.

You can read their 2009 Annual Report (warning: PDF link) and I highly recommend it. Very interesting. I think it was the first annual report I ever read front to back just because it was interesting.

November 12, 2009

Happy 35th!

Just a quick note (since I have completely been busy with work and more importantly, Fallout 3) that I turn 35 today. It has been 3 years since my 2^5 birthday party in Shibuya (which was lots of fun) and lots has changed since then:

- I got married!
- I bought a house!
- I changed jobs to a job that I truly love!

And gray hairs have started showing up on my head and in my beard.

I am also positive that at 35 years old, my dad was not shooting super mutants and still playing Street Fighter.

Also: Happy Birthday Twin Sister. I beat you to it by a day, but man, where has the time gone? When did we turn 25, much less 35!?!

October 31, 2009

Setting up Postfix to forward mail to gmail and keep a local copy with LDAP

Harder than it sounds. I think due to the setup I currently have (which I have not really changed since 2006) this isn't possible to do without changing my LDAP schema. That sounds like a lot of work, so I think I will just have to set up an alias and ditch the "keep a local copy of Grandma's email" and move to the "manage her password and every once in a while sync changes from her account for backup purposes."

So I hope you didn't reach this blog post hoping for changes to master.cf and LDAP query filters to work with JAMM (which seems to have been abandoned about two or three years back) because you aren't getting that. You are getting a mild rant about something that should be not too hard to do, but with the setup with JAMM (since it keys on the "mail" attribute, which is what I would change to add a second destintation) is a bit tough.

Also, I'm at Grandma's house.

October 10, 2009

Yum! Grandma coffee



Friday night we had dinner at R.'s grandma's house because this weekend is our niece's birthday. She is 2 years old. At dinner, I remembered that I had forgotten to buy more coffee grounds that day, and probably only had enough for only one more day. Well, it isn't a huge problem; I can always go and buy some grounds on Saturday I thought.

It turns out though that R.'s grandfather used to run a little coffee shop after he retired (and before he passed away.) Her grandmother still has a massive bean grinder, industrial-like, sitting on the counter. They bought it in 1974, so it is just as old as I am.

She also drinks coffee, so she ground up a little bag for me. Today is the first morning I get to have Grandma blend coffee.

It was delicious.


September 27, 2009

Home Owners Association and Fire Walking

Today was an interesting day. I started the morning off with a 6km jog by the canal, and then got back in time for toast and coffee. It was very rushed though, because from 10:00am today was our first Homeowner's association meeting. This was the first major meeting of the elected body of representatives in our apartment building to present stuff to the people that live here. There was an initial meeting right after we moved in (and the building opened up) when I suppose people were elected. Actually, they weren't elected as much as drawn randomly from a box, but that is somehow on the egalitarian end of things so good enough.

The meeting was being held across the street in the convenient high school there. It is a pretty nice campus, and was the first time I had ever ventured inside the grounds. There were about 100 people at the meeting (over half the required to make quorum) but our building hasn't yet passed 50% occupancy. The meeting was all in Japanese, and more or less understandable. The main thing was a discussion of the budget and what the monthly maintainence fees are being used for. There wasn't anything super exciting in there, although since it was the first year the building has been in use some of the estimates were not spot-on. Electricity use was the big under-estimated cost. They keep the lights on all the time here, which is very nice, but apparently costs a bit of money. For the meantime they would like to keep the lights on because we want to present a nice image of our building. I'm fine with that. I don't really use the hallways much past 1am or before 6am, but keeping the lights on doesn't hurt me either.

Probably the most controversial thing discussed was a plan to invest a large sum of money for a 10-year period to get interest on it. In about 10 years there is a big expenditure that is required to keep the building up to spec so until that time we might as well try to get some use out of the money. There were lots of questions about the investment vehicle to be used, risk, stuff like that, but in the end it passed.

Ah, also there was one person complaining about signs that were posted saying not to make too much noise. Especially if you have young kids try to keep them quiet late at night and stuff. She complained that you can't really do much about young kids, and those signs feel like attacks on her. I don't think I even noticed the signs, even though there is a good chance they are aimed at me: I drop my bags (loudly!) says my wife when I come home. Huh. Also, she said that the signs for the AED machines need to be translated into Chinese and English so that foreigners could understand them also. I thought that was pretty funny; she said that there are "lots" of foreigners in the building. There are two Americans that I know of (including myself!) and maybe one or two Chinese people.

Anyway, after two hours of meeting, that was over. New representatives were "elected" (their room numbers were pulled out of a bag, and the ones that stood up made the cut) also. Luckily I wasn't in the candidate pool. Whew. I don't have enough spare time as it is.

Shinagawa-dera Fire Walking Festival

The rest of the afternoon we went to the Shinagawa Fire Walking festival: 品川寺大祭 柴灯大護摩 火渡り荒行. Ok, so let's see what that is. Shingawa-dera is pretty clear, as is the big festival. Then there is brushwood fire big buddhist rite of cedar stick burning and finally fire crossing asceticism. Whew, what a mouthfull. Sounds like fun. First up: standard Japanese festival stuff.

We walked down to Aomono Yokocho, near the temple where the main activities are. Those would start at 1:30pm and it was only noon so we had some time. They actually closed off the main street, which is on the historic Tokaido route from Edo to Kyoto. There are actually a bunch of festivals coming up, part of the Shinagawa-juku set of temples I guess. Seems interesting, I need to look into it more when I get some time. There is a lot of stuff that people around me assume that I know, but I don't have the accumulated knowledge that one soaks up from growing up in Japan. So, we have this really old road, which now has kind of been relegated to just a small street in some older falling-out-of-use shopping streets (but the temples along the way get very busy at New Year's) that every once in a while has a nice festival. These festivals really are excuses for block parties, but excuses that are backed up with hundreds of years of precedent and religious justification. Pretty cool.

As part of the festivities they held a parade. As you should do with any parade, make sure priests go first and salt up the road a bit. We used to salt roads back in Jersey in the winter, but I don't think there was any religious justification for it. There were police out, showing their colors, and they had two pretty women who were made police chiefs for a day. Because they are pretty. I think. Maybe having really cute women as your police chiefs would actually incite lawlessness from love-starved youth. Who knows.


There were lots of groups in the parade. The PTA, local associations, etc. One of them was the anti-terror association. I am not convinced that the people that comprise the association are crack anti-terrorism experts, but it is nice to know that we have people looking out to make sure that we are safe. I like their banner anyway. Also, a giant cat, of the delivery variety.


Like all parades, the local high school (or possibly middle, I am not really sure about that) marshals (hah!) a band. So we've got a few pictures of that. I actually really enjoyed the music, and they had some nice trumpets and drums. The girls were really working up a sweat also. There are a few more pictures over at my flickr set for the pictures. There is one picture that is pretty good of two small girls carrying these massive Tubas. Pretty funny.

Otherwise, on the walk we also passed by a fire truck. It was a nice looking truck, and there was a line of kids waiting for a turn to ride in the fire truck ladder basket. Right near that is a nice bridge that had the nice old-style look to it. I know that there is a temple right near the bridge though, R. and I went there last near at the New Year for the Seven Gods of Happiness temple tour.

A little later we saw some of the standard festival dancers go by. We had stopped a bit earlier for some lunch, which consisted of the standard Matsuri food: beer, yakisoba, kara-age, and gyoza. Nice.

So we walked quite a ways down the street sampling all sorts of stuff from the shops. We headed back to get to the temple in time for the main event: ascetic fire walking.


We got to the temple and there were lots of people. They had shops set up, and some women dressed up in a traditional style at the gate entrance. I'm not really sure why though. We pressed on deeper into the temple, but you really need to get there probably an hour or two earlier before we did to actually get a good view. I wasn't really able to see anything, and neither could Risa. Once things started to get going though I played the part of the human tripod, R. got up on my shoulders, and we got a few shots of the action. Sadly, we don't currently have a real camera. I lost my point-and-shoot about half a year ago in Dallas somewhere, and R.'s camera has been sent for repair for the third time. So all these pictures from my camera phone. But still, pretty good for a phone.

The whole time we were there, some great monk chanting was going out over the PA system. They were probably preparing the fire in some way; I really couldn't see well enough to be able to tell. At some point though, the monks started going over the fire. I could catch a few glimpses of that. I think the main point of the thing was for them to carry the cedar planks across the fire, which eventually happened. After a while, they announced that anyone who was interested could also join in and walk across the fire. The number of people who took them up on that offer was pretty impressive. I decided that next year I'll join in too. If I'm going to walk across fire, I at least want to have someone take some good pictures with something other than a camera phone.

Anyway, it was a very interesting festival. There are supposed to be many festivals in this area so maybe I'll be able to catch another one or two in the coming weeks.


September 23, 2009

Dinner at TY Harbor

Last night R. and I went to the TY Harbor Brewery at Tennouzu Isle near Shinagawa. I like that place; it has a nice view on the canal, good food, and they brew their own beer. As a bonus, it is only one station away from where we live.

So we met with two friends, ending up with three couples. Two French men, one American, and three Japanese women. The conversation flipped between three languages, English, French, and Japanese. Fairly confusing. The food was quite good: we got a seafood platter, and a platter of ribs, and some fries. Then we got another platter of ribs because man, those were some good ribs. We also had a nice bottle of wine, and a few glasses of beer.

I did a search on the web for reviews, and some were mixed. I wholly recommend the place. I'm biased though; I eat once a week at the sister restaurant in Shibuya, Beacon. Right now the weather is great and perfect for sitting outside, but since a lot of other people had the same idea the place was busy enough that we were seated inside, which is also nice.

Also, Beacon is running a Monday night BBQ deal where you get a bunch of types of bbq for a very reasonable price. Also recommended.

September 20, 2009

A visit to the family grave

We are currently in a three-day off period in Japan. That means people are busy going to their ancestral homes and whatnot. R.'s family invited me along with them to go to the family grave at the Eko-in temple in Ryokoku.

I've done this a few times now. I thought it would make sense to write down what a family grave visit in Japan entails. First, you have to get there. I drove there, which was a bit of a trick. Because of the holiday, the place was pretty busy and we had trouble getting a parking place. We eventually got into the temple grounds though, and said hello to the head priest. A few months back he did a ceremony for R.'s grandfather and apparently the family knows him well.

You have to fill a bucket with water, and also should pick up some incense and leaves. I am not clear on how you get those things; the other family members always just got them somehow. The leaves or incense might be for sale, I'm not really sure. Then you head out to the grave. I don't know if it is because this is Tokyo, but the graves are all in small concrete plots. They should contain ashes, but I am not really sure about any of that. They are quite close together compared to what I would expect from an American graveyard. Once you find your grave, you take water from the bucket and fill up the central reservoir that is on the grave. Then usually in some pre-determined order (age / seniority of some kind) you splash water from your bucket on the grave. Pull a leaf off of the branch of leaves that you got in advance, and dip both sides in the water reservoir, then place it on the grave. Then you say a prayer for your ancestors. Then the next person does the same thing. I know they explained this to me before, but I am not really sure what the water and leaves represent. I think the water is a simple thing: to cool the spirits down. That grave gets hot in the sunlight. I might be mis-remembering though. I don't know what the leaf represents, but let's say life of some sort. After everyone has had a turn, you are done. Mission complete. It is actually very nice. I like that there is a set ritual for things. I don't know if that is the case in America. Well, you bring flowers, and say a prayer. Maybe it is similar.

Also, we visited the temple interior and said a prayer there also before visiting the grave, but I don't know if that is common.

The temple, Eko-in is in Ryokoku, where they Sumo matches are held. It is an interesting temple, with a few famous people there, and a large monument to past Sumo wrestlers that is still used by modern day sumo wrestlers to pray for power. One of the interesting residents is Nezumi Kouzou, a famous thief. I was told that you are supposed to chip shavings off of his gravestone and put them in your wallet, then you will also become rich. I definitely took them up on that; they have added a stone especially for the shaving bit, because the old tombstone kept disappearing over all the years. So it is nice that they accommodate people like that, both respecting the past and making realistic concessions (also, probably making money.)

There is also a little shrine there for cats, but I didn't really understand the story behind that. Something about a guy who had a fish shop, then got sick. Somehow, the cats brought him money and he was able to recover thanks to that, and really liked cats. But then some neighborhood thug beat up his cat (?) and it died, and he commissioned a grave for cats. Or something like that. You can try to figure it our here if your Japanese is any good.

After visiting the temple, we went to the Mitsukoshi in Shinbashi and had a very nice lunch at the Shark-fin Chinese restaurant. Overall a very nice day.


September 15, 2009

Busy lately, but weather is looking up

I have been pretty busy lately. I haven't had much time for reading, or the blog, or translating, or extra-curricular programming.

I've been getting up at 6am and running most days, and the weather is really great for it now. As long as you avoid the typhoons, it is a bit cool and usually sunny. On the days I don't run, I try to go to the gym at night, since I am cutting my monthly ($130!) gym membership down to a pay $15 each time you go plan. I had been going about twice a month since my friend and gym partner went back to the states, so it seems to make sense.

Except that once I made the decision to kill my membership this month, I've been going twice a week, which is the break-even point. Ugh.

Well, once I make the change I have an economic incentive *not* to go to the gym, which probably isn't a good thing, but at least I should be able to save some money.

Also, next week we have holidays on Monday through Wednesday, and since we don't have any plans we can do what I think is the most exciting thing possible for the vacation: stay home! I love my new (well, it has only been a year) apartment, and there is so much I can do around here (clean up, work on computer stuff at home, read, translate, go jogging, cook, watch tv (american and japanese)) etc. that it just sounds like so much more fun than planning a trip to any of the standard Japanese places that will be absolutely packed on the holiday.

I do think we will try to get out at least to one temple or matsuri or at least Akihabara or something though.

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