Japan Must Eat Wish List

Yeah, I know it’s been just over a year since I last posted. Annnnnnd I have yet to blog about my two months in Europe. Or my New York City trip. Well. Frankly, my dear, IDGAF. Let’s just move on.

One week from tonight, I will be at LAX with two of my dearest friends preparing to board an All Nippon Airway nonstop flight to Japan. This is my first trip to the land of the rising sun, and I’ve been wanting to visit Japan since I was a young weeb (that’s hopeless nerd obsessed with anime and other J-culture). This trip is a good twenty (plus) years in the making and I am so excited, I haven’t even really allowed myself a lot of time to think about it. Now that the final 7 day countdown is here, though, it’s time to get hyped up.

My friend Nexus is the self-designated itinerary builder, taking a huge burden from myself and our other friend, Ty. Our so-simple-a-monkey could do it tasks were simply to give Nexus a list of all of the places/activities we wanted to potentially tackle during our visit. Truth be told, I don’t have a huge “must do/see/visit” list, but rather a “MUST EAT” list. As this is my wheelhouse, I did not share this information with my friends – they know “Eat ALL the things” is generally my ultimate goal. However, I thought I’d share my Japan Must Eat Wish List with you. I realize some of these dishes are a bit out of season, but fuck it, just roll with the punches, OK?

Sofitel - NikujagaNikujaga | 肉じゃが  (credit)

Nikujaga is easily one of my favorite go-to recipes that I cook well at home but want to experience first hand in the land of its origins. A lighter version of Western “pot roast” or “beef stew” this dish literally means “meat and potatoes.”

ChawanmushiChawanmushi | 茶碗蒸し (credit)

Chawanmushi is a savory steamed egg custard. While I will pass on the fish cake variety as pictured above, I would like to suss out one adorned with mushrooms and shrimp. Yum!

Shimofuri Gyu SaroiYakiniku | 焼肉 (credit)

Literally translating as “grilled meat”, yakiniku is the ultimate carnivore indulgence. One of the meals I am most looking forward to sharing with my two friends, I can almost smell the hot charcoal and feel the inevitable meat sweats we’re all going to be suffering from!

OdenOden | おでん (credit)

Although traditionally eaten exclusively during the winter months, I am crossing my fingers I might find some little hole in the wall Showa era eatery that serves exactly this style of Oden: small, individual two slurps portions that can be changed up on every order so as to experience the variety of Oden. I only discovered this smaller version through a Japanese show called Gourmet Samurai, streaming on Netflix.

Hamburger and curry
Hamburger Steak Curry | ハンバーグカレー (credit)

Listen. This little white girl loves herself some Salisbury steak; it is easily one of my favorite dishes ever, and Japan’s “Wafu Burger” and “Hambagu Steak” is no less delicious. Add curry, rice (maybe a sunny side up egg on top? maybe a cheese sauce?) and you have heaven on a plate.

A Portion of the Aburi Sushi Sampler from Minami ($21)
Temari Sushi | 手まり寿司 (credit)

I don’t know what it is about Temari Sushi that makes it more special than regular sushi; maybe it is the novelty of a circular sushi bite, or perhaps it is simply more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. Either way, I want to pop them in my mouth and savor each adorable bite.

Matcha Parfait
Cute Parfait (credit)

Another iconic image of anime is a bunch of girlfriends meeting at their neighborhood cafe after school to indulge in a sweet treat, particularly a parfait. This was often seen in my favorite anime, Sailor Moon, and has made a lasting impression on me. I don’t care that my rose-tinted school girl days are long gone, this is going to happen.

Hiroshima-style modan yaki
Okonomiyaki | お好み焼き (credit)

First, a history lesson: Being a weeb in Los Angeles during the 1990s/early 2000s was pretty sweet due to access to abundant Japanese communities. The apex of weeb-hood at this time was going to a restaurant that served okonomiyaki (or, alternatively, finding a mix and making it at home with your friends). These places are few and far between, with one I only know of for certain in San Francisco (and maybe Gardena, down here in the Greater Los Angeles area). So, what is it? A Japanese savory pancake made of batter with cabbage, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, dried bonito flakes, and dried seaweed. I’ve made this at home, but my goal is to eat Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki (Pictured above) which features yakisoba and and thin slices of pork (which I add anyway to mine). The iconic image of friends sitting at a low table with a teppan (hotplate), making their own okonomiyaki, is very iconic of my generation of weebs and one I wish to fulfill.

スパゲティ明太子
Fusion Pasta (credit)

I’ve been grossly obsessed with mentaiko pasta since, uh, oh I don’t know. Let’s say for 15 years. It isn’t something I can eat but once in a very great while, like annually, due to the sodium content of mentaiko, or roe from Pollock fish. I’m not terribly picky about the kind of roe pasta I want to eat in Japan, but highest on the list is Uni, Ikura, Tarako, and of course, Mentaiko.

Beef Sukiyaki
Sukiyaki | すき焼き (credit)

The ultimate Japanese hotpot dish, there is no particularly special reason I want to experience it other than it is something to be eaten with treasured friends – which is what I intend to do!

Sweet Japanese Angel Crepes
Crepe (credit)

I’m not exactly sure how to explain the difference between a Japanese style crepe and an American style crepe, except that the Japanese style strikes me as more extreme. Crepes have always been a favorite dessert of mine, and I want to take the opportunity to taste how another country approaches this beloved French staple.

ハンバーグ Hamburger steak
Hamburger Steak | ハンバーグ (credit)

Don’t adjust your monitor; you are not seeing double. This is indeed another hamburger dish, the O.G. hambagu dish, if you will, sans rice and curry, opting for a lovely demi-glace sauce. I think this is the closest to a Salisbury steak Japan gets, and I cannot wait to taste it!

Superior Fresh Matsuba Crab & Tajima Beef Kaiseki
Kaiseki | 懐石 (credit)

A traditional multi-course meal, a kaseki is typically offered at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Kaiseki is considered an art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of seasonal food. This style meal is actually going to be realized when we check in to our lovely ryokan at Kinosaki, but it was very high on my Must East list – so it was worth adding!

This is by far and wide not a definitive list; there are many regional dishes I’d like to try, and I leave myself open to discovering new dishes I’d never heard of before to expand my mind, taste-buds and experience.

What are your favorite Japanese dishes? Have you tried any of these? Do you have any recommendations in the Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo city areas?

Shandon Sweets

Shandon Sweets

In the previous two times that I’d visited Cork Ireland, I had never properly meandered around Shandon, a historic hilltop neighborhood of Cork City. This breezy, chilly September day I had been determined to climb the magnificent alleyway staircase and have a proper poke around.

My friend Evin tipped me off to Shandon Sweets, owned and operated by the Linehan family since 1928, where old fashioned boiled candy is made. Those silver circles framing the door aren’t there purely for decoration; they’re awards acknowledging the continued excellence of these simple and popular sweets.

I arrived at Shandon Sweets a bit early; it was still lunch time and the shop was closed. Ireland, like most of Europe, takes lunch time very seriously. I bummed around the neighborhood, snapping a few photos here and there, trying not to look suspicious to the theater company next door as people gathered for what I can only assume was a rehearsal or class. Finally, a vehicle pulled alongside the shop front and a man in his sixties came out and opened the sweet shop.

The man in question was Danny Linehan, whose father established the confectionery shop. He chatted pleasantly with me as he told me all about the business and how the candy is made, even confessing his favorite is honeycomb rather than the boiled candy “drops” he produces. As we chatted, Danny began to set up for another boiled candy batch. You can check out the step by step process at Roger’s blog, Cork Foodie.

Typical of many fathers, Danny began to turn the tables and ask me about myself and my trip, curious as to why and how a rainbow-haired American woman found his shop. He was impressed with my journeys and the amount of time I’d been away from home, and still had yet to go.

Taking comfort in his instinctive paternal concern, I admitted that I was beginning to miss my mother, to which he remarked that my mother must miss me terribly. I said no, she doesn’t miss me in the least. He was quick to correct me, insisting she definitely missed me and doesn’t say so because she wants me to focus on having a good time.

Normally, I’d be irked that someone was correcting me on my life, but there was something about Danny and talking to him about my insecurities that made me feel at ease. So I bought four bags of candy. The strawberry drops are my favorite.

Shandon Sweets

Out of Place

Self-Portrait of a weary traveler in Berlin//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js


There are the moments between “the moments” we share with the rest of the world, and this photo was taken during such a moment. Between all of the smiley “proof of life” “I’m traveling and having a BLAST!” expressions, I chose to take a real photo of how I typically look. I relaxed my face and let it do its thing, ditto with my posture and body. You’ll note my sleeves are rolled up because it was unusually warm that day in Berlin and I foolishly left the apartment in a sweater with only an undershirt and no bra. I am wearing next to no make-up (my lip color has all but worn off) and there are ink stains on my left hand because I was writing in my journal and do not live in left-handed person’s world. I had been nursing a single beer for about ninety minutes at this point. I am tired. I am questioning what I will do with myself after Poland, as I had yet to solidify any plans and did not want to come back to Berlin for more than a rest-laundry-repack day. This day was the first day I finally began to unearth the Berlin that I kept hearing people talk about; the fun, warm and kind of zany Berlin. This is the first time (and maybe the only time) I will speak of my true feelings: being an empath in Berlin was not easy.

Welcome. Mind the step.

I’ve been so far removed from blogging and writing in general lately that I have been struggling to get back to it. Shreve from Honey Rock Dawn has been feeling this way as well and decided to post every day for the next month. Writing for the sake of writing. Or blogging. Whatever. Anyway, I am going to do the same. No finesse. No carefully crafted wordsmithery. Just simple, straight-forward whatever.

I am also over on instagram doing the #fmphotoaday – so I may align both posts to talk about the same topic, especially if I have more than the appropriately sized Instagram description to say on any given topic. Such as today, where the prompt is “A Door.” I know I am pushing it posting this just after 10:30pm but fuck it, I had to see Deadpool and then I had to come home and cook dinner. Then I sat down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey even though i have seen said episode four times. FIGHT ME.

Bridge House - Skibbreen, Cork

For whatever reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to snap a series of photographs depicting interesting doors of Europe. I really didn’t get on it until I was in Ireland, more than half way through my trip. I need to go back to Brugge in particular because I am having MASSIVE regrets not taking a photo of this gorgeous purple door I kept walking by. I will talk about the weirdness that was Brugge another day, though, and stay on task for now.

All through the near three weeks I spent in Ireland, I took photo after photo of doors. As I explained more eloquently on instagram: I am fascinated by residential architecture and how color plays an important part, especially on doors. The entryway to the home is particularly integral to how we, outside strangers, perceive the dwellers within. I don’t know. It read more profoundly on instagram.

It isn’t difficult to figure out why this door stood out to me, with it’s fire engine red door, dainty floral flourish – which almost looks Art Nouveau, with those curves – and all of that greenery going on around it. The green-teal of the building itself, while lovely, does pose such a juxtapose to the violence of the red that I cannot love it completely, but I do appreciate the commitment to polarization.

This door is located picturesque harbor town of Skibbreen, a town in west Cork. It is the front door of Bridge House, a guest lodgings that I am sure sees booming business during the summer and late spring. My friend Fiona, saint that she is, took me all over the central-west Cork area and put up with my bizarre door obsession with grace and patience. Thanks, Fiona. I imagine one day I will have prints made and I will send a print of a door we visited together and she will mutter in a bemused tone, “God love her, she’s crackers.”

Vendange Carmel Wine Themed Boutique Inn

Vendange Sign 2

On our Coastin’ California Road Trip, mom and I were going no further than Carmel. These two days and two nights were the apex of our vacation before we began our way back home. Our first night found us sat Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley (but more on that later), and then our second night took us to Carmel-By-the-Sea at a cozy boutique inn called Vendange Carmel.

Located less than a mile from the renowned artisan village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Vendange Carmel is the first wine themed inn in all of Monterey County. Each room is named after a local winery, giving guests the opportunity to learn more about the premium wines the area has to offer. These partnered wineries design their own rooms in their own creative manner, providing guests with a memorable and fun experience with each stay.

Twisted Roots Room
Twisted Roots Room

See the wines hanging on the wall like an art installation? Enraged that the Twisted Roots tasting room wasn’t open and the key to the wine storeroom wasn’t on the premise of Vendange, Mom said, “To hell with art!” and took six bottles off the wall. I wish I had a snapshot of her hauling these bottles downstairs in her arms. Alas, I was too busy laughing. It’s all good, though; the wines are meant to be purchased. Twisted Roots, I hope you appreciate how brand loyal mom is! The room itself was a touch noisy for my liking (it faces the street), so if you’re after total peace and quiet, ask for a room towards the back of the property. Book Twisted Roots if you’ll be in and out frequently so as not to disrupt the other guests!



Vendange4
Joullian Wines

Owned and operated by the Lee family, Vendange is endearingly referred to as the “baby” of the family. This is more than a mere business venture to them; this is their passion, their very lifeblood. Like any parent swelling with pride for their child, general manager John Lee, son of the owners, told the tale of how his family once owned the property and let it slip from their grasp. Much to their dismay, it had not been treated with the kindness it deserved. Mercifully, however, the property fell back into their waiting arms and after a rebranding and much needed tender loving care, Vendange stands proud and utterly unique in design and theme.

Vendange3//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Outdoor Area

While not a larger property, Vendange Carmel does utilize its space wisely with lush greenery and domiciles of tranquility where guests can commune with one another, a bottle of wine shared between them – bonus points for a fire pit!

Vendange5
Lobby

Beyond the upscale fixtures and the wine, what won my heart over was the human touch – particularly by Mrs. Lee and her ample hospitality in the form of breakfast. Fruit salad, boiled eggs, bagels, cream cheese, a variety of beverages, yogurt, breakfast sandwiches (that’s a sure-fire way to win my heart over), granola, cereal and so much more. Mom and I ate our fill before checking out and hitting the road bound for home.


Flower Drop



Vendange Carmel may not be a big property, nor one dripping with luxurious amenities, but it is blended beautifully with the bountiful and fantastically colorful surrounding nature of Carmel-By-the-Sea. A prefect getaway for snowbirds looking to escape the harsh Eastern winters, book this slice of paradise for your vacation and enjoy off-season perks!

Vendange Carmel
24815 Carpenter St.
Carmel, CA 93923
831.624.6400
www.vendangecarmel.com

California Coasting Road Trip: Day 1

What started with a leisure morning; I was able to download some music on my mp3 player for the road, watch the latest episode of Sailor Moon Crystal, cuddle with Otis…Mom cleaned out the car, got it washed and vacuumed, laundry. We popped into the grocery store for snacks on the road. We went with a mixture of good & bad, with trail mix, water, two kinds of chips and a box of Girl Scout cookies. Yay, Planned Parenthood!

Crisps

And then suddenly it was, HEY LET’S BOOK IT! We were on the road by 11:00am, and once we drove beyond the ridiculous closure of the 210 & 134 on-ramps, it was smooth driving. Due to mudslides on PCH, we took the 101 after the 134 and stayed there.

Mom was chatting me up about politics, world history, theories on which country would be the most likely to attack us (she isn’t into FOX News or a Republican, just a murder mystery enthusiast, I promise), who the potential new world super power might be (I have my eye on you, Canada)…Not precisely the kind of light topics one associates with a relaxing vacation, but road trips allow for such heavy discourse.

Before we hit Santa Barbara proper, we popped by the little village of Summerland in Montecito. The four story barn turned Antiques mart caught our eye and we had to take the opportunity.

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Don’t blink.

It gets better (and by “better” I mean worse.)


Much, much worse.

After our brief (and vaguely traumatic) detour, we wound up at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Driving on the pier made me want to breathe in a paper bag, but thankfully no mega earthquakes happened. I’m not super big on Santa Barbara, to be quite honest. I used to spend weekends there with a friend who was attending Brooks, and that was nice ~ but the last time I visited was in a migraine-inducing unimaginative high-end tourist-focused area. Our lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. was mostly tasty (avoid the shrimp cocktail, splurge for the bigger stuff). Eager to hit the road and find accommodation for the evening, mom and I said goodbye to Santa Barbara and headed north.


My new pelican friend

I got in half a chapter of Storm of Swords before navigational duties pried me away. Unsure where we were going to stay for the night, and mom already determined to test my patience with indecisiveness, we stopped in Solvang with the intention of making inquiries for moderately priced accommodations. Surprisingly enough, the first place we called had one of their cottage rooms left at just the right price. Once we had the keys, I wasted no time getting into my bathing suit and making a beeline for the hot tub. After a quick soak to help the aches and pains, mom and I changed and headed out for the evening.


on the road to Solvang

When my sister Annette and I were here last we stumbled on Royal Oaks tasting room, which is on the same street we’re staying on. I discovered that Cali Love Wine took over that space. The welcoming vibe and unpretentious attitude fell in step with what drew Annette and I to Royal Oaks – and owner Amanda clued me in that Royal Oaks did not leave or close, but relocated around the block. Sweet! Mom was already perusing the Cali Love Wine list, so I knew Royal Oak would have to wait until Sunday.

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For a Saturday night, it was unusually dead and quiet in Solvang – even the owners of Cali Love were surprised. It made for a pleasant evening walk. I got it into my head that I wanted a snack – and to pop into the Solvang Brewing Company because I am determined to bring back a couple of microbrew bottles for my brother and his fiance, who are taking care of my kitties while we’re away. Though the sweet song of soft pretzels with an ale fondue and mustard was calling to me, I caved in to my compulsion for ordering French Onion Soup – even though I knew it could not possibly hold a candle to a local favorite recipe. I was right, but it wasn’t terrible.


Done for the night, mom and I walked back to our cottage hotel room, got into our PJs, and relaxed with some television.

Day one was our long haul for driving in one day. Mom and I managed not to kill each other, although there was quite a bit of hollering and bickering. When it comes to our unique mother / daughter bond, though, that’s just par for the course. Okay, time to turn in. Los Alamos – I will see you on the morrow!

The Great California Coast Road Trip

Pismo Beach - California Central Coast

When the invitation to take a press tour of Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley popped up, I extended the invitation to my mom. Knowing it would take place on a Monday, I asked if she would alright with taking an extended weekend. Her response?

“Scew the weekend; I’m taking the week off! ROAD TRIP!”

Oh, no.

When I was a child, mom took us on all sorts of family road trips. We lived a short distance away from Yosemite National Park (south/east entrance), and often travelled to Whittier to visit relatives. Our big road trip came in 1988 when mom piled grandma and the kids in her 1989 Camry Toyota and drove us across the United States to meet dad at our new residence in south-east Philadelphia.

Road trips took us around our new home in the eastern Pennsylvania region, New Jersey, Delaware and two special road trips to Michigan to visit extended family. Before we moved back to California, mom insisted on driving up the New England states ~ just her, a visiting aunt and myself. We also went to Washington D.C., scrunching in as much of the east coast and mid-Atlantic region as we could before the big move day.

The best cat in the world and his mummy

What a move it was. For three weeks, mom, myself and my cat Mr. Destiny (check out the li’l’ punk-asses to your right) drove across the United States, visiting friends, national parks, inns, mom and pop diners, and trading post. We fell in love with Montana, made eye-contact with a lackadaisical buffalo, walked with dinosaurs in Utah, spied Samson the Elk, and got to know one another better. I was only eleven, and mom was still kind of a stranger to me in that I felt I was really only getting to know the individual beyond the mother role. This adventure could not have happened at a better time, as my parents divorced the following summer and mom and I had to deal with one another full time.

I’m not going to sit here and wax poetic on the joys of the mother/daughter bond. Mom and I would never call one another a “best friend”, and if you’ve known me IRL long enough, chances are pretty high you’ve seen mom and I clash. So it is unsurprising that, when I announced mom and I would be taking a road trip together, my sister did a double-take.

“Wait, who did you say you’re going with?”

“Mom.”

“That’s what I thought; I wasn’t sure I heard right, though.” A pregnant pause. “You don’t think you’re going to kill each other?”

“No! Well. Maybe? Probably not.”

Most of you are perfectly aware I still live at home with my mother, and that our relationship has had many ups and downs. I was always that “sick” kid, the little girl with the severe health problems; my mom was never envied her stress. Stubborn survival runs strong in our family, though, and no matter what obstacle life threw at my mom, she dodged it and kept leveling up. My own tenure in adulthood has been rife with bumps and rocks, mostly because our society is not designed for people living with chronic illness to succeed, but mom has always been there for me. Her ferocity is legendary, and while we will probably never have a 100% smooth and easy going relationship because of personality differences, we have grown to respect and learn from one another; to appreciate one another’s quirks, foibles and be influenced by the other’s hobbies. Now more than ever, after a potentially rough surgery and recovery wherein she was doing just about everything for me, is the ideal time to take a holiday.

pacific coast highway
Pacific Coast Highway | photo: Rian Castillo

From Saturday the 7th until the 12th or 13th, Mom and I will be coasting along Pacific Coast Highway, the ocean to our side and the breeze in our mutually dyed hair. For the most part, she is going to “wing it” – a notion that gives me all sorts of hives, but thankfully I have been rescued by Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo for Sunday night, Monday finds us in Carmel at Holman Ranch, and their reps figure, hey I’m already up there, may as well take a gander at Vendange Inn & Suites on Tuesday. Mom’s goals for Saturday is to head to the Santa Barbara and Solvang region, and our Wednesday return route will find us mostly in Morro Bay. We will be relying on the internet and our instincts to find fabulous mom and pop dining and accommodation, so if you have somewhere to recommend for either, please leave a comment below!

There will be a lot of updating via Twitter, Instagram, Tastemade, and a daily road journal updated here every night if the wi-fi is strong and I’ve not had so much wine I can’t string two words together, so make sure to follow our (mis)adventure! Or, at least place your bets on who is going to kill and weapon of choice.