2008/12/26

Le Delizie Gastronomici Della Festa

I hope that Yahoo! Babel Fish translated "Holiday Gastronomic Delights" correctly to Italian for the title of this post. Update: old title "Piaceri Gastronomici Di Festa" amended and improved to the present "le delizie gastronomica della festa" thanks to the multi-talented, multi-lingual, and lovely Olivia.

For the second year in a row, K and I had Christmas Dinner at Wordsworth, our favorite restaurant which specializes in seafood and pasta. They've been in business for eleven years and we hope will be around a lot more. We almost missed it as we had forgotten to make a reservation. K was shy to ask at the last minute, but as we ate lunch there a few days ago, I urged her to inquire anyway. As it happened there was an opening for an early seating (6:30) which suited us fine. As the song goes, "I get too hungry for dinner at eight"...

Anyway, this year I remembered to bring my camera. Although we had a list of what each course would be, we weren't sure what all the terms (Italian food translated into Japanese) meant, so each was a mystery until it arrived. A couple of notes here (Bb and F natural)... I do eat seafood, but not beef, pork or chicken. However, on an occasion such as this, especially with a set menu, I have been known to bend break the rules. Second, the first pictures were taken with the flash, later, as more people arrived, I did not want to disturb the people around us by using the flash. So, the later pictures are darker, colors are a bit off, and K's hands look like they have soot on them. Sorry about that.

The set menu, ordered upon making a reservation, offered a choice of either beef or some kind of "prawn" (K wasn't sure of the translation) for the main course. We opted for the latter and were to be very pleasantly surprised.

Bread was served first along with our drinks. K had "ume juice" made from Japanese plums, and I had ginger ale. The first plate, an "Amusement" was Bagna Calda, pronounced "banya cowda," a hot dip composed of olive oil, garlic and anchovy, along with raw vegetables to be dipped into it. It originated in the hills north of Turin, Italy. Bagna calda means "hot bath." The dip is brought to the table boiling. Vegetables included cabbage, red bell pepper, radishes, taro, onion, and cucumber. A chef came out from the kitchen to take our picture.

(click image to see a larger version)


Next was "Appetizer 1" - Fruit tomatoes with Parma ham and mozzarella cheese. Parma ham is a type of dry-cured ham from the Parma region of Italy. It is uncooked. You can read all about Parma ham here: What is Parma ham?

Parma ham on tomato and mozzarella cheese


Appetizer 2 was Carpaccio with bluefin (mercury alert) tuna. Originally made with thin slices of raw beef, Carpaccio was invented at Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy, and was named for the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio who was noted for his use of red in his paintings. Ours was served with slices of garlic, greens, and thinly sliced hard cheese.

Bluefin Carpaccio


Soup was served next - a Japanese mushroom soup covered with pastry crust.



Then it was time for the main dish. Surprise - not prawns, but baked stuffed Homard lobster. Homard lobster has very large claws and the carapace is less thorny than its cousins. We'd each had Maine lobster tails and lobster thermidore before, but not Homard lobster. The large amount of meat in the claws was surprising and it was the tastiest part as well. It is hard for me to believe, but in the 17th and 18th century,
lobster was so common in the northeastern seaboard of the US, that it was considered "poor people's food" and offered to orphans and widows, and fed to prisoners!



After we had teased the last morsel out of our lobsters and sat back feeling quite satisfied, came a pasta dish - angel hair pasta with cabbage, in a peperoncino and anchovy sauce.



Room for desert? Of course!

How about sweet potato, roasted apple and vanilla ice cream?


We finished off the evening with biscotti, a couple of bites of gateau au chocolat, and coffee.

I wonder what they'll serve next year?

Whatever traditions you follow this time of year, we hope you enjoy them to the fullest and have happy, healthy, safe holidays and new year.

2008/12/16

Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part III

Continued from Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part II Please click on pictures for more detail.

We had an excellent breakfast at Sera Bekkan ryokan at 7 am and then we were off for Miyajima. As we had passes, we took the streetcar to the ferry landing. That was mistake as there were so many stops that it turned into a 65 minute ride. Also, this was the day that our streetcar was involved in a minor traffic mishap, adding even more time. A better move would have been to take a train from Hiroshima station which would have cost a few hundred yen but would have knocked 40 minutes off of the trip.

The ferries take only ten minutes to cross the narrow channel to Miyajima. I don't care for sitting inside and would rather stand by the rail to enjoy the views and fresh air.

Photobucket

Tip of the hat to Martin, by the way, who suggested that I look up the tide tables ahead of time so as to assure a view of the famous Itsukushima Shrine at high tide when it appears to be floating - not just the torii, but the entire shrine. As it happened we were there long enough to see it near both high and low tides, but it's a very good suggestion none the less.

About mid-crossing, a big ShinMaywa US-1A STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) Air Sea Rescue Amphibian flew over. It was the first time I'd seen one. I mentioned it in the post "The 2nd Raid on Pearl Harbor" and wrote about its relationship to the WWII flying boat H8K2 "Emily".

Photobucket

Soon we grew closer to the torii of Itsukushima Shrine.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

It was close to high tide when we arrived. We entered Itsukushima Shrine, which rests atop pilings in a shallow bay. Here you can see the Goju-no-To (five storied pagoda) which was erected in 1407 and stands 29.3 meters high (96 feet).

Photobucket

Photobucket



Next to the pagoda is another shrine - Houkoku-jinja. The building is called "Senjokaku (Hall of One Thousand Mats)" for it's large size. It was built as a Buddhist temple by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th century daimyo who unified Japan. Construction was started in 1587, but it was never completed.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Abroad, Miyajima is perhaps most famous for its shrine. But it is also considered to be one of the three most scenic areas in Japan. Though I had done my homework, I was surprised and delighted to find, in addition to shrines and temples, a jewel of an island with stunning white sand beaches, evergreen covered mountains with streams, unusual rock formations, and sweeping vistas over the Sea of Japan to surrounding islands. The forest is protected from logging and apple and cherry trees offer beautiful displays of color in fall and spring. Graceful deer and monkeys - Japanese macaques that look and act way too much like people I know - inhabit Miyajima. In earlier times, there were wild boar as well. Deer, of course, are sacred in the Shinto religion, being messengers from the gods. [In fact, our town's name, Kashima, translates to "deer island", which is why our football team -soccer for you American readers- is called "The Antlers".]

A picture is worth... so I'll let pictures do more of the talking.

As we walked through Itsukushima-jinja we heard the drone of the cicadas. Then there was another sound. Music. Someone was playing the ancient Japanese double reed instrument called "hichiriki". Under its spell, one is seemingly transported back to another time to experience this place with different eyes and ears.



Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket
A stage for performing Noh musical dramas

Photobucket
Gate at the entrance to Daigan-ji (temple). Daigan-ji used to be in charge of maintaining Itsukushima-jinja.


Photobucket
K is saying a prayer at Kiyomori Shrine. It was Taira no Kiyomori, a 12th century general of the Taira clan, who built Itsukushima-jinja about 1148 CE.

Photobucket
A view overlooking Ituskushima. Note how big Senjokaku (hall of a thousand mats) is, to left of the pagoda.

Photobucket
Riding the first of two ropeways to the top of Misen-san with Hiroshima in the distance on the far right.

Photobucket
The next leg up uses bigger cars.

Photobucket
A container ship threads its way between Miyajima and a small islet. Oyster beds can be seen everywhere one looks.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket
The edge of Hiroshima City is to the left. The large island in the center is called Ninoshima (which is known for the Mt. Fuji like shape on its main peak) and was used for an emergency treatment hospital after the bomb for some 10,000 victims. To the right, out of view, is an officer training camp which some say was a legitimate target. Except it was NOT the target. The bombing was not about military targets, but about destroying a city in order to test a weapon and show the world what the US could do.

Photobucket
A mother macaque nursing her young.

Photobucket
Ah, sailing...


Photobucket

Photobucket
Meanwhile, back down the mountain, something had changed. The tide was out.


Photobucket
The torii was high and dry.


Photobucket
People's hopes were scrawled on the backs of "ema", the wooden slat that represents the ancient times offering by making a donation of a horse to the shrine. High minded wishes might be found there, such as "world peace", or personal cares like "good health" for a family member, or just a crass request to the gods for good grades or money.


Photobucket
A shrine maiden collects "omikuji", paper oracles. If one likes what the oracle says, one takes it home. But if one would like to try for a better result later, it is tied to a tree - or in this case rods - to send back to the gods.

Photobucket
Itsukushima Jinja at low tide - the green areas are not grass, but wakame "seaweed" which is commonly used in miso soup dishes and (dry) in salad.

Photobucket
K (with parasol) waves from the torii at low tide.

Photobucket

Photobucket
A photographer uses pliers to preen his "pet" deer which obediently poses with guests for a photograph when he takes the picture, but will run off if others try to use him for free. The deer seemed to enjoy it.

Photobucket
Looking back at the torii at low tide as we leave Miyajima

Photobucket
A magical place. We hardly scratched the surface. One more destination we must return to some day.

We took the JR train back to the station, so had a much easier and shorter trip on the return. That evening we dined at Guuguu which I had found on the internet ahead of time. Use goolge maps to find it - sort of, it is just one street off Heiwa Dori.

The 30 seat bar/restaurant features excellent food and jazz played from the owner's personal CD collection that includes greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis - and not too loud, so its easy to carry on a conversation. We were taking notes as we ate each wonderful course, prompting the staff to inquire if we were actually from a competitor and just there to check them out. They serve great shrimp, fish, Italian style, and vegetarian dishes. The ice cream desert was wonderful too. I liked the lighting. Lighting was subdued, but each table had a light that shone straight down and highlighted the meal. Here's what we had (we ordered one of each and shared):

Escargot in butter sauce with baguettes. (¥900)
Seafood bouillabaisse (¥1300)
Salmon and avocado salad (¥850)
Garlic scallops salad (850)
Cheese Cake with ice cream(¥450)
Creme Brulee (¥450)
adult beverages

The items came out one at a time and we lingered over each savoring the flavors. We weren't counting calories obviously. The kinds of dishes available will vary with the seasons. It was a wonderful end to a long and fun day.

We highly recommend this spot. You won't be disappointed in either the ambiance or the food, though it was a little hard to find even with the address, as it isn't at street level. I had brought a google map with the info, so after a couple of walks around the block, K called and we found out we were standing just a few doors down. Here's a picture we took the next day to help you find Guuguu in case you decide to check it out. First look it up on google maps, then remember what this pic looks like -

Photobucket

つづく - to be continued here: Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part IV

2008/12/13

Solo's Kindergarten

Back in August, along with my annual bill for community fees on my land in Taveuni Estates, Fiji, I received a letter about a most worthy cause being undertaken by the Rotary Club there - a kindergarten to help the children of the area prepare for school.

Preschool education is not subsidized in Fiji so kids in rural areas like the island of Taveuni have a low rate of preschool attendance. This means a lot of kids are unprepared for the first grade in school and suffer late academic development. Taveuni Estates was built around the local village of Soqulu (pronounced Song-goo-loo), which was once a copra plantation, so there is a Fijian village within the subdivision and many children living there. The Taveuni Rotary Club, the people of Soqulu Village, residents and land owners, and Taveuni Estates Ltd., which manages the subdivision, have come together to make this kindergarten a reality.

Here's the latest report from residents Jeff and Karen Weigel:

"Today the newly painted already furnished Solo’s Kindergarten building is in the final stages of refurbishment – ahead of schedule - to accept its first class in January. A primary teacher and two alternatives have been selected and a first class of fifteen students enrolled.



"The Stephen Noble Kindergarten committee, with the financial help of several residents and full support of Taveuni Estates, has done an outstanding job.

"This is what has been accomplished:

"Thanks to Solomone Bale’s family for leasing Solo’s house to the Kindergarten Committee for 10 years at a nominal fee. Until his passing Solo was a long-term contributor to the success of Taveuni Estates [he built many of the original homes there - PB]. He now has a kindergarten and a pool deck in his name. His house, across the street from Soqulu Village, has now been completely painted and new flooring and a second toilet will soon be installed. Thirty kids showed up to help paint their school (School crossing signs and a crosswalk to be installed shortly).

"Our teacher, Ane Sivo, has completed the Certificate in Early Childhood Education from the University of the South Pacific and has several years teaching experience. Two alternative teachers have applied to the USP Early Childhood Education Course, paid for by the committee.

"Taveuni Rotary Club delivered 7 tables and 30 small chairs.

"Here is your opportunity to help! The kindergarten needs supplies and operating capital. If you will be traveling to Taveuni, bring supplies. Ms. Sivo’s classroom wish list is noted below.

The Wish List -

"Indoor activities:
Large crayons, colored chalk and colored pencils
Van Guard sheets (colored card board or construction paper)
A4 size paper or US letter size paper
powder paint or poster paint
water paints
paint brushes
glue
round nose scissors
plaster dough, play dough or clay
blocks wooden and plastic
library books about numbers and the alphabet
puzzles
toys, cars, trucks, boats, and dolls
musical instruments, bells, whistles
radio cassette
magnetic number and letters

"Outdoor activities:
outdoor games
swings
seesaw
slide
ladder climbing
sand box
water basins

"Teachers' supplies:
inventory book
admission book
registered book
attendance book
log book
teachers work book
big ruler
pencils and pens"

~~~~~
I don't know if readers of this blog are in a position to help, but if you are, please give it your consideration. We in the industrialized world take much for granted that would be a godsend for the kids of Taveuni.

Perhaps you are not headed for Taveuni. If you would like to contribute financially, you can wire donations to Solo's Kindergarten. Please contact Pandabonium by email for the banking details or with your questions about helping out: pandabonium@yahoo.com



Vinaka vaka levu.

2008/12/09

CAVU!

Cavu? you ask. Not some coffee bean grown in Fiji, CAVU is an aviation weather acronym that stands for "ceiling and visibility unlimited" ie no clouds and air that is crystal clear.

Sunday morning we got on the 8 am express bus for Tokyo to go see, for the second time, the exhibit of paintings by Vermeer and other Dutch painters of Delft. The bus was full - we were the last two on - and K was seated directly behind me. Shortly after the bus got on the expressway, as I opened my book to begin reading, she tapped my shoulder and pointed for me to look out the window at something. The air was so clear (all together now: "how clear was it?")... so clear that from our vantage point on the expressway in Itako City, we could clearly see Mt. Fuji!

That's a distance of about 185 kilometers (115 miles)! The sight was stunning. After crossing the broad Tone River it disappeared behind intervening landscape, but several minutes later we saw it again through a valley. It is a valley I've seen many times from the bus, but which is never seen by people in cars because they can't see over the hedge in the center divider. The valley is like many along the route, rice fields between low cedar and bamboo covered hills, but a few kilometers away sits the three storied pagoda of Naritasan Shinshoji temple. So this trip, there was the valley and the pagoda I always enjoy seeing, but with Fuji-san just to it's left. Wow.

Sorry, I didn't have my camera. Besides, on the bus I was looking over a seat and through tinted glass. As we got closer to Tokyo the mountain loomed large and was breathtaking with two thirds of it's flanks covered in snow (more than in the picture below). I am sure the professional photographers were out in force that day and you will see their work in advertisements, travel brochures and calendars for years to come.

A Japan Rail advertising photo.

Coincidentally, in the previous week I had received an email from a reader who is a student in the USA, writing a paper about Japanese culture and Fuji-san, the phenomenon of people climbing it as a pilgrimage, and it's historical connection to the Shinto religion. Part of my reply (other than to refer the person to more knowledgeable folk) was that the mountain's majestic symmetry and dominance of the landscape actually helped to shape the Shinto religion and instill a reverence and indeed worship of the mountain and of nature in general.

Seeing Fuji-san from the bus on Sunday, my words came back to me and I experienced again, personally, that awe which has so deeply influenced and inspired Japanese culture. Not to say that Fuji-san is rarely visible. Not at all. But living as far from it as we do, for us it is a rare treat.

"Boy on Mt. Fuji" by Hokusai Katsushika. As I write, I am looking at a copy of this painting, which hangs above my desk.

2008/12/03

Doggy Surgery

by Momo the Wonder Dog

Well, while Pandabonium finishes writing about their Hiroshima trip, I guess I'll bring you up to date with what I've been doing lately.

As regular readers may recall, I wandered into PandaB and K's lives a few years back. I don't remember much of life before that other than being lost, dirty and hungry. So they didn't know much about me either - how old I am, what kind of medical care I'd had, etc. The doctor had to guess my age by looking at my teeth.

They've been worried about me maybe having puppies some day, but perhaps I was too old for the kind of surgery they do to prevent that without risk of complications. My veterinary doctor had good news this month. There is an alternative to major surgery now. It's a small implant that puts medicine in my body and keeps me from having that "female problem" every 6 months. It lasts up to five years. It just takes a small incision, about 3 cm long on the back of my neck where the implant goes. So yesterday I went in for the procedure.

I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything after 10 pm the night before. I was plenty scared as K drove me to the clinic in the morning. I just laid on the car floor and shivered. The doctor put me under general anesthesia so I wouldn't feel a thing. Next thing I knew, I had a shaved neck painted with some iodine or something on it, and some stitches just below my collar on the back of my neck in the middle of the shaved area. PandaB and K came and got me later in the day after the doc said I was OK to go home. Boy was I glad to see them!

I was really hungry when I got home, but all I could have was water. That kind of upset me and I barked my complaints every fifteen or twenty minutes, but it didn't help. Finally, at 8 pm I was allowed to have dinner. I was starving and could have eaten twice as much as usual. My nice warm bed felt really good though - Pandabonium had cleaned my dog house - and I slept better than I have in a while. In the morning I was still hungry and gobbled down my breakfast. I have to take antibiotics for a week, which PandaB and K mix into my food. I hardly notice it. Next week I'll go have the stitches removed.

Like I said, I was scared yesterday. But today, I felt great. The incision doesn't itch or bother me in any way and I had great walks and enjoyed the nice sunny weather. It's like nothing happened. I'm glad it's over.

Of course, I can't see the shaved area or the incision, so I don't have to feel funny about how I look. I guess it's a good thing I don't have a mirror in my dog house!

the Wonder Dog