2011/12/24

Winter Solstice

The "reason for the season" is of course the Winter Solstice. We've turned the corner from the days getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and hence forth we will get more sunshine (for a time). Celebrations lasting a few weeks help us get through the darkest of times (literally speaking) and different religions find various reasons to celebrate, but basically they do so, I believe, at this time of year to help us all get through the lack of sunlight. For me, vitamin D supplementation and a dose of wide spectrum artificial light each day does the trick.

Photobucket


One celebration we partake in around the Winter Solstice each year is a special dinner at Wordsworth Restaurant. This year it was extra special, as the restaurant was damaged by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, but has survived, as have we. (Life goes on, despite the odds.)



This year's menu included Bagna Calda, Parma ham with mozzarella and tomato in pumpkin sauce, foie gras, seafood salad, soybean soup, baked stuffed Homard lobster, pasta with greens, and for desert, apple compote with cookies and chocolate.

PandaB does not eat foie gras (click here for why) and a very special thing happened this year. The waitress came to our table before we began our meal and asked if I would like a substitute instead of foie gras. They had remembered my preferences! So while they served K the foie gras, they brought me a special dish of baked turban sea snail in olive oil with chopped greens, covered with tiny croutons. It was a delicious alternative and I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of Wordsworth in offering it to me.

Photobucket


After dinner we went down to Kashima Jingu train station to see the light display.

Photobucket

All the best from Pandabonium and K this Winter Solstice season - no matter how you celebrate it - and may 2012 bring us all peace and understanding.

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
in high or middle, or low realms of existence,
small or great, visible or invisible, near or far,
born or to be born.
May all beings be happy.

-A Buddhist Metta

2011/12/13

There Are Rainbows

Our friend Sandra on Maui sent us this photo the other day.

Photobucket


Enjoy some Hawaiian music with the rainbow. Here is George Kahumoku Jr - with "Hawaiian Lullaby"



A hui ho.

2011/12/11

Syzygy



We watched the total lunar eclipse last night. It started at about 22:00 our time and we watched until 23:45 (when we were getting too sleepy to continue). As the moon was nearly directly overhead, we soon tired of straining our necks, so we spread a blanket on our pebble drive and laid on our backs to view it.

Skies were thin clouds broken to scattered at first, but it later cleared. Due to a rain storm that passed recently, the air was very clean and since we're in a relatively rural area, there was not much in the way of light pollution. It was a little chilly out (about 39°F), but we were dressed for it.

It was the most beautiful sight either of us has ever seen in the night sky. Jupiter was out too and with binoculars we could see some of its moons. When a large patch of sky was clear, the stars added to the spectacular show - the moon was in Gemini with the Pleiades (Subaru in Japanese), Taurus with its red giant, Aldebaran, and Orion offering a lot to enjoy with the binoculars. (Nikon 10x50mm 6.5° field of view).

As Martin mentioned to me in an email today, with the moon fully eclipsed, it looked very three dimensional against the backdrop of stars. I think the brightness of a full moon normally makes for too great a contrast for us to see it as a sphere.

I didn't get any pics with moon partly in shadow, as early on I didn't think they would come out at all (I haven't had much luck photographing the moon). Later I decided to give it a go anyway. I took several pictures, but only a couple of them were worth saving - they were ones taken with the camera on a tripod and tripping the shutter with the timer so as not to vibrate the setup. Canon Powershot S3 IS was on full zoom. Not an astronomer's choice of equipment, but good enough pics to jog my memory of this event in the future.


As I walked back to the house to go to bed, I turned to take one last look, and as I did so, a meteor streaked across the sky to the southwest. Perfection.

Until next, sweet sailing.

syzgy: Astronomy . an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet

2011/12/04

Almost As Good As S...ailing

It looked like it would be too windy for us to go sailing today, and besides, after the rain we've had it was a full morning of catching up on laundry, with warmer weather and crystal clear skies.

For lunch, we treated ourselves to Wordsworth Restaurant in neighboring Kamisu City.

I had spaghetti with oysters in a spinach cream sauce, topped with salmon roe.

Photobucket
Oishii.

K went for the pasta soup with seafood. Scallop, clam, oyster, mussel, crab, prawn and squid.

Photobucket
So good. Or so I was told. ;^) K finished the whole thing.


No, we don't usually eat out twice in one week. We'll need to take a break from it, as we're thinking of having the special Xmas dinner at Wordsworth again this year.

2011/12/02

Lunch With The ATM

No, we didn't have lunch with an automatic teller machine...

Kimie had a day off in the middle of the week, so we went to Mito City for a little year end shopping. We got there after noon, so parked at Keisei department store for lunch. The top (9th) floor features several restaurants, and our favorite* one specializes in tofu and yuba.


In addition to western style and Japanese style dining areas, they have a long table - perhaps 20 or more feet - facing the outer glass wall of the building. It is made of one solid wood plank, about three inches thick. The view is to the north and on a clear day, one is treated to the mountains of north Ibaraki and of Tochigi - one being Mt. Nantai in Nikko National Park, some 40 km distant. Closer in, at just two blocks away, is the "ATM" - Art Tower Mito with its 100 meter (328 ft) tall geometric spiral tower made of titanium.

Photobucket

Art Tower Mito has an exhibition hall for contemporary art, a music theater for classical performances, such as those by the Mito Chamber Orchestra (Seiji Ozawa, musical advisor), and a drama theater in which Acting Company Mito and other groups perform. The lobby connecting all three has a German designed pipe organ made with American oak that has 3,283 full stop pipes. It was built by two Japanese craftsmen who studied in Germany and achieved the designation of master organ builder.

Photobucket
Pipes!


The tower itself is, as I mentioned, 100 meters tall. This was done to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mito becoming an official city in 1889. Inside, there is a circular glass elevator which takes visitors to an observation room at the 86 meter level.

Photobucket

The restaurant has a wonderful buffet, but we opted for a teishoku (set lunch), which starts off with a basket of fresh tofu to which one can add sea salt and or shoyu, and a bowl of yuba. Yuba is a favorite of mine, in all its many forms. It is the film skimmed off the top of the vat when tofu is being made. Delicate flavor and silky smooth texture lend it to several uses in Japanese cuisine, especially the dishes of the Buddhist "Shojin Ryori" vegetarian tradition. Shojin means "to pursue enlightenment" and ryori simply means "cooking". So Shojin Ryori is not just vegetarian food, it is a Zen Buddhist practice, and it dates back to the 13th century. But I digress a long way, as we were not eating an entirely vegetarian lunch.

Photobucket

The teishoku tray we ate offered mackerel, tempura, steamed veggies, sashimi, miso soup, rice, pickled veggies and a desert.

After shopping at Keisei, we went down to the Mito train station and picked up a few more items in the shops there. There is a new coffee house at the station - Saza Coffee. The company grows its own beans in the Americas and Africa. They've been around for over forty years (starting out in Hitachinaka, northern Ibaraki. We have been served the company's iced coffee at the yacht harbor, but the Mito shop is new. Anyway, Kimie had wanted to try it last time we were up there, but on that trip, it was getting late in the day and I declined. So I owed her. This trip I just had iced tea (I can't drink coffee in the afternoon or I stay awake at night), while Kimie had her coffee and a slice of cheesecake.

Photobucket
Saza!

It was a nice way to end the day before heading home.

* (Actually, I've never eaten at any of the other restaurants up there, as their focus is on foods I'm not interested in - Chinese, Korean, beef, pork, oysters, etc. ).