Archive for ‘vegan’

November 24, 2013

New York City Mother-Daughter Adventure [Day 1-3]

(A very very very belated post about our trip to New York City. I will be back-dating these posts later.)

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I know I probably haven’t mentioned it to many people, I have wanted to go to New York City for some time now. My favorite story of NYC that my parents tell me is of how they and some friends went to see the Phantom of the Opera when it opened on Broadway. With Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. They went to a super fancy restaurant and took a limousine! That must have been amazing fun.

During my time in Japan, Japanese people would look at me in confusion when I told them that I, as an American in her mid-20’s, had never been to the Big Apple. An American who had never been to New York City? Surely something was wrong with that!

I was due to return to the USA in July, so I began plotting an epic “Welcome Back to America!” trip for myself. At first I thought of doing a road trip and hitting up a bunch of the big-name east coast cities… But who was I kidding? I don’t like road trips. I much prefer to fly.

I thought about going by myself, but… that just didn’t sound like fun. I have traveled by myself before (2 weeks in Thailand/Singapore) and I don’t mind it. Sometimes I actually prefer to explore places by myself, but traveling with a friend is always fun and you’re never lonely. I decided to ask my mom, who managed to get a substitute for a few of her yoga classes that she teaches. We were on! My mom and I have traveled together before and I must say we make fabulous traveling companions.

I bought the tickets in March, so waiting until July was so torturous!

On July 4th, I touched down in Chicago, slept a bit, recovered a bit, and re-packed. Went to a wedding in Indiana, worked at a 4th of July festival for my parents’ restaurant…

Day 1: Monday, July 8th 

We were on our way to New York City on Monday, July 8th at 6:50am. It was my first time flying with JetBlue Airlines, a known budget airline. After reading a few reviews and looking at the prices, I thought to myself, "How bad could it be?" And it wasn’t bad. At all. Not even in the slightest! They gave us legitimate snacks and there was even free cable on the screens. My mom and I distracted ourselves with a HGTV "Love It Or List It" marathon, which helped to pass the time more quickly than I expected.

We touched down around 10am. It was a gorgeous day, the first of many gorgeous days! After a little mix-up with our bags (we had intended to do carry-on only, but the overhead bins had filled up by the time we got on the plane), we got them from the carousel and were off to the trains.

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May 19, 2013

My Life Lately: Spring Edition!

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View from the bus on the way to work…

Another edition of things that have happened lately but haven’t had time to write about yet! This might be quite long.

– I was talking to my supervisor about my successor (the person who will replace me in July) and saying to him, “I hope they aren’t vegetarian…” I say this because I always feel like a burden when they order a special vegetarian meal for me whenever we have work parties. I don’t mean to be a bother. But my supervisor totally surprised me by saying, “It’d be find if they were vegetarian. We know what to do now. We’re used to it.” I was really taken aback, but really happy too.

Here is the veggie spread I got at a recent work party:

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– I was at one of my junior high schools and my one (and only) glass that I had to teach got pushed back to the last period of the day, 6th period. The reason? Well, one of the 8th grade boys had confessed his love to a girl classmate. The girl turned him down, because the other boys/girls in the class had pressured her to say no. Well, naturally the boy got pissed and there was a huge rift in the entire 8th grade. My class was pushed back to make time for a meeting with all the students to resolve this issue. And there is where I roll my eyes and say, “… Teenagers.”

– The other Sunday I went to a local café/coffee shop with Tori and Kimberly. I ordered their grilled vegetable sandwich with french fries, no substitutions. It was vegan as-is. I was shocked. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a great time.

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– My supervisor is really on the ball with things. He’s already reserved my flights home and arranged to be my tax representative (so that I can receive my pension refund after I return home. This is a large chunk of change.) By the way, I am leaving Aomori in the morning on Monday, July 1st. Then I will stay in Tokyo for a few days and leave for the U.S. on July 4th. Going home on July 4th had a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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– I went to watch Tori and Kyle at a snowboarding event last month on Mt. Hakkoda. Although I only lasted out there until lunch, it was fun to watch them (and other people) do awesome tricks. Plus, Tori was wearing her awesome Link (from Legend of Zelda) costume.

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Driving there~

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May 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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May 1, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 1

My spring vacation! Last year I went to Kyoto with Aunt Jan and this year I decided to take a long, 8-day holiday in Tokyo! Needless to say, I had one of the best weeks ever. I’m going to divide the trip into two parts, but these posts will still be pretty long. :)

Friday, April 5th

I was leaving that very day and I hadn’t really packed yet. I had only set a few things aside and had dragged out my carryon-size suitcase from the closet, but that was it.

So… As you can imagine, I was pretty busy after work. I went to the gym, ate dinner, packed, and still had about 45-60 minutes to kill before it was time to head to the bus stop. Even with luggage, it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Willer Express bus stop in front of the Hirosaki Best Western Hotel.

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I was not looking forward to the bus ride down to Tokyo, but it was the cheapest method of transportation. Round trip cost me around 10,000 yen (a little over $100). Compare that to a round trip shinkansen bullet train fare of about $330 or more. Can’t beat the price of the bus, really. And saving money on transportation meant that I could spend more on shopping in Tokyo (for my frugal conscience’s sake).

The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to getting a break from Aomori and seeing my Japanese host family and friends. And of course, warmer weather.

The bus ride was… Well… I’d rather not talk about it. I guess I‘ll call it a necessary evil. I bought a neck pillow, ear plugs, and an eye mask for the journey, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried. I’m just not good with buses.

Saturday, April 6th

We arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule at Shinjuku station. The weather was a little poor and spitting rain a bit. I had my trusty travel hoodie, so it was okay.

I took the Seibu-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku to Nogata, the closest station to my host family’s house. Koenji Station is also close, but Nogata is closer by about 5 minutes. Walking with my luggage, I got too hot along the way and had to peel off my layers. Two sweaters worth! Whew!

My host mom welcomed me with open arms and let me rest for a while. It was so nice to finally see her again after having been away for so long!

We (host mom, brother Shouta, and I) left by car to go to the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where they would be participating in an Awa-Odori event.

Awa-Odori is a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. My friend Zandra actually lives there now. In the neighborhood of Koenji, Awa-odori dance was started in 1956 by migrants from Tokushima prefecture. My host family has been in this “ren” (dance group) for years and years, even when my host mom was a child. She didn’t dance, but played an instrument.

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It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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March 3, 2013

March is here

I’m done teaching for the school year. The next school year begins in April. I won’t see my junior high school 3rd-years anymore, but I will see the others again.

Next week I will be heading to my favorite junior high school to watch my students graduate. The entire graduating class is only 8 students. I’ll put on a suit and participate in pictures like a real teacher. I went last year and it really was a lot of fun. There were a lot of tears, but the kids are also really good at singing so there was good music as well. The whole school is only 29 students, but they always do a good job at putting on a ceremony.

The weather these past few weeks has been absolutely horrible. People right and left have been telling me how this is the worst winter they have seen in their entire life. Actually, my supervisor told me that we have received TWICE the amount of snowfall than usual. Last week I had two school visits where it was nearly impossible to get to school. One time I needed to ride the train into the next town, but the trains were stopped and the buses were late. I waited an hour outside in a blizzard for a bus that never came. I ended up taking the train-substitute-bus (sponsored by the railway company) and missed my first class. And then the second time I waited an hour outside… It wasn’t snowing, but the snow clearing crews just couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. The roads were too narrow for the buses. Finally my supervisor came to rescue me in his car.

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This definitely did not happen last winter… This winter is a doozy. Gee, how did I get to be so lucky? I am proud of myself, however, for getting through February without any major depressive episodes. Last year I would get home from work and glue myself to my couch most of the time, but this year I have been able to get myself to the gym regularly. Four or five times a week, actually. Plus, I have been doing yoga with my mom twice a week and that helps a great deal as well. Like the title says: March is here! Wednesday and Thursday were sunny and it did not snow. I hope we can have more weather like that.

Okay, so just to show you that I am not kidding with the whole winter and snow thing… Go to this page on BBC and watch this video about Aomori:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21625702

And a few random thoughts:

1. I’ve been wondering lately… Why do Japanese people talk to themselves so much? Or is it that Americans talk to themselves just as much and I’ve never noticed? Japanese people seem to have an entire repertoire of sounds and things that they mumble to themselves. Sometimes my co-workers mumble to themselves during work. Most of the time, it is in the gym that I hear the most self-talk. They walk into the locker room and make these “Shhhhhh”, “Oooshhhh” sounds… or mumble to themselves. It’s quite curious.

2. If you ever want to shock or surprise a Japanese person, pull out a raw carrot (peeled or unpeeled) and start eating it like Bugs Bunny. Carrot sticks, the ubiquitous American snack, also work too. Many Japanese people I’ve met (my students and co-workers) can’t fathom the idea of just eating a raw carrot. I get reactions and exclamations of, “I’ve never eaten a raw carrot before!” and “…Is it good?” My students will stare at me with googly eyes when they see me eating my carrot sticks with my lunch. It’s really amusing.

Biting into a whole, raw, unpeeled apple will also produce the same effect. When I first arrived, my co-workers were quite surprised by my apple-eating. Tori told me that her co-workers call her “wild” for eating apples like that. Here in Japan, they peel all of their fruit. I got a free calendar from the school lunch company last year featuring important Aomori food products. One of the months was the apple and there was a little blurb written about how apples are good for you. The blurb talked about how you should just rinse off apples well and eat the entire thing, peels too! What a novel idea!

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February 6, 2013

January Gone

– Where did January go? I’m actually not too sad to see it go, because I am still waiting on graduate school admission results. Those will come at the end of February or beginning of March, so I hope February is a short month. I mean, February is already short because of the number of days, but I hope it feels short as well.

– It was hard to get back in the "swing of things" after coming back from Italy. I do seem to have a hard time with transitions. It was cold, there was snow everywhere, my house was messy, and I had a weird lingering jet lag that caused me to not get sleepy until after midnight and then struggle to wake up in the morning. I usually *always* wake up before my alarm.

– I was back to normal after a couple weeks and started back up with yoga with my mom on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6am. It’s been really good for me emotionally and physically. She has been teaching me via Skype and it has been wonderful. I finally feel like I am making some progress and getting pretty good at a few things. I hope I can make this a regular thing for me. I just have to remember to go to bed early the night before.

– I went skiing in Owani with my co-workers again this year for our annual “ski school” that my office puts on for district teachers.

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It is for teachers to learn how to ski, the techniques of skiing, and how to teach skiing to kids (I think). It wasn’t as fun as last year because I was miserably cold and skied alone for a bunch of the time.

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The “Holizon”

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January 31, 2013

Conclusion: Firenze to Rome to Milan to Tokyo to Hirosaki

Our trip destinations sound kind of like a Pitbull song, don’t they? (American pop culture reference!) We were just hopping everywhere to all these famous places… A whirlwind of international adventure. I felt like a real jet-setter.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Firenze before we checked out. We had lucked out and found a super cheap train from Firenze to Rome at 19.45 euros apiece. It took 3 hours instead of 1.5, but was 25 euros cheaper. We decided to save the money and take the cheap train, which turned out to be an awesome idea.

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Excited to go back to Rome! And save money!

The slow train went through some amazing scenic places. I saw a glimpse of the beauty of Tuscany—rolling hills, lakes, wine grape fields, farms, a few castles on hills… It was so fun to watch how the scenery changed from northern to southern Italy. We were also very lucky to have gotten on the train at the first station, because as the train went on, there were no seats left. People were standing by the time we got to Rome Termini.

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January 25, 2013

Italy Day 6, 7: Firenze for a Day… Or Two

Friday, December 28th

We caught the high-speed train at 8-something that morning. I was glad were were not staying in that Venice hostel another night. It had been the most expensive and the least comfortable. We weren’t on the train long and arrived in Firenze around 10-something. (Note: I am going to use the Italian name “Firenze” instead of “Florence” because Firenze sounds much cooler than Florence.)

The hostel, Archi Rossi, was easy to find and the staff were very nice. They even had a Korean on staff (apparently the place was famous in Korean and among Koreans, which we would realize later). It was actually the first day they were open after the December holidays, so I considered us lucky that we got beds there. A great find, really. They let us check in early and we were the first ones in our 8-bed dormitory room. It didn’t take us long to put our stuff away and venture out in search of breakfast/lunch. There didn’t seem to be any grocery stores nearby, so we gave up and decided to wait for a certain restaurant to open.

We found a Jewish synagogue while waiting. It was a nice departure from all of the Catholic churches.

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At 12:10pm, the restaurant opened! I had been getting nervous that it was really just closed for the day, but then we saw lights on and signs of life, so it was okay!

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Kimberly obliged me as we decided to eat at Dolce Vegan, a vegan restaurant that was pretty well-known in Italy. I was dying to eat there. The service and rules of the restaurant (order at the counter, pick up your food from the counter when called, bus your own table…) took getting used to. The woman working there (maybe she was the owner) spoke Italian to us and the menu was entirely in Italian as well. We muddled through ordering and enjoyed some delicious food. And actually, my limited knowledge of Spanish helped with reading the menu. It was our first meal of the day and we were really hungry.

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That up there is my falafel, veggies and hummus.

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And this is Kimberly’s olive gnocchi pasta.

After we were no longer starving, we started to explore.

Walking around Firenze, my first impression was that it was a lot cleaner than Rome. It felt more like living art. Or like, walking around in art. It was hard not to be enchanted by the city.

…Love at first sight?

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January 22, 2013

Italy Day 4, 5: Colosseum, St. Peter’s, and Getting Lost in Venice

Italy Day 4
Wednesday, December 26th: The Colosseum and St. Peter’s Cathedral

On the 26th of December, the day after Christmas, we decided to forgo a day trip to Naples and stay in Rome. We had heard that the Colosseum was open on the 26th, as was St. Peter’s Cathedral. We both really wanted to get to those, so it seemed like a good idea just to stay put.

We finally got to have breakfast at the Beehive Café. I had an omelet for the first time in years, plus one slice of gluten-free bread and one slice of regular homemade bread. Actual real wheat bread. It was delicious.

A bit of background: I have been following a gluten-free diet since 2009 when my stomach and digestive system decided to completely rebel against me. Maybe it was the stress of graduating and trying to find a job, I don’t know. I had seen a gastroenterologist and had an endoscopy to check for celiac disease. I, thankfully, did not have the disease, but the blood test revealed that I might be sensitive to gluten/wheat. So I eliminated it from my diet and… I began to feel better! Less stomach distress, less pain, more energy, a lot of things. I decided to stick with it.

But lately I have eaten certain gluten-y things without pain/distress, so I don’t know what is going on. I decided to be less restrictive in my gluten-free-ness and try to eat bread in Italy. After all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! How could I not eat Italian bread and pasta?

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After breakfast, we were on our way to the Colosseum! I had done some research on the internet about this and lines for tickets to get into the Colosseum tended to also be ridiculous. However!! I got an awesome tip from Reddit that said to go to the Palatine Hill entrance first because you can get a ticket for all three (Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman Forum) and wait in a significantly shorter line. It was absolutely true—we were about 5th in line and were inside the Palatine Hill ruins in minutes!

I love ruins.

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The above used to be a fountain, with a pattern of four crescent-shaped shields a used by Amazons separated by semi-circle channels.

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Italy was full of these trees. They were awesome. They reminded me of skinny broccoli.

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Panoramaaaaaaaaaa!

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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