Saturday, November 15, 2014

Iced Pumpkin Cookies

Each season brings a few special treats to our kitchen. In November that treat is a big batch of Iced Pumpkin Cookies.   

These cookies are cakey and fallish, and perfect with a big cup of hot coffee. For the frosting I generally use a combination of rum, orange juice, and cream, giving them a nice complexity of flavor. I also add a generous portion of pumpkin pie spice to give the cookies more pop. The nuts and raisins keep the texture interesting. It's hard to believe, but these cookies have been a seasonal staple in our house for over a decade!

Friday, November 14, 2014


My neighbors put up their Christmas tree this past weekend. I went into Target this week and was hit with reindeer decorations. I dropped into a Starbucks on Wednesday afternoon and my eyes were assaulted with glittery green and red and huge ads for holiday drinks. It's November. Stop it.

A week ago I read a great Jezebel article, "Christmas Must Be Stopped. Let's Declare War on Christmas." I couldn't agree more. November is a time for enjoying the end of autumn, for watching the last leaves fall from the trees, for celebrating Thanksgiving. I'm not a big fan of Christmas (it's my least favorite holiday), but I can tolerate, and maybe even enjoy some of it when it is kept to it's December place. When it starts intruding on Thanksgiving, and even Halloween (!), I flip out. The only place for this consumerist glut is *after* Thanksgiving. Not the evening of, not at 4 a.m. the next morning, but *after*. I think it is completely disgusting that corporations are pushing Black Friday back onto Thanksgiving day, and I have little patience for people that participate in such capitalist bloat. Don't do it, people. Don't force low-wage employees to work on the only American holiday that actually celebrates family and thanks. Don't be that ugly person running to a big fluorescent box store to buy some plastic crap that you don't need anyway. Keep your integrity. Have some respect for yourself. Shop later at retailers that stay closed on Thanksgiving (here is a list of 20 such retailers), or shop local.

For now, I'm enjoying pumpkin cookies and leaf gazing, hot spiced apple cider and squash pastas, kale dishes and things spiced with the last herbs from our garden. Be here now. Live in the season you're in. Christmas will have it's time, but let's all agree to wait until that time is right.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Royals Blue October

This is a few weeks overdue, but I need to write a tribute to this years KC Royals team.

While I enjoy sports, I'm not a huge sports person. We usually go to a game or two per season; in a year we'll hit up baseball, and maybe college basketball. I'd like to go to an NFL game (Lambeau Field is on my life list), and for a few years we've tossed around attending a major league soccer game, but have never acted. While I enjoy the camaraderie of sporting events, the prices are generally too high (I'm looking at you Chicago Cubs), and we haven't lived in a city with many winning sports teams, with Jayhawk basketball being an exception.

Having said all that, I love going to Royals games. The cost is low- generally $15 a ticket for the seats we get, they have good Boulevard Beer, and there are decent food options like veggie hot dogs. The K is a great place to watch a game, and it's close to our house. We went to one game this year, back in August, and really enjoyed ourselves.

Then came October. And that wild card game. And all the rest.

It was so amazing to see Kansas City come alive with joy as the Royals marched towards the World Series. T-shirt vendors popped up on street corners. Cars had blue flags flying from the windows. Our neighborhood had fireworks going off at the end of every game, and people just seemed to be happier. Little dude's Japanese school took a group photo and sent it to Aoki, the Japanese player on the team. Everyone wore blue for weeks. The games we watched at the local bars were filled with smiles and high fives. We watched most of the playoff games- I even watched some while on a work trip to Texas. Although we didn't win the Series, it was still really fun to see KC light up, to see friends post pictures from playoff games, and to see all the fountains and buildings drenched in blue. While I know that many of the players will be off to new places next year, I still look forward to going to the first game of the season, and to seeing how we do next year. It was a great October.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ginger pear smoothie

Surely there is a good Halloween name for this concoction. Witches brew? Frog's breath smoothie? It's yummy no matter the name.

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything, but this smoothie was too good to not share. I've been on a breakfast smoothie kick lately, but this one was a lunchtime concoction created out of a desire to liquify a pear. So here it goes- ginger pear smoothie.

One cup spinach
One cup kale
One cup milk

Blend. Add:

One banana
One pear
One tablespoon honey
Half scoop vanilla protein powder
Half teaspoon ginger
Half teaspoon cinamon




The spices lend it a fallish kick, as does the pear. Coming in at around 400 calories with about 22 grams of protein, this makes a great lunch. I might try fresh ginger next time, or just more ginger generally. Definitely a new one for the rotation.   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rockhaven camp trip

 Last weekend brought fantastic weather to the area, and so we decided to take an impromptu Saturday night camp trip out to Clinton Lake State Park in Kansas, specifically the Rockhaven area. So often, when we talk about camping with friends, they express how they find it difficult or unpleasant. I'm pretty convinced that this comes from not having the right gear, or not knowing how to camp with ease. When I observe other people's sagging tents or a layout of snacks on the picnic table, I see a damp tent interior (dew will soak the interior of your tent if the two layers aren't tight and separated, easily done with proper set up) and a bunch of racoons and mice (keep food sealed up and in a container). A few easy fixes- like putting away chairs beneath the picnic table at night to keep them dry, using a self-inflatable mattress to prevent sleeping on rocks, and ventilating your tent will make camping much more enjoyable. Learning how to build a proper fire (without the cardinal sin of lighter fluid) and bringing along proper dish-cleaning materials will also bring amazing rewards.

We really enjoyed our time in the woods, and even had a visit from friends who live in Lawrence and brought their kiddos out for a campfire dinner and smores. We took a short mile-long hike through the woods in the late afternoon, and had a lovely time relaxing with coffee and pancakes in the morning. There really is nothing like fresh air and time outdoors to recharge the soul.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

September First Friday

Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy

September's First Friday was my first since being back, and it was a good one.

The two highlights of the evening were Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy and the various shows at the Belger, including Wordplay, Shae Bishop and Emily Duke, and William Christenberry (open since February, about to close). 

Hung Liu's work was powerful and visually striking- especially her multi-layered paintings which use glass to create three dimensionality and a recession of space (above). I also enjoyed her use of gender, class, and history- the juxtaposition of historic signs of Chinese culture with the varied figures found in society created an interesting statement on the turmoil of the twentieth century and the interplay of the many faces found within said society.
Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy 
Joe on a lovely KC evening
The Belger Wordplay exhibition included a fantastic variety of art, all organized around the theme of text and image, much of which had interesting political content.

Wordplay at the Belger 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Bean Chili

The first chilly autumn days have arrived!

Fall is my favorite time of year- I love the cool weather, changing leaves, football, and sweaters. I also love transitioning into fall foods. Yesterday was the perfect day for a slow cooker pot of chili- I soaked black and kidney beans overnight and tossed them into the slow cooker with a bay leaf and a bunch of water in the morning. Canned beans truly have nothing on dried- the flavor and texture is so much better, and the amount of effort that dried beans take is minimal. Bonus- it's better for the environment (less shipping weight and packaging), and better for your health (no BPA lined cans, etc.). At lunchtime I sauteed an onion and some garlic and drained the beans, then put the beans back into the slow cooker with the onion, garlic, two cans of crushed tomatoes, a bit of water, and a liberal amount of cumin, chili powder, cayenne, basil, and oregano. Total preparation time- less than 10 minutes. By the end of the day the house smelled fantastic, and I threw together a quick batch of cornbread around 5:30 pm. I love trying new chili recipes, but this is my own stand by favorite. The best part was the huge hug I got from little dude, who proclaimed chili his favorite and thanked me for cooking "such yummy food." The greatest!

Friday, September 05, 2014


Thursday here was a day different than most- I had to commute a long distance.

This post could easily be a complaint or rant about the experience- I went through atrocious construction and traffic, and encountered any number of terrible drivers, people texting, etc., but I'd rather reflect on why so many Americans hold to this way of life when there are so many better models out there. 

We live in the city. This is a choice that allows both Joe and I really short commute times and distances. On any given day neither of us drives more than 20 minutes one way- and this is significantly longer now that his job has moved locations. This also gives us public transportation options, and allows us to walk to a variety of local businesses (the gym, coffee shops, a variety of restaurants, CVS, Walgreens, etc. are within a few blocks of our house). Honestly, I can't imagine living in a place where driving is required, and I don't understand why people make the choice to live in such places (I know many low-income people don't have a choice, that is a separate issue). After spending time doing a "normal" American commute yesterday I came home both physically and mentally tired, irritable, and significantly poorer, as I spent so much on gas. The physical and mental exhaustion was what really shocked me.

This is not how people in other countries live. There are amazing public transport systems in Europe and Japan, and we could do this as a nation if we so desired. Yet, for some reason people cling to their cars. A car culture is wasteful, bad for the environment, bad for your health, expensive, and inconvenient. It promotes no sense of community. It makes social mobility increasingly difficult. I had to run an errand in the suburbs yesterday- it was a nightmare. When I had to run errands or do some shopping while living in Japan, it was much easier, more convenient, and more relaxed. People can sleep, text, play games, read a book, stand up, and do all manner of pleasant things while riding a train.  There simply is no benefit to the people from a car culture, yet our pervasive give-everything-to-corporations way of governing gives huge benefits to oil companies at the detriment of a true public transportation system. Most of my Japanese and European friends still own a car (one for the family), and use it for family outings to the country, or to haul large items, etc. The difference is that the car is not required or necessary. So, why do we allow ourselves to be martyrs to oil companies, forced into the inconvenience of car-centric communities when we could be living healthier, better lives? Why do Americans convince themselves that they like their cars to much? Surely we are smarter than the car-maker and oil company propaganda. Surely we can see beyond our current predicament to a better way. There is some hope in the generations under age 30, who repeatedly report that they don't care about cars and who are moving back into the urban core at high rates. Hopefully that means that we can look forward to a more urban, convenient future, free of cars and strip malls, and full of trains and walkability.

PS- Kansas City is starting to invest in the future with the current streetcar project, something that I'm very excited about. There is a good deal of outside money fighting the project (!), but I'm hopeful that we can expand the routes, and I know that this will be a great addition to the city.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A new semester

Somehow, the busyness at the start of the new semester always takes me by surprise. There are syllabi to plan, readings to get organized, appointments and field trips to set, and people to catch up with. Having been overseas for a year, I think that it really took me by surprise this year. Plus, it's only been about three weeks that I've been back in the U.S., so I'm still trying to settle in to life and do things like find certain pairs of shoes or find the time to go purchase a new work bag (ah, the things that were tossed in the great luggage purge). After a week back, everything is starting to settle into a routine- I know the quirks of all the projectors in my classrooms, I've got that copy machine code down, and I'm even starting to learn some of my students names. It's hard to believe that summer is just about done, but I'm very much looking forward to my favorite season and all the joys of autumn.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Glazed lemon pound cake

In coming back to the U.S., one of the things that I was most excited to return to was baking. This week I made my first concoction in quite a while- a glazed lemon pound cake from my favorite Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. The cake was dense and moist, and the lemon flavor perfect for these end of summer days. The glaze, however, was what made this cake stand apart- apricot Cognac glaze. So heavenly. I will attest that none of this has gone to waste. 

The recipe isn't available online, but the cake was pretty easy to make, as pound cakes generally are. Sometimes I have had issue with other pound cakes cooking all the way through because of the high butter content, but this one was perfect- just a little crispy on the outer edges, but still moist and finished on the inside. The poppy seeds made a nice texture contrast. 

Interestingly, I learned that Hennessy is one of the most frequently stolen items at my local grocer. As I stood looking for it in the liquor aisle, an employee asked me if I needed help (the customer service at Cosentino's is really great). When I told him what I was looking for, he informed me that Hennessy is kept behind the service counter, as it is such a high theft item. I was quite confused, as there are many small-sized bottles of much higher priced liquor sitting on the shelf, but I guess the cultural cache of the name brand is just that strong. The bottle I bought was only $11. There are bottles approaching the $100 mark that are sitting out on the shelves. So, baking led to an interesting lesson in grocery economics as well as the end product of a delicious cake. And now we all know, you have to ask for the Hennessy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Back in the States

 Narita Terminal 1 North Wing departures.
Hey! I'm in Kansas City!

I made it back from Japan with very few travel issues, though I did have to jettison two pairs of shoes, a sweater, and some old t-shirts at Narita Airport to get my luggage down to the regulated weight. This is not the first time I have been at that airport playing the edit-your-possessions-to-get-your-luggage-down-to-weight game. Even after the great luggage purge I ended up buying a new carry-on at the airport and stuffed about 35 pounds of books and shoes into it. This along with my roller carry-on (full of camera gear, my hard drive, and a years worth of research paperwork) still didn't fit all my stuff- I was wearing a sweater even though it was hot as -fill in the hottest place you can imagine-, my heavy suede shoes (the heaviest I own), and my Panama hat which I didn't want to get crushed. I also had a small purse and my laptop bag. It was ridiculous, but somehow nobody bothered me and I was able to get everything onto both of my flights. Nothing like moving on an airplane through multiple security checkpoints.... Part of the ease should be credited to Delta, which had really great service on all fronts- and decent airline food. On another positive note, because of the epic day of lugging my stuff on three trains and two planes I only shipped three boxes of stuff back. Shipping international is crazy expensive, takes six to eight weeks, and as it is done by boat, sometimes your boxes arrive looking like they have been, well, shipped around the world on a boat. 

Moving out of my apartment was as smooth as can be, which was a great surprise to me. Usually moving, something I have done more times than I'd care to remember, goes horribly for me. This last statement is probably true for everyone. In any case, this time wasn't too bad, and despite the heat, I vacated my apartment one day before leaving the country and had no crises or issues. Yay! A friend helped me to carry some extra stuff along with my stuff down to her apartment and we had a lovely dinner on my last night in Tokyo. 

Now, after five days of being back I'm finally starting to get over the jet lag and general exhaustion of the move, and I'm getting back into the groove of work and life here in the U.S. Some things about being back are amazing (being together with the fam, the speed at which my brain works in English, brunch), others are difficult (driving everywhere, the general inconvenience of American life, giant portion sizes). This is probably best placed in another post on another day.

In any case, I still have many Japan posts to catch up on, and life here is creating many interesting bloggable moments as well, so much to come!
Something like 24 hours after leaving my friend's apartment, arrival in Kansas City. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

天丼 Tendon

Hello internet friends! 

As my move back to the U.S. gets closer, there are so many things to do. I've sold most of my furniture and household goods, made all the necessary arrangements for utilities to be shut off, health insurance to be cancelled, and shipped a few boxes of things back to KC. As my kitchen is mostly cleaned out I have been eating out for the past few days, which is a nice way to get out of my empty apartment, and a great way to celebrate and enjoy my last week here in Tokyo. On Saturday I had lunch at a small local restaurant, so adorable in it's localness and with really great and affordable food.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

池袋 Ikebukuro

Things are starting to come full circle as my research year comes to a close. I've been selling off things to other researchers and to random people on Craigslist, and Sunday I was running errands around a very hot and humid Ikebukuro, which was reminiscent of last summer when I was doing a similar thing in the same place. Ikebukuro was where I stayed when I first arrived in Tokyo, and I've spent many days there since, so it is fitting that almost one year to the date I'm again sweating it out on the tree lined streets of one of the busiest parts of the city.

秘密県民ショー The Kenmin Show

How is it possible that I have never blogged about The Himitsu Kenmin Show before?  For as little as I am interested in American t.v. (with a few notable exceptions), I absolutely love Japanese t.v., and The Kenmin Show is tops. Joe and I started watching it years ago when we first lived in Japan, and I was beyond thrilled when I found out last year it is still on the air. The Thursday night show brings together representatives from every province in Japan and then investigates quirky things about the different provinces. Sometimes the hour long episodes focus on one specific province (I loved the Okinawa special that aired just before we went to Okinawa), and other times they have segments on different provinces. The himitsu, or secret, is usually something related to food or language- for example this past week they revealed that people in Ehime put rice in their udon (noodle) soup, other times it is related to attitude or general cultural norms, as in this clip (with English subtitles) of Osaka vs. Tokyo. The show is really popular, and in addition to being hilarious has also provided conversation with a variety of friends and coworkers who also watch the show. For a true idea of the entire show, check out this link (but it has Chinese subtitles!).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

国立国会図書館 National Diet Library

One of the entryways.

This week I've been spending some quality time at one of my favorite Tokyo haunts- the Diet Library. I know many researchers are not excited about the library- photocopies are expensive and the process of obtaining them is bureaucratic (to say the least), many of the digitized collections are only available on site, and the rules of using the library are rather strict. Having said that, I always feel really productive when I spend time at NDL. The collections are extensive, and there is a certain excitement in seeing all the varieties of research being done- I love looking around and seeing people searching through biochemical journals, wartime magazines, publications on educational pedagogy, and any number of other topics that one could think of. I'm also fascinated to see reporters and politicians on the streets surrounding the Diet building as I leave in the evening. As my research year in Tokyo winds down, this is definitely one spot I will miss.
The main building.
Across from the Diet building.
Reporters gathered outside political party headquarters.
The subway back home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shrimp and Grits

Soon I will be moving back to the U.S. All packing and moving stresses aside, this means I'm trying to go through my pantry and finish up any foodstuffs sitting around. Enter the last cup of a bag of polenta, or grits. I have a complete soft spot in my heart for polenta- I like it soft, grilled, sauteed, really anyway. Although I'm not really a fan of corn or other corn products, polenta is high on my list. It is easy to make, versatile, and relatively healthy. I also had half a bag of seafood mix in the freezer- so the natural result was Shrimp and Grits. I invented a recipe from looking at a few photos online, so I'm not sure how authentic this is, but is was amazingly tasty.

While the polenta cooked, I sauteed garlic, onion, and two peppers in olive oil for a few minutes. I then added the seafood mixture, a copious amount of cayenne, a dash of black pepper, basil, and oregano, some broth, and a dash of dried spring onions. After a few minutes I also included a healthy amount of Tabasco sauce and a bit of white wine, and let the mixture cook for another five minutes. I topped the polenta with the veggie and seafood mixture, allowing the broth to form a spicy sauce. The smell was heavenly, and taste perfect. Definitely a new addition to the regular menu!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Quick Dinner

One great thing about life in Tokyo is the ease and convenience of daily life. On the walk home from little dude's school, which is right across from one of the many nearby train stations, we pass two vegetable sellers, a tempura shop, two fish mongers, three convenience stores, a small supermarket, a small electronics shop, a flower shop, two cleaners, and numerous restaurants. This is about a ten minute stroll at a small kid pace, less than that when I walk it alone. On a few evenings we've made a stop at the tempura shop (at the right of the photo) to pick up part of our dinner, selected veggies from the vegetable market (at the left of the photo), and come home to make a pot of rice and steam whatever green veggie little dude thought looked the best that day. It is so nice to have fresh food accessible in such an easy way, and also great to know the local people who supply our food. At the center of the photo is the fish monger that supplies fish to little dude's school once a week. All of these people know us by name, and greet us as we walk through the neighborhood, providing not just the necessities of a quick weeknight meal, but a pleasant sense of community as well.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

七夕 Tanabata

Today is Tanabata, or the Star Festival. This summer festival, celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month, represents the one day a year when a mythical prince and princess- Orihime and Hikoboshi- represented by stars (Vega and Altair) meet across the Milky Way. The festival is often celebrated by writing a wish on a sheet of paper, and tying it to a bamboo frond. Little dude wrote his wish, for a giraffe and for happiness, on a yellow paper, which he tied to bamboo as part of a class project. The kids also made stars with Orihime and Hikoboshi on each side, crafted paper chains, and attached shiny decorations to big strands of bamboo, which they brought home from school last week. May your wishes come true this year!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

明治の工芸 Meiji Period Craft

Entering the museum, which is attached to a ritzy hotel.

Early this week I spent the morning at the Mitsui Memorial Museum, viewing the exhibition Kogei: Superlative Craftsmanship from Meiji Japan.  The show included a wide variety of amazingly crafted objects from late nineteenth century Japan, most of which were created for export. Objects such as cloisonne, embroidery, ivory carvings, laquerware, and metalwork were presented in seven large galleries. The detail of the exhibited works was truly amazing- especially some of the ivory carvings and cloisonne vessels. I will honestly never understand why craft is not held in the same regard as fine art objects, especially after viewing such a fantastic exhibit with such perfect artworks.
The beautiful wood paneled galleries of the museum.
A small sampling of the objects exhibited as seen on the flyer. The no photos rule was strictly enforced in the museum. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Tokyo Disneyland! 東京ディズ二ランド

Tanabata festival decorations.

After all the stress of the past month, last week little dude and I took a random Thursday off from work and school and hopped the train out to Tokyo Disneyland. We spent the day riding rides, meeting characters, and eating popcorn. We made Tanabata wishes and watched parades. Little dude recently hit the 102 centimeter mark, so we were able to go on a few rides for the first time, including Star Tours (huge impression there!) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The latter was my absolute favorite ride growing up. My Dad and I would go on it as many times as we could on our trips to Florida. Little dude has seen Big Thunder Mountain from the Western Railway ride on our past two visits to Tokyo Disneyland, and as Thunder Mountain is a train, he has expressed great interest in the ride. Well, our day finally came. It was so much fun that we went on it twice.

Little dude's Tanabata wish- to go on all the rides and to have fun. Mine was to finish my dissertation!

 Too bright to look into the camera...


 Waiting in line, the excitement builds.

 Train coaster! 

 Meeting characters by Splash Mountain.

 Curry at the Hungry Bear Restaurant for lunch.

 Studying the map while waiting for a ride.

 Parade time.

 Waving to Toy Story friends.

 My favorite- Alice in Wonderland.

 More parade!

 They let the kid drive!

 The Electrical Parade, always a perfect end to the day.


The little guy fell asleep within minutes of the finish of the Electrical Parade, and we went home happy. Disney was a great way to celebrate the completion of my research presentation; taking a spontaneous day off to head to the park was something I have wanted to do since arriving in Tokyo, and it was really a great time. Little dude made many new friends, and a few high school girls even took photos together with him. I can't wait to go back.