A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Over the last 5 months or so, I've been stepping up my exercise routine. The last couple of years working in software during the day have been particularly bad for my waistline, and a broken foot last year kept me away from the gym for several months. My newer office is inches from dozens of cheap, massive-portion quick-service lunch joints, and for most of my return to software I've just not been exercising as much as I used to. It's a dangerous combination.
A long time ago, I had an ugly knee injury from running, and I never quite got back to normal. Every time I tried running more than about 3 miles, the pain would come back.
While Hiromi was staying with me in Seattle, both of my knees started acting up, inflamed by little more than walking. My usual standby of walking long distances, either out and about or on the treadmill, just became too painful to handle.
In November I realized that my avoidance of exercise was unsustainable, and I started hunting around the gym for something that wouldn't be murder on my knees. I found most of the cycling machines boring, and elliptical striding machines were more stressful on my knees than running, so things seemed hopeless. Then I stumbled on the Concept2 rowing machine, and everything started to click.
For the last few weeks, I've been focusing on strength training, but I'm really glad to have found a cardiovascular exercise that doesn't punish my knees.
My routine since November has kept me in the gym 4 or 5 nights a week, and I get home pretty late on weeknights. I usually manage to eat a reasonable dinner, though I'm not usually finished cooking until around 9:30 pm.
Weekends are more complicated. Somehow I often end up eating irregularly, and my appetite strikes at the most inconvenient moments.
Last Sunday, I got an after-dinner craving, so I went straight for my go-to snack: popcorn. Often I toss a little truffle salt and melted butter on it, but I have another favorite: nori-shio popcorn.
I stole the idea from a microwave popcorn product that comes from Hawaii, and the nori-shio potato chips popular in Japan. That brand of microwave popcorn is crazy expensive in Seattle, so I started making it on my own.
It's easy enough to make popcorn on the stovetop with a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan; I just heat a little oil on medium heat, add a few tablespoons of popcorn to the bottom, and shake occasionally as the kernels heat up. When popping starts to slow down, I turn off the heat and wait for the last few popping sounds.
Most of the time, I use a mortar and pestle to grind up prepared nori furikake, which I buy at Uwajimaya in Seattle. If I don't have that, I sometimes mix up aonori, sesame seeds, salt, and a bit of sugar, and work that into a fine powder with the mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
I toss the cooked popcorn and the nori blend in a big bowl. Sometimes, there's not quite enough oil to get the furikake mix to stick to the popcorn, so I might spray or drizzle a little more oil onto the popcorn, which usually helps a bit.
Nori, sesame and salt get along with popcorn swimmingly, so this is one of my favorite snacks.
A couple weeks ago, Hiromi got a job offer that was hard to pass up, back with her old team, and decided to go back to Japan, even though it complicates a few things… She had informally extended her unpaid internship at a quirky Seattle-based mobile phone software company, and planned to start school again in January… Hopefully the sudden change will not make her next visit in December too messy when she goes through passport control.
The post-9/11 security rules make going “out of status” (including unplanned changes) on a student visa particularly subject to scrutiny.
After a long period of having a roommate last year, and the almost continuous presence of Hiromi this year, coming home to a completely empty home is very strange. I couldn’t sleep very well the last four or five nights, as my mind and body adjust to unfamiliar circumstances. When I’m traveling, I don’t have this problem, but at home, my mind is not at ease when new stressors enter my life.
Though I’ve been eating particularly lightly and suffering from a bit of stomach irritation the last few days, I just remembered how nice this key lime meringue pie tasted…
It has been languishing, almost forgotten in my archives, from around the time Hiromi went out of town for a few days late in the summer. The meringues weren’t so pretty, but the lime curd was great. I think this might have been my first or second attempt at key lime curd. I really don’t want to over-indulge in sugar right now… my waistline has expanded over the last few months and I’m not very happy about that… Increased commute time and more eating out than average since September has puffed me up a bit.
The crust was decent, though it looks a little sad in the photo… more crispy-crumbly than crispy-flaky, it was neither a great example of an American pie crust nor a pate sucree. But it did wonders for the meringue, which likes to sabotage the crispness of pie crust; the crust stood up to the curd and retained a pleasant crispness.
Most people take Christmas Eve off, but I'll probably do a few hours of promotions at Uwajimaya Seattle before attending a family party.
The Hong Kong folks took off Wednesday, only a few hours after Hiromi arrived in Seattle for a two-week visit. Tuesday, our last full day, we ran around doing a few morning errands, although I dropped Mr. Wong's son Hong off at GameWorks, where he spent about 6 hours playing "Street Fighter 3."
Everyone else went shopping. We stopped at the Pike Place Market for a whirlwind tour and visited Bacco for lunch in their new "Bistro" location, where Mr. & Mrs. Wong and Lavina shared a crab sandwich and a lox bagel with some soup and salad. I had a panini of some sort suitable for vegetarians.
I think I added about 5 pounds to my waistline in the last two weeks due to constant restaurant eating, even though I tried to be more cautious about how much food I was putting down my throat. With no meaningful level of exercise and a plentiful supply of heavy food portions, I was feeling some serious stomach pressure by the end of the week.
We ate our last dinner together at Lark in Seattle, which roughly met expectations and was overall quite appealing to my supplier. The atmosphere is pleasant, the food is decent, the portions are just right for sharing between four or five people. Not counting alcohol, I think we spent about $23-24/person including a reasonable tip. (Keep in mind that none of us were starving). With the alcohol I think it was a little higher, as the wine list tended to be pricy. We had a modestly priced sparkling wine at about $32/bottle and a couple of other drinks, but I don't recall seeing a red wine under $50/bottle on their wine list.
Today I ran around like a madman in the afternoon but it was mostly in search of food for the next few days. I fulfilled a wholesale order in the morning. Hiromi was driving tonight's dinner plan, featuring a tofu gnocchi and a gobo soup from a Japanese macrobiotic magazine I picked up on my last trip, and I prepared something for tomorrow's family gathering, basically filo cups filled with a savory cheesecake, upon which I will place some sauteed chanterelles with sage pesto and shallots, or probably some lox and capers for the non-vegetarians.
I need to eat more judiciously the next few weeks so that the holidays don't lead me back to my early Microsoft expansion...
For three days I was doing in-store demonstrations of the dragon beard candy... first in Bellevue, then I spent Saturday and Sunday in Beaverton during the Japan America Society's Japan Festival. With the help of a little bit of discounting on the part of Uwajimaya, and a more festive atmosphere, the Beaverton sales were pretty decent, and mostly justified the long drive and overnight hotel costs. It was nothing like the first weekend of sales at the Chinatown festival, but it sure didn't hurt.
I benefited also from the September publication of the Japanese translation of an article about my company and the product in Yuuyake Shinbun. A few people commented that they had read about the candy, though, as usual, many were unclear about their source. Someone even thought they had heard about it on TV. The most amusing thing was that I suddenly picked up the ability to talk about my product in machine-gun fashion (kikanjuu-no-you-ni) in simple Japanese... it was particularly challenging when I was trying to explain the price discounts that involved a lot of the number nine.
The best thing about the festival itself was that someone had set up a stand to serve freshly-made tai-yaki, which are a Japanese answer to waffles shaped like fish... snapper... they were offered stuffed with anko or with custard cream. They were so good. I haven't had fresh tai-yaki since....well... March, when I was in Japan plotting my escape from Microsoft. I couldn't help myself. When I took a little break, I ate at the restaurant neighboring Uwajimaya called Sambi, where I had a little set meal with pretty good vegetable croquettes (yasai korokke) and other things which were perhaps less exciting. Actually both before and after I ordered I saw two staff members taking breaks who turned out to be eating the same thing, so it must have been a worthwhile choice.
I tried to be adventurous and find a hip place to get a small late dinner Saturday night, but when I arrived at the first place I was interested in, it was closed for a private wedding reception. I ended up at an unremarkable but cheap pasta-focused spot and had some manicotti in a heavy marinara sauce. I tried wandering around looking for a low key place to get a drink and possibly socialize, but I made the mistake of going to the Portland equivalent of Pioneer Square, not knowing any better, and it was all noisy places for people far younger and more drunk than I am or wanted to be... so I just wandered back to the hotel.
“Dinner“ on the way home was a little sad... I ate an entire bag of “saya bean“ baked snacks, had a little blackberry kefir, and a bottle of gogo no koucha (milky bottled tea), snacking while driving. I got home late enough that real food wasn't worth the energy. I am feeling a little heavier in the last week or two, so I think I need to get myself back to exercising more regularly and eating less excessively and less irregularly.