Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Amazing Years

August 22nd  marked a very special day for me and my husband -- our second anniversary! I still get excited calling him my husband and introducing myself by my new last name. We've been on lots of new adventures - East Coast, West Coast, Michigan, Jamaica, Japan, Australia -- to name a few since we've been married, and it's only just the beginning! We've also added a new family member since getting married: our little puppy named Eddie.

Joe worked late with his Marines on our Monday anniversary, so we decided we'd go big on a weekend celebration at Maple City or somewhere in Hiroshima. For our local celebration, we went to a restaurant Joe found on a new blog I'll definitely be following: Iwakuni Foodie!

The waitress at Bistro Café Trois did not speak any English, but they had an English dinner menu that made pointing and nodding an effective way to order. We started with a cold appetizer that had a few slices of potato & breaded chicken, a few pieces of shrimp, mussels, and a salad.

Joe ordered a tasty seafood pizza with a pesto sauce (oops, we each had a slice before we thought to take a picture!):

And I ordered a seafood pasta dish:

Along with a few glasses of white wine for me and a beer for Joe, we were having a great night. We decided that we would give the lotus root crème brûlée a taste test on the recommendation of Iwakuni Foodie. How bad could a dessert be? Plus, we live in the midst of a few lotus farms and see the beautiful blooms every day from our house. It would be a crime not to enjoy them -- especially if they are in a dessert. 

Much to our surprise, the waitress also brought out a scoop of chocolate ice cream with a tiny little sliver of strawberry on top! Japanese attention to aesthetic detail is one of my favorite aspects of dining out here. Just look at that plating! Where else do you get polka dots of kiwi and strawberry jelly on your plate just for visual pleasure?

Crème brûlée always reminds me of one of my first jobs. I was a hostess at Milk & Honey and I used to always bug the pastry chef when I wasn't busy. The pastry chef, whose name I can't remember, went to culinary school because he said no matter how hard times get, you are guaranteed to always have a job if you can cook well. It's true! I can't think of anyone who hasn't been to a restaurant in the last week, much less the last month or year. Anyway, the pastry chef would always get my attention when he'd make an order of crème brûlée because I was fascinated by such a delicate profession making use of a freaking blow torch to crisp the shell. I'm also endlessly delighted by the tap-tap-crack method of taking the first bite. It's so elegant and satisfying!

It was a rainy late night celebration, but Joe and I chatted away and enjoyed a night out. We promised each other we wouldn't get each other anything since Eddie was our gift to each other, but we surprised one another anyway. You can ask Joe personally about his gift, but he got me a Kindle and a cover with a built-in light! He's the sweetest man ever, and I'm so glad we're married. 

Much love,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Furry Critter

We have a new puppy! I'd like to introduce the blog world to Eddie, short for Edamame. He's a two-month-old Miniature Shiba Inu who melts the hearts of everyone he meets! Today I had a really fun encounter with my Japanese neighbor when I took Eddie out to do some "business". She doesn't speak any English, but cried out "Kawaii!" when she saw his furry little face. I handed him over the fence and they nuzzled and bonded for a minute as we mimed questions and answers to each other, such as how big he will get and how old he is. 

Anyway, this little dude is a handful, as all puppies are, but he is so smart! He's learning to sit when he eats, goes to the door and stares wistfully into the distance when he needs to go outside, and cuddles endlessly! He's the best.

Family Portrait
I'm so happy to have a new playmate here in Japan! Eddie is going to be a fun walking partner and hopefully we'll make fun trips to the Kintai Bridge to go sight seeing when he's older.

Let me know if you have any good puppy training tips! We're crate training him, but he's spending a lot more time outside of his crate than inside. I'm also trying not to give him treats too much, but who can resist a face like that? Every moment with Eddie is mostly like this video:

Thanks for checking out the blog!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our First Guest!

We're officially settled here in Iwakuni; we've had our first guest! Our new friend Gintare from Lithuania came to visit for a few days while she was on a break from studying in Nagoya. It was great to see Iwakuni from an even fresher perspective than our own and to appreciate the sights.

First off, I'm really proud of finally getting organized and having a presentable guest room.  

A comfy bed in Iwakuni!
Gintare was surprised by our American furniture, food, and lifestyle. It was great to reminisce about our European adventures, and realized that Joe's background (Polish) is very similar to that of Lithuania. Anyway, on Gintare's first day, which was also Joe's first day home in two months (bad timing!), we made a trip to the Kintaikyo (Kintai Bridge) to see Iwakuni's claim to fame:
Gintare on the bridge at sunset
Handsome Joe with the pedestrian bridge behind him
Kintaikyo area with cormorant fishing.      

We were so happy to host Gintare and hope to visit Nagoya to see her again. She even brought us treats! I'd never heard of Lithuanian Apple Cheese before, but it is delicious! It's not actual cheese, which was a relief to me. Gin said it is processed and packaged like cheese, so it's nicknamed "cheese" by Lithuanians. It tastes like a natural fruit roll-up with dehydrated apple pieces inside -- in short, delicious.

Lithuanian Apple Cheese!
She also brought treats from Hiroshima that were shaped like tiny popsicles. I think they were gelatin flavored with maple syrup and had tiny pieces of walnut inside. Very tasty.

Hiroshima delicacy
So, in case you are heading to Lithuania, we've discovered the 16th reason to visit Lithuania: Gintare!

Other people might be as pleased as I was to learn that there is a statue of FRANK ZAPPA in Lithuania!
Definitely an "alternative personality" :)
Thanks again for visiting, Gintare! I'm looking forward to having more visitors in Iwakuni!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My first Japanese Summer Festival

As I may have mentioned before, Iwakuni is a pretty small city. I was shocked at how such a small place could have such an amazing fireworks display! My friends Miho and Miki invited me along to the festival and asked if I'd like to wear a yukata (summer kimono) to the event. I was so honored to take part in the traditions here and enthusiastically accepted the invitation. 

Miki is enrolled in a program right now to become licensed to dress people in kimonos. I had no idea how involved the process is or that it is such a serious job in Japan. People wear kimonos to formal events like weddings and to traditional events like this summer festival and need someone to help them follow traditions and ensure the ties are all correct. The ideal Japanese figure is extremely straight, so the American ideal of a small waist and more pronounced bust and hips is filled out in the middle. I definitely have a larger bust and hips, so I had to fill out the middle area so my belt would stay straight!

Miki's beautiful two-year-old daughter came with us, and wore her own beautiful yukata! She's an awesome kid:

When we were ready, we had Miho's husband act as a photographer and take lovely pictures of us outside the neighborhood.

Check out this pup's yukata! She's even wearing the bow!
We decided to head down to the Kintai area for the festival and I was surprised by how many people came out of the woodwork for the big day. The parking lots were packed! We walked the the area around the bridge where the vendors were set up and decided it was time for a slushee. The vendors make the ice shavings in front of you and then drizzle syrup on top. I chose green apple because it's always my favorite flavor. It was really tart and delicious! 
The kimono dog had us giggling for a while. Love it.

I kept thinking that if Joe was at the festival, we could try every kind of food, because I can take a bite and then he'll finish everything. :) Unfortunately, he's still not back in Iwakuni, so I am limited to my own serving sizes. I saw Japanese-style crepes, chicken skewers, sausages on a stick, rice balls, and lots more that I don't know the names of. I took a few pictures, but I was too busy enjoying the experience to document it like it really deserved. :)

Below, you'll see one of the shaved ice vendors. Each different color is a different flavor of syrup and you can pump it yourself at these stands. We went to one where they do everything for you and serve it in a huge plastic cup that looks like a flower. The ice is so cold and fresh that it steams when you are eating it outside on a 90+ degree day!

A million varieties of crepes:

Miki helping Ayana with her new toy. Ayana bounced her ball around for the rest of the night. They are so beautiful in pink and white!

Here's a shot of one of the rows of vendors with the bridge in the background:

I think this next picture does a good job of capturing the gorgeous historic bridge and the intersection between traditional and modern clothing. You can even see the gorgeous bows on each girl's back! I learned that if the bow is in the front, then it is a sign that the girl is a prostitute. We also saw some girls wearing their kimonos off the shoulder, and I learned that it is highly offensive.

We wanted to get a picture of us together before dark, so our lovely photographer took this picture of us. I love it!

While at the festival, I made a dinner from tasty yakisoba made on a grill in front of me with yakitori-style gyu on a stick. I'm not trying to make my blog difficult, but repeating the Japanese helps me remember everything! Yakisoba is a noodle dish made with lots of vegetables and I think some nuts too. It has a lot of great seasoning and is very filling! Yakitori is a type of sauce for grilled meat (from what I can gather) and gyu is beef! So, I had awesome Japanese beef sliced thin on a stick and it was drizzled in a tangy/sweet sauce. 

Here is the yakisoba being cooked in front of me: 

The main attraction was an hour and a half of fireworks! While nothing could beat the Detroit fireworks, these ones came close. They had columns of fireworks bursting and even red fireworks firing into heart shapes! 


I hope everyone is having a great summer! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chicago Pizza Factory!

On my first foray to Yanai, a city about an hour south of Iwakuni, I had a chance to explore some of my deepest passions: interior design at NAFCO, puppies at Mr. Max, and pizza at the Chicago Pizza Factory! These are all along Rt. 188: just keep driving south, take a turn toward the city center, and you'll eventually find them. It really does take about an hour.

I stopped at NAFCO because I needed curtains. The size I needed was out of stock, so I ordered them from the customer service desk. I think Japanese people know a lot more English than they let on, because I've found that if I speak slowly in simple sentences, I get understanding nods. I also depend heavily on gesticulating wildly and Google Translate on my iPhone. Anyway, I ordered my curtains and am now awaiting a Japanese phone call when they come in. I figure I'll just wait for an indecipherable phone call and then head back down to Yanai. I should've ordered these at the NAFCO here in Iwakuni, but I was excited in the heat of the moment. The NAFCO in Yanai is way bigger than ours here!

NAFCO was kind of an incidental stop, but I was really trying to make my way to Mr. Max. A friend described it as a Japanese Costco, but I really thought it was more of a mix between a Target and a Pet Smart. I'm really excited to get a puppy soon, so I was checking out some of the little dudes and dudettes at the store. I've always preferred larger dogs with mutt backgrounds, but Joe loves small purebred dogs. He's converting me. The problem is that dogs in Japan cost the equivalent of $1500 minimum and I haven't come across any shelters than have puppies. The other problem is that once you have a pet in Iwakuni, it is not guaranteed that you can bring it back to the states with you after your tour is over. This means that you need to budget about $2000 to ship the dog back on your own. For this reason, there are a lot of adorable adult dogs up for adoption on base. We could probably swing it, and cross our fingers for a free trip back for the pet. I feel strongly about being a good pet owner, and could never imagine finding a new home for a pet because I didn't want to pay for it's flight home. Alright, I'm getting off my soapbox now.

Stripiest cat I've ever seen. Two thousand dollars.

Maybe a yorkie poo? I'm in love with him.

Is this a Boston Terrier? More Joe's style.
Anyway, Mr. Max also has tons of processed snack foods, crazy drinks, a McDonald's, a gaming area with slot machines, and other stuff you'd find at Target, like cleaning and hygiene products.

I was finally driving home on a puppy/kitten/bunny-induced dopamine high when I saw a real, live pizza place - The Chicago Pizza Factory! I accidentally drove past it as my jaw dropped, and swerved back around to pull in. In my state of clouded judgment, I ordered a double-decker pizza split into four topping groups. For myself. Don't worry, it was a few meals' worth of food. The prices are really high, but for a treat once in a while, it was completely worth it. I haven't found any decent pizza in Iwakuni yet.

Reading menus in Japan is so much fun. Your challenge meat pizza can be medium, regular, or large. At today's yen rate, the smallest pizza goes for $30.23. OUCH. Thank you, Cost of Living Allowance (COLA).
I promised Joe I would wait to challenge myself with him.
As you can see, my big adventures have waned a bit. Living the everyday life in Japan is still full of surprises and excitement though. I hope this blog helps share some of the curiosities I find.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Belated House Tour

We moved into our new house in April, received our furniture and other goodies a few weeks later, and have spent the time since then unpacking and trying to find space for all the stuff we accumulated while living in a two bedroom, 2.5 bathroom townhouse with tons of closet space and a basement! 

We spent a lot of time looking for the perfect place in Iwakuni and I think we found it. Part of the delay in moving in was that it was still being built! Many places in Iwakuni have mold problems since we're so close to the ocean, so I'm relieved that we won't have to deal with that. It's also great because we are the very first people to live in our house! The house was in perfect shape when we moved in, so any bumps and scuffs are our faults. Just don't tell the landlord in three years :)

I recorded this before our government loaner furniture was delivered, before our express shipment, and obviously before our household goods came over. We were still pretty fresh from our two weeks in Michigan, so excuse my EXTREME midwestern accent. I don't think it's that strong anymore!

Have a peek at the bones while I take pictures of the house as a home:

I'll do another tour in the next week so you can see the progress. What would you do with all that room for activities? I'll show you our arrangement soon!