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Picture time: Japanese cooking

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I promised you pictures of my Japanese cooking party (yes, the one pre-Christmas), and I finally got around to posting them.

Before Christmas, I invited my Japanese class (I'm a student) and a few of my friends for a nice little pre-Christmas party. A few of them are expats and didn't have the time or means to fly home over the end of the year, so I wanted to have a little get-together to spread the spirit a bit.

I was responsible for the appetizers, my teacher made okonomiyaki for the main course, and another student brought muffins for dessert.

Ex-BF was still around at the time so he helped me cook.

This is thinly-sliced beef with different Japanese herbs and vegetables

Miniature salmon and teriyaki burger patties

Hot pork on soy sprouts (the ends of the sprouts have been clipped off- tastes so much better)

Mackerel with different mushrooms and vegetables

Pari-pari (means crispy) chicken. Crisped in the oven with a sesame oil coating.

Group picture of most of the class (sans me) with most of the food on the table. There was more.

I love cooking for my friends- will share pictures of my Superbowl Feast next in this category.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

IJUSTNEED10 2/18/2013 3:02PM

    wow you are pretty amazing! how can you cook like that and not eat it all! I know i couldn't =)

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SKEETOR 1/28/2013 8:05AM

    Nice! Thanks for sharing!

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MANCMALE78 1/24/2013 3:59PM

    Looks reaallly good! I like eastern food but never really have the time to cook it. Hope the night was a good one and you have many more!

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    It was a collaboration between the ex and me- took us about an hour to clip enough sprouts to make 20oz. If they're fresh, you can just use your fingers so it's just repetitive but pretty quick work.

20oz is enough to comfortably serve twelve people in a mixed menu like this- the table didn't stay beautiful for very long, there were a few people who hadn't RSVP'd so I had to improvise. No more set table, we just spread out to the den and had everything buffet style.

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MNABOY 1/23/2013 11:34PM

    Beautiful table and even better menu.Who clipped the sprout ends?

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I watched Les Misérables and here's what I think (WARNING: SPOILERS!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

This blog entry contains spoilers for the 2012 musical movie Les Misérables. You've been warned!




Ok, that's enough with the warnings now.

I was lucky enough to have been invited to an advance screening of Les Misérables- the movie won't be out here until late February (oh, the horror!).

So, lucky lady with a ton of movie impressions on her mind. Hope you don't mind that this will be a little disjointed- I really loved the books when I first read them, loved them even more on the second read-through and only saw the musical after. I've always seen the two things as separate entities, so this will be musical-only.

I apologize that I don't know most of the actors' names- I'm notoriously bad at remembering anything but the first role I saw them in. Exceptions: Those whom I can't nail down on one role.

First, the voices. Hugh Jackman: Fantastic singer. What a voice! He made me cry at "Bring Him Home". I know I'll offend some purists but I think he's a better Valjean than the previous one who, I've told, sings the Bishop. Haven't recognized the voice, but it was a nice cameo?

Little Cosette: Great, trained child's voice. She had Castle on a Cloud down.

Grown-up Cosette: Sorry, but she has the kind of soprano I can't stand- weak on its own, supplemented by gratuitous vibrato and with that jarring, harsh and metallic quality that e.g. Anna Netrebko sports as well. Headache-inducing on the Chiso scale.

Éponine: Why haven't I heard her before? She's good- not great, but she's good.

Marius: Who's this guy? Really cute, and a wonderful voice to boot. Weak in the higher range, but that's lack of training I suppose or the song not being really in his register. Lower notes made me melt.

Gavroche: Cute accent, even though I could only follow half of what he said/sang. I'm not the best with British accents that aren't RP, but I'm working on it :)

Fantine: I was amazed that the Princess Diaries actor can sing. And whoa! She has some volume. A little too much vibrato, again, and some notes were slightly unsure but I've heard they had to sing the entire song in one take, and with I Dreamed A Dream, that's hard enough for people who sing musical professionally so: Chapeau, Ms. Princess Diaries.

The Gladiator: Can't sing. Poor Javert, he sounded out of breath all the time. I think the actor had to work very, very hard on intonation and missed expression and volume. His singing sounded a little tortured to me.

Bellatrix and Monsieur Thénardier: They were having fun, and so was I. Great comic talent, and voices befitting their roles.

Enjolras and the students: Good ensemble. I liked Enjolras' voice a lot.

Group numbers: Made me want to sing along. I loved Do You Hear The People Sing

The songs:

New song: Short! But Hugh Jackman singing, so happy to listen even for a little while.

A Heart Full of Love: Normally one of my favorite numbers, but the voices on this one just didn't mesh. Cosette was trilling around on her own while Éponine and Marius meshed really well. It was a little painful to listen to on accord of the sharpness of Cosette's voice.

Anything Jean Valjean: I wanted the songs to never end. He made me cry during Bring Me Home, did I mention that? I NEVER cry!

Jean Valjean vs Javert songs: Well mixed. Valjean kind of ameliorated the weaknesses in Javert's voice a little.

On My Own: *sniff* Éponine's voice really convinced me in this one.

I Dreamed A Dream: Amazing performance. The acting more than made up for the few weak points in the vocal performance.

A Little Fall of Rain: Umm... not so sure. A little too much acting and too little singing for me.

Empty Chairs: *sniffle* The lower register, again, perfectly suited the actor's voice and while I was wincing a little at the highest note, it fit the mood and all in all, it made me want to hug Marius.

There's more, but those were the ones most in my mind.

On a whole, I really loved the movie. Les Misérables is all about the music, and that's what it should be about. It's a very traditionally filmed movie, but I LIKE that. I LIKE not having to keep up with shaky hand-cams and weird angles and strange perspective jumps. I loved the bird's eye views of both the mountains and of Paris. Keeping the focus on the actors kept my focus on the music, and I LOVE the music. Going to buy the soundtrack and go put the Valjean songs and group number on repeat.

Costuming an scenery was traditional, and well done. I liked that they brought in some nods to the books (like Fantine selling her teeth).

So... a musical film that's all about the musical and the music. I liked it a lot, but I like musicals. The singing could've been better in some instances, but good voices in other roles mostly made up for it (I wish they'd had a Javert who could sing).

Didn't get why Fantine wasn't healthy and happy and glowing again at the end. She's supposed to have her looks back- filming error?

I can't wait to watch again. Somehow, Les Misérables always gets me emotional and nostalgic- it's a good feeling.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TOMSGIRL9 1/23/2013 9:41AM

    emoticon Good, bad, or ugly, I will always love each version of Les Mis. Just love some more than others. LOL I still have not seen this version but plan to pick it up on dvd. Thanks for the critique.

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MNABOY 1/22/2013 10:15AM

    It is out in the US now. "Bring Him Home" was disappointing for me as were a few other songs. Over all the evauluation you provided was very interesting.

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Recipe time: Raspberry, pineapple and coconut smoothie

Friday, January 18, 2013

Felt like something sweet for dinner, so here's what I made:

about 3 cups fresh frozen raspberries (almost wrote FFP)
one whole fresh frozen pineapple, in cubes
1/2 cup coconut water
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup skim milk
1/4-1/2 cup fat-free yogurt of choice
however many Stevia or Equal packets you feel like ripping open (not so many for me, I'm out of the bulk stuff)

Stuff in blender and try to blend until the blender croaks. Attempt to scrape out gluey mass into pitcher. Add some more coconut water instead and continue blending until smooth.

Makes: A whole lotta smoothie. I've frozen about four-five cups right now and am drinking two.

Calories: No idea, I just wanted a lot of fruit in drinkable format while upping my calcium for the day. Will gladly take guesstimates!

Tastes: Divine. Fresh, sweet and coconutty all at once. I love the tart undertones of the yogurt and raspberries.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SCHNOOTIE 1/20/2013 12:40PM

    That sounds like something I would love to slurp!!! Thanks for sharing!

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MNABOY 1/20/2013 1:38AM

    Major change from Gen's chicken!

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The General has lost his chicken, repeat: The General has lost his chicken!

Friday, January 18, 2013

I was in the mood for Chinese take-out yesterday. Well, no, I was really in the mood for General Tso's chicken and didn't feel at all like cooking for myself.

I walked into the Asian take-out place close to my subway station (did I ever mention that I walk, on average, five miles a day just because it's so much faster and more convenient to get anywhere than with a car?).

"I'd like a small General Tso's to go, please."

Taking the time to study the menu printed behind the counter, I found quite a few unknown dishes, some that turned out to just have a different name in this part of the world and some that I'd never seen before. There were some universal constants, of course- sweet and sour chicken or pork still exist, but one of the things I thought would be a constant, the dearly departed General Tso's favorite chicken dish, wasn't among them.

Oh, dear. My body had told me quite clearly over the course of more than six hours that nothing else would do. I wasn't looking at anything else that was even slightly enticing me to want to eat it, but I would have to have some food soon.

"Could you maybe tell me what's in it?"

The question startled me. I had a vague idea of rice wine and rice vinegar, soy sauce and lots of red chili paste but the exact recipe eluded me. I just wanted that gooey spicy pseudo-Chinese thing of my NYC days.

"Something with these ingredients, the meat is cubed and there is broccoli," I said.

"Hmm... if you don't mind waiting for fifteen minutes, I'll make it for you. I'll have to make some chili paste because we don't sell too much of the very spicy kind and the store-bought varieties all have MSG in it."

Wait- no MSG?

He pointed to a sign above the counter that stated that all dishes were cooked freshly without MSG. Oh, I had said that out loud. Sorry.

"You can request we add it, though," he stated, "a lot of our customers do."

"No thanks, I'm a little sensitive and... I don't mind waiting at all." It gave me a chance to observe proceedings at this tiny take-out restaurant.

People swarmed in every five minutes, coinciding with subways arriving. Three cooks sharing a three-wok cooking space threw handfuls of fresh vegetables into what I could read was extra-virgin sesame oil, adding spices, each to their own variation on the restaurant's recipes.

The friendly person taking my order came back out of a small room in the back carrying a mortar and pestle filled with a coriander chili paste so fragrant I could've just munched it with some kroepoek straight from the mortar.

"No garlic," he said, "didn't think you'd go for it. I put ginger, shallot and black sesame in instead."

"May I please have the recipe," I begged. He laughed and handed the chili paste over to one of the maestros at the wok. He confirmed again that I wanted something really, really spicy and went to work.

I got a whole container full of carefully cubed chicken breast in the most mouthwateringly smelling sauce ever, and a separate container full of cooked-to-perfection broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrot cubelets and freshly sliced chilies.

Not the thing I set out to get, but one of the very very best Chinese dishes I ever had. I sat down in front of my TV, loaded the DVR'd Federer second round Australian Open match and dug in.

I could've had another portion because it was just that good.

Sweet and spicy, Mirin counterbalanced with the tartness of something citrusy overlaid by the amazing chili paste. Notes of ginger enhanced by the earthiness of black sesame and cardamom. Vegetables, as crispy and tasty as any Michelin-starred variety I ever had, and much more plentiful. Fluffy basmati rice from a third container I hadn't even realized had been packed for me. Succulent, moist chicken.

A fourth container, labelled simply "dessert", with caramelized mango on a small portion of coconut sticky rice and a note asking me to give my feedback on whether they should start including this dish in their menu.

And a phone number, with a winking smilie attached.


There was a note of mint in the mango sticky rice, it was as divine as the rest of the meal.

WHY didn't I go there before?

Oh, yes, the whole not going out to eat and cooking for myself instead resolution thing. I'll say this restaurant is a viable alternative though- they cook pretty much like I would, only on a more professional scale, and even with dessert I didn't blow my calorie range.

YUUUUUM! I have to be very strict with myself not to call right now and order in.

(I still miss my not-healthy-at-all General Tso's, but it's more of a theoretical concept of home being missed now. You know you're in an alien nation when... The General has lost his chicken.)

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ANDI_3K 1/27/2013 11:08PM

    Oh my I am so jealous. where is this place of wonders? I often travel and would love to be able to go there

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INSH8P 1/21/2013 11:32PM

    Your blog describes a restaurant that is old school - - real restaurants cooking for their customers, and not just for the bottom line. Makes you wonder about all of those reality cooking shows... ??

Thanks so much for sharing your experience... Did I taste your meal in cyberspace?

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MNABOY 1/20/2013 1:37AM

    Covet your restaurant!

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MANCMALE78 1/19/2013 3:54AM

    Glad you found something special. Hope you find many more

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Rest... what?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I've really been prescribed REST. No, really.

I can't even... rest? That's IT?

Well, a few other things too. My eye is paralyzed to let the inflammation of the optic nerve that's behind the eyeball in the brain heal, I have no pupil reflex and am currently wearing an eyepatch and getting a blackout contact lens tomorrow (basically an opaque black soft contact lens), which will stay in for two weeks whenever I'm not wearing the eyepatch. All in all, I got off easy- it's a brain thing, but one I can heal from.

The bad news is that I can't take the steroids normally prescribed and will have to rely on my immune system to heal, an immune system that's apparently compromised due to... exhaustion? I haven't been feeling exhausted at all really, even today when I haven't had a chance to catch any sleep in over 24h because I've been keeping up my work despite the hospital hours. The docs were rather astonished I didn't fall asleep in the MRI (but who can, it's VERY loud).

I'm prohibited from working more than 42 hours next week and 21 this week. What am I going to do with all this time?

Well, for one I plan on getting a head start in the search for a personal trainer. I'm to keep up my exercise regimen, it's apparently the thing that kept me going when I shouldn't have been able to. Still, just seven hours of work a day six days a week leaves so much time... I just hope I won't be climbing the walls out of boredom or start crazy projects just because I can.

Thank you so much for all your well-wishes, everyone. I read through them before every one of the diagnostic steps taken today, and the gave me the courage and willpower to keep on keeping on with a smile on my face.

Here's to healing, and to happy new beginnings, and to resting.

Who knows, maybe I'll get used to that and will be so lazy I don't want to return to working full-time at all!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ANDI_3K 1/27/2013 11:08PM

    How are you doing?

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MNABOY 1/18/2013 1:26AM

    Think about the challenges of burning the candle from both ends?

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ANDI_3K 1/17/2013 11:03PM

    I am glad it's something that you can recover from. Enjoy the time off. As for the Personal Trainer look for one who is certified -mine is through the ISSA . You might want to look into the local Y for such services - every trainer I have had through them has been wonderful

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SKEETOR 1/17/2013 9:28AM

    Try to let go a little at work and get some rest! emoticon emoticon

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MOM_TO_AKI 1/17/2013 4:55AM

    Take care

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SCHNOOTIE 1/16/2013 10:48PM

    I hope you heal fast. Hang in there, and really, really listen to the doctors, even if it is hard! I am sending you a get well hug!

Ute from NY

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