Friday, April 20, 2018

いちごの季節 :: イチゴを摘む!


Why buy strawberries when there's a farm next door for us to pick them and eat all that we want? Strolled over to stuff our faces full of juicy red strawberries. We had a box partitioned into two, for stems and the other filled with condensed milk if we want to dip the fruit in. The strawberries are sooooo sweet. I didn't need the extra sweetened condensed milk.

The problem with the milk was- the resident cat liked it. I didn't think he was supposed to have it, and neither were we supposed to feed him. BUT, he was too fast for me. I simply knelt to say hello and he leapt up to my knees and finished that milk in a matter of seconds. He was most inelegant, and was fairly rude. He licked up all the milk and left sandy paw prints on my jeans. Grrrrrrr.


We probably ate about 30 strawberries each. 🍓🍓🍓 That's a lot of sugar! Wooooohoooo. Well, eating the fruit is better better than quaffing three to five strawberry shortcakes... 🍰 When we're back in the city, we'd have to buy strawberries and cherry tomatoes to put them into the fridge in the hotel room. Those are snacks, or as breakfast to go with the yoghurt or milk.

THEN.

We were invited to the other section to admire the white strawberries. We were allowed to EAT THEM. Wooohooo. Not all of it though. The staff had plucked those while we were running amok through the red patches. There was a little basket of white strawberries filled up for us.

These white strawberries are quite beautiful, but a little too sweet for me. There're a few varieties with erm poetic names. Giggled at this one, 『白いちご 初恋の香り』, which roughly means 'the fragrance of first love'. OH COME ON. It's just a white strawberry developed by restricting the reddening protein, and pushed out to the consumers in 2009! These white strawberries contain way higher sugar content than its red cousins, and they cost about ¥700 - ¥1000 a piece. Japan and her crazy prices of perfect fruit.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

千葉県の焼肉


The friends hosted us to an awesome weekend at their spacious and scenic home in Chiba. It was very lovely of those who took the trouble to drive up (or take the train) when they don't even live in Tokyo anymore. An eight-hour journey to-and-fro total is such an effort. It was great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.

Everyone brought loads of ingredients to grill. It was to be a rainy and windy weekend, but the rain came later, and there was a bit of sun which held for our looong lunch. At 16°C, it was perfect for a cookout. Light beer and a bottle of red went easy with the meal.

The food wasn't that scary in terms of portions. Nothing gigantic, whewwww. Beef, lamb, chicken wings, vegetables and seafood. There was uhhhh horse sashimi too. The food didn't need much seasoning beyond pepper, salt and butter. There were additional dips of shoyu and wasabi. I took a few slices of beef, and I got to eat all the lovely crunchy and superbly fresh vegetables and clams. Homemade onigiri provided the carbs needed for very-hungry people.

There was a trampoline, but I decided against it, wisely. I was quite stuffed. All the stomach contents would not hold up to jumping. The dog and the kids had more energy and did way better on it with their somersaults and splits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

源や :: 海鮮炭焼処


None of us bothered to do any sort of googling before this. It was more of a, 'It's lunch time and I want to get out of the office asap. I'm really hungry. Let's just walk and see what's to eat nearby.' Randomly walked into a little alley off Yotsuya station and into 源や (pronounced as 'Gen-Ya') for a casual lunch of seafood sumiyaki (海鮮炭焼処). It's obviously the local lunch spot for the offices.

Grinned when we sat down. We were likely the only table of tourists. No English menu! Hahahaha. Well, that's not an issue when it's just lunch sets. There were plenty of familiar stuff to choose from. Took a peek around at what the others ordered. Everything looked great. Nothing mind-blowing, but super decent and comforting. The sets ranged from ¥870 to about ¥1200 that day.

The others opted for tempura and sashimi. The kitchen offered ayu (smelt) too, which is a little early in the season. As much as I like it, I gave it a miss since I didn't feel like dealing with the tiny bones. This side of the table had grilled saba, and nimono of tuna chunks on bones and daikon. The red miso soup with tiny little clams was delicious. Went perfectly with my beautiful bowl of rice. It was only much later then I thought that I should have ordered an egg to go along with the meal. Oof.


源や「海鮮炭焼処」
東京都 新宿区 四谷 1-7新道通り
ホテルニューショーヘイ1F
T: 050-5595-0874 (+81-50-5595-0874)

Gen-Ya (源や) is on the ground floor of Hotel New Shohei
1-7-9, Yotsuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0004, Japan

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

こんにちは東京!


I couldn’t stop cackling when the friends sent me videos of this particularly windy day in Tokyo earlier last week, along with captions like, “The flowers are blown off the trees! No more sakura after this weekend! No more sakura when you come in.” Hurhurhur. The wind was whipping around so fierce that people had difficulty walking!

Soooooo glad that the flowers have wilted and fallen off the trees. Nope, totally not here for the hanami season. I don't care about sakura, plum or apricot or any sort of flower fields or patches. In recent years, the incredible numbers of tourists thronging Tokyo in late March and April are horrifying. I couldn’t care less about flowers or manicured gardens. I care that the crowds have eased off and won't elbow my face each time I walk through a famous or popular stretch of streets.

Unfortunately each time I swing into Japan, I don't get to go to anywhere else but Tokyo because these aren't exactly leisurely trips. It does help that I can avoid downtown and the main tourists traps, and quietly melt into the suburbs and feel right at home wherever. When I live in a crowded city, visiting another densely packed city doesn't instantly put me in a better mood. Being able to slot in nature trails to the itinerary would help loads to alleviate the surly disposition. What puts a smile on my face is feeling the rhythm of the change of seasons, and soaking in this wonderfully crisp spring weather.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Rise of Avocados


The avocado has been hailed as this wonderful fruit of the decade. Its popularity is through the roof. Well, it's a delicious fruit that's my main staple, and for many people too. Juice, smoothie, protein bowls, as one of the fruits for overnight oats. We eat it as a meal.

Along with eggs, the super nutritional avocado is a part of my diet as a child with many allergies who's also a fussy eater. Somehow, I've still stayed in love with these two food items. I toggle between Mexican and Australian avocados. It depends on which one I find at whichever market I'm at. Avocados punk me all the time. Arrrrgh. But I still buy them to eat at home because it's ridiculous to pay for overpriced expensive tiny portions of avocado at the cafes. Unless they give me the whole fruit, then fine, I'd pay for that.

Brook Larmer's article on 'How the Avocado Became the Fruit of the Global Trade' in The New York Times published on March 27, 2018, is among many of those discussing the merits of trade of the fruit. California definitely doesn't supply enough volume to even feed domestic demand. There's huge environmental impact, of course, as with any popular produce, as more land is cleared to accommodate the planting of fruit trees or bushes. I clearly haven't felt guilty enough to stop eating avocados.

The avocado toast hasn't had such popularity till this decade. It's delicious. Salt flakes, a drizzle of lemon and olive oil, and dukkah. Plus a ton of raw shallots or onions. Gorgeous. It isn't just America's craze with the fruit. It's now a global obsession. Mexico produces a third of the global total exports of the fruit, with majority grown in the rich volcanic soil of Michoacán. 'Green gold', they call it. Australia produces avocados, but currently it's between seasons even as demand surges, and it's hence facing a shortage that should end soon.

The current US-China trade dispute does nobody any good, most of all the consumers. It still remains to be seen if US or China is worse-off for it. At least for this side of the world, steel and aluminum tariffs don't seem to hurt US and definitely would dent China's growth. But China's tariffs on food imported from the US sound painful...for the US. China imports tons of apples, pears and cherries from Washington state. These products could be supplied by the rest of the Asia-Pacific. The US exported about $20 billion worth of farm products to China last year.

I'm just not so sure about China's interest in riding on the exports with their homegrown plantations. Balancing out the world's supply sounds environmentally-friendly and ideal. International exports and profits, sure. But it would need lots of quality control and integrity to move away from the stereotypical perception and distrust of Chinese food and fruits.

Mexico was China’s largest supplier of avocados until last year, when it was surpassed by Chile. (Peru is moving in quickly, too.) In the future, the competition may come from China itself. With state backing, some Chinese businessmen are developing avocado plantations in the southern province of Guangxi. If they can come up with an avocado that matches the Latin American variety, at a lower cost, then the global market could shift. 
For now, though, China is adjusting. Most avocados sold there are hard and green — often to the confusion of the uninitiated. To solve this problem, Barnard’s Mission Produce built China’s first “ripe center” in Shanghai last year, with another to follow in Shenzhen next year. And Barnard is dreaming big. “If I could put four avocado chunks in every bowl of noodle soup in China,” he muses, “we wouldn’t have enough avocados in the world.” Only Mexican production would come close. And who knows? If American trade policy lurches toward a trade war, the farmers under the volcanoes in Michoacán might be eager to start sending their harvests to China instead.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

寿司四季花まる


Finally stopped by Sushi Shiki Hanamaru (寿司四季花まる) on a weekend for an early lunch. It's supposed to be a casual sushi bar at this Singapore branch instead of its conveyor belt kaiten sushi, so even if you sit at a table like us and order off the menu, the plates are still stacked and counted before the bill is rung up.

Of course it has many outlets in Hokkaido and three in Tokyo. But please don't compare the food of this restaurant in Singapore to the ones in Tokyo and Hokkaido. I think you'll cry. As it is, this is already one of the more affordable sushi places in the city at S$5 for two pieces. Many supposedly good ones have turned horrible in the last few years. Given the constraints and pricing, what they've done here is fairly laudable. The quality is currently decent, much better than many other conveyor belt equivalents in town. Whether the cuts are nice, would be dependent on who you get as your sushi chef on the day/timing you visit. Some friends have had eeky sushi here, and the others who visited at different timings didn't mind it. It was all dependent on which sushi chef is on duty at that point.

The king crab miso soup was delicious. That miso used was lovely. But getting the meat out of those thin legs ain't worth it, unless you really like to do that. None of us ordered tempura. We just went for sushi. Loads of protein and a bit of carbs. I enjoyed how they cured their cod roe (pollock, really, たらこ) in house with less salt so that it could be placed on sushi. That was fine! Surprisingly, I was okay with how they treated their mackerel, sardines and herring. They tasted all right. 10 pieces of sushi and a bowl of soup filled me up nicely. I hope they don't let these current standards drop. For now, I guess Sushi Shiki Hanamaru is a reasonable destination to get a quick fix.


Sushi Shiki Hanamaru (寿司四季花まる)
within Hokkaido Marche (北海道マルシェ)
Orchard Central, #B2-11/29/44/48 
181 Orchard Rd, Singapore 238896

Friday, April 13, 2018

Exercising :: Taking Stock Of Q1

This low-impact WOD that we do at the gym is just 30 minutes.
Easy to replicate at home, i.e without equipment. Motivation is subjective.

When people ask me how often I get to exercising weekly, they tend to blink at my answer, “About 40 minutes each day. Five to six days a week.” Actually that's quite normal for a segment of the population. I’ve no idea what they think I do (or what we do), but I get the impression that what comes to mind is lots of jumping and running. Hahahaha. NO. Neither jumping or running appeals; I avoid them whenever possible. You’ll almost never see me on the treadmill or run at warm-ups even. For many reasons, I stay away from CrossFit and Spartan Race obstacles.

That’s why I haven’t stopped this gym membership although the 12-month commitment has ended. I pay membership fees on a weekly basis now. The gym seems to be able to retain good instructors and offers a variety of classes that covers the range of functional training to HIIT, strength and flexibility. This is something smaller gyms and studios can’t offer. I’ll have to sign up with three smaller studios to get back to the ideal weekly workout regime. But I am gym-shopping.... 😉

Classes at the gym are pitched at a generic multi-level audience. What you get out of class, is truly what you choose to make out of it. Don’t look around and compare yourself to other gym-goers. We’re all at different stages of our ‘get fit’ program. If you don’t know where the others are at, and blindly compare, that ain’t doing any favor to your self esteem. The competition is with yourself. The goal is always to do ‘two more reps’, and that’s it. FWIW, I don’t track steps walked, distance jogged or calories burnt. If I know the details, that’s because the friends or fellow gym members gleefully yell that out.

Since I don't particularly like running, cardio for me, is in the format of krav maga and HIIT programs, for example, my favorite cardio + weights 30-minute burn in a Les Mills GRIT Strength class. I favor loads of stretching and strength training in the form of uisng my body weight as well, and pilates done in a specialized studio is my preferred method. Can I do this without joining a gym? Of course. I'd just need Youtube, a space, and loads of perseverance to incorporate daily sessions into my lifestyle. I do this in hotel rooms; not sure if I'm disciplined enough to do it at home on a regular basis. However, injuries and bad form tend to prevail without the presence of a trainer. My current week looks like this:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

焼き鳥で白金酉玉


Once in a while, I don't mind yakitori (焼き鳥), and by that, I mean to have it in its intended meaning- grilled chicken. Shirokane Tori-Tama (白金酉玉) has always been my choice. I don't think it's got the best service or whatever, but I've never had issues at the restaurant. They've consistently churned out fairly delicious chicken and all its innards, even for someone who doesn't quite fancy the meat. It isn’t just the binchotan used or the marinade. It’s the chicken itself. No idea where they got their supplies of meat from, but it distinctly tastes different from how the other restaurants do it.

J takes no innards. Whhhuuuut. But she enjoys chicken, so she found what she wanted. Thighs, wings, and a pork-part-something. Hahaha. I didn't have to eat that much chicken. I probably ate fewer than five pieces. There were plenty of other items on the menu for me. Peppers, mushrooms and other vegetables were available. We even had an excellent sweet potato mash with loads of crunchy greens. What I do like, is chicken hearts! Hahahaha. Had two skewers. :P

A pity the weather is simply too unkind for yakitori here. That evening, we dressed light and didn’t mind smelling like grilled meat. Perhaps it was our imagination, but through the years, somehow the ventilation system improved, and it didn’t feel too hot sitting in front of the grill. We smelt fine after too. The yuzu-umeshu with soda went down easy and didn't make us feel too much like alcoholics at all! Woohooo. The sparkling drinks were perfect for the hot hot day.


Shirokane Tori-Tama (白金酉玉)
11 Unity Street #01-02 Singapore 237995
T: +65 6836 5680 (reservations necessary)
Hours: Dinner from 6 to 11pm; closed on Sundays

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

UK National Theatre's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'



The friends bought us tickets to the international production of National Theatre's (UK) 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'. What a thoughtful awesome gift! This version is adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott. It premiered at Soho's Gielgud Theatre (on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Rupert Street) in 2012, has finally ended its run in June 2017. The show has gone on tour, and Singapore got to see it this month.

The actors were brilliant. Joshua Jenkins deftly brought out the inner world of Christopher Boone. The set was wonderfully, for the lack of a better word to describe it, futuristic. Light and sound flawlessly complemented physical theatre. It’s highly effective and impressive. That electric train running through London's suburbs and downtown skyline was such a hoot. And OMG, that cute little Labrador puppy at the end melted everyone’s hearts. Yes, a real puppy that appeared for all of two minutes.

Of all of Mark Haddon's works, this 2003 title is probably the only one I really enjoy. I think that this play stayed true to the essence of the book, fleshing out what we thought Christopher might look like, and how he might be (voice, vibes, movement) if he is our neighbor, classmate or cousin. We know the story pretty well, and the themes it brought out.

However, in the play's 2012 premiere, Mark Haddon himself warned audiences and readers not to refer to the book as any yardstick of understanding the behavior of people on the spectrum of autism and Asperger's. Mark Haddon wants this book to be more than about a behavioral disability. One still can’t help but link to that. We know how flawed humans are, and that parents can’t and don’t always necessarily make the right choices, and that love might not be the guiding light. Mark Haddon's 2012 concluding statement reads,

If I was being contentious I might say that Curious is not really about Christopher at all. Christopher is an outsider, and novelists are drawn to outsiders of all kinds - Robinson Crusoe, Raskolnikov, Holden Caulfield, Jane Eyre, Benjy Compson... - because they grant us a privileged position from which we are able to look back at ourselves. 
If I was being particularly contentious I might say that Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.