Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (September 2008)


It's the end of the month which means it's time once again to fill you in on what I've been reading. As I mentioned last month, I was having my own John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris revival (John Wyndham for most of his science fiction books). Penguin publishers had reprinted five of his books, complete with new covers. But in all honesty, I think the new covers are rather bland. This is an author that was once recommended by a friend of mine way back in the early '80s. My friend knew I was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy and couldn't believe I hadn't read Wyndham's most famous novel, "The Day of the Triffids". Why I waited nearly 30 years to read it, I'll never know. But once I read through that particular book, I just had to read the others. Aside from Wyndham's science fiction novels, I had to go back to my favorite of food and travel as well and also managed to read one children's book as well and looked through one visual book. So here we go:

1. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS by John Wyndham - Any avid reader of science fiction and fantasy should know this book. Triffids are giant plants that can walk and are carnivorous as well. But humans have been growing them in increasing numbers for the various products that can be extracted from them. One evening, an incredible event has occurred. A meteor shower of epic proportions. However, our hero in this story was just about to get the bandage removed from his eyes. He had been blind for the past two weeks or so. But things are not right in the hospital. It turns out that all the people who watched the evening night skies have all become blind over night. Our hero is one of the few people who still has his sight though (not being able to see the previous evenings show). And as people become clumsy, they are slowly and deliberately being fed upon by the triffids. Very exciting story. I think movies like "Night of the Comet" and "28 Days Later" owe a bit of their inspiration to this story. First published in 1951. Its still exciting reading today. I should have listened to my friend back when he recommended it.

2. THE KRAKEN WAKES by John Wyndham - A fireballs are seen from Earth but nobody really worries about it. It's just another unusual event that happened in space. However, a lot of these fireballs have been falling into the deepest parts of our ocean. And afterwards, passenger ships and tankers mysteriously disappear in deep waters. Long before global warming became part of our everyday lexicon, Wyndam has come up with another cautionary tale of what might happen to Earth if our polar caps melt and if we're attacked by some new and unknown creatures from the deep. Fun stuff. This was published in 1953 and was released as "Out of the Deeps" in the U.S.

3. THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by John Wyndham - Most of you are probably familiar with this story even if you've never read it. It was adapted for the silver screen and become the movie "Village of the Damned" which also spawned the sequel "Children of the Damned". First published in 1957. In the small English village of Midwich, the entire town has been become unconscious. However, when the town folks wake and find there is nothing wrong with themselves, this even becomes known as the "Day Out". It isn't until nine months later that the villagers have discovered a new mystery. All the women in the town of Midwich are pregnant!! And once the kids are born, they all have blond hair and golden eyes - and also seem to have the power to make the villagers to what they want. Another excellent story. Of course I will not tell you these stories turn out. If I've perked your interest even a bit, that would be a good thing. It might make you want to go to your local book store to buy these books.

4. THE CHRYSALIDS by John Wyndham - Probably my favorite of all the Wyndham books. First published in 1955 and released "Re-Birth" in the States. Once again, another cautionary tale. It's a few thousand years in the future after some apocalyptic event. It seems the only places left inhabitable by normal people are living in Labrador. The people here live a humble life. They believe the people in the past were punished by "God" who sent "Tribulation" to teach them a lesson. And the people believe that to keep themselves from having another "Tribulation" they need to live a simple life, a perfect life (just imagine them living life like in the Taliban-led Afghanistan). And if a thing isn't considered pure, such a a cat without a tail, or a person with some form of deformity, they are considered blasphemies, even plants and vegetables that are considered perfect are called "deviations" and must be destroyed or sent to the "Fringes". Our hero David learns early that he has telepathic abilities, yet his father is a strict religious man who would as soon destroy his own son who would be considered a blasphemy. His younger sister also has the power and is by far a long stronger than anybody has experienced yet. But when their secret is found out, they must flee the city and brave the wilds of "Fringes" and fight for their survival. Very, very exciting reading.

5. TROUBLE WITH LICHEN by John Wyndham - A woman biochemist finds that the property of a particular lichen, indeed has an ingredient to retard the aging process. Her superior at work as also been working independently on the properties of this particular lichen. He has used himself and his family as guinea pigs and find that they will be able to live for 200 to 300 years. However, the woman biochemist quits her job and opens a spa for women and treats her patients with the extract from the plant. Her boss thinks she's doing it for profit, but her actual aim is to treat influential and powerful women so that if the secret is discovered, men in power will not be able to keep it solely for themselves.

6. THE YEAR OF EATING DANGEROUSLY: A GLOBAL ADVENTURE IN CULINARY EXTREMES by Tom Parker-Bowles - And now back to my favorite subject - food! But when Parker-Bowles says eating dangerously, he doesn't mean trying to score a kebab in Iraq or Afghanistan. No, what he's really referring to is the Western concept of what we might consider extreme or dangerous. Being a Brit, he starts his adventure close to home in a place called Glouscester hunting for elvers. Elvers are a type of eel in case you didn't know (I didn't!). He next goes to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the annual Fiery Foods Festival. Then it's off to China for a variety of foods we probably wouldn't have the nerve to eat or drink - spirits with snake bile, offal (the nice term for liver, kidneys, spleens, hearts, intestines, and whatnot). I've been reading another book about the food of China and came upon a phrase that sums up their cuisine - "if it moves, it's a potential ingredient.". Then, it's off to Nashville, Tennessee to be a judge in a barbecue competition (I would love to go to one of these). Next stop - Tokyo, Japan for some fugu or puffer fish (which I know I won't have to explain to you). Then it's off to Korea to try something called posintang, which is the controversial dish made with dog meat. (The author could only stomach a bite or two as his European and American prejudices were too strong to ignore). He also tried some snack food at an outdoor food stall that happened to be the pupae of some critter. Then a trip to Laos, where he tries a bit of ant egg soup (which you should all be familiar with if you read last month's Page Turners). Next, it's off to Spain to go in search of parcevas (gooseneck barnacles). Well hey, I can remember my mother eating goeyducks so I guess barnacles could be delicious as well. And then its off to Sicily with his Hollywood image of the Mafia. The only place in his list of destinations that he thought might be dangerous. And just for a bit of trivia, my short list of dangerous foods I have eaten - puffer fish (the sashimi was delicious but the fried puffer had too many bones), kangaroo (at a Ghanaian restaurant that was so spicy you couldn't tell what kind of meat you were eating), torisasami (it's a dish made with raw chicken - don't knock until you try it and I didn't suffer from salmonella poisoning!). Camel jerky at a Greek restaurant, alligator and ostrich at the Bite of Seattle, basashi (raw horse meat, also a delicacy in Japan and was served at a ryokan I stayed at). But no bugs or insects for me. Oh, wait a minute, I have tried inago which is a kind of grasshopper. Bon Appetit!

7. THE MAN WHO ATE THE WORLD: IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT DINNER by Jay Rayner - And now, from one extreme to the other. Rayner is a food writer for the London Observer and has an affinity for the finer things in life. This book is about his travels around the world and eating exclusively at Michelin three star restaurants. He dines with and at some of the world known chef's restaurants - Mario Battali, Wolfgang Puck, Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire to name a few. We're talking about dinners that can cost up to $500 per person. His travels take him to Las Vegas, Moscow, Tokyo, Dubai, London, and of course New York and Paris. He is also in the envious position of having most of his meals paid for his place of employ. He also decides to pull a Morgan Spurlock (but only for a week and only for dinner). A lot of these three star restaurants serve what's called a tasting menu where you might be served up to sixteen separate dishes. But reading this book, it still doesn't inspire me to seek out places like El Bulli in Spain to spend a fortune on dinner. I'd prefer to have some yakitori at a local dive for eat some cheap grub in the outdoor foodstalls of Southeast Asia.

8. TOKYO ROCK CATWALK: VISUAL KEI BANDS BIG IN JAPAN by Cocoro Books - Well, I don't know about big. If the publisher really wanted to sell more books, they should have included pictures of X Japan, Malice Mizer, EZO, Pierrot, and Dir en Grey. As it is, the bands featured in this book aren't major and I doubt that they're big in Japan as the title suggests. But it makes for a great companion volume to Cocoro Books "J-Rock Groupies". If your a visual kei band maniac and you're familiar with these bands, Suicide Ali, Seed, Kurogane, Julia, or Tokami, then this is a must-have book for you.

9. FRINDLE by Andrew Clements - And I also like to relax by reading a children's book or two. The story here is about a fourth grader who tries to talk his teacher out of giving students homework but his plan backfires as his new teacher assigns him an extra bit of homework on the origin of words. To get at his teacher, he starts referring to a pen as a "frindle" and gets his classmates to use it as well. Soon, it's a war between the teacher forbidding the use of the word, and the students flagrant use of it. Fun story. Only at the end, does the student realize that his teacher had been purposefully playing the devil's advocate. I may have to read some more of Clements books just for fun.

And so concludes this month's choices. As I mentioned earlier, I'm currently reading about the exploits of another foodie who spends a lot of time in China and becomes the first foreigner and woman to study at a Sichuan Culinary Institute. And I think I may even indulge myself in reading Candace Bushnell's "Sex and the City" - although I have no desire to watch the drama or the movie.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto / 蒙古タンメン中本

Last Friday, Mikako and I had the day off and decided to head out to Ikebukuro for lunch. Our choice this time was Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto. This ramen shop has been featured on many television programs and magazine articles which features their Mouko Tanmen which is a very spicy ramen topped with minced meat and mabo-dofu. Hot and delicious! However, Mikako still prefers the Spicy Chashu-men from Miso Ichi. This shop serves an even more spicy ramen called [Hokkyoku Ramen] which translates to North Pole Ramen. The Mouko Tanmen was spicy enough for me.


And to make my sister jealous, another fine pic of the ramen we ate.

Belated Thanks / 遅れたお礼

The above was given to me by a co-worker. Mikako and I already ate both of them and they were both delicious. The one on the right was nice and spicy - a tom yam ramen. Apparently,
noodles from Vietnam.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

La Pianta / ラ・ピアンタ

As I mentioned on my post about our walk around Sakura Shin Machi, we went and had lunch at an Italian restaurant called La Pianta. Mikako was in the mood for Italian after watching a program on television featuring a place called [Erick Pierre]. But since that restaurant seemed to be closed we just wandered around and stumbled across this place. We checked out there menu and I saw that they served gnocchi.


This restaurant featured a lunch set that included soup, salad, dessert, and a choice of coffee or tea (iced or hot). Mikako ordered the spaghetti pescatore while I chose my longed for gnocchi.
We were first served our salad which was covered with a vinagraitte dressing (delicious). Next was the soup which was the house minestrone (also very good). Then our main course. Of course we shared each other's meal. But when my plate arrived, it wasn't my imagined gnocchi, the kind that resembles ravioli. However, it was a potato gnocchi covered with a gorgonzola cheese sauce and oven-baked. I enjoyed quite a bit. Mikako wasn't too keen on the gorgonzola so she only had a few bites. For dessert, Mikako had the gateau chocolat (chocolate cake if you didn't know), while I had the raspberry yogurt mousse.


Salad and Soup / サラダとスープ

Seafood Pasta / シーフードパスタ

Oven-baked Gnocchi with a Gorgonzola sauce / ニョッキのゴルゴンゾーラソースのオブン焼き

Chocolate Cake / ガトウショコラ

Raspberry Yogurt Mousse / フランボアーズヨグルトムース

Bon Appetit / いただきます

Friday, September 26, 2008

Everyday is an Adventure / 毎日が冒険

I finished another book that's written entirely in Japanese without any furigana. I once again challenged myself to read my current favorite Japanese author, Ayumu Takahashi. This book is his story of graduating from a high school without having any dreams and not knowing what he wants to do with his life to his success as a bar owner, company president, author, and publisher. It's a success story about starting with nothing and having no experience to becoming his own company's president at the age of 24.


I laughed when I read about his first dream. He was watching television with his brother when an ad for Marlboro cigarettes came on. Then it hit him. He decides to go to Texas to become a cowboy. I thought this is like an American watching a Kurosawa movie suddenly thinks to himself, "That's it!, I will go to Japan to become a samurai!". Of course, once Takahashi finds himself in Texas and finds a person willing to teach him, his dream is shattered by the reality of it all. He turns tail and heads back to Japan.


But from that humble beginning, a friend of his talks him into taking part in a philosophy seminar that apparently teaches one that success is giving it more than your best. It's also about being persistent and never giving up. And also to make his parents happy, he decides to go to college (still not knowing what he wants to do with his life). Having so much time on his hand, he goes to his local video rental store because he wanted to watch Tom Cruise in "Top Gun", but since the store was out of that title, he rents "Cocktail". Watching that, he has his next epiphany - "That's it. I will be a bartender and open my own bar". And so, he starts to work part-time at a bar, reads up on opening a small business, and saves as much money as he can. His had a three year plan. But when he talks to his friends, they all decide to chip in and Takahashi and four of his friends open their own bar "Rockwell's". This when Takahashi is only 21years old.


But, not being satisfied with having just one bar, he talks and helps his younger brother open [Rockwell's II]. Gaining more business experience, instead of just opening another bar, he sets up his own company and names it Sanctuary. Takahashi is now the president of his own company - and he's only 24yrs old. He goes on to open two more bars and their profits continue to rise. He takes a trip to India to meet Sai Baba. But Takahashi gets bored and wants a new challenge. So he quits his job as company president (although he continues to have his name listed), and gets into the publishing business. Once again starting from scratch. From writing a book, setting up a publishing company, publishing the book, choosing the print and papers, coming up with a title, and getting it into stores, and to hope it becomes a bestseller. His first book, and first book for Sanctuary publishing is [Heaven's Door]. I will probably read that next.

彼は一店舗で満足が出来なかった。弟を手伝って、「Rockwell's」二号店をオペン。店だけを開店するのは難しいから、その後、高橋氏が自分の会社「Sanctuary」を成立し、社長になり、あっと言う間に。4店舗まで経営した。彼はまだ24歳。会社も店の売上も順調だったし、最初に居店舗目で一緒にオペンした友達とインドに旅立つ、目的はサイババに会うため。戻った高橋氏がまた新たな挑戦をしたいと友達に行って、自分が作った会社を辞めて、別の事をゼロからやるのを決心しました。それが本を書いて、作った会社に出版事業部を成立し、自分の自伝を作ることにした。本の世界をまったく分からない高橋氏が自らプリントやら、紙を決め、自分でも営業でいろんな本屋にいったりして。やっと出来上がった本の「Heaven's Door」を完成した。

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Walk around Sakura Shin Machi / 桜新町の散歩

It's been a while since Mikako and I took a walk around a neighborhood we haven't been to. Today, our goal was Sakura Shin Machi. I had been looking forward to walking around here to check out the Machiko Hasegawa Museum and Sazae-san Street. I probably don't have to explain who Machiko Hasegawa or Sazae-san is to my Japanese readers, but for those of you who are not familiar, Machiko Hasegawa is the author/illustrator of one of Japan's longest running cartoons - Sazae-san. But before heading to the museum, we were planning on having lunch at a Italian restaurant owned and run by a chef from Madagascar (yes, I said Madagascar) in Komazawa (one station apart from Sakura Shin Machi) called [Erick Pierre]. Mikako was watching a television program the previous day and that particular restaurant was featured. We found the restaurant without any problems but it didn't seem to be open, so we decided to head on Sakura Shin Machi first.


On our walk towards Sakura Shin Machi, we came across an long entrance to a shrine which made for a nice picture.


Once we reached Sakura Shin Machi, we went in search of Sazae-san Street (which was quite easy to find) as there was a big sign pointing the way.


As we made our way towards the Machiko Hasegawa Museum, we came across Nakajima-kun (Katsuo's friend), Wakame and her classmate (characters from Sazae-san of course).


Also while heading towards the museum, we saw a sign that said there was going to be a Nebuta Festival here in Sakura Shin Machi. Unfortunately, the festival was last week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Nebuta Festival, it's one Japan's biggest festivals that's held every August in Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture, featuring these huge Nebuta floats, some that are well over 10 feet tall and very wide. We came across two here in Sakura Shin Machi, with just one difference - there were way small. Mikako and I laughed when we saw them. Of course I had to take a picture.


We finally made it to the museum. The museum is housed in a cute red brick building. The entrance fee was 600yen for adults. I was pretty excited as my brother and I used to watch this cartoon in our elementary years when we were living in Tokyo. I thought there would be all sorts of figures, toys, animation cells, and such but was disappointed to find that it really was just an art museum, and all the art wasn't by Machiko Hasegawa. There was one small room devoted to Sazae-san where kids could watch Sazae-san videos. Aside from that, the room was pretty sparse. The only really interesting piece of art was the miniature of the Isono house. It was very detailed, down to the Japanese style bathroom. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed inside the building. Too bad.


That's Katsuo waving from the window. / かつお君が窓から手を振ってる。

The Isono and Fuguta Family - from left to right: Namihei Isono, Fune Isono, Tama (pet cat),
Sazae Fuguta, Katsuo Isono, Wakame Isono, Tarao Fuguta (Tara-chan), and Masuo Fuguta


And as we still haven't had lunch, we went in search of a place to eat and found a pleasant Italian restaurant called [La Pianta], but I will save that for another post.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rock Good Memories (Part 3) / ロックグッズ思い出 (パート3)

So why are these Aerosmith / Lenny Kravitz tickets in a display box? Because they were a wedding present from a friend of mine. When Mikako and I had our wedding in the U.S. on Valentine's Day, the next day Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz was in concert and knowing that we are fans of Aerosmith, thus the present. I first saw Aerosmith with my brother's friend when was in the 9th grade. It was the "Draw the Line" tour with Mahogany Rush opening the show. This was way back in 1979!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Neighborhood Festival (Part 2) / またまた近所の祭り (パート2)

Following the previous post, we once again enjoyed the festival - this time with our friends Mari and her son Shoei. The festival isn't quite as crowded on a Sunday afternoon. Which means were able to find a table to sit at and enjoy our lunch and snacks and beer. To give you an idea of how small some of these festivals are, I once again to a short video clip. I missed out taking a clip of a bunch of kids hoisting the mikoshi but you will be able to get an idea of what I mean.


And so, for lunch, Mikako and I once ordered a souvlaki. And we couldn't resist the deep-fried gyoza. We also ate some edamame, frankfurters, buttered potatoes, yakisoba,and yakitori. Shoei and Mikako also enjoyed a chocolate-covered bananas.


Cheers at Lunchtime / 昼でも乾杯

Souvlaki (again!) / またスブラキ食べました。

Edamame (excellent with beer) / 枝豆 (ビールの定番のおつまみ)

Frankfurters / フランク

Buttered Potatoes / ジャガバター

Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) / 焼き鳥 (もも肉と皮)

Yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) / 定番の焼きそば

Shoei with his chocolate-covered banana / ショー君が一番食べたかったチョコバナナ

And afterwards, we were going to go our separate ways. Mari and Shoei head home, Shoei on his Harley-Davidson bicycle.


And so we thought the day was over. However, Mari called later wanting to borrow our computer (theirs was in for repairs). Mikako went out on a little beer and snack run as we waited for Mari and Shoei. What was supposed to be a short visit turned out to be an evening at our place. Shoei didn't want to go home! He was in his own world when he found my Ultraman and Barutan Seijin figures. I also showed him my collection of Japanese super-hero cards. They ended up staying at our place until 9:30 in the evening.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Another Neighborhood Festival (Part 1) / またまた近所祭り (パート1)

A couple of weeks ago, the shrine located behind our apartment had their annual summer festival. We were planning on going on Sunday afternoon with our friend Mari and her son Shoei. But Mikako called me right after work on Saturday and said the festival was going on right now as well. So we decided we would have dinner by buying something from the various foodstalls. It was quite crowded at night, mostly with kids and students. But before eating, we went to the shrine to wish for good health among other things. And then, even though this is a Japanese festival, one of the foodstalls was serving souvlaki (Greek version of the Turkish doner kebabs, although I couldn't tell you the difference over here). That was our main meal. But, we also couldn't pass up the deep fried gyozas that were only 100yen for three, or the isobe-yaki which was also 100yen for two (but the isobe-yaki seemed like they were frozen and just reheated). We also had one frankfurter and shared a corn-on-the-cob. Of course, we're still planning on going to the festival on Sunday as well.

二週間前位にうちの裏にある神社が恒例の夏祭りを開催しました。最初は友達のマリちゃんとショー君と日曜日に行く予定だったが、美香子が土曜日の仕事帰りの僕に電話して、今も祭りやってるから、行かない?良いねと答えた私が、「じゃー、夕飯はそこで食べるか?」 ま、食べる前に神社でお参りして、その後にいろいろ食べた。日本の祭りなのに、なぜか毎年ギリシャ料理のスブラキの屋台が出てるので、私たちはいつもそこでそれを買う。(と言いたって、この屋台のスブラキはトルコのドネルケバブとどこが違う?)それがメインで、他に揚餃子(3個で100円)、磯辺焼き(2個100円)、フランクと、とうもろこし。もちろん、日曜日も行くよ。

Souvlaki / スブラキ

Fried Gyoza / 揚餃子

Isobe-yaki / 磯辺焼き

Frankfurters / フランク

Corn-on-the-Cob / とうもろこし

To be continued... / つづく

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nanase Aikawa / 相川七瀬

My favorite Japanese artist - Nanase Aikawa. Rocker, cute, and a Mom! (But I still haven't gotten around to buying her last album).

僕の大好きな日本人アーティスト ‐ 相川七瀬。(でも最後に出したCDまだ買ってない)。彼女は可愛い、かっこいい、ロッカとお母さんだ!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rock Good Memories (Part 2) / ロックグッズ思い出 (パート2)

As I was watching television the other morning before going to work, this morning news show featured a short story on a legendary band still going strong and is about to release a new album. As you can guess from the picture above, that band is Australia's AC/DC. I hope they tour Japan again. The above is another one of my cherished rock goods. Three members of the band were doing a signing at my place of employ. Too cool, I got to shake Angus, Malcolm, and Brian's hand.

この間仕事行く前にテレビを見てたら、一つのニューズアイテムがあった。オストラリアの超伝説のロックバンドが新しいアルバムを出す。上記の写真見れば分かるでしょう。そのバンドはAC/DC. まだ日本に来日するかな?僕の職場で彼らがサイン会をやってた。もちろん僕は会いに行くよ。アンガス、マルコム、とブライアンに握手が出来ました!わいわい!

I remember seeing AC/DC in concert for the first time. They were the opening act for show that featured Ted Nugent as headliner and Cheap Trick sometime in 1979. AC/DC had just released "Highway to Hell" and I was fortunate enough to see Bon Scott before he passed away. In fact, I saw this particular tour twice - once in Seattle and once more in New York at Madison Square Garden! I also remember going to their concert on the day the first Gulf War started. And I saw them again in Japan at Yokohama Stadium. Too cool!

最初にAC/DCのライブを見たもよく覚えてる。1979年位にテッド・ヌージェントとチープ・トリックの前座だった。AC/DCがちょうど「ハイウエイ・トゥ・ヘル」をリリースした。良かったことに僕は初期のボーカリストのボン・スコットを生で見た。このツアーも二回も見に行った。一回目はシアトル。二回目はニューヨークのMadison Square Gardenで見た!最高だったな。それから、最初の湾岸戦争が始まった日もAC/DCのライブに行った覚えもある。日本に移住して、また、横浜スタジアムでも見た。もう一度言うけどやっぱりAC/DCって最高。