Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (January 2009)


It's the end of the month which means its time for my monthly book reviews. Quite a bit of variety for this month. Can you believe I read a couple of classics as well. One by my namesake - Ernest Hemingway, and the other - a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, he of the "Great Gatsby" fame. And of course my favorite subjects of food, beer, and travel.

LIBERATION DAY by Andy McNab - Written shortly after 9-11, the evildoers in this story are America's newest nemesis. It's not communism, it's not a country. It's terrorists. And in this story, the protagonist, one Nick Stone, has taken on one last mission for the CIA. Once accomplished, he has been promised American citizenship and is planning on starting a new life with the woman he loves. Which is why he finds himself sneaking into the country of Algeria, with orders to kill and bring back the head of big money laundering businessman. He isn't told why the man has to die this way and there are some things you just don't ask. But Nick finds that he hasn't been told the entire story and has been manipulated by the head of the CIA, who also happens to his fiance's father and has no choice but to help the CIA in their dirty war against some very powerful people.

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway - Sometimes I get an irrational urge to read a classic. Being one who shunned literature all throughout my academic career and took alternative courses such as Creative Writing, Independent Reading, and Science-Fiction, my father still shakes his head as I told him I had never read Shakespeare in high school or college. But when you work in a book store and are not required to read such items, you begin to wonder what made those classics so great that they teach them in high school. And so, I found myself reading this Nobel prize-winning Hemingway classic. Did you know this story is quite short and simple? It was a breeze to read as compared to Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" which I gave up on less than half-way through. This story is as the title suggests about an old man and the sea and his determination to catch one big fish. Although I found this to be entertaining, I'm still at a loss as to why it was chosen for the Nobel prize. But then again, movies which have won many awards at film festivals aren't always great as you would think them to be. Take for instance the Russian film "The Return", which won 28 awards and another 12 nominations. I watched it and it was a vast waste of my time, and I couldn't for the life of me, see what was so great about it. I would nominate it for one of my all time worst films. I'm not saying that this book was terrible. As I said earlier, I quite enjoyed it. But Nobel Prize? Hmm?

THE JOURNALS OF ELEANOR DRUSE: MY INVESTIGATION OF THE KINGDOM HOSPITAL INCIDENT by Eleanor Druse – While I am not familiar with the Stephen King produced television series, “Kingdom Hospital”, I did rather enjoy this story which delves into the world of the paranormal. Eleanor is a sixty-year old mystic who is summoned to the newly built Kingdom Hospital in Lewiston Maine by her childhood friend who had attempted suicide. When Eleanor gets to the hospital to see her friend, some unexplained events occur and the next time Eleanor wakes, she finds herself in a hospital in Boston General. She had known that the Kingdom Hospital was built on top of the old one that burned down, but it seems she has been repressing a memory of a childhood tragedy at that hospital where she and her friend were admitted to the hospital for whooping cough. It also appears her friend remembers the past too well. When Eleanor digs deeper into the mystery, instead of answers, a bigger and horrible secret is revealed!

SOMEDAY, ANGELINE by Louis Sachar - Sometimes I just like to relax with a children's book. They're usually a quick read for me and for the most part, I seem to choose titles that have a happy end or are just plain funny. I think it's a shame that some adults don't read children's book just because they think it's only for children. This story is about a little girl who just happens to be a genius. She is being raised by her garbage man father who finds it hard to talk to his own daughter because she's so smart. But being so smart isn't what it's all cracked up to be as her classmates call her Freak and her teacher thinks she's just a show-off. However, things look brighter when Angeline makes friends with "Goon" and his teacher "Mr. Bone" - Miss Turbone.

RED, WHITE, AND BREW: AN AMERICAN BEER ODYSSEY by Brian Yaeger - Last year I read a few books where the authors traveled the world in search of culinary delights. But this time, instead of food, this author travels around America to discover the delights of craft beers. You won't find him stopping for a Bud or Coors here. To think, I almost passed up on reading this because his travels didn't take him to the Northwest corner of the States (he does hit Portland to check out Widmer). He starts his travels with America's oldest operating brewery - D. G. Yuengling & Sons in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Also stops in Adamstown (D. L. Geary's Brewery). He then travels to New England (Allagash Brewery, Shipyard Brewery, Gritty McDuff's Brewpub - Portland, Maine), then makes for the Midwest (Bell's Brewery - Comstok & Kalamazoo, Michigan / Goose Island Brewpub - Chicago, Illinois / Leinenkugel's Brewery - Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin / Summit Brewery - St. Paul, Minnesota / August Schell Brewery - New Ulm, Minnesota / Court Avenue Brewpub - Des Moines, Iowa), heads to middle America (Free State Brewpub - Lawrence, Kansas/ Boulevard Brewery - Kansas City, Missouri / , continues on through Colorado (New Belgian Brewery, Coopersmith's Brewpub, Odell's Brewery all in Ft. Collins), then Laramie, Wyoming (O'Dwyer's Brewpub), Victor, Idaho (Grand Teton Brewery), Portland, Oregon (Widmer Brothers Brewery) get the picture. Heads south to Cali, to Arizona, New Mexico, the Big Easy to Kentucky and end his trip at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. And lastly, for a celebration of completing his trip, beers with friends in brewpub in New York (Brooklyn Brewing). The other breweries and brewpubs visited were Steelhead Brewpub, Standing Stone Brewpub, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Anchor Brewery, San Francisco Brewpub, Firestone Walker Brewery, The Brewhouse Brewpub, Electric Brewery, High Desert Brewpub, Spoetzel Brewery, Orf Brewery, Dixie Brewery, Crescent City Brewpub, Lazy Magnolia's Brewery, and Alltech's Lexington Brewery. Now, go out and drink a beer - make that drink a craft beer!

LIONBOY by Zizou Corder - Charlie Ashanti is the child of a Ghanaian father and an English mother and has the ability to speak Cat! Yes, he can speak to cats (and big cats like lions) in their own language. It was a gift he's had since childhood. As he came home one day, he found that his parents were missing and a local boy named Rafi, the neighborhood good-for-nothing said his parents had to leave town quickly and that he was take Charlie to his uncle. But Charlie is no dummy. He plays along with Rafi until he gets an idea of where his parents were taken and makes his escape. Charlie finds himself on a large circus ship headed towards Paris (which is where he knows his parents are). It's upon this chip where Charlie meets and befriends six lions. He learns the story of the lions and sympathises with them and helps them escape from the circus ship. Can Charlie help these lions and also find his parents? This is the first volume in a three volume series.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON by F. Scott Fitzgerald - What? Me reading another classic? Well, this isn't "The Great Gatsby". But with the really of the Brad Pitt starring movie of the same name which will be released here next week and which Mikako wants to see at the theater, I decided to read the original short story. As the story took less than an hour to read, I will be looking forward to seeing how it was adapted for the silver screen. If you're not familiar with the premise of the story yet, its quite simple. Benjamin Button (in the original story, his father actually wanted to call him Methuselah!) is born as an eighty-year old man and ages in reverse.

WORLD FOOD: SPAIN by Richard Sterling - Once again I find myself reading about my favorite subject - food and travel. This time, I have taken myself to Spain. So, what do you think of when you think of Spanish cuisine? For starters - Paella! And you mustn't forget your Iberico pig! And Spain is wine country. True, it's not as popular as the wines of France or Italy, but this is the country where Sangria was born. Oh, and the tapas. If I read this book when I was still traveling here and there with my drinking buddy, I would have suggested Spain in a heartbeat. It would have had everything we wanted - drinking and eating at all hours of the night and day and then some. Time to check out the small Spanish restaurant in my neighborhood!

LIONBOY: THE CHASE by Zizou Corder - When we last left Charlie, he was headed to Paris to look for his parents and accompanying him were six lions. Well now, it seems that not only is the good-for-nothing Rafi after him, the circus owner believes his lions were stolen and the lion-tamer has guessed that Charlie can speak to cats, setting in motion a chase of a grand proportions. But this isn't just a Cat-speaking boy's adventure story - it's a metaphor for greed and conspiracy. This book shines light on who and why his parents were abducted. As you read this story, you realized that the Corporacy (the people who payed to have Charlie's parents abducted) relate to the pharmaceutical companies of today's world. Did any of you read or watch John Le Carre's "The Constant Gardener"? The only thing the Corporacy loves is MONEY! They have created cats that promote asthma in children, and are making money by charging astronomical sums for the medicine. Charlie's parents are on the breakthrough of having found a cure for asthma (and that's something the Corporacy doesn't want the people to know). In the meantime, Charlie is also helping his lion friends make their trek back home to Morocco. But Rafi is still in pursuit, as is Maccomo - the lion trainer. But along with his enemies, Charlie has a few allies of his own - the King of Bulgaria and a gondolier named Claudio (along with all the cats). The chase takes them from Paris to Venice (in a out of the frying pan and into the fire scenario), and from Venice to Morocco.

I hope you enjoyed this month's choices. I already have books to be read for next month. Another in the World Food series, this time featuring Mexico. Extreme eating in Northern Spain, the new Redwall book, and travels across Tibet and the Himalayas. Of course, the last two titles depend on how quickly my father reads them. And I definitely need to read the last volume in the "Lionboy" series. I also have Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth" but the thing is a monster and I'm not sure if I have the patience to read it. The critter is 900 pages long, and then there is a sequel! Oh yes, I did read another book in Japanese but I will save that for a bilingual post.

As always, Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Japanese Microbrew Tour - Iwate Prefecture / 日本地ビールツアー ‐ 岩手県

Recently I was reading a book titled "Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey" in which the author traveled the U.S. stopping at various microbreweries and brewpubs and indulging in lots of craft beers. Which gave me a craving for a taste of a Japanese craft beer. As the sake shop nearest my apartment moved, the next closest one was by the bus stop. I stopped in to buy a bottle but was disappointed that they stocked only one microbrew. It was a weisen style beer from Iwate called "Ginga Kogen Beer". Quite delicious.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yokohama Ramen Shop [Sanyo] / 横浜ラーメン屋 「三陽」

On a sunny but cold Sunday, my friend Yukio and his girlfriend invited us to go for a drive. We headed out to Yokohama to a small ramen shop called [Sanyo]. What makes this place special is the naming of their ramen. On the menu, you will find the chin-chin ramen (chin-chin being slang for a guy's man-thing!). Then there is the Bobo ramen, the chome-chome men, and the rabu-rabu men (love love ramen). And nope, I'm not making any of this up.


Before we sat down to order, the cook yelled out to us, "How 'bout some pesticide infested gyoza, negi-miso and a couple of beers?" Uh? What about the ramen? To which he responded, "Okay, for small chin-chins!". And since the inside of the shop was full, we were seated outside in what the place considers their "beer garden"!

座る前に店のオーナーが、”農薬入り餃子、ねぎみそとビールはいかがでしょうか?” え~?私たちはラーメン食いに来たんだけど。と言ったら、そのマスターが、”分かった、小さいチンチン四前ね。” あと面白いと思ったのは、私たちが座ってる席はその店のビールガーデンらし。

And now for the food.


First, a little appetizer of roasted garlic in a miso sauce.


The Gyoza (I don't think it was really infested with pesticides - just the Master's black humor).


Chicken with onions and miso / 鶏肉のネギ味噌和え

And we mustn't forget the chin-chin ramen.


The Chin-chin Ramen / 例のチンチンラーメン

The ramen has a salt-based broth and is filled with lots of garlic. Very delicious!!


Monday, January 26, 2009

More from Ali Baba / またまたアリババ

More food from our favorite neighborhood Indian/Thai restaurant.


Prawn Pakora (Actually, I think I introduced this before but it's so good I thought I'd introduce it again) / 海老パコラ (前にも紹介したかも、でも美味しいからまた紹介した。)

Sauted crab / 蟹の炒め物

Very spicy chicken curry / 激辛チキンカレー

Rice (I forgot what type) / ライス (なにライスか忘れた)

Bon Appetit!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mois Cafe / モワカフェ

At the end of last year and before we headed off to Aomori, we had plans to meet up with a friend to check out this small cafe in Shimokitazawa. It was located on the second floor of a building that was scheduled for demolition. Unfortunately, it was closed. So, our friend took us to another cafe that he was familiar with. It's also located in a residential area and if you didn't know it was a cafe, you pass it by thinking it's just another house.


This menu outside the house gives you a clue that it's a cafe.


The cafe opened at noon and we were it's first customers of the day. I loved the interior. The were seated at the upstairs dining area which had a very homey feel.


There was a large dinner displayed along one wall, however we were here for lunch. I ordered a tomato sauce based stew. Mikako ordered the donburi which consisted of potatoes, bacon, and mushrooms. Our friend ordered the cream style stew. And we all had the same dessert. Although the food was delicious, I think the stews could have been heated a little more. Me and my friend's order was a little on the cold side.


Dinner Menu / ディナーメニュー

Beef Stew / 牛肉のトマトクリーム煮

Chicken Cream Stew / 鶏肉のクリーム煮

Donburi / 里芋・ベーコン丼

Dessert / デザート

Bon Appetit!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Mother-in-Law & Brother-in-Law / 義理の母と義理の弟

Me with my Mother-in-Law / 義理の母と一緒

Me with my Brother-in-Law / 義理の弟と一緒

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rino at 1 year 1 month / 梨乃ちゃんが一歳になった

Rino standing on her own already. Kids sure do grow up fast.


She's so cute!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aomori Ramen Shop - Hachiya / ご当地ラーメン屋 青森市 「八八」

For our last day in Aomori, we went to one more ramen shop. Although it's in Aomori, it features Onomichi ramen (a town in Hiroshima). This place also featured a spicy ramen (again, you can choose the spicyness). Mikako ordered this, but it we didn't think it was all that spicy. While I ordered the Onomichi Wantan Egg Ramen.


Spicy Miso Ramen / 辛味噌ラーメン

Onomichi Wantan Egg Ramen / 尾道ワン玉ラーメン

Bon Appetit!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Aomori Ramen Shop - Aji no Sapporo / ご当地ラーメン屋 青森県 ー 「味の札幌」

Just because we're in Aomori, that doesn't stop us from going to great ramen shops. The one we really wanted to go to - Asari, was closed for the New Year's Holiday. They have this killer green onion ramen where you can choose the spicyness. The first time I went there, Mikako ordered me 1/3 spicyness (and it's still packed a major kick!). If you don't mention the spicyness, you get serve the spiciest. So we found ourselves headed out to "Aji no Sapporo" or "Aji-Poro" as the folks of Aomori say. This particular ramen shop has become popular even in Tokyo as one of it's specialty ramens has become available in an instant version - the miso curry milk ramen! The ramen shop also has on their menu - natto ramen and plum ramen. As Mikako does not like milk, she opted for the miso-butter ramen. I of course had the miso curry milk ramen.

青森に居るから、ラーメン屋に行かない事はないよ。本当に行きたかった店は「浅利」でしたが、正月の時期だったので、お休みでした。その店のねぎラーメンが辛くて超美味しい。四段の辛さがあるの。普通のねぎラーメンを頼むと一番辛いやつが来る。オーダーの仕方は1/2, 1/3, 1/4で注文するの。初めて行った時、1/3を頼んで、それでも結構辛かった。その話はおいといて、実際に行ったラーメン屋は「味の札幌」、通称「アジポロ」。東京でも知られてるのは、その店の名物ラーメン、味噌カレー牛乳ラーメンがインスタント化になりました。カレーラーメンの他に納豆ラーメンや梅ラーメンもあります。美香子は牛乳飲まないので、味噌バターラーメンを頼みました。僕はもちろん名物の味噌カレー牛乳。

Miso Curry Milk Ramen / 味噌カレー牛乳ラーメン

Miso Butter Ramen / 味噌バターラーメン

Bon Appetit!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Snow Country (Part 6) / 雪国 (パート6)

Video clip of the hotel we stayed at. Our room was on the fourth floor, on the right side of the hotel.

Sadly, our stay at the ryokan was over. We had to catch the train back to town, which led us to one last enjoyment (free of charge) - the foot bath.


Yep, my feet! / 僕の足です。

Just to give you an idea of how hot the foot path can be, I only soaked in it for a couple of minutes and you can clearly see which part of my leg was in the water.


Feels good! / 気持ち良いよ!

The local train to take us home.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Snow Country (Part 5) Asamushi Onsen Breakfast / 雪国 (パート5)浅虫温泉朝食

One last thing to enjoy when staying at a ryokan is the breakfast. Mikako was disappointed that there wasn't a breakfast buffet but I was rather happy with the traditional style. But before breakfast, one last soak in the bath. I managed to have the outdoor bath to myself for a while. I also had one last soak before going to bed the previous night as well. I love ryokans where you can use the bath 24 hours a day!


Breakfast spread / 朝食

Hijiki / ひじき

Pickled vegetables / つけもの

Green salad / サラダ

Grilled miso with clams / 貝味噌焼き

Tofu / 豆腐

The entree / メインのおかず

Miso soup / 味噌汁

And after breakfast, I once again ventured outside and took more pictures.


And before leaving, a Kodak moment.