Wednesday, September 15, 2010

sayonara party for Julian

Ah man, the real bummer about being in an expat community is that it seems like just when you get to know someone, their tour is over. This week our friend Julian (below right) heads back to London. For a going away party, a big group of us met up at this great middle eastern restaurant in Ikebukuro.
We all ate our fill of yummy chicken and lamb with rice and salad. There was someone giving henna tattoos...
...and even a belly dancer.
Goodbye, Julian! You will be missed!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBQ at M&M's new place

Last weekend we went over to Michael and Momoe's awesome new apartment. Their number one requirement for the new digs was that they had someplace to barbecue. So we went over to help them break it in. And did we ever! When it comes to barbecues, they don't mess around. After a round of chips, guac and coronas (all very hard to come by in these parts), we broke out these amazing racks of lamb marinated in rosemary and olive oil.

Sometime between the stuffed prosciutto-wrapped figs, the caprese salad and the brats, we popped out to watch the sunset. They've got an amazing view from their new place. You can even see our friend fuji-san out there in the pink haze.

And for dessert, some wagu beef. Ah yeah!  The good things in life!

Mt. Fuji!

Well we did it. I can't believe we did it! They say that everyone should climb Mt. Fuji once and the window for climbing it is just July and August. So, despite having done not a lick of exercise all summer long, we got out our hiking boots and headed to "Fuji-san". The proper way to climb it, we were told, is to to start in the evening and aim to be at the top for sunrise. So we boarded a bus in Shinjuku at about 7pm and watched the sun set as we left Tokyo. 

The mountain is divided up into 10 stations, with the first station at the bottom and the 10th at the top. Buses take you as far up as the 5th station. There are few different routes that I think merge together at around the 8th. After loading up on some snacks at Kawaguchiko 5th Station, we set out on our way. There were no other people around when we started, and there is a brief downhill at the beginning, so I was convinced we were going the wrong way. Finally we saw this sign just as the terrain turned steep and all doubt was erased. 
Oh good, just 320 minutes to go.

We decided to go for it all in one push, but another option is to stay at one of these small cabins along the way, get some sleep and head out early in the morning. This one has vacancy and goes for about $60 per person. Many of these huts also sell ramen, candy bars, beer and bottled oxygen, with an increasing mark-up the higher you get. We didn't need most of the offerings, but we did splurge and get a cup of top ramen at about the 7th station. That may have been the best top ramen I have ever had.

A torii marks the way to the 8th station. This is when it started to get pretty crowded. Despite going on a weekday, we still met up with a lot of other climbers, every one of us trying to summit before sunrise.
And finally to the top. We got there at about 3:30 am, so had a little time to sit around before sunrise. People started to stir and get their cameras ready at the first glimpse of light.
There was actually quite a settlement up at the top. In the buildings there behind Ryan, there were bathrooms and coffee vendors, and ....
...restaurants that sell noodles and other hot treats (it was really really cold up there).
You could also get your walking stick branded.  Here's a video. 
Then it was time to trek down the never ending switchbacks of scree.
We got into a good groove on the way down and got in front of the crowd.  Still above the clouds.
Right around the 6th station, folks had set up a bunch of cairns that gave the impression of being on the surface of the moon. Very freaky on the way up in the dark.
And here it is from the bottom. Well, this is one of the false peaks anyway. It's a long way up there. I can see now why people start the hike in the middle of the night. Not for the temperature or for the sunrise on the peak, but because if you saw what a slog it was going to be before you started, you might not actually go through with it. 
But we did. When we got back home we slept for about 10 hours and then made a big pot of fish nabe, the food that sumo wrestlers eat. Yum!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

September cooking class

This month's cooking class was Turkish food and I am just going to cut to the chase: everything was delicious! Below Kojima-san browns the pasta for the rice pilaf as sensei looks on. Folks were pretty amazed about the orzo for the rice. Lots of exclamations of "sugoi!" Guess they don't eat a lot of rice-a-roni in these parts.
Here the small eggplants are fried in oil...

so that they can be stuffed with some ground chicken and spices...

...topped with some vibrant veggies and baked for about 20 minutes.

Here is the whole meal. In addition to the pilaf and the stuffed eggplant, we had a yummy cucumber and yogurt salad and lentil soup. Doesn't the olive oil on the yogurt look nice? Maybe I should drizzle olive oil on everything I photograph.  So that was our cooking class. The nice thing was that I got to try out some of my japanese on people in a relaxed environment. The folks in class are all incredibly kind and just rave about any little thing that I manage to say correctly.