Riding the Stove Train

Last weekend Ryan and I went on a day trip from the base to ride the Tsugaru Stove Train.  This train has been in operation since 1940 and makes 2 trips a day during the winter months.  Part of what attracted me to this was the thought of riding on the train through heavy snow covered terrain.  Something about that just seemed magical sounding, almost like being in a movie.

We arrived at the train station, which has probably been around just as long as the train itself, and quickly rushed inside.  You can see by the snow everywhere that it was definitely cold outside.

Although I can't read what this sign says, I like that it had the cute little picture of the stove.
While we waited inside the station we looked at the local products for sale.  Any idea what is in the bottle with the red liquid?  Apple juice!  Yes, there is an apple grown around here that has red flesh and they make this special juice from it.  We came close to buying it but passed in the end.
After a short wait we were ushered outside and lined up to await our boarding.  We were riding on the Tugarutetudo Line.
We then had a fun treat.  We were told these high school students were selling special miso flavored donuts.  I think they were fundraising, possibly for a sports team.
Miso donut?  Not kidding, these were miso donuts, and we were told this is a special flavor for this region.  I thought the packaging was really cute.
Didn't really look like anything out of the ordinary.  It was actually really good though, but definitely savory and not sweet.  It almost tasted like a pound cake, but richer.
We ate our donuts while we waited to be taken down to the platform to board.  I caught a glimpse of the train from up above.  It definitely looks old!
If you look closely you can see the black smoke pouring out of the chimney.  Ok, not the most environmentally friendly thing out there, but the point of the train is the nostalgia and novelty of the stove train.  The ride was only 25 minutes so at least it doesn't run for hours and hours.
Almost there and ready to board!
Getting closer!  This was good because by now we were definitely freezing.
Here is what the stove looks like inside the car we road in.
Close up you can get a better view of the stove and then the coal they put out on display.
Here we are enjoying out ride, although the sun behind us mixed with the snow outside gave us this nice glare.
After the short ride we boarded the bus and headed to a local mall for lunch.  This is about 3 hours from the base so we have never been to this mall before.  Almost immediately after entering we spotted this bakery and knew we wanted something from here for lunch.
I ate an egg salad sandwich, and then tried this kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) pastry.  It was so good!
And for dessert?  This mall has a Starbucks!  I splurged and ordered their Valentine's fancy hot chocolate special.  It was so good!
After lunch we boarded the bus again and headed to a pottery studio.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The final activity for the day was making our own pottery.  The options were to make a mug or a plate.  Here we are watching the instructor as he effortlessly makes a perfect mug.
Ryan and I both opted to make a plate.  It just looked a little easier!  We all started off with a piece of clay.
This one is my plate.
This one is Ryan's plate, but after this he did a little more work and made the top edges even and smoothed everything out.
See, much smoother.
Here I am with my plate.  So this means now I have made a sakiori weaving placemat, a glass blown cup,  a pot using an ancient pottery technique, and now this plate.  I am feeling very accomplished in Japanese culture art works!
When we were all done we headed to the main studio and looked at their beautiful pottery works that were for purchase.  On the way over to the building I took some fun pictures of the statues that were partially buried in the snow.
I think there is a horse statue hiding in there!
Well, that does it for our fun day out riding the stove train and exploring northern Japan.  It was a ton of fun and I am glad we decided to go on the trip.  I love that the base offers tours like this.  It helps us really get a chance to explore the local area and learn about the history and culture here.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever ridden on a stove train?  Have you ever made pottery?  Is it snowing where you live?

My Book Was Shown on The Today Show! (and giveaway)

Saturday morning I woke up to the most exciting news.  My book Train Your Brain to Get Thin had been shown on the Today Show in a segment titled "Science-y or Emotional Eater? Find the Right Diet Book for You".
My book was mentioned in the category of "Change Your Relationship with Food (emotional eating)."

I am still overwhelmed and in shock, I guess you could say.  This is absolutely huge.  The segment even mentioned 4 key criteria to help you find not only the right book for you, but a credible book or something that will really help (taken from the article link below):

body of scientific evidence to support the plan
author health credentials
plan is easy to understand and implement
not a quick fix (“when it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”) but for long term success

It is great to know that someone out there found my book and determined all of these criteria to be true.  I am beyond excited and so happy that so many people will benefit from my book since now so many people know it exists.  I even got an email from a friend that has lost 10 pounds now since reading my book!

Here is a link to the video with with article about it at the bottom.  Enjoy!

Oh, and in light of the recent publicity, I am giving away one signed copy to a lucky reader!  Just post a comment here telling me one healthy change you have made so far this year and are sticking with.  Giveaway ends Thursday, January 24, 2013 @ 11:59 PM EST.

Good luck and thank you all for your support!

French, Italian, Indian, and Chinese Cuisine

Would you believe we have them all right here in rural northern Japan?  Well, we do!  In the past few weeks Ryan and I have been out and about enjoying just about every type of cuisine we can find.  Probably enjoying them all little too much, but you almost can't help it when your spouse returns home safely from Afghanistan!

Here are some of the things we have been enjoying here:

French- We found this bottle of Meursault at a nearby grocery store.  This is a lot more meaningful than a bottle of wine.  Nearly 2 years ago Ryan found this wine mentioned in a magazine and wanted to try it.  They didn't sell this pricey (and I do mean pricey) French wine in the Azores, so we thought we would get in when we were moving to Japan and passing through the US.  That was a great idea until we considered the cost and remembered that it had to travel with us in our suitcases, not carry on bags.  Scratch that idea!  So when I was in CA a few weeks after we moved, I thought I would check again.  Instead, a gentleman recommended another white from the Burgundy region of France at a much more reasonable $25 price tag (much cheaper than $80).  I brought it home and a full year later, Ryan and I enjoyed the bottle.  It was devine (Macon Villages is the name and I HIGHLY recommend it) and this drove us to seek out more whites from Burgundy.  Long story short, the Japanese are fans of the French and with a little searching we found this (yes, expensive because we paid in yen too) bottle of Meursault.  
The verdict?  Good, but the Macon Villages we had was actually much better.  Still a huge fan of white Burgundy wines.

To go with the wine we had to get some cheeses.  To save on money after the wine splurge we opted to go to the grocery store and buy these individually instead of on a pre-made platter.  Yum!
While we were wine searching, we discovered a nearby liquor store selling a variety of beers from around the world.  I picked this beer, La Trappe, mostly for the purple label, but it turned out to be great.  This is from a Trappist brewery in the Netherlands.  Not sure if you have had a Trappist brew, but if not, definitely give it a try.  Chimay is probably the most easy to find.
On to some Italian.  One a snow, snowy day, Ryan and I decided to try this place out.  We had never been before.  It was an "off" hour (places closes after lunch and reopen for dinner, like 3-5) and we were in need of some lunch.  This place was open, so we decided to go in.
I started off with tomatoes and mozzarella.
Our entrees came with salads.
The garlic toast was a bit of a splurge.  Amazing fresh bread.
Some sort of kelp soup (I think!).
I had shrimp and pasta with tomato sauce.  Even though it was just fair, I am still planning to give this place another shot because the ambiance was perfect for a cold, snowy day.  The decor was very log cabin feeling and cozy.  Warm and inviting.  Plus, that garlic toast was amazing!
Ryan had pasta with meat sauce, and again it was less than spectacular.  Thankfully, he enjoyed the setting there too and is open to going back.
But we didn't stop the cultural food tour there.  The following weekend we went to an Indian restaurant in Hachinohe that we hadn't tried yet.  Our meals each started off with a salad.
Next up was the entrees.  Ryan and I always order 2 vegetarian dishes and split them.  I love that my husband is all for vegetarian dishes and is happy going meat free.  Indian food is always so flavorful.  It's in the spice, not the meat.  So this time we ordered a vegetable curry dish.
We also ordered aloo gobi, which is potatoes and cauliflower.  It was amazing!  And spicy, of course!
It also came with naan bread and some rice.

Last, but not least, the night before New Year's Eve, we decided to try some Chinese.  Finding an open restaurant was difficult, but we managed.

I started off with these sesame balls filled with red bean paste.  Amazing!
Ryan tried out the egg rolls.
For dinner, Ryan went with this spicy ramen soup.  After some questionable meat the last time he was here, he decided to try something completely different and go with this soup.  It was a good choice for him.  He absolutely loved it.
I ordered the crab and tofu, which is one of my favorite dishes.  I love this!
Last up, the eggplant.  We felt like we needed more veggies, so we ordered this very flavorful eggplant dish.
It was great to have 11 days off with my husband and not have too much to do.  After having him gone for a few months it was great to be able to relax and enjoy each others company.  We even worked a lot on fixing up the house.  We sold our old couches and bookshelves and purchased new ones.  The place is pretty much finished now and everything is "grown up" and matching.  I would say that we were very productive over the break and our house really shows it.  Most of the "mess" around here was cleaned up too.  It is nice to have less clutter.  What a great way to start of 2013!

QUESTIONS:  What different cuisines have you enjoyed recently?  What is your favorite Chinese dish?  Have you redecorated recently?

Fun with Friends

I hope everyone's 2013 is off to a great start!  I also hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year's Eve.  We went to my friends house (she happens to live in the house next to our apartment building) and played Apples to Apples and enjoyed good company and champagne.

Speaking of good times with friends, one of my friends and coworkers at WIC left to return to the states.  For her going away, all of us from WIC took her to dinner at Yoshino's Steakhouse because she had never been.  I actually hadn't been either and had been dying to try it.  It gets rave reviews.  Plus, the owner teaches the cooking classes on base and I have had the privilege to learn from her.  It is because of that experience that I knew her place could accommodate me as a vegetarian.  See, this is a teppanyaki steakhouse and they cook in pork fat.  Definitely not my thing.  But, she told me they could cook on a separate grill and use oil and/or butter.

I seriously never would have known this place was hidden away on this little tiny road, but had I ever accidentally ended up on that street, I would have stopped to look because the outside it really fun looking.  I love the lights!
Sorry, the lights were dim so the pictures didn't come out the best.  We all ordered set meals (as in it comes as a set with multiple courses- very common in Japan).  It came with an appetizer, but it was meat.  The cook was nice enough to have something else prepared for me.  I still have no idea what it was, but it was all vegetable.  I know the one on the left looks like meat, but it was actually some sort of cabbage with sauces.
Next came the salad.  I loved this because it came with apple and kiwi.
Here is my friends steak cooking.  Most of them ordered the set with two different beefs.  One was Australian beef, which was described as a leaner cut, more like a filet mignon.  The other was more fatty and marbled Japanese beef.  In fact, it was local Aomori beef and has apparently won some awards.  In the pan is pork fat cooking, which had previously been used on the grill for the cooking fat. My dinner was cooked on the grill over to the left.  I was so glad the chef had no problems accommodating me.  Actually, I have always had good experiences with chefs in Japan being very happy to accommodate what I think seems like odd requests to them.
Here is the chef working on our garlic rice.
If you have never had Japanese garlic rice before, you are seriously missing out.  Well, that's assuming you like garlic, which I do!
Here is my dinner.  I ordered the mixed seafood and fish set.  It has scallops, shrimp, salmon, spinach and in the foil is steamed mushrooms.
It's a little hard to see, but there are definitely mushrooms in there.
Here is the steak and shrimp that my friend ordered.  This was the Australian beef.
Oh, let's not forget about dessert.  This is their version of fried ice cream.  It is an ice cream block wrapped in a wonton wrapped and then cooked on the teppanyaki grill.  Loved it!
Couldn't resist getting this pic of us ladies.  Great minds think alike!  I nearly died from laughter when I walked in and discovered that Kathryn (far right) was wearing the exact same thing as me.  Teal underneath a black shirt.  It was even funnier when Tanisha (center) came in and was wearing a teal colored sweater.
Here we are with the rest of the group.  Joanne (in the back behind me, next to Tanisha) is my friend that left to go back to the States.
At the same time Joanne was leaving, Kathryn was also getting ready to say goodbye to WIC.  You may have noticed in the pic above that she is pregnant.  Well, she was pregnant there.  She has already given birth to a beautiful baby boy with an amazing head of hair.  So before Joanne left, we made sure to have a going away/baby shower for Kathryn at work.  Cute table cloth, right?
We had salad and pizza, plus the cake.  It was a party so cake was definitely a must have.
Too cute!
Do you see a trend here? Super cute blanket for her little guy.
Not only have I been busy having fun with friends, but I have been enjoying my time home with Ryan too.  The next pics are from going out around town with Ryan and some of our meals.  First up is this fun pizza our commissary started carrying.  I love a good veggie pizza and was happy to try this.  It's a German product but made in the US. 
We also had a spinach one to try.
One restaurant we hadn't been to in a long time was Global Kitchen.  They have all kinds of foods there, but the Thai seems to be what I stick with.  For some reason, on this night, I had a tofu craving.  So I ordered the tofu salad.  It was so good, but it was a ton of tofu.  That was a good thing because it was excellent for lunch the next day.
Here is my entree.  I had the shrimp coconut curry.  Yum!
Next up is one of my favorite things.  Okonomiyaki.  That's a traditional Japanese pancake.  I love it!  I mean I really love it.  We go to this place called Dohtonbori (it's a chain) where you order the okonomiyaki and you cook it on a griddle at your table.  Yes, you do all the work.  But the good news is that you don't have to clean up!  Even better news is that they now offer the menu in English at the location we always go to.  It made ordering so much easier.

I ordered the shrimp okonomiyaki and then added in a potato mochi (that's the big round white thing).  They bring you a bowl with all the ingredients and then you mix it all up, making sure to get the egg well mixed.
Then you pour it on the grill and make it smaller and thicker rather than all spread out.  It cooks like this for about 10 minutes before you flip it to cook the other side.
Here it is flipped and cooking on the other side.  Then it gets flipped one more time.
After that it is ready to be eaten.  Super yummy!  Packed with veggies too (mostly shredded cabbage or something similar).  It is very filling.  I tried to eat it all, but it was impossible.  I love this stuff!
On my way home, I had a craving for something chocolate.  So we stopped into a bakery and I bought this.  If you are new to my blog and/or not familiar with Japanese baked goods, they are not as sweet as they look.  In fact, you would be shocked if you looked at this and then took a bite because it would not be what what you were expecting.  I like it better that way.  You really get to experience the flavors rather than get a mouth full of sugar.
Well, my stop at the bakery triggered Ryan's sweet tooth a few days later and we ended up heading back to that very same bakery (called Cake House, not kidding).  Here was my chocolate and caramel cake.
Ryan had a cheesecake.
Well, that bakery trip ended up triggering a need to take one more person there.  My friend and next door neighbor Jasmine had never been so I took her there for her birthday.  They also serve set meals here.  It comes with a salad, beverage, entree (only 3-4 to choose from) and the cake of the day (I don't know what happened to my pic of that.  The dish I usually get was no longer offered so I somehow managed to get them to make me the chicken sandwich on croissants without the chicken.  It was actually super yummy.  Probably because the croissants were so good!
Well, that's it for me.  So far 2013 is good but work has been super busy.  I am enjoying my short time off from school and getting back into teaching.  Starting next week I will be teaching 2 classes and then a 3rd will be added in at the end of the month.  At least that class is only a 1 credit, 4 week class.  I guess where it gets really busy is when I start taking my classes (I have 2) for the semester.  At least by then I will have cut back my hours at WIC and will eventually be back to only 20 hours.  I am looking forward to meeting the new nurse and new RD that will be starting.  Well, I already know the RD, but I look forward to having her start.

QUESTIONS:  When was the last time you went out for girl's night?  Have you been to a baby shower recently?  Have you been to a going away party recently?