Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My birthday

It was my birthday last Friday (19th June). It was one of the quietest birthdays for me. I remembered my parents and brothers on that day, and wished to eat kheer that my mother prepares even now on our birthdays. Kheer is a traditional South Asian sweet dish made by boiling rice, milk, and sugar, and flavored with raisins, pistachios, and almonds. Sometimes my mother replaces sugar with date-palm jaggery (khejur-patali gur in Bengali language) and the kheer tastes amazing. Last Friday I missed you very much, Ma.

I am thankful that God put the most wonderful husband in the world in my path. I am very happy and thankful for all the joy of having a loving and understanding hubby. Hubby is extremely busy with office work of late. However in spite of his very busy schedule, while returning home on Thursday night (18th June) he bought a few pieces of chocolate cake, strawberry short cake, fresh fruit cake, and Japanese cream puffs (shu cream). He reached home at about 11.20 pm, ate dinner, and fell asleep by 11.45 pm! In fact, while having dinner he had asked me to wake him up at midnight just in case he dozed off. However, he looked so tired that I just did not have the heart to wake him up when the clock struck midnight. Next day when he woke up at 5 am, he was feeling rather bad about it. I told him that the feeling of unity and support is more important than eating the cake exactly at midnight! Finally we had the cake pieces in the evening of 19th June. I like chocolate cake very much. Mmm yummy!
Various kinds of cake pieces

I ate chocolate cake

Hubby ate strawberry short cake

Hubby and I went to Akita city on 20th June and he bought a ‘Hitachi Healthy Chef’ microwave oven from Yamada denki shop as my birthday present. It is a combination of oven and microwave, and has four types of heating methods including steam superheating at 300 degree centigrade, microwave, oven, and grilling. This new microwave oven has no turntable. Operating the new hi-tech microwave oven is taking some getting used to as there are so many options in the control panel! I simply love the superior advanced technology products of Japan. In addition, this microwave oven is eco-friendly. Thanks hubby for a wonderful present. We had to pay some extra money at the shop for disposing off our dear old microwave oven.
Our new microwave oven

Hubby posing with the microwave oven

No turntable in the microwave oven

Tray for grilling

Another year has added to my age. I love every moment of my life with hubby. He is more than enough to make life happy and meaningful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Indian restaurant Nalanda

On June 6th, hubby and I went out to dinner at an Indian restaurant. We tried a new place named Nalanda in Sakata city of Yamagata prefecture. The restaurant was about 70 km away from our home and it took us 1.5 hours to reach there by our car. The road we used ran parallel to Japan Sea and we got a superb view of the Sea many times during our car ride. It was a sunny warm day and we enjoyed the car ride immensely.
Indian restaurant Nalanda

The restaurant was very clean with twelve counter seats and eight table seats. There was an open cooking area behind the counter seats where the chef made all the curries. In addition, there was a specifically built windowed ‘naan room’ for us to watch as the chef made hot naan breads. There were too many choices on the menu and so it was challenging for us to decide what to order off the menu as everything sounded good. Finally, hubby ordered a set menu named ‘Maharaja curry’ with saffron rice. I ordered a set menu named ‘teen curry’ with naan bread. We also ordered Indian drinks lassi and mango juice.

Maharaja curry was basically a chicken korma curry with lots of crushed onion paste. It was delicious but rather oily. Hubby liked the spiciness and hotness of the curry, which was just perfect for his palate. But when I tasted it I started sweating, my mouth was on fire, and my stomach was in pain. It was extremely hot!! I mean the curry was not that spicy but had a lot of chili pepper powder. However after tasting it once, I wanted to eat it again! It was delicious though very hot. Lassi was very effective drink in neutralizing the taste buds gone wild due to the hot curry.
Maharaja curry and saffron rice set

Hubby tasting Maharaja curry

Hubby eating Maharaja curry and saffron rice

‘Teen curry’ means three kinds of curry and not curry meant for teenagers! ‘Teen’ is the Hindi word for three. The three kinds of curry were Maharaja curry, vegetable curry, and mutton curry. Vegetable and mutton curries were milder than Maharaja curry. All the three curries were very delicious and it was fun to eat various curries with different levels of hotness and spiciness. Naan bread was very soft, chewy, and flavorful. This set menu had chicken soup and vegetable salad also. I relished eating the food very much. However, teen curry set had a very large portion of food and I could eat only half of it. Hubby enjoyed eating the rest of it.
Teen curry set

Naan bread of teen curry set

Chicken soup and vegetable salad of teen curry set

Our dinner

Hubby tasting naan bread

After dinner when we came out of the restaurant, I noticed that the restaurant advertisement banner had an image of an elephant as a motif! Nalanda is the name of a place in India and does not mean elephant. In fact, I have noticed and often wondered why the advertisement banners for most of the Indian restaurants in Japan usually features an image of an elephant. It is not a national animal of India. May be it is the effect of the movie ‘Indiana Jones’! Ha ha ha…In fact I have never seen an elephant in my entire life time in India, except once in a zoo and another time in a sightseeing place in Delhi.
Advertisement banner of Nalanda restaurant with an image of elepahant head

Image of an elephant head at the restaurant front (top) and an elephant toy inside the restaurant (bottom)

Spices and fragrance, the essence of Indian food, usually lifts my spirit up. The quality of food in Nalanda restaurant was very high. Hubby and I relished eating the hot and spicy food, which was a fingerlicious experience. We were really full, and I dozed off in the car while returning back home.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A relaxed day out with hubby

On 23rd May, hubby and I went to Akita city to do our weekend shopping. Later hubby practiced golf in a golf driving range. On our way to Akita city we saw that farmers were busy planting rice saplings in the farm fields. Akita is an agriculture oriented prefecture with acres and acres of farming land. The rice planting season in the prefecture is from the beginning through the middle of May. Rice is a difficult crop to cultivate, mainly because saplings have to be first grown into pallets in nurseries (culture) and then the rice saplings of about 12 cm length are transferred and planted in the field generally by using a rice-planting tractor. Some farmers with relatively small fields manually sow the rice saplings using a hand hoe, although this is very rare in Akita prefecture.

We came across many rice fields during our car ride to Akita city. All the farm fields were well irrigated and the water was knee deep. Almost everywhere rice saplings were already planted but a few farmers seemed to be still busy. Somewhere on our way to Akita city, hubby stopped the car and we enjoyed watching a farmer use a tractor to plant rows and rows of rice saplings. It was really an amazing and breathtaking experience. The sight of little green rice plants sticking out of flooded fields was a wonder to behold.
Farmers tending to irrigation system in rice field

Rice-planting tractor

A farmer planting rice saplings using a tractor

A farmer manually sowing rice saplings

Our home is surrounded by farm fields. In fact in the beginning of May during my usual evening walk as I passed the rice fields there was a distinct tinkle and gurgle which could be heard as water flowed from irrigation channels into and out of each field. Nowadays during the walks, I enjoy seeing the fresh green color of the growing rice saplings, which is very peaceful and pleasing to the eyes.

After enjoying the green rice fields, hubby and I did our weekend shopping. After that we went to a public golf practice driving range named Akita Greenhill golf renshu-jyo in Akita city. I am not much interested in the sport but hubby is crazy about golf. Nowadays almost every weekend he either practices golf in the driving range or plays a game with his office colleagues at a real course.

Golf is a very popular sport in Japan. Golf membership fees are extremely high as space for golf courses is limited. However, there are public driving ranges throughout the country where golf lovers can practice. These driving ranges are big constructions that are wrapped in large green nets. We can see these cage-like constructions everywhere in Japan, even in the middle of cities. Often balls can be played from two or more floors in order to allow a greater number of players to practice at the same time. These golf practice grounds are known as ‘gorufu renshu-jyo’ and are commonly called uchippanashi which means ‘just hit it’. Players keep hitting balls from the tee stations to the far side of the cage. Nets surrounding the cage ensure that the balls stay inside the driving range even if the golfers hit really hard or make wild shots.

Akita Greenhill golf practice ground was relatively small in size and was surrounded by a huge net. Whenever we go to this automated golf practice driving range, hubby becomes fully engrossed in practicing golf while I would sit, observe, and amaze at how Japan makes use of super advanced technology in every field of life. This practice driving range has many automatic services that are really wonderful. There was a big dispenser machine for golf balls where balls could be purchased. Hubby swiped an electronic money card and balls fell out of a slot in the machine, which were collected into a basket placed near the slot. These balls were then put into a small automated dispenser box near the Astroturf mat at the tee station where hubby practiced his shots. When a button in the dispenser box was switched on, an arm carrying a ball came out of the box and automatically placed the ball right on the top of the golf tee that was fixed to the Astroturf matting, and then the arm retracted back into the box. After every hit, the arm came out and placed the ball exactly on the top of the tee. During our trips to the golf practice range, usually hubby would be very busy practicing all his shots using various clubs like pitching wedge, driver shots, and many more (I do not really have much idea), and I would be literally watching the arm of the dispenser box come out with immense regularity and place the balls perfectly with great precision on the top of the tee. Believe me, I am completely spellbound and would watch until all the balls were played. Although I am a researcher in semiconductor technology Physics (now taking a break for few years), yet seeing advanced technology being put into actual use in almost every aspect of life in Japan really amazes me even after twelve years of staying here.
Hubby preparing for golf practice

Hubby putting golf balls into an automated dispenser box

Hubby practicing golf using a pitching wedge club

Hubby having sports drink

Hubby practicing golf using a driver club

Tired hubby

I compiled a video of hubby practising golf.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ramen shop Aji-Q

On May 16th, hubby and I had gone to Akita city to do some shopping. While returning back home, hubby was in mood for a long drive and I wished to see Japan Sea. So hubby took national highway route 07 that runs parallel to Japan Sea. We usually use Nihonkai Tohoku expressway to travel to and fro Akita city as it is more convenient and less time consuming. This expressway road started in Akita prefecture about two years ago, portions of which run parallel to route 07 through much of Yurihonjo city. But once in a while we use route 07 too.

It was a very sunny and clear day and we enjoyed viewing Japan Sea all the way from Akita city to our home. As we approached Yurihonjo city, we saw a big and very colorful signboard at the city entrance welcoming people to the city. Hubby joked that the signboard was so colorful probably because Akita prefecture is covered with snow for almost five months, and such colorful signboards bring a bit of color to the otherwise uniformly white monotonous surroundings during winter!
A colorful signboard at Yurihonjo city entrance

On national highway route 07, a ramen shop named Aji-Q is located somewhere roughly midway between Akita city and our home. Ramen shop Aji-Q is a chain-shop selling various kinds of ramen noodle dishes. The branch name of this particular ramen shop was Aji-Q Nihonkai-ten (Nihonkai branch) and was located in Yurihonjo city limits. We had an early dinner in this shop.
Ramen shop Aji-Q Nihonkai-ten

I ordered tan-tan men and hubby ordered miso ramen set. I love tan-tan men, the Japanese way of making an originally Chinese noodle dish called dan-dan mein. Dan-dan mein noodles is a Chinese Szechuan cuisine which has a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables, chili oil, Szechuan peppers, pork, and scallions served over noodles. On the other hand, tan-tan men is a ‘noodle-in-soup’ style dish with hot and spicy chili taste soup. It is said to be brought to Japan by a legendary Chinese chef named Chen Kenmin, the Father of Szechuan cuisine in Japan.
Aside from the spiciness, tan-tan men of Aji-Q ramen shop also had an original and great nutty flavor that permeated the thick concentrated pork & chicken broth with rich sesame sauce. The noodles matched the soup almost perfectly and had the right texture. The toppings of ground pork, marinated half-boiled egg (hanjuku tamago in Japanese), and Shanghai cabbage (chingensai in Japanese) were delicious and as important as the noodle itself. Tan-tan men got its blood red color from a thin layer of concocted chili oil. This noodle dish had just the right amount of spiciness and was a delight to eye and palate. There is nothing like a steaming hot bowl of tan-tan men and its good rich broth to lift my spirits. It is an awesome and ultimate comfort food for me. I nearly licked the bowl clean.
Tan-tan men

Miso ramen is a uniquely Japanese ramen, which was originally developed in Hokkaido around 45 years back. Miso ramen of Aji-Q ramen shop had a perfect blend of miso paste and the broth with secret Aji-Q ingredients, which created a thick, nutty, mellow, and slightly sweet soup. The broth had a tangy flavor with a variety of flavorful toppings like sweet corn, leeks, bean sprouts, cabbage, wakame seaweed, menma (a Japanese condiment made from dried bamboo), white pepper, and chopped garlic. Noodles were curly and slightly chewy. Miso ramen with all the ingredients and toppings had a correct balance of quality, flavor, and texture that satisfied hubby’s palate. A bowl of rice and pickles (tsukemono in Japanese) served along with miso ramen was just the right amount of food for hubby’s dinner. Of course, we tried and tasted each other’s dishes too.
Miso ramen

Miso ramen and rice set

Hubby drinking soup of miso ramen

Hubby eating miso ramen

Hubby and I had a filling, delicious, and very satisfying comfort food for dinner. Later we watched the sunset over Japan Sea. We were too absorbed watching the sunset and forgot to take a photo of the wonderful scenery. However, we took the following photo probably 20-30 minutes before the sunset. After watching the sunset, we drove back home.
Scenic view of sun setting over Japan Sea