Thursday, October 30, 2014

Michael George's Portrait of a Pilgrim

 Brooklyn based photographer Michael George spent two summers in France and Spain following the Camino de Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, said to be the final resting place of St James. The resulting photos are gorgeous and evocative, and it's well worth reading his whole story here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Giveaway | Design Draft Watercolor Art Prints

 This week's giveaway is from Design Draft, an Australian Etsy shop with fun, colorful watercolors. I can't get enough of the cacti!

 These would be pretty sweet for a kids room too :)

Design Draft is offering one lucky reader the original Bright Cactus Watercolor pictured above AND their choice of 3 prints from this listing! This giveaway is open Worldwide. Click through to enter...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 (yes, mostly food related) Reasons I Love Japan

They're EVERYWHERE. And they're good! From train stations, to malls, to grocery stores, it's super easy to find little french influenced cake and pastry shops. Strawberry cake is one of my favorites, and the Mother's Day advertising wasn't going to keep me away from a much-needed carb and sugar infusion ;)

The taxis aren't cheap, but when you do spring for a cab ride, they're clean and frequently bedecked in lacy seat covers!

With so many other little bars competing for business in a dense Japanese city, you have to get creative, and they frequently do! Themed and heavily atmospheric bars abound (as do questionable approaches to trademarks)-- I talked about a few we went to here and here. FYI, When you're the only two customers at the Dylan Bar, they pull out the CD basket and let you pick which album to play (we chose Desire).

Sadly, we didn't make it to the "Official" Red Sox bar, as it was the middle of the afternoon, and we were headed to the Indian restaurant for lunch. Maybe next time?

And I like it! Compound the visual feast of a dense metropolitan city with the often strange aesthetic of the Japanese, some very peculiar English usage, and you've got even more to gawk at, photograph and speculate on. The baby with antlers is Sento-kun, Nara's mascot. Nara is known for it's roaming deer (she says, as if that explains it).

Why are parfait shops not the next big foodie thing in the USA? We really need to make this happen! In addition to parfait/ dessert focused shops, plenty of casual restaurants we went to offered parfaits, and you'll find creative use of traditional Japanese sweets, as well as the standard fruit + ice cream.

The parfait shop we stopped at in Kyoto had almost 200 choices on the menu--including a $500 parfait for you and 19-24 of your best friends.

Many casual dining restaurants don't make you wait for the server to notice you need something--or conversely make the server keep returning while you debate the wisdom of ordering Italian food in Japan. Instead, just hit the little button, a bell dings, and your server scurries over to take your order. I LOVE these buttons.

The public transport is fantastic, neurotically on time, and-- unless you're taking the shinkansen-- pretty affordable. My fascination with the romance of train travel has been fairly well established, and while I would prefer the romance of the Orient Express dining car, a bento on the bullet train is an experience in itself.

Even the little rural train stations have a certain shabby charm:

The detailed plastic food displays outside of so many restaurants are intriguing in their own right, and no doubt help to draw in customers. But they can really come in handy for clueless tourists (who, me?), who wouldn't be able to tell if they're walking into a ramen shop or Korean style bbq, much less read the menu. Just march your server to the window and point to the most delicious looking plastic food.

 Have I mentioned that I'm highly susceptible to gimmicks a connoisseur of unique experiences? Truthfully, kaiten-zushi aren't that unique-- I've seen them in Los Angeles,  London, and elsewhere, but those outside of Japan often miss the point, which is fresh and cheap sushi.

 If you haven't heard of kaiten-zushi, here's how it works: you're seated at a counter or booth at the perimeter of the restaurant and a long conveyer belt brings plates of pre-made sushi meandering through the restaurant and past patrons. You can grab anything that looks good, or order off the menu. You pay per plate, so when you're done, staff will add up your stack of plates and give you a bill to present at the register. Some color code their plates for a range of prices, but this kaiten-zushi we ate in Kyoto was just a flat 130 yen (about $1.20 right now) per plate. Who says Japan has to be expensive?

One of the recurring themes presented to foreigners when speaking about Japan is the presence of the old and new side by side. Temples and high rises, high tech and shockingly low tech side by side. The "old" side of Japan can be alternately beautiful and frustrating to outsiders (explain to me again why ATMs "close" at night?). But there's a definite beauty in the preservation of old, even when it's just a delightfully 80s ticket machine in the Kyoto subway. 

If it works, why replace it? You can always get your high tech fix from the touch screen vending machine half the size of some people's apartments.

A bonus reason, just for the boyfriend, who is obsessed with these things. McDonald's Japan sells a chopped shrimp filet, sort of like the Filet of Fish, except this actually tastes good. Is it worthy of his infatuation? Personally, my Japan food dreams center around sushi and Ivan Ramen, but the Ebi Filet is worth trying.

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