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Frodo and Sam vs. the Volcano?

At long last I have been able to complete this post! I won't go into lengthy detail about where we were when because you probably already read the itinerary so I will just tell you about the interesting stuff. And of course pictures!

We had everything that we needed and were practically all packed up, just those few morning things that would need packed. Luke set off to bed and I was soon to follow. In the middle of the night, like 2 AM, I wake to the sounds of my husband puking his guts out in our living room into my one and only stock pot! We thought at first that it could be H1N1 because a child at school got it but it turned out to be something he had eaten for dinner. When we woke bright and early (ok not bright) Luke was feeling much better, just weak from having nothing inside him!

We packed everything up and headed on our bikes, gear on our back, to the Yakuba (Village Office) where we would store our bikes until we got back, and then to the bus stop.

We arrived at the brand new bus stop 35 minutes early so we would not miss the bus. I am standing on the side of the road, desperately searching in both directions for anything that looks like it could be a bus and I see one. It's going the wrong direction but heading up to where we dropped our bikes off. And then it came back the same way and off it goes. We wait, and wait. We wait for 25 minutes past when the bus should have been there and then I say we need to call someone! If we don't get to Sendai we are going to miss the next bus which we actually have reservations for! Turns out we were given the wrong location to wait for the bus, it was actually that other bus I had seen and we were supposed to catch it at the Yakuba! Yeah I know!

So after calling Reiko-San she picked us up and drove us into Sendai. She was headed that way, and she is awesome! We made it to the bus station in Sendai with 20 minutes to spare!

The almost 4 hour bus ride to Kisakata was beautiful. Luke and I weren't able to get seats next to each other but, like nerds, we text-ed each other during the trip. "oh look at this girl's purse next to me! It is so cute" "Look how beautiful!" "Did you see that giant set of fries attached to that McDonald's?" "Ocean!" Yeah, we are total nerds.

We got to town, found a camp site and got some food before setting up camp.

Our first tent together! Small and cozy. Sheltered by really tall pine trees and behind the trees...the ocean!

Luke getting in touch with his girlie Japanese side outside the Ramen shop. That's my husband alright!

The man who owns the Ramen shop invited us to bar-b-Q at a friend's house that night. After setting up the tent we head back to the Ramen shop to meet the owner to go to dinner. As we are walking across town we get the joy of seeing the sunset over the ocean. And I begin to get the worst migraine in history! But like a trooper I made it all the way to the friends house before having to lay on the floor under a blanket praying to throw up. After a long time...I don't really know how long, Luke had convinced them that I was well enough to go back to camp to sleep. They don't really understand that when you have a migraine the best thing is to sleep in a dark quiet place. But after a short sleep, when the alarm went off at 4:00, I felt great! We packed up camp and headed to the mountain.

Some of my favorite moments from climbing the mountain:

The beginning of the mountain trail....ahhh the bottom, nice and flat and paved with stairs.

A beautiful lookout a small distance up the mountain. I stopped here coming down as well to get some great pics.

Part way up a really steep climb Luke turns to me, both panting, and says, "Now I know how Frodo and Sam felt!" And I burst out laughing. My laughter could be heard up and down the trail and I fell over on the ground. One of the best hiking moments EVER!

At our lunch stop at the hidden lake. A husband and wife brought their 6 year old dog with them. He hiked all the way up, no problem. Here he is hiding in the flowers.

Lunch at the hidden lake.

Mt. Chokai was a volcano at one point and it blew its top off long ago and now it is a lake on top. Totally amazing. At lunch we could see the clouds start to come in off the ocean from the other side of the mountain. For more great pictures of this trip and others please visit my website Lindsey Harwath Photography.

A few things I learned while climbing this mountain: You may not notice the altitude difference until every Japanese person passes you without problem, I need to get better at this...6-year-old dogs and 4-year-old children climb faster than me, always bring more food (there was no grocery store that I saw in Kisakata) and water, it is not a race, enjoy it up and down, and you can never take too many pictures!

It took about four hours to get to the hidden lake and only a hour and a half to make it back down. We had an early dinner while waiting for the bus to take us back to Kisakata where we camped again at the same camp ground. Let me tell you I am not opposed to listening to the ocean while sleeping or waking. That was the best campground view. We positioned our tent so that out one door we could see the sunset over the ocean and out the other we could see the sunrise over the mountain! AWESOME!

The next morning we spent lounging on the beach and enjoying the ocean that we never get to see.

The Ocean, early morning, like 5:30. Yes it is that bright here in Japan that early. No daylight savings here folks.

Standing in the Ocean you can see Mt. Chokai and to the right in the pine trees is our camp site.

What a great trip and perhaps the best birthday ever!

Chokai-San Itinerary

So it's Friday and tomorrow bright and early we leave to go camping. We will be gone for 5 days but you can follow this itinerary while we are away to know what's going on. (We have given a copy to Reiko-san, have no fear Mimi!) Chokai-San is the name of the mountain we are visiting by the way.

Chokai-San Itinerary

This is where we are and where we are going on the big map. We live at point A and we are going to the purple spot.


Closer picture. Chokai-San is the little mountain shape SE of our destination.


Saturday

7:00 AM Start from Ohira (Yakuba Bus-stop)

7:50 AM Arrival at Sendai Station

To Sendai

8:40 AM Start from Sendai Station

12:15 PM Arrival at Kisakata Station

- Ask and confirm about bus times to Hokodate

- Stay at Campground by Youth Hostel (Kisakata Seinen-no-ie)

- Go to Tourist Information Office and get hiking guides

- Waterfall somewhere

- Find out about kanman-ji (Basho monks like to visit this place, and possibly near town center)

Sunday

***5:50 AM or 7:45 AM Start from Kisakata Station

-Ask and confirm about bus times on Saturday in Kisakata

-40 min.

Arrival at Hokodate

Climb Chokai-San

-Stay at Hokodate Sanso (鉾立山荘)

Monday

Before 4:20 PM Start from Hokodate

Arrival at Kisakata

4:20 Start from Kisakata

8:10 PM / 20:10 Arrival at Sendai Station

Tuesday

- Spend the day enjoying the city

Sendai Station to Ohira-mura bus times:

8:25, 10:30, 13:50, 15:50, 17:50, 19:50


Look for many pictures upon our return!

My Birthdays

My birthday lasted two and a half days. The day before Reiko-san had to take me back to the doctor for a checkup (don't worry, I am fine, I just got dehydrated and it made me sick). While we were out she said she was going to take me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday! She is so sweet. We call her our Japanese mother for many reasons. She is the same age as my mother, I am the same age as her youngest child and she worries about everything we do just like our mothers (and grandmothers!).

She sang me Happy Birthday in English in the car on the way to the restaurant! Most English I have ever heard her speak.

She took me to this Italian restaurant near the mall that we bike to (I paid attention to the directions in case it was good and I wanted to take Luke). It was called Dono Dono. I don't know if that means something in Italian because it wasn't Japanese. Anyway, the food was AMAZING!

Started with salad (don't worry those are strips of ham not something wierd)

Reiko-san did the ordering and we shared a pizza and spaghetti. I forgot to take a picture of the spaghetti because I was too busy eating this awesome pizza! The pizza at Dono Dono is actually made on naan bread. If you have ever had Indian food you know what I am talking about. And it is amazing. Why we didn't think to do that is beyond me. It didn't have red sauce but lots of cheese and was topped with chopped garlic, pistachios and almonds. Divine! The spaghetti not pictured was also very tasty. Lots of chunky fresh tomatoes and chunks of mozzarella chesse. If you are eating spaghetti at home without the mozzarella on top you aren't eating spaghetti! It is so perfect together, like a tomato and mozzarella salad! Of course it goes together!

And of course it ended with desert. Beautiful cake on top of a lemon drizzle (I don't know what the other pink stuff was but it was probably the best thing on the plate!) and a whipped cream flower with chocolate swirl stick and mint leaf. AMAZING! We will be going back there! Reasonable prices too, especially for pizza which I hear is very expensive to get here.

I went to work that afternoon where some of the children made me a birthday card and my boss informed me that his company was going to gift me a cake the next day for my birthday!

The birthday card on my fridge at home.

On my actual birthday I still had to go to work at the normal time but I spent the morning making more cheesecakes, one for Reiko-san and one for me and Luke for my birthday. I also called family so they could wish me Happy Birthday! At work the ladies sang me Happy Birthday and we had celebratory cherry yogurt.
I spent most of my time that afternoon outside playing soccer with several of the kids. Ok, so here's the thing, I may have only played soccer in third grade, goalie by the way, but I can still kick and punt and block that goal like a son-of-a-gun. Therefore I am amazing and sungoi (wow in Japanese). Take that tiny boys! I kick butt! Good self-esteem boost for the old Birthday. (25 by the way if you didn't know, that's halfway to 50!)

This is the big field by the Gidokan. To the right is the Gidokan and to the left is the Elementary School. But check out that view. Mountains and the bluest sky since I have been here. Beautiful Birthday weather! Thank you Lord.

At home I open my cake, beautiful, and also a present from one of the ladies, Jo-san, and her family. We also know her daughter, Jo-san!

My beautiful cake, it says Happy Birthday Lindsey, and the two awesome coffee mugs that Jo-san gave me. They are metallic looking, hot pink and lime green, my favorites!

That night I get home from work, tired and dirty from the soccer, and fetching the soccer ball out of the drain on several occasions, and Luke and I look at each other and wonder what we are going to do. Then I see a message on my Facebook from our friend Wesley wondering why he didn't know it was my birthday and why we all aren't out celebrating. I write back and say, "Where are you taking me?" He says he will be right over!

He decides he is going to take us to this awesome pizza place. It ends up being closed. But I happened to know a place near there, Dono Dono! I know it sounds silly to go there two days in a row, but it is my Birthdays! I go where I want! Plus it was very cool to introduce these two guys to a place that they hadn't been to that I had (a first!). We order the same pizza and spaghetti that I had earlier and a spicy pizza, Luke's idea of course!

I know this one looks strange but it is fa-nominal! After telling the boys that the other pizza had no meat, they wanted one that did. The dark circles are actually eggplant, the "sausage" is more towards the center and is a light pinkish color. Here sausage tastes more like hot-dog but meat is meat, right? The red stringy stuff I believe is finely shredded pepperoncino. Strange combination but my taste buds didn't think so!


And wonderful Wesley not only picked up the tab (thanks so much again) but told our waitress that it was my birthday and she brought me this! Tiramisu! AND Happy Birthday, in English, in chocolate with raspberry sorbet! PERFECT!

Next adventure is this weekend. Luke is taking me camping/hiking to celebrate my birthday!

What I do some days

This is where I work. The Gidokan.

Many people have been asking if I have a job and what it is. I had mentioned earlier that the Mayor had offered me a job but I guess I forgot to also add that I took it and that it is working at the after school program for the Elementary school.

I work from 2-5 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Children don't arrive until 2:30 or 3:00 usually. This is what it's like when I arrive.



Then the kids start to arrive. Hard to see in this picture but the first ones are the yellow hats. These are the tiny kindergarteners. They all wear yellow backpacks and yellow hats. Totally cute!

We play games like Othello! Which I love by the way.

There is a study area where they can practice kanji or color.

They LOVE to play bumper pool.

And needless to say, with practically every kid from the elementary school there at once, it's a bit noisy and chaotic!

video

But my Japanese is improving, and I hope their English!

This is for Mimi


Look clear skies! Not hazy! One of two clear days this week.

Oh what I can do with a toaster oven!

Note before you read: This one is long and there are lots of pictures but hopefully it is worth it!


This is my toaster oven. Although everything is in Japanese it's really not that hard to figure out how to use it. There is only one dial, the timer. You cannot adjust the temperature. It runs at 950 watts and there are little pictures of different kinds of food and how many minutes to cook each. That is it. Very easy to use. But how do you use a toaster oven like this when you want to make a cheesecake? Well I can tell you because I did it.

First before I go into the use of the toaster oven let me start at the beginning of the day with my trip to the grocery store. I got to the store at 9:20 AM but the store didn't open until 10:00! I know! Crazy! So I waited in the parking lot for 40 minutes. Then with my iPhone in hand, with my epicurious application ready, I got everything I needed. I couldn't find any graham crackers so I got some biscuits (in the English sense of the word) instead. We don't have a food processor so I bought a mortar and pestle to grind the cookies up.

The last item on my list was no-salt butter. Except I can't read! Nothing here is in English. So I get out my iPhone with it's awesome dictionary, also you can draw the kangi characters with your finger and it will translate it. But it wasn't working all the time. So eventually, after staring at butter for 30 minutes, I found some characters that said "miss use" or "un use" or something next to butter and I took it!

So I get home and get to work! I have all my ingredients but still have a few more problems. Everything here is measured in grams (I don't know what 120 grams looks like, now 3/4 cup no problem, give me cups every time!). So, I found a conversion calculator online thankfully! Now, all the cheesecake recipes that I have assume you are using a 9 inch pan, mine are 4 inchers. After some searching it turns out that you can take one recipe for a 9 inch pan and make 4-4 inch cheesecakes. Halving the recipe, I start.

Also, I have nothing to measure with in this apartment because the guy who lived here before had no idea how to cook, bummer for me! All I have is a coffee cup and regular spoon and my eyes! (The American version, big style of this recipe will be at the end of this post.)
Here the bowl has grooves inside to make grinding easier, which is totally awesome!
Mixing the crust together


Press it into the pan(s) not all the way up the sides

Our favorite cream cheese actually comes from Australia and is packaged like sausage!

My sugar is fluffy not granules like back home. Tastes the same though, just harder to measure, but who's measuring :)

My punny new flower flour container!

All the dry ingredients together. I didn't bring my zester with me but my mother gave me this new cutting contraption before I left and I used it to zest instead. The pieces look waffle cut instead of tiny strips. Thanks Mom! The first time I made these I used zest from an orange and lemon (pictured is from grapefruit) but any citrus will do. Kind of fun to mix it up!

Dry ingredients mixed together. This was a big challenge because I do not own a blender! All by spoon baby, and I have the blister to prove it!

After wet ingredients, ready to pour

Pour to the top of the pan

Ok so the first one that I put in the toaster oven turned out like this:

This is because I totally forgot that there is a heating coil on bottom AND top! oops! My next idea was to take it out, turn the oven on for 10-15 minutes and let it get hot and then when it goes off I put it back in and close the door, using the residual heat to cook. That was taking too long and I didn't even know if that was working.

After many freaked out texts to Luke he said, "Did you try the tin foil." TIN FOIL why didn't I know we had tin foil! So I continued to cook this one until it was done with the tin foil on top to stop the burning. Another tricky thing about my toaster oven is that the timer dial only goes to 15 minutes! So I was constantly taking it out and checking it and guessing how much longer to put it in for. I learned from that when I put the second one in. When Luke got home I showed him the burnt one.

I wanted to cut the top layer off just to see what that would look like. Underneath was perfection! You couldn't even tell! Although now it did look strange because it had been cut. So to remedy that, being the cooking genius that I am, I quickly heated up a sauce pot, added some of the blueberry jelly that I use for PBJs, added some cinnamon and heated until liquid. I let that cool off a bit and then glazed the top.

Then it looked like this and tasted amazing! Just ask Luke and Wes and Andy! We ate it that night at a dinner party.

This is what it should look like when done (and what my 2nd, 3rd and 4th looked like)


A couple of comments about this recipe and cheesecake- this recipe was adapted from one in Gourmet magazine (bless them!). Like I mentioned earlier, if you are working with smaller pans like me you can divide this recipe in half or fourths. If you have never made cheesecake before, give it a try. It's really not this hard...usually! If you do make one after reading this, please let me know how it goes and send pictures! And if you venture over to this side of the world I promise that we can make one together or I will have one waiting for you!

New York Cheesecake
Ingredients:
for crust
  • 1 1/2 cups (5 oz) finely ground graham crackers or cookies such as chocolate or vanilla wafers or gingersnaps (any crunchy cookie will do)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
for filling
  • 5 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preparation

Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 24-centimeter (9 inch) springform pan. If you use a non-stick pan I don't ever butter it. Fill right away or chill up to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 550°F.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour, and zests with an electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs and yolks, 1 at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.

Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan. Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and bake in baking pan (to catch drips) in middle of oven 12 minutes, or until puffed. Reduce temperature to 200°F and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour more.

Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on a rack. Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Enjoy!

Sports festival

Yes another festival. We love the festivals! Sunday before the dinner with the Elementary School we attended the sports festival for the Junior High School and Elementary School. It was like a track meet on steroids! Totally fun! One day a year the lower grades get together and play lots of games and run track together. They only compete against classes in their own school, not against neighboring schools but still so much fun.

Everyone gets involved, the teachers, school board staff, members of the community, everyone competes, even me and Luke! The race that Luke and I did was for married couples that live in town. Each team was composed of a couple in their 20's (us), 30's, 40's and 50's. We run holding hands 1/4 of the way around the track, Luke blows up a balloon, ties it, and then we pop it between our bodies and then run another 1/4 of the track where we pass off the baton to the next couple. Fun, and if I had know that other couples were cheating when popping their balloons we would have finished better than 4th!

The only game that looked familiar, beside just running, was the tug-o-war. Everything else was new to me.
One of our favorite games! They run down the field and back on the backs of their classmates! Totally fun to watch.

Tiny Kindergarteners in their track suits preparing for tug-o-war. The three girls looking into the camera are girls I know from the after-school program.

A relay race for the older members of the community. Men and women alternate adding a box with each person. The last man carries 5 boxes to the finish line. This one was hilarious. Watching 60+ year old people run around the track carrying boxes...oh wow!
Groups of people have many colored balls and they try to throw as many as they can into their basket in the time limit.

Men and women alternate getting the metal hoop around the track with the wooden stick. The man on the left is the head of the school board.

That's right! Team jump rope. All teachers by the way. Here are the teachers from the Elementary School. The man in the middle is the Vice Principal. Oh the good old days of jump rope!

Perhaps the last welcome

Last Sunday was the welcome dinner for Luke from the Elementary School. I believe that this is the last of such dinners but you never know in Japan, they like to party with food! The style was much like the welcome dinner with the Junior High, several courses seated on the floor around a long table. This time I remembered to pace myself and Luke remembered to drink slower!


Inside the little blue cups with lids was a Japanese pumpkin soup. If you have read earlier blogs you will know how much of a fan of the Japanese pumpkin I am. This soup was excellent.


Ok, so I will try to describe the picture. In the clear bowl is the desert, a square of stuff made out of flower that is the consistency of a gummy bear covered in a power (of course I don't remember the name but when I do I will let you know!) In the teapot is bonito (a broth made from fish) that you pour into the black pot to the right. Inside the black pot is rice and eel, yes I said eel, which was really good. First you eat it dry and then you pour on the bonito. Very tasty! That was probably the most exotic thing we ate this time around.

The man in the middle is the Vice-Principal and he is totally funny! Especially when he has had a few beers and then needs to look for the keys to his bicycle. Awww good times!

Luke after some beer and sake! Isn't he cute?!

They gave us some beautiful flowers to welcome us to Ohira.