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Archive for August, 2010

Since we have said goodbye to a number of our friends since returning from Japan, Evan and I have either gone out to dinner with our pals or made simple salads at home. Well, one night Evan got the genius idea to make burgers at home, complete with cheese and caramelized, balsamic onions. Um, DONE.

Since we wanted to get the onions just right, I started them early, dicing them up and throwing them into an oiled pan on low, low heat. I tend to burn onions when I want to caramelize them, so for me I always play it safe by doing a long time with a light flame.

Once the onions began to soften and turn translucent, I seasoned them and poured in some balsamic vinegar, stirring frequently until a lot of the liquid had burned off. I added water, and continued to let the onions cook.

After multiple times of adding vinegar, burning it off, and doing the same thing with water, our onions had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and were a nice brown/purple color. Basically, they were perfect!

While I tended to that, Evan got to work on the meat (man stuff, obvi). We decided not to splurge on beef, but went with pork burgers instead. No matter, because the were still excellent! He tossed together the meat with garlic salt, pepper, and an egg to bind the ingredients.

Into a hot pan they go!

Once the burgers began to brown and cook through, we added thin slivers of creamy farmhouse cheddar on top, which we had splurged on at E-Mart. We needed something gourmet! The cheese had a nice bite, and went well with the bowl of cherry tomatoes we snacked on as a side dish.

We purchased what we thought were rolls to fill with our hard work, but instead they turned out to be cream-filled and sweet. I can’t wait to be able to read labels at the grocery store once again.

The final product was ah-ma-zing. It was the perfect amount of food, and delectably decadent. I’m sure that if we had made this with the high-quality beef in this country, there would be no stopping this burger. I would have it every night, licking the plate clean when I was done.

A. Definite. Repeat.

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Since returning from Japan, Evan and I have been caught in a whirlwind of dinners out, drinks with friends and rearranging our apartment to accommodate parting gifts from Smiley, Kristie and Mike (thanks guys)! Our normal weekly routine fell apart as we tried to squeeze in all the time we could with our three pals, who all left within a week-and-a-half of each other. Naturally, this included lots of “favorite” meals, drinking games, and (of course) Icing.

We miss you!

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Sofia Coppola’s film title is fitting to describe our experience in Japan — exciting, surrealistic, busy and foreign adventures in a new country. Here is the famous intersection from the movie, blurred with the hundreds of Tokyo residents, pushing through each other to their final destinations.

Our last two days in Japan, after traveling home from Fuji Rock, were a blur of tourist destinations, sushi, and exhaustion. After returning to Mary’s on Monday, Evan and I showered the mud and grime from the festival off and caught a train to Harajuku, the fashion district.

Seeing the famed fashionistas roaming the alleys of Harajuku was even more incredible than I imagined it would be. These Harajuku girls were so undeniably cool, disinterested in the intrigue they inspired, knowing they were rewriting the pages of Vogue but just didn’t care. I stood and stared silently as the street buzzed around me, passing by in a blur of colors and glitter. As a person who is stylish on a good day, I was in over my head, ogling the girls tottering in their four-inch heels, batting their fake eyelashes, and wearing bizarre costumes that you — and they — knew would look completely ridiculous on anyone else.

We picked up some awesome shirts from vendors in the bustling, noisy street.

Our stomachs angrily growled at us, so we grabbed a bite at an original Yoshinoya — which was excellent. A beef bowl with rice for less than $5, topped with fresh pickled ginger.

Oh, and Japan has Dr. Pepper. I DIE. It’s nowhere to be found in Korea!

We also took a trip to the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto monument dedicated to the Emperor Meiji, who was famous for enhancing relationships with western countries, and embracing aspects of a more modernized culture. The shrine itself is nestled inside a large iris garden in Tokyo.

Outside of the shrine, tourists were able to buy ema, votive tablets for special prayers and gratitude you want to send the Shinto dieties. The tablets were conveyed to the gods by priests every morning at the Mikesai. The wall was full of wishes, messages of thanks, and people’s deepest secrets.

That night, we dined with Mary and her family, slurping down spaghetti and playing Balderdash until we couldn’t keep our exhausted eyes open (our hostess slaughtered us all at the board game).

After a good night’s sleep, we packed up and headed out to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The temple, the oldest and most famous in Tokyo, is astoundingly large and awe-inspiring. We, along with the hordes of other westerners, snapped pictures wafting in the incense, and paying our respect.

Around the temple, rows of kiosks and little shops lined alleyways, bursting with souvenirs and inviting smells of Japanese cuisine.

We had yen to kill, so we enjoyed a decadent lunch of sushi, tempura, beer and sake. Best. Fish. Ever. Seriously, I’ve never had anything that melted in my mouth quite like rich, buttery, delectable sea creatures. Mmmmm.

We picked up a few last minute souvenirs (a Buddhist bracelet, a kimono) before heading to the train station, oblivious to the night’s crazy events that were ahead of us.

In the end, I felt so blessed to have gotten two authentic Japanese vacations — one full of sightseeing, learning, souvenirs, and shopping, and another bonding with the locals and other expats in the outrageously gorgeous scenery of Mount Takenoko.

It was hard to leave, but when we returned I was grateful to be home, ready to get back into our routine — and catch up on some desperately needed zzz.

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Music festivals are notorious for their greasy fare — from salty nachos to fried Snickers bars, you are able to get your gluttony on while jamming to your favorite bands. As the world gravitated toward fresh, local and sustainable food in the past few years, these fiestas still specialized in serving up artery-clogging delights.

Alas, times they are a-changing. The demand for delicious and nutritious chow has trickled down from the hybrid-driving, farmer’s market attendees to people grooving to indie bands during this music festival season. (The county fair-goers have yet to catch on to the trend — don’t hold your breath. They still think that vegetables that aren’t from the Jolly Green Giant are for liberal elitists) That’s okay, more for us — they’ll be singing a different tune when they’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Smear that on a cracker and eat it, Laura Ingraham lovers!

Not that I don’t love me a double-fried corndog — it’s just all about moderation.

As an expat in South Korea, I have been blessed with (forced to deal with) the limited availability of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Gone are the days of year-round cherry tomatoes, creamy avocados and sweet corn. We certainly are spoiled in the sunshine state.

The 2010 Fuji Rock festival marked a significant change in my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about concert grub. Freshly cooked seafood paella, sprinkled with paprika, replaced soggy fries sitting under heat lamps. Gone were the fried pickles, substituted with lesser-known Jamaican food. Nary a corndog in sight — but whole fish fire-roasted on a stick provided a healthy, filling alternative. Imagine!

Not only was the prepared food healthier, the festival promoters also offered a variety of summer-ready produce, including cucumber-on-a-stick and an plump, meaty tomato, bitten straight into like it was an apple. Both of those ended up selling out by day two – those Japanese proved to be more health-conscious than us peanut oil lovin’ Americans.

For two days I indulged in döner kebabs, the Turkish treat that took me right back to stumbling the streets of Paris in a tipsy stupor, looking for late-night food to satisfy my angry, drunk stomach. Thin layers of meat were shaved into a warm pita, piled high with cold, crisp veggies and drizzled with a Tzatziki sauce. Not my most waistline-friendly option, but it was damn delicious.

The arrival of ethnic cuisine to the music scene has brought along with it improvements in the caloric count. Apart from the British (who served up deep-fried fish and chips), the World Restaurant at Fuji contained a wide variety of heart-healthy alternatives.

One particularly tasty meal we had at the festival was a Japanese-style hamburger, made with poultry and smeared with a miso-based sauce.

The other delectable dish we shared was a rustic, wood fired pizza, with a crispy, thin crust smeared with a light layer of tomato sauce, sausage, tomatoes, basil and cheese. Best pizza I’ve had since leaving America, hands down.

The better quality of festival fare isn’t limited to Asia — it has successfully crossed the pond to granola-loving San Francisco. The 2010 Outside Lands festival boasts an impressive range of food from local establishments — everything from grass-fed organic beef hot dogs and Hawaiian poke to raw oysters and cilantro-lime chicken skewers. The website even features the cuisine prominently as an attraction, dubbed “A Taste of the Bay Area.”

The world is moving in a healthy direction — and I’ll be here to lap up the rewards every step of the way.

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It’s been four months now — yes, a real four months, not just 16 weeks — and I finally feel at home.

There’s no more pining over things I’m missing at home, no more pouting about outings I’ve had to skip out on — I’m finally at a place where I can stop worrying about the things I’m not experiencing, and start appreciating the things I am.

I’m finally to the rainbow — and it feels really good.

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When camping at Coachella, my friends and I would always dance and party to the wee hours of morning, then pass out in our tent until the scorching heat woke us up earlier than we had ever intended to see the next day. We were “roughing it” with the other campers, waiting in lines for our private showers and sweating nonstop in the desert heat.

Flashback pic!

Fuji Rock made camping at Coachella seem like we were staying in the Palm Springs Marriott.

After arriving at the festival, Ev and I pulled our bags through mud and muck, hoping that the rain would stay away long enough for us to pitch our tent. When we arrived at the campsite, all of the flat land was covered by brightly-colored tents and tarps, full of cheery campers. We found a slight incline, and set up our orange Coleman Hooligan.

At this point, we hadn’t eaten for hours, we were covered with mud and sweat, and ready to finally enjoy the festival. Not so fast. Originally, we set up shop so that we were laying perpendicular to the incline. I casually mentioned it may have been better if we had pitched it so our feet faced downward on the slope, and planted a seed in Evan’s head. There was no turning back until we moved the tent. So we took out the stakes, and rotated it.

We packed a backpack with our ponchos and headed into the gates of the festival. Since umbrellas can impede views of musicians, and also poke people’s eyes out, they were strictly forbidden. The rain started to come down as we danced under the Red Marquee, listening to The XX.

It poured. I hadn’t seen rain shoot from the sky like that in a long time. When it came time to switch stages, we put on our ponchos and faced the flood.

The water that rushed from the sky caused the ground around many of the stages to turn into a muddy slush. I wore rubber rain boots to protect my feet, but the first day Evan braved it with flip flops. Needless to say, he didn’t do that again.

Aside from the water works, hiking between stages also presented a challenge. The rain may have been thundering down, but it is still summer — aka HOT and HUMID — so sometimes the thick, plastic ponchos became unbearable saunas, forcing us to remove them and let the rain dampen our clothes. The pathways in the woodsy venue were not grassy hills. Instead, we climbed over everything from mud and jutting rocks to gravel. My feet still have not forgiven me, still bruised and scarred from the uncomfortable terrain and blisters that formed in my footwear, which I hadn’t had the time to break in.

The rain stopped when we headed out of the festival on Friday, so we shoved our muddy ponchos in the backpack and fell, exhausted, on to the floor of the tent. We tossed and turned in our sticky sleeping bags, which were perfect for cold weather but much too hot for summertime in Japan. Finally, we gave up on them, and slept on the tarp bottom of the tent. Sleeping through the night was really hard — I found myself waking up at the bottom of the tent, nestled up against my suitcase after having slid down from the elevated part where my head sat.

I couldn’t sleep any longer than 6 or 7 AM each day, as the sun breathed fire on our little tent. On Saturday, I hit the shower line hot, sweaty and dehydrated. I lasted about 45 minutes in the brutal sun before feeling faint, chugging water, and then throwing it all up in front of disgusted campers who were waiting with me. I ended up waiting at least an hour and a half before I was able to get into the group shower room with four other girls. By that time, my pale, freckled skin had become a deep crimson — a painful reminder of the weekend that lasted a good seven days.

The river did provide solace from the sizzling sun — I romped around in the water in my rain boots, grateful as the hot rubber dropped degrees.

After drinking water and eating chips, I was back to my normal self. The rain started coming down hard around mid-to-late afternoon every day, and as soon as the drizzle started, we’d slap on our dark-blue rain protectors and keep right on trucking.

The occasional bouts of sunlight were appreciated, but got too warm too quickly. My sunburn didn’t worsen over the weekend, but I certainly felt the affects of having been careless the first day in the shower line. On rare occasions where the grass was dry, we’d lay down and soak up the rays.

On our last night, while waiting for Scissor Sisters, we passed out under the trees and woke to rain dumping down on us. Luckily, we had our bags under our ponchos, so they were spared from the water. Unfortunately, the rain didn’t let up that night, so we had to take off our ponchos and our shoes before getting into the tent, soaking ourselves and the inside of our shelter in the process.

We awoke at 6 AM the next morning, exhausted but determined to beat the crowd to some of the first shuttles leaving the campsite. The weather didn’t like that idea, so rain angrily pelted our tent for 30 minutes, as we waited impatiently to get the hell outta there. Finally, the showers subdued and we were able to quickly wipe down the tent and roll it up as our fellow campers poked their heads out of their tents and started disassembling their own shelters.

We ditched our soaking wet towels and practically ran to the shuttle line, which was still relatively short. Everyone had to be out of there by noon, so you can see why we were in such a rush at 7 AM. Luckily, we were able to get to the train station and catch a Shinkansen back to Tokyo by 9:30, putting us — dirty, wet and cross-eyed tired — back to Mary’s a little after noon.

It would be putting it mildly to say that we roughed it — I mean, neither of us is Bear Grylls, but the weather was definitely a challenge. Alas, getting whipped by rain and charred by the sun is just part of the Fuji experience — and there were definitely transcendent moments of rain lightly splashing on me while I danced, and soaking up sun on a mountain in Japan, that were truly unforgettable.

It was all worth it — after all, disasters aside, nature is our element.

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If the exquisite landscape of the music festival weren’t enough, a number of my old favorite bands — as well as some new, pleasant surprises — strummed, drummed and rocked the forest for three nights straight. We listened to the music, soaking it in as we lay in the sun or dancing methodically as the rain poured down around us. So many different experiences and moods squeezed into one weekend!

On Friday, we were all about the Red Marquee. After chowing down some lunch, we headed under the crimson tent, sat on our plastic bags, sipped our ciders and waited for Miike Snow to arrive onstage.

The Swedes did not disappoint! Ev and I grooved to their electro-pop sound — they were a definite highlight of the weekend.

Next onstage were Broken Bells, a well-fitting combination of Danger Mouse and James Mercer, the lead singer of The Shins (Pink Bullets, anyone?) They killed it. Excellent.

Last at the Red Marquee were The XX, who were even better when we saw them open for Friendly Fires at the Music Box in L.A. Seriously, the lead singer Romy’s voice is so sexual, so hypnotic you feel like it is oozes offstage and floods the dance floor. Intense, and amazing.

Broken Social Scene was on next. We sat in the trees, in the rain, to listen to their melodies.

After that, Evan and I trekked to the Green Stage to watch Muse for a bit — who actually killed it. The rain had picked up by then, and everyone in the crowd was on their feet, jamming to the music and enjoying the light/laser show. The robots during Supermassive Black Hole were awesome. We whooped and shook our stuff, squishing our feet in the muddy field.

Then we decided to head deeper into the festival to catch some of !!! at the White Stage. Again, an impressive performance. I had seen them at Coachella a few years back, but it seemed like they hadn’t lost their edge.

Late night it was time to get silly at Orange Court, where Fischerspooner and Ken Ishii spun some sick beats. We bounced around with our fellow festival-goers, shaking their lightsticks and screaming as the deejays threw down intense bass.

After a long morning that consisted of me becoming sunburnt and so dehydrated in the bathroom line that I got sick, I was ready to relax and listen to some Red Marquee tunes while we ate lunch in the trees. After exploring the festival for the morning, Evan and I found soft grass at the Gypsy Avalon to lay on and doze as we waited for Matt and Kim to start. It was nice to mellow out for a bit.

Matt and Kim officially became the second highlight of the festival when they brought down the hippie crowd at the rainbow stage with their upbeat tunes. The Brooklyn-based duo also showed a lot of appreciation for being invited to their first-ever Asian show, and did a great job of pumping up all of their Japanese fans.

They also covered Better Off Alone, which was amazing. Ev and I were two of the only people who knew the words, so we shouted them, haha.

Feeling refreshed after the cat nap and jump around in the mud, we hung out at the river a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, then headed toward the Green Stage to see John Foggerty. Evan joined the crowd and I hung back, sipping beer and swaying slowly on my portable plastic sheet. The sun set as he belted out all of the great CCR jams. It was fantastic.

By then, it was time to head to the White Stage to grab a spot for MGMT. Luckily, I found a platform on the stage left, where we could rest our achy feet and legs. Because of the monsoon-like weather, you were grateful to find seats when you could. We were also glad we got there early — they had to shut down entrances around the stage due to over-capacity!

MGMT put on a great show, much better than when we saw them at Treasure Island in SF (then again, this time they weren’t competing with the phenomenal Passion Pit and MSTRKRFT). We toasted, took pictures and sang along to our old favorites.

This instrumental break, during “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters,” is and will probably always be my favorite piece of music done by them. Simply beautiful — there’s really nothing like swaying like one with a crowd full of strangers to music that transports you to another level.

After that show, we passed out under the Red Marquee, waiting for Boys Noize to start their late night spinning set. They were amazing, even though we were both so groggy by the time they took to the turntable.

On Sunday, we were treated to an early-ish set by Yeasayer, another excellent show.

From there, we hiked to the Field of Heaven to watch Ozomatli give some latin flavor to the festival. The whole crowd, with billowy clothes and throwing peace signs, jammed and danced slow cha-chas as the Los Angeles band did their thing.

We grooved with these guys, they were loving it!

Afterward, we gave up the chance to see Hot Chip in order to catch LCD Soundsystem perform This is Happening — another highlight of the weekend. They were fantastic! I was so jealous after I missed them at Coachella, but seeing them from “our platform” at the White Stage more than made up for it. They played during sunset too, singing tunes as the sun sank below the tree line. It was awesome.

We planned on dozing under the trees near the Red Marquee afterward, and ended up passing out only to be woken by raindrops the size of quarters thundering down on us. Thank goodness we had the sense to cuddle up in our ponchos, or we would have been DRENCHED. We snapped out of it, and ran to the Green Stage to see Scissor Sisters.

Ah-ma-zing. Here’s a little taste of the music that we were treated to during the weekend:

We plugged on for three days, running on ethnic food, lots of booze and very little sleep. Music ran through our veins, filling us with adrenaline and the motivation to keep hiking, nay running, from one stage to another, even with blisters covering our feet and never ever getting quite dry. It was a battle of the elements, and worth every single yen and minute spent.

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