Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Japanese Traditions

In Japan New Year's is a bigger holiday than Christmas.  They send New Year's cards like this on the left.

Bamboo = lucky.

Some rice cakes stacked one on top of the other and then a tangerine or clementine on top = lucky

Cat waving one paw = lucky

Also some traditional food to eat. This is called "Osechi ryori" each food has a special meaning.

at Midnight must eat noodles for long life.  Other examples include:

Kamaboko - a red and white fish paste.  The colors represent the Japanese Rising Sun and have a celebratory meaning.

Konbu - a seaweed and the characters mean 'joy'

Kuromame - a black soy bean.  'mame' means health

Tai - a red fish.  Tai means 'celebrate'

Tazukuri - dried sardines in soy sauce.  Means 'abundant harvest'.

There are tons more things to eat/cook.  Most people these days buy these pre-made boxes of stuff.  They sell them here locally and range anywhere from $35 (basic) to $300 for the more elaborate.

My brother-in-law is making mochi soup for my sister and myself since we're such slackers.  He learned to make the soup from watching videos on you tube. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 6 continued - Uxmal

After lunch at the Hacienda we got back in the Jetta and drove to Uxmal.  Uxmal (pronounced Ush-Mahl) is another ancient Mayan ruins.  We got seriously lost and this was the only time I actually felt concerned for my safety as we saw a man come out of the jungle on his bicycle with a rifle around his neck!  I told brother-in-law to speed up, even though we were on some one lane road filled with potholes.

So unfortunately, we arrived at Uxmal with only one hour before sunset and park closing.  And due to the setting sun, my pictures didn't turn out so great.  This  is the main pyramid.  Massive...  Unlike Chichen Itza, you can actually climb the pyramids.  I took this photo from the top of another structure.

The grounds are quite extensive.  Again, because of the time limit, only saw/climbed a few of the structures.

Going up was easier than coming down.  Coming down was a bit scary because the steps are narrow and very steep. 

The trick is to not look down and step sideways.

Feeling cheated at missing out, we discovered there was a night show!  So we spent an hour at this restaurant, the Lodge at Uxmal.  We discovered that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip stayed at the Hacienda  there in 1975 to visit Uxmal.  The favorite of Queen Elizabeth was a Sour Orange and Honey pie.  I didn't try it as I was still really full from lunch.

We went back for the light show which was held at the ball court.  And basically, it was various structures lit up in different colors.  The buildings were talking to each other, but we ugly Americans couldn't really understand what was being said, so after about twenty minutes, we left.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 6 continued - Hacienda

So one bale of sisal fiber takes 3000 of those cactus leaves to produce and is worth $200 US dollars.    (That is our guide Jorje on the left).

Obviously, the Hacienda does not make the bulk of their operating costs from the sisal but rather from the tourists. 

On the day we were there, there was a film crew from Dallas making a documentary.

So next we got a ride on a burro.  The cart travels on a rail so the burro didn't have it that bad.  We travel around the vast property.

There is an underground well/watering hole a "cenote"   We spend 45 minutes swimming.
The water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom.  Photo did not come out so good.


I forget, is this a stalagtite or stalagmite?  Again, the water is so clear, you can't even see it.

After the swimming, we get back on the cart and the tour ends right in front of the restaurant! 

Lunch was yummy.  I can't remember what I ate but they served these appetizer things called 'panucho' partially fried tortilla, puffed and split and filled with beans on the bottom, meat and other stuff on top.  yum-o as RR would say.

After lunch, we rolled ourselves out to to cherry-red jetta to make our way to Uxmal.

My Christmas

I was invited by sister's husband's family to spend Christmas in Napa.  Apparently they have a TWELVE bedroom place there.  Unfortunately, they were spending four days up there and I only had three days off.  Plus, I had just taken my Mexico (again) vacation first week in December after only having worked a month.  So I had to pass.

I didn't really tell anyone because I don't like folks to feel obligated with the pity invites I get from people who feel sorry for me.  I think the Napa invite fell into that category, but well, it was TWELVE bedrooms and with that much space, it would have kinda felt like being alone anyway.

Instead, I got stuck with feeding the sister's cats.  I'm not sure they even exist.  They aren't the friendliest of creatures.  They don't come out and rub against your leg when you visit or anything.  The only evidence of their existence is that their food bowl is empty everytime I go over to refill it.

I figure they must look like this

So I didn't really mind spending Christmas alone.  Santa got me a freaking ipad so I spent the morning fiddling with it, loading it up with Twilight wallpapers, and sorting through the multitude of apps.

But lunchtime comes along, and I don't cook so I decide to go to Chinese food restaurant.  My dad used to always get Chinese on Christmas day, and well, I guess I am my father's daughter!
I go to restaurant X and it is full!  I have decided beforehand exactly what I want to eat.  Roast Duck and this cold boneless chicken with garlic sauce that I love.  For dessert I want the mango covered in mochi and coconut.  While not traditional, it is yummy!

I order and my mouth waters in anticipation.  I watch as the dishes come out, everything looks so good!  I can't wait.
But then the waitress comes out and tells me they have run out of roast duck.  What?  Out of roast duck?!  How can any self-respecting Chinese restaurant not stock enough roast duck on Christmas?!!!

Sadly, they substitute roast pork instead.  Good thing I wasn't celebrating Hannukah...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Anna and the French Kiss

I read this YA novel this morning.  It is by first time novelist Stephanie Perkins.  It was funny and sweet and I liked it alot.

About this girl from Atlanta whose father is a famous author (think Nicholas Sparks) who sends her to Paris for her senior year of High School at an exclusive boarding school.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 6 - Hacienda

Today we drove out to a working Hacienda.  Haciendas were similar to southern plantations.  The crop at the one we went to was Sisal, made from the agave cactus.  Sisal was used to make rope in the mid to late 1800's, and was a major export of the Yucatan penninsula during world war I.  They used to call it the "green gold".  That is until they invented synthetic fibers...

The name of the Hacienda is Sotuta De Peon.

The Pool

The Main House

The Agave Cactus

Harvesting the Cactus

Combing The Fibers

Making Rope

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 5 Continued - Merida

After our bus tour it was time for lunch.  We went to this restaurant called Amaro.  I looked at the menu and saw the house specialty was something called an "Avocado Pizza".  What's that? I wondered.  So I ordered it.

Turns out it was just a pizza crust with guacamole spread over it and then some salsa and cheese.  It was "okay", not great.

Next we went to an art museum to see an exhibit by Ruffino Tamayo.  My uncles from Japan flew all the way to Merida to see the exhibit (my one uncle is an artist himself). 

I was unfortunately, confusing Tamayo with Botero so I thought I was going to see paintings of fat people, when instead, we got watermelons! Oh well, it was interesting, nonethe less.

We took at break then went to dinner at this place called La Casa De Frida's (for Frida Kahlo).  They had most excellent food and nothing too weird.  They also had the cutest bunny that hopped around greeting all the customers.

I believe I started off dinner with a margarita or two because I can't remember what I ate and I forgot to take pictures.  These photos are from their website.  Maybe the bunny was a figment of my imagination?

We finished off the evening attending a cultural event that was taking place in the plaza right next to our hotel.  A very nice musical, singing, dancing performance. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mexico Trip Day Five - Merida

Today we explored Merida.  We started out with a bus tour.  Merida is the fourth largest city in Mexico and the largest in the Yucatan.  The city tour was 2 hours so I thought "Wow, there must be a lot to see!"

The Bus

Every tour I've ever been on stops at the Cathedral.  This one was no exception. 

Then on to some government building.  I think the guide said it used to be the prison or the governor's residence.  I forget...

National Monument

And of course, no self-respecting tour bus leaves out the bullfighting ring...


 I came home unexpected and caught the cats sleeping on the bed.  So cute though...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mexico Trip Day Four - Merida hotel and dinner

The main hallway - notice the welcome cart!

 We arrived in Merida after spending time at Chichen Itza.  We stayed at a place called "Luz en Yucatan".  I think it means 'The Light in Yucatan'.  It was a very cute little hotel. Nice Hacienda feel. Got really high marks on Trip Advisor.  The owner is an ex-pat Tom Williams who was full of good tips and advice. 

The terrace of my room - nice hammock!

The pool and courtyard

The Christmas Tree In The Lobby
 We arrived in time for dinner.  This is where my brother-in-law wanted to try all these things he saw Rick Bayless (famous chef) either make or talk about on one of the cooking channels.

We went to this place called "Chaya Maya" where the menu was 90% shark or turkey.  I had just gotten over being sick over Thanksgiving turkey so I was the ugly American and I went for the chicken.

Brother-in-law went for Queso Relleno which was this soupy/stew substance with huge hunks of cheese on top.   It didn't really look that appetizing (thus no picture).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 4 - Chichen-Itza

After lunch we headed to Chichen-Itza.  Mayan Pyramids and one of the places listed in "1,000 places to see before you die."  Truly magnificent.

The famous pyramid

The Observatory

The Marketplace

My first gecko

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mexico Trip Day 4 - Cancun to Merida

On this day, we packed up and headed from Cancun to Merida.  It is approx 4 hours if you take the toll roads, but we made stops along the way.
We started out around 9 am down this road in our cherry red VW Jetta.  We never had trouble finding our car, that is for sure.

Around noon-ish we hit the village of Valladolid.  Not sure what they are known for but it was on the way to Chichen-Itza and we were hungry.

Here is a touristy fountain in the middle of the town square.

This is the little mini-mall across from the town square where we had a kind of a fast food lunch.

I had empanadas which turned out to be corn tortillas fried with chicken inside.  They were "okay," not great.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trip To Mexico - Day Three Cancun

Today my travel companions decided to head off to Xel-Ha, another of those eco-parks owned by the 'richest guy in Mexico'.  I'm not big into snorkeling so I decided to stay at the timeshare and just take it easy.  The above is the beach at the hotel.

And this is the view the other way.  Pretty nice way to spend the day.  Just being lazy on the beach.

I had another ulterior motive - the final installment of the "Vampire Academy" series - book #6 was available that day. 

I love my Kindle because it was delivered to my Kindle that morning and I spent the day figuring out what happened to Rose, Dimitri, Lissa, and Christian.  Guess they're making this series into a movie as well.

I even had time to finish another book, "Matched."  About a future Orwellian society where the government matches you with your mate at age 17 based on computer data.  And this one girl for some reason gets a matched with the wrong boy ... or does she?  My quibble with this book is that it is so obviously just book I of a series. 
My travel companions returned in time for dinner. We went to this mall - "La Isla" and found this weird restaurant.  They specialize in Chocolate.  I think the name was La Chocolatier or something along those lines.  We had Chocolate fondue.  Yummy, but the devil/angel statue kinda gave me the creeps...