Cold Stone Creamery or Tipping, Tokyo Style

2015-05-10 19.57.38Often we find American stores or restaurants in Tokyo, but there’s always something just sort of “off” about them – the clothes are sized to the market, or the desserts are a bit less sweet, or something of that nature.  It’s really fine, though – companies have to cater to their clientele in the location.  We have come to accept that we get authentic Americana in…, well, America.  This little oddity at the Cold Stone Creamery, though, really gave me a giggle.  The ice cream scoopers at the Cold Stone always sing if you put a dollar in their tip jars in the U.S. but in a culture like Japan, where tipping is not customary, it seemed pretty weird to have a tip jar on the counter.  And then I put in Y100.  The video shows what I saw!  Not quite the same as the bit of hokey-ness at the American counterpart.  You decide: better or worse!?

Click the link above for the video!

Social Media and Bikur Cholim

CMrs. R. (as I’ll call her) posted on a Facebook Group I read called the Tokyo Mothers Group that she was just diagnosed with lymphoma and asked if anyone knew anything about it. In fact, it’s a little more complex than that: my friend Kacie, whose daughter is just six years old, was reading the board and mentioned me in a comment to make sure I’d see it – I don’t often read that board anymore since my kids are twelve and fifteen years old, and the group most often has playgroup and play date recommendations and breast feeding support on it. Feeling a bit of social media pressure, I responded vaguely to the post – at first. “I did the treatment and now I’m fine!” She then took that bull by the proverbial horns, first friending me on Facebook, then sending me a private message asking all kinds of questions about how I’m feeling now, how my treatment went, and where I took the treatment. She and her husband had only been in Tokyo for two years and she needed advice. She wanted to talk. I didn’t answer her fully right away; I was struggling a bit inside. I’ve never spoken with another lymphoma patient; I’ve shied away from that blunt of a reality check. I just told her over social media that I had returned to the U.S. for treatment and asked her for the name of the hospital where she was being treated. And then I decided to just drop the façade and go see her. My husband was supportive immediately; sometimes I get these ideas in my head and I can’t let go – he senses when that’s happening and doesn’t fuss at me. At the same time, I could tell he was concerned – for me, there’s a lot of emotion tied up in lymphoma. I did not want to re-live the experience. I often tried to pretend it never happened to me. On the other hand, there was something nagging at me – if I could ease her suffering just a little, tiny bit, I probably should. Judaism teaches that the mitzvah (literally translated as commandment – but often meaning good deed) of Bikur Cholim – Visiting the sick – is one of the most important and meaningful of all of the 613 mitzvot. There are rules regulating how often (as often as possible for short periods) and when (after three days of suffering) and the common Jewish wisdom is that a visit from a caring friend or relative alleviates one sixtieth of a person’s suffering, and for that reason, it’s an important thing to do for someone. I had never met Mrs. R. in my life, but when I walked into her hospital room, I couldn’t help but hug her. She’s a beautiful woman with rich, dark hair and a shiny, wide smile. She was unpretentious and open, hankering for a talk – hungry to be understood and understand what was happening. She kept thanking me for coming, as did her brother, who had flown in from London to be with the woman who was clearly, judging from his protective attitude, his little sister. The magnitude of her youth hit me slowly, like a seeing a glass fall off a table in slow motion. Her daughter is only two and a half. We swapped diagnosis stories and she asked me if I thought she should go back to India, where she is from, to take treatment. I struggled with answering her because her type of lymphoma is not the same as mine was, and I have no idea if medical treatment is better in Mumbai or Tokyo; I just know that being treated for a serious illness in one’s native language is a huge comfort. In the end, the details of the situation didn’t really matter anyway. I stayed with her only an hour that day, just connecting with her, reaching out to her, letting her know that she is not alone. I swallowed the bile of my own illness, so recently passed, and offered the olive branch of hope to her, which she grasped with both hands. Leaving her was hard. I wanted to stay, to hug her and tell her she’d be okay no matter what happened really. I had my own babies to get back to. Even when I returned the next day, it was for just a few minutes, to bring her my own book on hope and strength before returning to my regularly scheduled life. She says I helped her decide to return to India to be near her family, where she can be with her daughter all the time. Her husband is going with her, able to work from the Mubai office of his company instead of the Tokyo office, to which he had been transferred from India anyway. I don’t know precisely what I did or said, but she seemed at peace with the decision, with the process ahead of her. When we parted, it was with pressed hands and promises to see each other again, be it in Tokyo, in India or even someday in the U.S. I’m sure we will, too. It might not be so soon, but I will see Mrs. R. again somewhere, someday. What began with a social media posting became the physical fulfillment of a mitzvah, and will now return to the world of the virtual, as I’m sure we will be in touch over some type of technology or social media. She might think that I did something for her, and perhaps I did, but what she did for me, giving me the opportunity to fulfil a beloved mitzvah and come to terms with sharing my story both in person and over social media, with those similarly afflicted, was the real gift. Godspeed, Mrs. R.  I am waiting to meet you again.

Kanda – A Restaurant That’s The Best of the Best, Says the Michelin Guide

2014-09-17 19.31.35Just this week the 2015 Michelin Guide came out and The Japan Times reports that Tokyo has retained its spot as the best city in the world in which to eat.  But back in September, Marc and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, and in lieu of presents, we decided to go experiential, and we made reservations at a restaurant called Kanda.  In the new guide, Kanda is listed as #4 on the list of the twelve best restaurants in Tokyo.  It deserves the rank; it was a food experience like no other I’ve had.

Kanda is located in Moto Azabu just off TV Asahi Dori, near the fire station, if you know Tokyo.  It is on the Michelin guide 2015bottom floor of an apartment building and the sign is out of the way and very unobtrusive.  It is only in Japanese.  If you were not looking for it, you’d never find it.  I did not take photos of the sign, the door or the restaurant in general because they only allow pictures of the actual food.  The restaurant is small and spare, but elegantly decorated.  There is one table in a side room behind a curtain that seats about eight, but the main dining room consists of twelve seats at a bar.  It is done in light wood with bamboo-backed chairs.  The walls have a few small paintings and Japanese sayings in Kanji adorning them, but otherwise the focus really is meant to be on the food, not the place itself.

This is how they serve the sake - on a bed of ice to keep it chilled for us.

This is how they serve the sake – on a bed of ice to keep it chilled for us.

But what food it is!  We had a total of eleven courses.  Remember, each course in Japan is small, a few bites at most.  As is common, we chose the middle course menu and we picked it ahead of time when we made the reservation.  The only menu we ever saw was for drinks, and even that was small in number.

Since we were truly celebrating, we started with a glass of champagne, but that and a small bowl of sake were our only drinks.  We felt it was too important to focus on the taste of the food and did not want alcohol to dull our senses.

Here are the 11 courses:

First course: a mix of fruit and vegetables - mostly fig and onion

First course: a mix of fruit and vegetables – mostly fig and onion

Hamo - lightly cooked. In English it's conger pike.

Hamo – lightly cooked. In English it’s conger pike.

Otoro - fatty tuna - the very best part of the fish.

Otoro – fatty tuna – the very best part of the fish.

Soup with a dumpling made of yuba - skin of the bean curd - with decadent matsutake mushrooms, available only in September and October.

Soup with a dumpling made of yuba – skin of the bean curd – with decadent matsutake mushrooms, available only in September and October.

Anago - eel, perfectly grilled.

Anago – eel, perfectly grilled.

Suzuki fish grilled, but then only the top is gently fried for a mix of textures that melt in your mouth. Surrounded by ginko beans and rinkon - lotus root.

Suzuki fish grilled, but then only the top is gently fried for a mix of textures that melt in your mouth. Surrounded by ginko beans and rinkon – lotus root.

Nasu - eggplant - perfectly grilled and seasoned

Nasu – eggplant – perfectly grilled and seasoned

The most precious, delicious and succulent piece of Japanese beef we have every had or may ever have again.

The most precious, delicious and succulent piece of Japanese beef we have every had or may ever have again.

Rice with egg and nori (seaweed) on top along with more Hamo and pickled chestnut

Rice with egg and nori (seaweed) on top along with more Hamo and pickled chestnut

A sweet taste of pistachio pudding - it tasted like we were eating the nuts, just softened.

A sweet taste of pistachio pudding – it tasted like we were eating the nuts, just softened.

One last tiny taste of sweet - chestnut ice cream - which was the perfect ending to the meal.

One last tiny taste of sweet – chestnut ice cream – which was the perfect ending to the meal.

This was truly the meal of a lifetime – so far at least! It was pricey for sure, but worth every yen for the experience of it.

 

 

 

What a Difference A Year Makes

haircut1Last year at this time I was reeling from the effects of my second chemotherapy.  Now, I’m healthy and happy and grateful for every moment.  I’ve spent the summer relaxing with my kids and various friends and family members, but also doing things that I wasn’t able to do last year.  One example is eating – fresh fruit and veggies were on my no-no list because of the risk of infection from any bacteria.  I have been eating fruit and salad like it’s going out of style. (I had a strawberry and spinach salad with sesame dressing the other day – WOW!)  I have been swimming a few times, which I never did. I also went white water rafting and zip lining in Harper’s Ferry West Virginia with some amazing friends.  The entire time I kept pinching myself – I was just so grateful for the air onhaircut2 my face and being outside and using my body to enjoy myself.  It might sound hokey to you, but I have been focused on appreciating every moment I have.

Today I went to see Nancy Emamian at Images Salon in Chevy Chase, MD.  You might remember that about a year ago, she shaved my head as my hair started to fall out and she made it as lovely and gentle of an experience as possible.  Today I needed a haircut.  We both said a little prayer of thanksgiving as she trimmed my growing mop. She is such a warm and loving person – and a wonderful stylist to boot!  I am thankful to be under her care. Here’s how the hair looks now. Still curly!

What a life!  Enjoy your summer, wherever you are.

Lunch in the Sky

ph6Today my little lunch bunch ate at Kozue, the Japanese restaurant at the top of the Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku.  It was a magnificent experience! The entire wall is windows looking out onto the city.  It wasn’t clear enough to see Fuji-san, but from our perch on the 40th floor, we could see straight through to Yokohama to the north.ph1

If the view wasn’t enough, the food was exquisite.  Served by beautiful young women in stunning kimono, the black lacquer bento box practically told a story in its intricate design and contents. The first course was a bit of egg tofu in a soy milk sauce, and a clear miso soup with a dumpling made of flounder, along with a taste of burdock and ginger in it. And then came the big, two-story box.  On the top there was katzuo (bonito) sashimi, and other small delicacies including a tiny squid, a shrimp head, a bit of egg rolled with cheese and a miniscule mound of sauteed spinach.  The bottom layer held some grilled mackerel, simmered vegetables and two small dumplings of shrimp and corn.  We paired it with a decadent glass of

The contents of the bento - both levels.

The contents of the bento – both levels.

Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France.

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I've ever tasted!

Mango tart and the sugary-est whipped cream I’ve ever tasted!

After we lingered over lunch itself, we repaired to the lounge on the forty-first floor where we had coffee and

dessert.  I chose a mango tart, but one friend had chiffon cake and the other had strawberry ice cream and

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

Close-up view of the intricate design of delicacies.

raspberry sherbet served in a large martini glass.  In the lounge, which had floor-to-ceiling windows, we were able to see more around the building to various other sites of the city, including all the way toward the Imperial Palace.

It was truly an unbelievable afternoon and I am privileged to have shared it with good friends. This was a celebratory lunch for our last meeting since one member is

Shrimp and corn dumpling

Shrimp and corn dumpling

repatriating shortly.  But if I know us, it’s just for now. As expats know, it’s never goodbye for good – it’s just for now – more of a see you later.  And it’s said with all the love we can muster.

Kidnapped by Terrorists – Are Not All Men Created Equal?

In August of 2011 my husband’s family member, Warren Weinstein, was kidnapped from the supposedly secure compound where he was working in Pakistan. Warren has a Ph.D. in international law and economics from Columbia University and is an international development expert with 25 years of experience. He is a linguist and a Rhodes Scholar who has dedicated his life to the service of those less fortunate than he.

The release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl but not Warren has dismayed family members as noted by the New York Times article, which quotes Elaine Weinstein, Warren’s wife, as wondering why the U.S. government is willing to negotiate with terrorists for some prisoners but not others. Acting as spokesperson, Warren’s daughter spoken with CNN and appeared with Anderson Cooper; various other media outlets have taken up the story.

As my husband, Marc, has noted repeatedly, at a time in his life when most people are thinking about retirement, Warren, who will be 73 years old shortly, was working to make people’s lives better in Asia and Africa.

Please share this story with everyone you know.

Egg-cellent Japanese Device for Egg Eaters

egg1This morning my friends and I had breakfast together at a new restaurant in Roppongi Hills called “Eggcellent“.  They specialize, not surprisingly, in egg dishes.  They had eggs fried, scrambled, over easy, etc.  Their real specialty is different types of eggs benedict, which you could order with rincon (lotus root) or crab or a myriad of other ways.  On weekday mornings they have  two breakfast specials also – one with pancakes and over-easy eggs, and the one I had, with bacon and a poached egg. egg2

The plate with the over-easy eggs and pancakes came with the tiniest little server of syrup that you’ve ever seen! It was adorable and perfect for a doll’s house milk jug.

egg3

The opened egg

My plate with the poached egg came with a side of what looked like a small bell with a long, metal stick in it.  We realized that it was meant to open the egg neatly.  Watch the video to see what happens!

It was such an easy way to open and eat the poached egg – no mess whatsoever!  Leave it to the Japanese to figure out that one.  The whole breakfast was yummy though.  The coffee was rich and the egg itself was cooked to perfection.  Being an American, I prefer crispy bacon, but that’s a rare find in Tokyo.  And I’m not exactly a fan of salad at breakfast, but it was still good.  The English muffin and homemade blueberry jam were just amazing, sweet with just the right amount of tart.  Not only was the coffee perfectly brewed, but the cup was bottomless, another rare find in Tokyo.  My friend tells me that there is often a line out the door for this restaurant on weekends, so if you can, try for a weekday – it opens pretty early.  I’d highly recommend it.  And be sure to order a poached egg for the fun of opening it!