Monday, July 18, 2011

Road Trip Moments: Misha and The Juice

I recently took a road trip across America visiting friends and family members along the way.  I saw too many things and visited too many places to only write one blog entry about it, so I've decided to write down some of my favorite moments along the journey and share them here as I can.  I'm pretty busy packing for my move to Japan, so it may take awhile to share them all, but I'll do my best.

Somewhere in South Carolina
'Can you say Jeff?'  I ask the two-year-old standing in front of me, currently taking a brief pause from his task of running around the house.  As his tiny little eyes stare up at mine, 'Juice' tumbles out of his mouth. 'Jeff?'  I ask again. 'Juice' he confirms.  Glad to have fulfilled my request, he smiles and wanders off again, his mother trying to catch him and prepare him for bed.  I can't help but grin at his attempt to say my name and his earlier try at pronouncing my wife's name.  In the mouth of a 2-year-old, 'Misty' sounds like 'Misha' and 'Jeff' becomes 'Juice'.  'Misha and The Juice,' I ponder, 'We sound like a morning radio talk show.'

Enjoying this game, I decide to give him one last challenge before he is pulled into the bedroom.  'Can you say Batman?' I ask hopefully.  He pauses briefly, trying to form the name of one of the world's greatest heroes in his small mouth.  'JUICE!' he shouts triumphantly before scurrying off into the bedroom for the night. Juice?  But that's my name, I ponder.  Does he think that I'm the Dark Knight of Gotham?  The room erupts with laughter as they realize the implications as well.  Can he sense my deep love of comics and justice?  Does he know what a great compliment that was to compare me to Batman, or was he was just really thirsty?  I decide to take it as a compliment.

Over the last 2 years I've visited my wife's nephew three or four times and every visit he's developed a new talent like talking or walking or chewing.  I will miss these little windows into his life and the life of his family.  As the night grows longer, I think of the many chances I will have along this road trip to peer into the lives of our loved ones.  I'm filled with eager anticipation for the talents and stories they will have to share as we stop for a few days and peek into their lives.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Culinary Adventures in Maine

Last week, I accomplished another goal on my bucket list with gusto: Eating Lobster in Maine

Copyright Jeffrey 2011

I love seafood (who doesn't?) and lobster is my second favorite crustacean just behind crawfish.  So when my wife's parents came to visit us from the desert state of Arizona and wanted to explore New England, I couldn't wait to finaly visit the rocky shores of Maine and gorge myself on some fresh lobster. 

Lobsters in a tank at a local seafood market in Maine
Copyright Jeffrey 2011 

I expected there to be a lot of lobster in Maine, but I was still surprised at how many different ways and places lobster was served.  It seemed like everywhere we went, they had lobster of some kind on the menu.

 My favorite lobster of the trip from Poor Boys in Bar Harbor
Copyright Jeffrey 2011
I heard that McDonald's serves lobster rolls in Maine. (lobster rolls are a type of sandwich very popular in New England)  So when we stopped for lunch next to a McDonalds, I had to see if it was true.  I didn't see any lobster on the menu at Mickey Ds, but I had much better luck at the Arby's next door!

The lobster roll at Arby's only cost seven dollars and was about what I expected from fast food lobster.  It's half the price of a fresh lobster roll and a fourth as delicious.  I wouldn't recommend this as your very first lobster roll experience.  But if you're curious and in the mood for something a little wacky, it's worth a try. 

Copyright Jeff 2011

The lobster from Arby's was unique, but it wasn't the strangest lobster dish I had while in Maine.  That honor goes to the only lobster dessert I've seen, lobster ice cream.

Copyright Jeffrey 2011

Copyright Jeffrey 2011

If you can imagine what it would taste like if you cooked up a lobster, dipped it in some butter and then chopped it up and folded it into a batch of icecream, then you've got a pretty good idea what this tasted like.  I'm not a fan of cold lobster and I like my desserts with a little more sweetness and a little less seafood.  So I only ended up trying the sample and not ordering a whole cone, but I did get a scoop of the KGB ice cream (made with Kahlua, Grand Marnier, and Bailey's Irish Cream liquors) and it was fantastic.

I had tasted some amazing fresh boiled lobster in Maine and several wacky lobster dishes.  But I was beginning to wonder if there was any way to eat REALLY good lobster other than just boiling it and dipping it in some drawn butter.  Lobster likes to be the star and doesn't always play well in an ensamble dish.  But it CAN work well with other ingredients to produce a fantastically delicious meal and these lobster nachos proved it.

Copyright Jeffrey 2011

These nachos weren't from Maine but rather The Red Parrot in Newport, Rhode Island.  Thankfully, they didn't just throw together some run-of-the-mill nachos and drop some lobster on top.  They must have tried dozens of cheeses, because the one they picked for these nachos perfectly complimented the lobster.  In fact the cheese sauce itself had been infused with lobster flavor and a few other spices before being poured over the nachos and topped with lobster meat.  I could eat these all the time.

Copyright Jeffrey 2011

The same restaurant also served up some equally delicious lobster pizza.  During our five day trip to New England, I ate boiled lobster, lobster nachos, lobster pizza, lobster ice cream, a lobster roll from Arby's, lobster bisque and several seafood dishes covered in lobster sauce.  From a culinary standpoint, I think it may have been one of the best vacation's I've had.  If you ever end up in Maine, I reccomend you try as many lobster dishes as you can.  You will be certain to have a delicious and memorable vacation.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Third Favorite Holiday: Free Comic Book Day

Today, all across America, Comic Book Stores gave away thousands of free comic books.  They've been doing this on the First Saturday of every May for ten years! 

Celebrating Free Comic Book Day 2011

Yes, that is a Delorean in the Background

 I was the manager of a comic book store when I lived in Tucson, so this day always brings me joy and fond memories.  I love watching the smiles that free stories of adventure and triumph bring, seeing children hug Darth Vader and Storm Troopers pose for photos, and having a chance to share something I am so passionate about with so many people.  Not every store will have people in costume, but many have partnered with their local 501st Legion, a group of people who make & wear professional quality Star Wars costumes in order to raise money for charity.  If you have a chance, please find your local comic book store and enjoy some free stories either this year or next.

This year I stopped by my local store to find a Delorean (which had a flux capacitor inside!), Batman, Green Lantern, and R2-D2 excitedly greeting people outside. Once inside, I found a table full of free comics, toys and posters and helped myself to a dozen or so books which I read over lunch.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate something that has been so influential and life affirming to me, the stories that have inspired and challenged me through the medium of comics.

All photos Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

My New Blog: Into the Ring of Fire

Why start a new blog?  I guess it just feels right.  I'm starting a new chapter in my life by moving to Japan, so starting a new blog seemed appropriate.  But also, I feel like my new blog has a different direction and purpose than this one.  My first blog, Wanderlust, was a place for me to practice writing regularly and collect my thoughts and pictures from random adventures.  I think I'll keep blogging on Wanderlust. It seems to have become a collection of my bucket list ideas and adventures, so I'll probably keep those kind of entries here, but my new blog will focus on Japan.

I hope this new blog will be about how Japan changes me.  I'm calling it 'Into the Ring of Fire' because that is where, literally and metaphorically, I will be traveling.  In the literal sense, Japan is located within a horseshoe shaped zone called the Ring of Fire, which is home to 90% of the world's earthquakes.  The island of Japan, like most islands, was itself created by volcanic fire and molten lava.  In the metaphorical sense, I hope to be re-forged by the fires of Japan, like metal forged into a sword by a fiery hearth and lots of work.  Moving to another country is a big risk and will forever change who I am, hopefully for the better.

What changes do I expect to find in Japan?  What dreams and goals do I hope to accomplish in the ring of fire?  The short answer is that I don't know, but I love Japan and I believe we have to pursue and explore the things we love.  I don't really know where this journey will lead me, but there are a few things I hope to accomplish along the way.  I've already talked about why I love Japan and how the Japanese language was the spark of this love affair.  So I hope to become fluent while in Japan. I also hope to see the world from another culture's perspective and as a minority.  I believe this will make me wiser, more compassionate and understanding.  And lastly, I hope to enjoy the thrill of exploration.  Ever since my Dad first introduced me to Star Trek as a child, I've always wanted to set off on an adventure and follow in Captain Kirk's footsteps to, "...explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.."  Those words from the opening credits of Star Trek have always stuck with me and I feel they are a big reason why I'm taking this leap into the unknown.  I'm ready to boldly go, to explore new worlds and talk about it on my new Captain's (b)log.  (sorry for the bad joke, but I couldn't resist)  Perhaps Japan will be the first stop of many new places abroad where we will live and explore, or maybe it will captivate us so much that we'll never want to leave, or perhaps we'll realize how much we miss home and we'll return to America with a greater appreciation of our birth nation.

This journey comes with many risks and sacrifices, but life is all about finding the right risks to take.  One of my favorite country musicians, Garth Brooks, once sang,"Cause it's not enough to just stand outside.... Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you're standing outside the fire."  I know life looks dangerous inside the ring of fire, but nobody every got anything spectacular by playing it safe.  When it comes to dreams and matters of the heart, there is only one way to get what you desire, and that is by going into the ring of fire.  So here I go.

Cheesy 1994 Music Video of Garth Brooks' 'Standing Outside the Fire'

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bucket List Accomplishment: Eating food from a Ninja

It was a wonderfully magic day full of ice skating and ninjas and family.  Last week my wife's niece visited NYC and sang at Carnegie Hall with her school choir, so of course my wife and I went into the city to visit her. 

My niece has a deep passion for flags and was overjoyed when we visited Rockefeller plaza, surrounded by the flags of every nation.  And I was surprised to discover that the ice skating rink was still operating in late April.  I've always wanted to go skating in Rockefeller Plaza and when I saw there was no line, I jumped at this opportunity.  There were children playing, grown-ups performing and as I drifted in slow circles to the music if felt like the giant buildings were dancing.  There were also flags and people from many nations (and the Greek Sun God Apollo) watching me enjoy life as I floated across the ice.  It was a wonderful and surreal experience and if you're ever in New York City when it's not summer, please find a park somewhere to go skating.  You won't forget it.

 30 Rock from the Ice Rink

The World's Most Famous Ice Skating Rink?

My Wife, My Niece, and Apollo, God of the Sun

Falling into the Camera

Our next stop was to check something else off my bucket list: Eating at a NINJA restaurant.  Before we could even get to our dinning room in the ninja castle, we were already encountering adventures.  The first ninja we encountered offered us the option of taking an easy path or a dangerous path to our food.  So, like most of my life, I opted to take the dangerous path.  With ninja speed our host pushed on the wall and a door slid open to reveal a dark and narrow secret passageway.  There may or may not have been a ninja who jumped from the shadows at the end of the passageway that DEFINITELY did not make me yelp in surprise, no matter what my wife may tell you.

Traversing the Secret Passageway

After we were seated, we were treated to a wonderful display of culinary theater. It was pretty much what you'd expect from a Ninja restaurant: Our menus were on ancient scrolls, our food was set on fire and we had to solve a riddle just to open our drinks.  Many of the dishes included an element of theater or excitement, there are dishes that explode with fire, float on mist, and even one that comes with something called 'cinibacon'. At one point I ate sushi covered with pop rocks and had to karate chop a wall of hard cheese before I could eat my salad.  And of course everything was delicious.

Floating Sashimi

Fire Ninja

 Ninja Magic Show

Ninja Star Chocolate Mousse Dessert

At the end of the evening, our ninja offered to give us the meal for free if I could defeat him in physical combat.  His kung-fu was much greater than mine, which is too bad because it was a rather expensive meal though well worth it.  Our server was really a very interesting guy.  He was from Texas and told us he was a ninja/cowboy hybrid who actually broke several ribs trying to ride a bull in California and once went all the way to South Korea for a modeling job that he never got paid for.  I will definitely return to the 'Ninja Restaurant' because our server told us there are three locations, one in New York City and two in Japan!  I can't wait to go again either in Kyoto or Tokyo.

 Battling for a Free Dinner

The Face of Defeat

We ended our evening with a quick trip to Washington Square Park, which is always beautiful.  Although I do like it better during the day than the night.

 All Photos Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 15

-Eat Fish and Chips at a Pub in the United Kingdom.  Difficulty Rating 6 out of 10:
I LOVE FOOD.  I love all kinds of food and I don't understand how others can live in this world, so full of incredible flavor combinations and spices and textures and not become at least a little obsessed with glorious food.  I've talked about my interest in eating food from the places where it was created or perfected before and this is no different.  I want to eventually eat my way around the world, so expect to see more entries like eating Pizza in Napples, Borscht in Russia and curry in India.

Despite establishing the largest empire the world has ever seen, colonizing America, and spreading their language and culture far and wide, British cuisine seems to be virtually non-existent here in the States.  I have never encountered a restaurant that serves 'English Food'.  I'm guessing because most of their food is quite terrible, but I don't know I've never tasted any.  If most of it is terrible, perhaps it's because they spent all of their time perfecting one nearly flawless dish: Fish and Chips.  After perfecting Fish and Chips, perhaps they simply had no need to create anything else.  Whatever the case may be, I can't wait to visit the UK and try some Fish and Chips and also some tea.

Homemade Fish and Chips I Cooked
copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-Catch a Wave on a Surfboard.  Difficulty Rating 5 out of 10:
I love the idea of a thrill ride powered by something as simple as the ocean and the moon.  And surfing seems like a wonderful way to enjoy a day; surrounded by the ocean, learning a new skill and enjoying the simple thrills of life.  Surfing seems easy enough to learn since I've learned how to skate on solid ground an wake-board behind a boat and I can't wait to feel the ocean push me so fast that I get that feeling of butterflies in my stomach.

Entrance to the Beach
Copyright Jeff Howick 2011

-See the Olympics in Person.  Difficulty Rating 7 out of 10:
Who doesn't love the Olympics?  People from every nation putting aside their worries to play and compete at all kinds of games, what a fantastic idea.  Although I wish they were broadcast in a more balanced way, it seems like all I ever get to see are American teams when I watch them from my TV.  I love the home team as much as anyone I suppose, but I also love the rest of the world so much too that I want to see what they're up to and hear their stories of triumph and effort.

I can't wait to see the Olympics with my own eyes, to feel the excitement in the air.  I want to be surrounded by fans of every nation, cheer for the underdogs and marvel at the incredible feats of human accomplishment achieved by peoples from every nation.  I'm almost certain I won't make it to London in 2012, but perhaps I'll make it to Russia in 2014 or Brazil in 2016.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Week's Bucket List Additions 14

I'm still flying pretty high about the news I got last Friday and clearly Japan has been on my mind a lot.  So I thought I'd present another edition of bucket list items that I want to accomplish while in Japan.

-Watch the Sunrise from Japan's largest Mountain.  Difficulty Rating 5 out of 10:
Mt. Fuji is a majestic sight.  It's not only Japan's largest mountain, but also it's most beautiful mountain.  Last year I bought my wife a Japanese hiking guide for her birthday and it has wonderful things to say about hiking Fuji-sama, the ceiling of Japan.  Many people hike up the mountain during the night so they can see the sun rise from the peak.  Just thinking about it sends a shiver of awe down my spine.


But once you've hiked to the top and watched the sun begin it's journey, the fun isn't over.  Apparently theres a route down the mountain that feels like moon walking.  I guess the combination of soft cushy gravel and downward pull of gravity allow you to make giant leaps through moon like terrain without injuring yourself.  I can't wait to hike this beautiful mountain, slurp some noodles at a checkpoint along the way, see the sun rise from the ocean and then bounce back down the mountain.

-See Monumental Sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival.  Difficulty Rating 4 out of 10:
Once a year in Hokkaido (the Alaska of Japan) a grand festival celebrating snow and ice is held.  Sculptors representing many different countries, companies and styles use snow as their medium to create massive towering displays.


We've all tried to turn snow into art, whether it was a snow person or a snow fort or a snow angel.  But I never had the kind of success these artists do.  I don't know why temporary art captivates me so, but I just LOVE it.  Tell me there's a chalk art festival or sand castle competition and I will be there.  Perhaps that is why I am so fascinated by the change of seasons; nature quickly erases the beauty of one season to temporarily replace it with another.  All I can say is that the Snow Festival in Sapporo fills me with excitement.

-Attempt the 'Ninja Warrior' obstacle course.  Difficulty Rating 9 out of 10:
In Japan there's a TV program called 'Sasuke' where contestants from all walks of life try to complete a four stage obstacle course.  It must be pretty hard, because of the 2,600 people how have attempted the course, only three people have actually finished.  It's aired on G4 here in the states as 'Ninja Warrior' and I've always wanted to put my ninja skills to the test by facing the course.

I have no idea how to apply for the show, but I will do everything I can to learn how.  How hard can it be? There use to be a replica of the course at a theme park in Tokyo called Muscle Park, which I was planning to visit.  But while writing this blog I discovered that the park closed down last year and I had to adjust the difficulty rating for this entry...

Popular Posts