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

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