October 31, 2015

Japan: The Culinary Trip Report

So, one of my favorite games is to maximize travel points.  It's like gambling to me.  This trip, we stayed 4 nights in hotels on Hyatt points.  The first 2 nights were at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which has  such amazing views.

Because of my travel reward obsession, one of the perks we get at the Hyatt is free breakfast.  Which, at the Park Hyatt on the first morning was all of this:

Japanese breakfast!

My favorite thing about japanese breakfast?  Pickles!
Thanks to the gigantic Japanese breakfast, we actually didn't gorge ourselves at the Robata that night, which was a first.
Robata with friends.

To date, the ramen bowl count is 2.  Once as a shared late afternoon snack in the work hotel basement.  And once for me with a friend in Shinatatsu (aka Shinagawa Ramen Alley).  I wish I could have had more ramen, but then I would have had to have less other stuff...

Of course we had sashimi and sushi -- often just a small course in a meal.  There was a very fancy sashimi and sushi business dinner at a historic restaurant in Roppongi, which was awesome.  The next night, we went with friends to the local kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) and stuffed ourselves silly for less than $10 per person -- I'm probably a bad cultural appreciator, but I think I preferred the chaos, craziness, and fun of the conveyor belt experience to the traditional one (where the sushi was, of course, better, but it's not like the kaiten sushi was bad).  One day, I treated myself to basement chirashi as a study break from work.
If only chirashi was this reasonably priced at home (less than $10)

Japan is a great country for snacks, but we didn't really snack very much this trip.  The one snack we did enjoy was sugar crystal coated rice heart crackers, a gift from my childhood Japanese exchange student (eaten on the Romance Car train from Tokyo to Hakone).

Perhaps one of the most memorable meals of the trip was Friday night's izakaya splurge.  E & I were both done with work for the week, so we headed out for a night of drinking and dining in the local style.

Pickled Vegetables & Tako Wasabi.

The ordering system and seared tako (E has a tako problem).

Mushroom skewer.

Miso Eggplant.

Horse sashimi and sake.  Yes. Horse.

"Chinese" dumplings.

A fitting caption for the end of the night with the empties.
There were also 2 other very memorable meals.  The first one is very special to me because I had a reunion with my junior high foreign exchange student after 27+ years.

She took me out to a very traditional fancy kaiseki meal on the top of a tower with 360 degree views of Yokohama.  When it came time to argue over the check, she stopped me cold with, "This is my parent's card.  They insist."  I got a little teary eyed over that one.  Her parents, whom I've never met, insisted on treating me to lunch -- so touching.  Totally something my dad would have done, too.
The beautiful meal I enjoyed with my exchange student.  Delicious!
Our final memorable meal of the trip was Halloween night.  After another free Japanese breakfast (with pickles!) at another Hyatt, we spent the day sightseeing in Hakone.

For the afternoon, we braved the cultural craziness of a local public onsen to access a private bath we'd reserved.  2 hours of nothing but naked relaxation in hot running mineral water (and a couple of vending machine Asahi beers).  We left the building more relaxed than we'd both been in a long time.  The exit of the onsen caused you to walk through a local shrine, which was a perfect way to end the long soak.

Unexpected shrine.

For dinner, our hotel had made us reservations at a local teppanyaki joint.  Teppanyaki is one of E's favorite styles of food, so we were looking forward to this (and hungry from our day's adventures).

We arrived and were very surprised to learn that the local teppanyaki joint was actually ITOH Dining by NOBU.

Edamame with Truffle oil?  Hell yes.

So, E decided to take advantage of the situation and actually ordered the Kobe beef (a first for both of us).  I stuck with Wagyu so that we could compare.  Guess what?  I like Wagyu better than Kobe!  Win for me.

Wagyu on the left, Kobe on the right.
The entire meal was sublime.  Definitely the best Nobu experience we've ever had (compared to San Diego and Las Vegas).  The steak was seared simply in small cubes with salt and pepper, served with a different sauce for each steak and roasted garlic chips on top. 

In addition to the set menu, they spoiled us with a few amuse bouches (including the truffle edamame), and some bonus courses of a sweet potato soup with a purple sauce garnish, and fois gras.  The fois gras wasn't served with any acid, and I was apprehensive, but I shouldn't have been.  It was at the right point in the meal where our palates were perfectly primed for it, and it was the best melt-in-your mouth fois gras I've ever eaten.  We loved our chef.  He was friendly and so precise with each of his movements.  He presented us with his card at the end of the meal, so we gave him our cards and told him we'd take him out to dinner if he ever came to the bay area.

And with that, after today's free hotel breakfast, we're starting the long trip home where we'll just eat whatever the travel gods (and possibly vending machines) throw our way.  Just a shuttle bus, a shinkansen, the Narita express, a trans-pacific flight, clearing customs and immigration, a 4 hour layover, and a local flight 'til home...

October 27, 2015

Running Game? Back On!

Yesterday, I'd tried to stake out a potential running route on the Meguro River Path.  Previous ridiculousness every day in Japan had warned me.  I was guaranteed to get lost and mess up a bunch of stuff.  So I figured I'd spend one day getting there, walking as much of it has I had time to do to scope it out, and then head back today to actually run.

A view of the Meguro River
It's a long boring story involving confusing metro issues, construction, traffic lights, and a reminder that what passes for "running" facilities in Asia often is not what we'd consider to be the same thing in the U.S. (or western Europe).  So, after almost 45 minutes to arrive at the path (that should have taken 10 minutes) and 1 mile of walking in about 25 minutes due to obstacles, I had to turn back to meet a friend for lunch.  Verdict?  I would not be running the Meguro path.  And, since it was ranked as the number one outdoor running route in the local area (at least in English), I would not be running outside in Shinagawa.  Period.  

Why yes.  Those *ARE* Hello Kitty construction markers.
(Shinjuku, not Meguro River Path)
Despite not running anything more than 1 mile in the last 3 weeks (YIKES!), I had done some fitness work on my feet.  I'd done several 7-14 minute HIIT 30/10 workouts, a good hike in Alaska, some walking at home, and in Japan I'd been fitting in a decent amount of sight-seeing walking.  Finally, my toe seemed to be healing (the hole is still discolored, but flush with the rest of skin now, and not sensitive at all).  After it held up better than the balls of my feet on an 8-mile day of tourist walking, I decided it was time to pull the trigger.

In preparation for my first big run back, I've been carb-loading with Ramen.

And amazingly cheap and delicious Kaiten Sushi.
Our 4-top did *amazingly* well.  We stuffed ourselves for 3600Yen total (minus beer).

I am egregiously happy to report that I'm finally able to run.  After asking a million people where I could find a gym (our hotel didn't have one), figuring out how to get there, and paying the fee at the local Tennis & Golf club (that thankfully had treadmills), I was greeted by an adorable older man finishing up his calisthenics -- Konnichiwa!  He smiled and bowed to greet me, very happy that he would not be the only person in what apparently is the dregs of the racket and golf club.  I was very happy to greet him back with an enthusiastic Konnichiwa and bow (after several days, they are kind of automatic now) -- it made for a very fun official feeling welcome to my running comeback. 

And with that, I finished more than 5K on the treadmill at 0.5% incline, including a 1.7 Km at 9 km/hr (10:42 mile pace) warm-up; and 4 X 2 min intervals with walking recovery at 10.5 (9:12/mile), 10.6 (9:07/mile), 10.7 (9:02/mile) and 10.8 (8:56) Km/hr. 

This was the best running infrastructure I could find, in a *baffling* private Japanese Racket/Golf complex.

Yes, it's a super easy workout, and less than 2 miles total running.  But I sweated.  I worked hard.  I got my heart rate into the 170s a few times.  AND I GOT A MAD RUNNER'S HIGH.

I'm quite glad I couldn't see the paces in miles on the 'mill.  I was so pleased with the workout that I bounced the whole walk back to my hotel and didn't bother to do the conversion 'til long after the high wore off.  I'm sure there's some lesson about running by effort and being pleased in the moment buried in that experience, but I can't take the time to figure it out right now.

Right now, I need to go get some delicious Japanese lunch.

October 24, 2015


After all my studies, I can read Hirigana as it scrolls on digital signs.

But seriously, Hirigana is useless in day-to-day interactions...

October 19, 2015

Warning: Toe Update

If you are squeamish, this may not be for you.

It's not terrible.

But the cut did devolve into an actual hole into my toe, which is what I was trying to avoid.

Oh well.

No running.  And even more core and body weight intervals, here I come.

October 18, 2015

So Quick To Zero

This week, I can honestly say I only did 2 verifiable miles on my feet.  1 mile walking.  1 mile running (and confirming that the toe injury was legit).

2 miles for a week.  Seriously.  When my average over the last 10 years has been 20+.

I did fit in and push myself through several other interval workouts with a focus on core and upper body like I haven't since I was a proper athlete on a team with competitions to compete in.  It's been ages since the push-yourself-with arms & chest and back and core focus happened like it did this week.  Probably more than a decade.  So that was a positive.

And I've got at least another week of this to come.

While I'm surprised or even shocked at how quickly it can change, my life is more than happy to fill the time that used to be taken by hours running (or even walking).  Work expands.  Washing machines die.  Laundry still has to be done.  Emotional demands to my family and friends and E expand.  AND I DON'T EVEN HAVE KIDS.

Life, it turns out, will take up all of the open spaces in your life.

Today, the second weekend day in a row where I had a minimal todo list and otherwise spent the  day physically relaxing, reading, studying foreign languages, and not demanding anything of my body, I couldn't help but feel decadent.  I couldn't help but wonder if I may never go back to the other side.  Perhaps I'll just dedicate myself to reading and thinking and working and feeling.

A little voice in my head kept pointing out that there's truly no need to schedule and struggle through physically demanding things just because...

Except. of course, that's crazy pants talk.  I know I need physical engagement to stay sane.  There's a reason why in the face of this silly toe, I've pushed myself more on interval training and fasting (aka "other physical planes") than ever before in the last 10 years.

I know I am one who likes some cadre imposed discipline, even if I am actually the leader of the cadre.

So, keep me in your thoughts while I try to find some balance while doing myself some semblance of good as the hole in my toe heals.

October 15, 2015

Intermittent Fasting: A Toe In the Water

Forgive me with the title, but I couldn't resist. As my last post showed in the last photo, I have an unexpected toe injury.

It's healing, but I've restricted my physical activity this week in an effort to heal as much as possible (in hopes that I can do the trail 10K I'm already registered for this weekend).

In non-toe-news, I've been thinking of trying a 24-hour water fast for a while now.  I've studied enough Buddhism to find fasting a very fascinating discipline.  Of course, I've toyed with the idea of trying it over the years, but I'd never done so.

However, you may have noticed that intermittent fasting is all over the nutrition/health news these days.

Intrigued by the recent hype, I'd looked a little deeper, and the science around intermittent fasting looked relatively solid (to my oh-so-brief-scan-of-the-most-recent-published-study-abstracts). At a minimum, I figured that it if it turned out water fasting wasn't a huge burden, then it might benefit me, or worst case, it would just give me the same benefits of an equal decrease in calories on a constant calorically restricted diet.  Either way, I knew a short mid-week fast wouldn't hurt me.

Based on everything I'd read and heard about fasting over the years, I knew I didn't want my first attempt to be during any sort of heavy physical activity.

So, enter the busted toe.  Clearly, I needed to take advantage of the situation and try one of the intermittent fast options and see how it treated me.

Bonus: E and I needed to detox from our Alaska trip (surprisingly, despite a diet full of fried things, the cold shivering metabolic demands were such that we were both shocked to arrive home without either of us gaining weight -- Clearly this is a miracle, as we were there for less than a week and I alone consumed many things I wouldn't ordinarily including a cheesesteak, brunch with hollandaise, mac and cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, nachos a few times, chili, and more.)

Did I mention E and I needed to detox?  So, when we arrived home Tuesday evening, I made a vegetable soup of puréed roast cauliflower, broccoli, onions, garlic, broth and some spices.  (Of course we added cheese.)  It was delicious, but also light and healthy.

Wednesday, still on good behavior, we both ate light lunches and the remainder of the soup for dinner, followed by bed with herbal tea and reading.  My last bite of soup was at 8:20 PM and thanks to the inactivity required by my toe, I decided it was a good time to attempt a 24-hour water (tea/coffee/lemon) fast.

I don't eat breakfast, so I regularly hit 15-16 hours between calories (hence, one of the reasons I've been intrigued by the intermittent fast trend -- it's in sync with the eating patterns I've found work best for me).

Cut to last night -- I was committed to 24 hours, but frankly, I was a little scared. Mainly, my concerns were around how I tend to get HANGRY.

Turns out, for me, a 24-hour water fast was relatively easy (sort of).  I sincerely enjoyed it on a few levels.

For the last several weeks, I've been trying to work in at least 1-2 sets of 7 minutes+ of 30 seconds on/ 10 second off high intensity intervals of body-weight strength work.  Since the toe injury, this is one of the only work-outs I can do, other than stretching.  So, Wednesday, I did the HIIT 2X7 minutes, showered, ate dinner and started the fast.

I slept relatively well.  I woke this AM, had my coffee, and before I knew it I was already 12-hours in (50% done!) I worked, edited documents, took calls, and didn't really even think about hunger 'til my Junior Attorney brought back spare chips and salsa for me from her lunch run since she saw that it looked like I was skipping lunch (so kind, and yet... so cruel). 

At this point, I'll admit, I started keeping score.  12:20 was 16 hours.  1:30 was 17+.  3 PM was almost 19 hours and time for another coffee.  Leaving the last client's office at 5:25 was less than 3 hours to go and I knew I had it in the bag.  (With 2 hours to go, I fit in a 2X7 min HIIT workout followed by 30 minutes of easy yoga stretching, knowing it would kill my appetite from experience.)

I never got lightheaded, a headache, pains or anything debilitating.  A few times I got mild hunger pains but coffee, herbal tea, water, and life seemed to make those disappear relatively easily.

Overall, while the break-fast meal was ready to go and I took my first bite at 8:21 on the dot, I was surprised at how easy this was for me.

In fact, I ate much less for dinner than I expected.  I made myself a huge bowl of miso soup with an entire box of silken tofu and tons of seaweed, chili oil, and more.  I fully expected to eat the whole pot.  Instead, I had a nice big bowl, a glass of wine, and I was satiated.

The reason I say it was (sort of) easy for me is that a funny thing happened this morning.  I woke up.  I made my coffee.  I poured myself some sparkling water with lemon.  And then I opened the pickle jar.  I remember thinking, "I can drink pickle juice, it doesn't have calories.  In fact, it's got electrolytes that I probably need since I'll be diluting all day with water and diuretics like tea and coffee."

Except somewhere in that analysis my brain shut off.  And I ate a pickle out of the jar.  When I finished the pickle, I closed the jar, looking for a kitchen towel for my hands before realizing I'd blown my 24 hour fast about 12.5 hours in.  I laughed.

I realized I probably eat a pickle every AM without realizing it.  I tell myself I don't eat breakfast, but truly, my breakfast is actually usually made up of coffee (with sugar and milk/cream if we have it), sparkling water (with lemon) and a pickle.

And that, my friends, may be the biggest most important take home from my 24-hour water fast.  If nothing else, if you do one, you will realize things about your eating patterns and hunger patterns and relationship to food and those around you that you've never considered.

So for that reason (regardless of the other benefits you may accrue) I recommend it.  Given that it wasn't as difficult as I expected, I suspect I may deploy it more frequently over the coming months (or years/decades, as some studies cite it as a useful tool vs. menopause) as a compensatory measure whenever I find I need to detox from some serious gorging or when I'm in a situation where I'm unable to workout as much as I like.  

October 13, 2015


Last week, we headed up to Fairbanks, Alaska so I could do a visiting lecture at the University and we could hang out with friends, try to see the Aurora, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Alaskan Interior.

Running was, predictably due to the travel, quite light.  Mileage for the week totaled 19.83 including several hiking miles and about 2 hours of snow-hiking (which is no cardiovascular joke!).

We got *very* lucky, and on our first full night, we saw a beautiful Aurora display.  We'd planned our visit specifically with the goal of seeing the Aurora, so we were very pleased.  This trip reminded me every single day that a camera phone is nowhere near as great as a real camera, and I'm hopeful I'll take this lesson and actually do something about it soon...

Work for both of us was a bit more hectic than we'd hoped, so we didn't get Friday or Monday off entirely, but Saturday and Sunday were glorious days off, on Alaskan time, which is much slower than SV time, with deliberate space for weather calamities, unplanned social interactions with small-town friends, hours between cell service, etc.

Just out for a drive along the Alaska Range

Seriously.  How gorgeous is this?

The Alaska Pipeline.

The view from one of the turnouts -- breathtaking and not a car in sight.

The four of us: me, E, D, and Arvay

One of many gorgeous photo ops from the drive.
Sunday, we drove out to Chena Hot Springs and hiked to the summit of one of the trails before soaking and dinner with D & Arvay.  It was a perfect way to spend the day.

See the hot springs steam behind us?

I'd never done true snow-hiking before.  Cardio!

The Summit!
The only real downside was that I cut my big toe in the hot springs while trying to clamber out of the hot water.  The algae on the rocks was quite slippery, and the edges were sharp.  The first time I needed a break from the heat, I surprised myself by using my residual upper body strength and bouldering out with shoulders and back and finger strength and direct foot force against the slippery algae.  There might have been a discussion of mu and force diagrams...  (4 engineers get in a hot spring...)

Emboldened by my initial success, I thought I could do it again after 30+ minutes of hot spring water relaxing my muscles... Wrong.  I angled slightly, the algae did, in fact, have a very low mu value, and my foot slid right over the oh-so-sharp edge of the rock I was trying to climb.

This is a nice clean slice, but fairly deep, unfortunately. 

Thankfully, between the mineral spring water and antibiotic cream, I seem to have avoided an infection.  So now, I'm focused on workouts for the remainder of the week that don't aggravate my toe.  I'd hoped to do a trail 10K on Saturday, but I'm skeptical that it's a good idea at this point.  The plan is to do non-running toe-friction-free cardio 'til Friday and then tape it up and go for a test run.  If it holds up, I'll shoot for the 10K.  If it seems remotely likely to rip open, I'll likely play it safe.  Wish me luck...

October 10, 2015

Last Week -- A nerdy date night & day

Last week's mileage totaled a mellow 23.76 including much walking/hiking and not much running.

Work was crazy.  Much to my surprise, despite a week working remotely from LA, I closed out September with the highest billable month I've done since I started my firm, invoicing 19 clients (which in terms of clients isn't too far off the average) but the hours for a few of them were crazy, pushing the total into somewhat ridiculous territory.  Honestly, it's a bit overwhelming.

Good, business and career-wise.

Not so good in terms of being committed to any sort of work-out regime.

Last weekend, E & I took a date night in SF at one of our favorite restaurants.  They brought us dessert to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our first true date.

After dinner we met up with SoCal friends at an Inner Sunset wine bar.  It was so great to see them and catch up.  I wish they lived closer.

The next morning, we did a truly nerdy thing -- we visited the Marin Headlands Nike Missile Site.  Every 1st Saturday of the month, the local vets come and give tours, so we were there for that, but we arrived early, dodging all the cyclists and tourists to hike a nice loop around the Marin Headlands Rodeo Lagoon from the visitor's center and with a few detours on the beach and bluffs for a decent 3+ mile hike before the fun.

View of Rodeo Lagoon and Rodeo beach from the Nike Missile site.

If you are a cold-war history nerd or into missiles, the Nike Site is not to be missed.  This is the only site in the US that is allowed to keep its machinery in good enough shape to raise the (decommissioned) missiles.  Very educational and interesting.

They pushed the missiles into place on these rails by hand.

Raised above ground, ready to be set to launch.

Almost at launch attack angle.

Ready for launch.  The 19 year old boys who worked these sites would sit in a concrete bunker and wait for instructions after they were armed.  Insane, really.
And with that, I'm caught up through last week.  This week, I worked my butt off and came to Alaska.  Turns out, infrastructure is a bit more complicated in Alaska than at home.  So, I'll update when I can, but in the meantime trust that if there's one thing Alaska has taught me, it's that California does not offer enough fried things on menus.