Last year my husband and I took a trip to Japan and had a thrilling 3 weeks there. We visited Kyoto and stayed at a traditional ryokan, (inn). Staying in the ryokan was an amazing/overwhelming experience that included getting naked in public (a story for another day), a 12-course dinner, beautiful sites and a traditional Japanese breakfast. We ate numerous meals, but the ryokan was the most interesting. The hubs and I visited the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple, which is a buddhist temple with over 1,000 quirky and interesting statues. We LOVED it! The statues were placed in 1981, so they aren’t particularly ancient, but they are still wonderful.I was especially happy to find a statue holding a camera. A kindred spirit!After site seeing we had a lovely experience at the ryokan and the next morning we were given the choice of a ‘western’ or ‘japanese’ breakfast. We laughed at the stupid westerners that couldn’t handle a Japanese breakfast and promptly opted for the most traditional breakfast possible! It seemed like a great idea until we sat down to the table and had NO idea what were were about to eat. I love trying new things, but this was definitely out of my comfort zone. You know that experience you have when you got to a fancy restaurant and suddenly realize there is much more cutlery than you are know what to do with. Why are there 4 forks, what is this mini plate for, am I supposed to use the small spoon for dessert, soup… ? This was just a taste of what it was like to eat traditional japanese breakfast. There were so many plates and ornate boxes with little treasures inside. I didn’t what was garnishment or food. At one point I managed to ask what to do with this cup of liquid only to discover it was just a cup of tea, which was the only thing I knew what to do with. It was beautiful and amazing, but we had no idea what were eating and what sauce went with what. A lot of it was delicious, but a lot of it we weren’t sure about. This could have been because we were pairing sauces with the wrong food. I did recognize rice, soy sauce, fish (pretty sure) and maybe.. tofu. The service was impeccable. Though the employees didn’t speak English, and we struggled with awful Japanese, they still took care of our every need and made it a great experience for us. The view was so beautiful it was surreal. Boats floated by and I kept feeling like I’d fallen into a movie. It was one of the highlights of our trip!We were awkward and confused, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Author Archives: Sarah Bélanger
Hideous Photos from a Professional Food Photographer
This past weekend I got the opportunity to go to the International Associate of Culinary Professional’s (IACP) annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky. (I drank SO much bourbon!). The conference is a great opportunity for people in all sectors of the culinary field to come together, learn some things, network, meet your culinary idols and of course, eat lots of amazing food. Oh yeah, and the bourbon. Of course, being at a conference with some of the world’s top food photographers/stylists/writers I wanted to be able to put a good foot forward and have some nice images of the conference, but this was not to be the case. I’m not really the most responsible of adults and last year I broke the camera on my phone. I’m not really sure how it happened, but I have a general idea. My husband couldn’t believe that such an expensive phone could break so easily, but when I went to pull my phone out of my purse and accidentally flung it 9 feet across the parking lot he pondered no more.
I did not want to lug my real camera to the conference and the selfie mode of my phone still works, so I just figured I could take lots of selfies to illustrate my experience. This let to a whole slew of really shitty photographs. I’ve been following the other conference attendee’s beautiful imagery and I’ve got to say it is pretty humbling to present you with this ugly pics. Enjoy! Yikes! That’s super rough. It is seriously hard to take a photo of food when you:
A. Can’t see the image on the screen
B. Can’t zoom in
C. And are shooting with a 1.2 mp camera that does terrible in low light and is clearly meant for portrait mode. These were the very best images. Yes, seriously. There are actually images much worse than this crap. These are not as bad, to be clear they are not good, but not as bad. You should have seen the confused looks while I was trying to take a photo with my phone facing the wrong way, while hanging over the top and putting fun shadows all over the place. People would ask why I did and when I said I was a food photographer the response was ‘Oh wow.. really?’
The conference itself was excellent. I saw a free friends, met a lot of new people and learned a lot. It was my first trip to Louisville and I throughly enjoyed it. My husband and I are already making plans to revisit. I especially want to visit Dinosaur World and the Patton Museum. They weren’t in Louisville city limits, but not far from it. Also the KFC Museum, how can that be anything less than awesome.
The other awesome thing about the conference was the swag! I’m actually not a huge fan of swag, but there was some primo stuff a this thing. Such as packages of California figs and fig BBQ sauce.I also picked up a potato doll called a Spuddy Buddy! Hilarious! Also, sad that I have the fashion sense of a potato.
I picked it up from my friend’s children, but then I realized the Spud and I had the same shoes! I might keep him now. I mean we have the same shoes! I also got an Anolon frying pan, a yogurt carrier, a cute back of chips, a nice wine opener.. There were also lots of snacks. My favorite were the kiwi berries, which are essentially mini hairless kiwis. I enjoyed the Hillshire small plates while watching Knocked Up at midnight. I party hard. I stayed at two different hotels over the 4 days there, and they were great, but my view was less than picturesque. It could be a postcard couldn’t it! Who needs a mountain view when you have a construction site or parking garage?They did make my towel into a swan, so that made up for the view.. a bit.
My husband didn’t get to come with me, so I spent much of the weekend sending him photos of the fun times I was having. On Saturday I was looking so pulled together with my scarf, make-up and Starbucks so I sent him a photo of it.
When he saw the photo he said it didn’t look a thing like me. Jeez! Why do I even bother. Later that night I sent a ‘regular’ photo with Spuddy Buddies on my head.
On the last day of the conference I went to The Palace for an awards ceremony. Swank!It was really nice and I got to finally hang out with some friends I’d been missing for most of the conference. Then I packed up all my stuff, grabbed a banana for a road snack and too one last shitty photo of myself before heading back to Alabama. I hope you enjoyed the noisy, blurry, badly cropped awful images.
Tom’s Commemorative Wall
Though I lived in the Muscle Shoals area for a number of years, I did not visit Tom Hendrix’s Wichahpi Commemorative Wall until last year. For those of your unfamiliar with the wall, it started with Alabama-native Tom Hendrix hearing stories about his great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay, a native American living in Alabama in the 1800s. Te-lah-nay was part of the Yuchi tribe and in one of the worse atrocities committed in the United States, she and other native people were abducted from their homes and marched to Oklahoma along a route now known as the Trail of Tears. Many Native Americans died, but Te-lah-nay not only survived but walked all the way back home to Alabama, by herself! The journey took 5 years, but Te-lah-nay said she heard the Tennessee River singing for her to come home so she just kept on going. Tom was in such awe of her strength and her journey that he wanted to do something to commemorate her. So he build a wall. But that is a complete understatement, because he spent thirty years building the largest mortarless wall in the United States. The wall has over 8.5 million pounds of stone and is the largest monument build for a Native American woman. The wall is amazing and draws visitors from all over the world. Numerous Native American tribes have visited, priests from China have hung red ribbons in the trees, a Benedictine priest left carved statues, and visitor have left little trinkets throughout the area. It is a holy, sacred place, that celebrates humanity, strength, courage and unity.
But more than the wall, was the man behind it, Tom. When you visit Tom would come out of his house, usher you to a folding chair, sit down in his green, plastic lawn chair and tell you the story of his great-great grandmother, the wall, himself, and anything else you wanted to know. He’s show you different parts of the wall, point out interesting memento’s left behind and answer every question. It was truly a spiritual experience and you left striving to be a better person. I visited the wall twice, once with my husband and once with my mother.The second time was last April and Tom spent so much time with my mother and me. He went into his house and brought out beautiful pine needle baskets and the stone that his great-great-grandmother had carried with her. He told us Native American stories from his childhood and discussed the herbs and teachers and language and so many more things. I had hoped to revisit Tom, but sadly he passed away last weekend. He is a great loss to the world, but I know that he touched many lives, including my own. Rest in Peace Mr. Hendrix and thank-you for creating something so beautiful.
I’ve Been a Bad Blogger!!
Okay, so I have been a bad blogger for over 3 months! Ouf, that is a long time and pretty much everything you are not supposed to do if you have a blog. In retrospect I wish that I’d written short easy posts just to maintain consistency, but I didn’t.
So, here come the excuses. There’s so much good television! The Man in the High Castle, Stranger Things, I just started watching Legion.. so good! But that’s not really why I’ve been a slacker. The real reason is because I was writing my first book! A history book about beer no less.
And I know this sounds very naive of me, but I had no idea how much work it was to write a book. The book took thirteen months to write, but the last three months were insanely intense and nearly did me in.
Book writing led to me to be very neglectful to my blogging, but if it makes you feel better I was neglectful to everything and everyone. My friends were ignored, my house was like an episode of Hoarders and the laundry situation was bleak to say the least. It also took a personal toll. I’ve always been fascinated by the photographs of presidents over time so I did a mini version of myself during the book writing process. I took photos of myself at different points. As you can see I start out so happy and then degrade until a ball of stress and then back to tired but happy at the end. To see the different within 24 hours the photo on the left is the day before the book is due and the photo of the right is 10 minutes after I mailed the transcript to my publisher. Happily survived and my book North Alabama Beer: An Intoxicating History comes out in August.
Going forward I swear I’ll be blogging more and when I write book number two I’ll be more prepared for the workload.
Thank-you and I am sorry. Foodie posts will be on their way.
Huntsville has a new, ultra cool place to enjoy an upscale cocktail, a pint of local craft beer, and a truly amazing array of culinary delights. It’s hard to say what the restaurants food genre is other than an eclectic spectrum of deliciousness. Usually when I got to a restaurant opening I do a little research on the place, but I was pressed for time so as we were driving to the Kona Grill I looked the restaurant up on my phone (don’t worry, my husband was driving).The menu had lots of different types of food: Japanese, Italian, good old American and even some New England fare. Mmm Clam Chowder. (It gives me flashbacks to my childhood).
“How can this be good?” I asked by husband while looking at my phone. “There are too many different styles of food.”
Thirty minutes later I would be eating my words, while sipping on a heavenly strawberry basil cocktail and eating a numerous styles of food that were consistently good.The interior is sleek, yet comfortable. The restaurant is divided into different atmospheres, but all of them were equally enjoyable. It is a great place to grab a meal before a Saturday out on the town or settle in on a weeknight for numerous dishes, drinks and causal conversation. We opted to sit on the patio in the unseasonably warm weather with blogging superstar SweetTMakesThree and our hubbies. The staff was lovely, well-informed and so helpful. They brought us lots of different dishes to sample and offered to get anything we needed from their skilled chefs and bar staff. I started with the flatbread pizza. It was delicious, which is going to sound very redundant soon, but seriously everything tasted amazing.After a while I noticed people sipping on fruity cocktails, and being a person that doesn’t want to miss out, I went and located a few for the table.Mmm. Just looking at the pictures again makes me want another. They were fresh and fruit the with right amount of kick.
I LOVE food presentation, so I was all about the ice sculpture in the sushi room.All of the sushi is made fresh in-house. It went so fast that I was barely able to get a photo before it was gone, but I snagged a couple of pieces. Once again delicious. We then enjoyed well-cooked burgers (American-style) and pork dumplings (Chinese-style). My absolute favorite was the tuna sashimi (Japanese-style) and we finished up with passion fruit creme brûlée (French-style). It was like visiting Epcot Center without all the crying children and overpriced Mickey merchandise. I highly recommend visiting Kona Grill! The husband and I have already made plans to be back. Make sure you visit it at Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville.
A couple of weeks ago I got invited to the soft opening of Local Taco. I walked in hungry, but I waddled out so so full and so so happy. The restaurant is located at the Shops at Merchants Walk, close to downtown Huntsville, but also convenient to my neck of the woods, Madison. The restaurant has a cool, open floor plan with hip, clean decor. The polished concrete flooring and restoration-style lighting makes this place perfect for young professionals, but it also very accommodating to families. It’s a great versatile place with delicious food. The hubby came with me on this adventure and we both had a blast. We started out with a quadruple sauce tray that included guacamole, two types of salsa and smokey jalapeño queso. Everything was delicious, but our favorite was the queso. We KNEW we needed to pace ourselves because we would be served numerous dishes, but everything was so good that we royally failed. With our dips and chips we each had margaritas: mango strawberry and peach strawberry. Both were too yummy for their own good.Then the tacos started coming out. This is when we over indulged, but the food was so good. All of it! We started with the chef’s recommendations and got Nashville Hot Chicken (one of my several favs!), Al Pastor, El Carnicero, and the Mission Smoked Chicken. We did spilt the tacos, but they are still quite filling. They also have gluten-free options, so it is a great place for dietary restrictions. At further recommendations we went with the Dory, a catfish taco with pickled onions, coleslaw and pico. It was by far my favorite taco. The restaurant is officially open, so make sure you pop in. If you are a catfish fan it is imperative that you order the Dory. You won’t be disappointed!