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.
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.
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.
Huntsville has a new brewery!!! Let’s all toast Green Bus Brewery with a pint of Hop Bus IPA!!Back in 2009 craft beer in Huntsville was in its infancy. Prior to this beer with an alcohol content of more than 6% was banned from the state. Other prohibition era laws remained of the books and essentially stifled an industry that was thriving and benefiting other states throughout the country. In 2005, a group of passionate beer lovers started the Free the Hops movement to change the laws and bring more sophisticated beer drinking habits to the state. And once change started there was no stopping it. Throughout Alabama craft breweries started expanding, but no place took to it like Huntsville. Maybe it’s all of our out-of-state brew drinking transplants, maybe it’s our high populations of beer-loving engineers, but whatever the reason, Huntsville loves craft beer!Now that we’ve hit 2016 Green Bus will be the 8th brewery in Madison County. I had the pleasure of dropping into the Grand Opening.The Grand Opening lasted all day and I picked a time that I thought would be dead, but I would be wrong. There were tons of people, lots of beer, food, games, live music, raffles, and a guy in lederhosen. ‘Tis the season I suppose. They even had the infamous green bus! It was covered with stickers from all the other local breweries. I love how the craft beer industry in Alabama is so supportive of each other. I can’t tell you how many times brewers have told me ‘when one of us succeeds we all do’.I’d loved to have tasted the beer, but unfortunately I am currently under a strict gluten-free diet (doctor’s orders) so alas I could only photograph it. I will say it was quite pretty and the drinkers around me seemed immensely happy.
I have been a bad blogger and not posted in over a month. I know, I know I’m breaking the first rule of blogging, post consistently, but I swear I have a good excuse! My husband and I spent the last three weeks in Japan and we have been far too busy site seeing, eating new foods, getting lost, struggling to communicate, and changing our world views to bother with blogging.
The trip was an amazing adventure, especially ordering food with a VERY limited understanding of Japanese and only pictures or plastic displays of fake food to guide us. Despite our limitations, we loved (almost) everything we ate. Of course I was a total tourist and took photos of most of my dishes.
Most of the time we had no idea what we were eating. This was the ‘light’ vegetarian lunch on our excursion to Mt. Fuji. They brought us a tray covered with tiny bites of food we did not recognize. Our lunch conversation went something like this:
Olivier: What do you think this is?
Me: … eggplant … maybe.
Olivier: Do you think it is a mushroom or something?
Me: Well just try it and see.
Olivier: You try it.
Me: You try it first.
Olivier puts the unidentified object in his mouth and slowly chews.
Olivier: I still have no idea.
Me: What do you think this sauce goes with?
Olivier: Maybe the pepper?
Me: Which thing is the pepper!?
It was fun though!
When in doubt go with noodles! I really tried to make a point to eat lots of different foods while in Japan, but the noodles were so delicious that I kept on ordering them!
There were numerous varieties and each time I ordered a noodle dish it was a different experience. I even got pretty proficient eating them with chopsticks.
The gyoza or pan fried dumplings were heavenly. They were much lighter and tastier than American version, pot-stickers. I’ve been craving them since I’ve been back. Guess I’ll have to learn how to make them. Sushi from a sushi-go-round!! The sushi was delicious, but I especially love the process of looking at all the little plates of fish float by you on a conveyor belt and deciding what you want. There was the added element of suspense when you saw something you wanted on the opposite end of the restaurant and you had to wonder if you would get it or another patron would snatch it up before it made it to you.
The color of the plate determines the price of the sushi. So smart!
As you can see we tried lots of different things! This was for 4 people though, not just me.
We did eat a ‘western breakfast’ several times, which were delicious. But we never really got the hang of eating eggs with chopsticks.
If you get really desperate for a hot meal on the go there are vending machines that dispense fried food. We never got this desperate.
Every dish we ate was well prepared and presented. Even the little mom and pop shops, fast food restaurants and the 7/11 the food was pretty good food.