Apr 18, 2014

Cherry Blossom Season in Japan

Raisin Bread and I just returned from an amazing 16-day trip to beautiful Japan! When we booked our trip last November, we were hoping that our time in Japan would coincidence with the peak cherry blossom bloom in at least one of the cities we would be visiting. Lucky for us, we got to see cherry blossoms almost everywhere we went.

Cherry blossoms in Nara

Locals and tourists alike took time to admire the sakura blossoms. Symbolically, the blossoms represent the transience of life. They are stunningly beautiful but last a very short time.

After a few days of rain in Tokyo, many of the fragile blossoms fell from their branches.



Sakura season is celebrated throughout Japan through hanami (flower viewing) picnics. I loved that throngs of people were out enjoying themselves in the gorgeous weather with friends, food and booze. There did not appear to be any open bottle laws in Japan, and yet, somehow there was also no vomit, public urination or litter. I'm quite sure that we, Americans, could not manage this.

Hanami in Osaka-Jo-Koen (Osaka Castle Park)

Cherry blossoms at Osaka Castle

Cherry blossom trees in Nara

Japan celebrates seasonality in many ways including in their food. We found the theme of cherry blossoms incorporated in subtle ways into many dishes we had. Cherry blossom branches were used as garnish and menu items were updated to be pink.

We saw these cherry blossoms for sale. I'm not sure what they were but they sure look pretty.


We also came upon this sweets shop in Ginza and purchased some of the cherry blossom themed sweets. They included a pickled cherry blossom flower on top of a mochi-like pastry and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.


The weeping cherry blossoms were my favorite to look at. They are so gorgeous.


The Philosophers' Pathway in Kyoto

I am so glad that we got to see Japan at one of its most beautiful times of the year!

Apr 8, 2014

CityZen (Washington, DC)

Raisin Bread and I did something we normally never do. We had a weeknight date night! *gasp* It was quite a feat for these old farts. We met up after work at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel to dine at CityZen.  



CityZen offers three ways to dine: 1) a six course Chef's Tasting Menu for $120, 2) a six course Chef's Vegetarian Tasting Menu for $110 or 3) a four course menu, where you get to choose from a selection for each course, for $90.

I went with the Chef's Tasting Menu.


Due to his dietary restrictions, Raisin Bread decided on the four course menu. 


We were both served different amuse bouche, the contents of which I cannot recall.

My amuse bouche

Raisin Bread's amuse bouche

Before our first course, we got to pick from three different types of breads. I am a carb fiend so I just wanted to keep asking for more bread, but refrained.

First Course: Shaved Green Radish and Baby Carrot Salad with marinated yama imo, takenoko, ginko nuts and dashi gelee

The flavors of the vegetables were very subtle, but the dashi gelee was very tasty, still subtle and not too salty.


Appetizer Course for Raisin Bread: Sheepsmilk Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Crepes with piquillo pepper jam, globe artichoke mouse and Nicoise olive syrup

Our server was very meticulous in finding out from the kitchen whether or not Raisin Bread could eat the dishes he picked. She spent a while going through almost every single menu item with us. When she didn't know the answer, she went to the kitchen to ask and returned right away to let us know how the answer might sway his decisions. She was great and very mindful and aware of our meal progression. Plus, she was super nice.

The appetizer Raisin Bread wound up getting was from the Chef's Vegetarian Tasting Menu, as it was one of the only appetizers he could eat. It wound up not being his favorite course.


Second Course: Kendall Farms Creme Fraiche Pierogi with cured Skuna Bay salmon and smoked sea trout emulsion

I loved this. It was so rich and fatty. The pierogi was nice and crispy, and the salmon was firm and not super salty.


Because I had two more courses than Raisin Bread, he did not have anything to eat during those times. Our server noticed that we were sharing our food, so the busser brought us an extra place setting for Raisin Bread to use when our courses did not overlap. Very thoughtful!

Fish Course for Raisin Bread: Sauteed Filet of John Dory with black trumpet mushrooms, salsify puree and tarragon coulis

This was by far his favorite course.


Third Course: Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Kanagy Farm shoat stuffed savoy cabbage

I usually don't order foie gras unless it is on a tasting menu because I often do not like the way it is cooked. This foie dish was amazing though. It was so tender and maintained its richness. I also enjoyed the accompaniments.


Fourth Course: Vanilla Braised Maine Lobster with Anson Mills grit cake, fennel, toasted pistachio, poached apricots and Cognac sauce

This was an interesting way to present lobster. The vanilla was a bit too much for me, but I liked the apricots and pistachio, and of course, the lobster was perfectly cooked.


For our meat course, we were presented with a little box of Parker House rolls. 


They are so adorable and buttery, as well as lightly sprinkled with salt. They are tiny enough to eat in one bite. Yummy!


Fifth Course: Pan Roasted Prime Virginia Beef Strip Loin with red flannel hash and Frankie's original horseradish soubise

Look at that pink meat. So pretty. While there was nothing wrong with my meat dish, I didn't find it too be all that special.


Meat Course for Raisin Bread: Kanagy Farms Shoat Loin with Darden ham wrapped baked endive, glazed baby carrots and tellicherry pepper mornay

I had to ask the server what shoat is. We learned that it is a piglet. I found the loin along with the carrots to be nicely done, but the ham was way salty for me. 


Intermezzo: Pineapple sorbet

We both received the same intermezzo. It was refreshing and a little tart, which was perfect between our heavy meat and heavy dessert courses.


Coffee service 

We received these shortbread cookies with our coffee service. 


Sixth Course: Chocolate Napoleon with blood orange ganache, whipped Bahibe chocolate and salted caramel ice cream

If I were choosing on my own, I probably would not have selected this dessert. My favorite part of the dessert wound up being the salted caramel ice cream and the cookie bits beneath it.


Dessert for Raisin Bread: CityZen Sopaipillas with golden angels sourwood honey mousse, finger limes, honeyed almonds and cinnamon ice cream

I'm addicted to sopaipillas and thought this was a nice way to elevate them.


As if that was not enough, we received a few more treats before we left. Our petit fours were nougat bars, macarons and ginger pate de fruits. 


Our dining experience at CityZen was delightful. The courses were flavorful, creative and beautiful to look at. The service was exceptional. I am really glad we had a chance to dine here.

I think we will be needing to scale back on the insanely high-end dining experiences for the remainder of the year though!

Apr 1, 2014

DC Running Club The Runway 5 Miler 2014 (Race Recap)

Saturday morning marked my last road race for a while. I will be having major surgery (more on that on a later date) in April, so I will be out of commission and then recovering for a while. I plan to put some more races on the calendar once I'm feeling better. Until then, the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon in November is the only thing I have scheduled for the time being.  

I signed up for the DC Running Club's The Runway 5 Miler. It sounded like it would be so much fun and after the Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon earlier in March, a small, local race sounded very palatable.

The race was women's only, and after the SELF Magazine hoopla this week, I thought doing a women's only race was very appropriate. I was pleased to see lots of ladies rocking the tutus. I myself don't have a tutu but decided to wear a skirt. 

I decided to pick up my bib the morning of, so Raisin Bread and I drove down to Hains Point and arrived at 7:30 am. The hubby volunteered to go with me. He is so sweet, and we drove since it would take forever to get to the start line by public transportation. Also, the weather was not pleasant that morning. 


The race was super small, compared to the other ones I have run, with only about 300 finishers. Picking up my bib was a breeze, so with Raisin Bread napping in the car, I had time to stretch and take pictures of the crazy amount of fog.


Fog over the Potomac River


The race started five minutes late, so we weren't off until 8:05 am. If you have ever run on Hains Point, you know that it isn't the most scenic place, except for maybe when the cherry blossoms are blooming. That combined with the fog made it so there wasn't much to see.

In addition to the 5 miler, there was also a 5K option, which started at the same time as the 5 miler. Both routes were out and back, so the 5K runners turned around just past the water stop, and the 5 milers continued until our half way point. Because the race was so small, there weren't any mile markers.

I felt pretty good the whole time. It was pretty drizzly during the entire race, but it was also humid so the drizzle felt really nice to me. It didn't start raining a good bit until the tail end of the race, so that was pretty good timing for me. 

The finish line had a red carpet with photographers (paparazzi?) capturing our finishes. Once I was done, I got my medal and then got in line to get refreshments and my race shirt. By the time I finished, they had run out of bananas. Boohoo. 

Additionally, when I signed up for the race, it was advertised that we would also be getting a long stem rose and that there would be a step and repeat. Let's just say - these were no where to be found.  I didn't get a rose. Raisin Bread also mentioned that he did not see anyone with roses. There also weren't any step and repeats that I saw. 


The race times were captured by clock time, with everyone having the same start time. My official finish time was 54:48. This was 30 seconds longer than my RunKeeper time of 54:18. 


Here are my split times from RunKeeper:
Mile 1: 11:26 *bathroom stop
Mile 2: 10:41
Mile 3: 10:42
Mile 4: 10:54
Mile 5: 10:38 *fastest mile

As you can see from my splits, I need some work on my pacing. Why is my last mile my fastest? I think I need to push myself a little bit more at the beginning. 


Besides the falsely advertised perks, this race was a nice change of pace from the enormous ones that I usually sign up for. 

Over the next few months, I'll be living vicariously through the race reports of my fellow bloggers! Hopefully, I will be back at it soon enough. 

Mar 27, 2014

Kintaro (Washington, DC)

This winter has been completely brutal. Just when we think it's going to be spring, here comes another round of snow, wind, rain or a combination of all of the above. 

I'm always in the mood for noodles, but after another harsh week of winter weather, nothing sounds better than a big, hearty bowl of ramen noodles. Yum! 

Raisin Bread and I visited Kintaro in Georgetown recently to get our ramen fix! 

I started off my meal with salmon onigiri. Onigiri is basically a rice ball wrapped in nori, but mine also had a bit of salmon tucked away in the middle. It also came with a few pickles. I guess that a rice ball can sound pretty bland, but I've always found it to be a perfect snack. 

Salmon onigiri - $3

After my onigiri, I moved on to my bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu refers to the soup base and is pork bone broth. Along with oodles of noodles, my bowl came with sliced pork, bean sprouts, scallions, boiled egg, fish cake, seaweed and pickled ginger.

Tonkotsu ramen - $10

While it wasn't the best bowl of ramen I've ever had in my life or even in DC, it was delicious and kept me warm on another cold winter's day.

In addition to ramen, Kintaro serves sushi, sashimi, teriyaki and other warm dishes.

Kintaro
1039 33rd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007


Mar 18, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon 2014 - Race Recap

Half marathon number 3 is in the books! On Saturday, I ran the 2014 Rock 'N' Roll USA Half Marathon in Washington, DC. I was hoping to knock out two of my 60 Goals in 3 Years with this race. I ran a local half marathon but did not manage to finish in 2:30. That goal remains on the to do list!   


On Thursday, I headed to the Expo to pick up my race packet. I was pressed for time, so I was not able to wander the booths to see what was new. 



In addition to a technical race shirt in women's size (yes!), I got a nice gear bag.


For my pre-race dinner, I had a big cobb salad with grilled chicken from Rhodeside Grill in Arlington.


As usual, I laid out my race day outfit the night before. The forecast called for cloudy skies in the 40s, which made it difficult for me to decide what to wear. I wound up wearing Eastern Mountain Sports leggings, an old short-sleeved race tech tee, a long-sleeved Ideology tech zip-up and my trusty ASICS Gel-1170 running shoes. I accessorized with CEP compression calf sleeves, my Polar RCX3 watch, Nathan Shadow Pak and a BAMR headband. Since I was pretty serious about finishing in 2:30, I printed out a pace guide from marathonguide.com to wear as a bracelet.



The alarm went off at 5:15 am Saturday morning. I had time to get dressed and eat my usual peanut butter and banana sandwich. Sorry if this is TMI, but one of the most important things I have learned in the past year and a half of running is that I need to PRP (pre-race poop) in order to finish races comfortably. So PRP, I did!

I left the house a little after 6:00 and arrived at the start line waaaay too early! I was in the third to the last corral, so I wound up having to go to the bathroom twice before I even got into my corral. I should have left much later. One good thing was that there were plenty of porta-potties at the starting line.


I also got a bottle of water and consumed a GU Gel before finally getting into my corral after the national anthem was sung and the first few corrals were off. My corral finally started at 8:10, which means I had been standing around for 40 minutes after the race started.


The race began near the Washington Monument and took us west, towards the Lincoln Memorial.

Mile 1: 11:33

All of that waiting around meant that I immediately needed to pee again! Argh! I thought I could hold off on peeing until at least mile 6, but no, I really needed to go. After I passed the first mile, I went to the first available porta-potties, which had a huge line! I saw two individual porta-potties before the first mile marker that I should have totally gone to because there weren't any lines. This decision pretty much cost me my 2:30 goal because I lost 12 minutes trying to use the bathroom.

Mile 2: 23:42 *ugh porta-potty line from hell

I kept a pretty steady pace the remainder of the race. We headed across the Memorial Bridge and back into the District.


Mile 3: 11:02

We went up Potomac Parkway, past the Kennedy Center. One of the things that makes the Rock 'n' Roll series fun and different is that there are live bands playing music at each mile.

For the next four miles, we continued up Potomac/Rock Creek Parkway towards Woodley Park. I took my time eating a packet of Sports Beans over these few miles.  
Mile 4: 10:57 *fastest mile
Mile 5: 11:46 
Mile 6: 11:35

After Mile 6, we headed up the one huge hill of the race. I slowed it down to a walk at the end of the hill.

Mile 7: 12:56

We ran through Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. At one point, I went by a pho restaurant and it smelled so good! After finishing half of the distance, I could have used some pho.

Mile 8: 11:35

We passed Howard University and entered an area of town, which to be quite honest, I have never visited. By this time, I knew that I wasn't going to make up enough time to reach my goal so I took off my pace bracelet and threw it away.

Mile 9: 11:43

Continuing on through Bloomingdale and Capital Hill, I took the last bit of fuel that I had packed with me: another gel packet. GU was being handed out at the next water stop, so I took another half packet for good measure.

Mile 10: 11:44
Mile 11: 12:18

I actually felt good for the rest of the race, but now looking at my time, I can see that I wasn't actually keeping up my pace!

Mile 12: 13:17

We finally approached RFK Stadium and the finish line.

Mile 13: 12:29


As I neared the finish line, I heard someone yelling at me. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but I turned to look and saw Raisin Bread! Awww, it was so sweet of him to surprise me at the finish line! I had no idea he was going to be there. 




The finish area was not very crowded and it was not too hard for me to maneuver my way out. There was a stage with a live band for us to enjoy at the finish. 




Although I did not accomplish my time goal, I did shave a good 12 minutes off my previous time! 

 


While this wasn't my favorite race, I thought that it was pretty well-organized at the start and finish lines. There were plenty of volunteers at the water stations. Two things the race was lacking for me was crowd support and on course porta-potties.  I liked that I got a chance to run through a lot of areas of the city that I normally don't see. And what better way to finish a race than to see your husband's beaming face!!