Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lazy Days and Saturdays

I had been threatening Bug for months that I would throw his ratty quilt away. One morning recently, Yoru heaved orange and yellow mealy chunks all over it. Twice.

Muahahaha, this meant new quilt shopping pronto.

It's been two weeks, and Yoru is practically grafted to the quilt. If he's not eating, pooping, barfing, running away from the dog, or pouncing on the dog, he's chilling on the bed, snuggled on or under the puffy quilt.

The quilt has the lazy cat seal of approval.

- Cassaendra

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Floor Potato

So, yeah. Now that I don't play WoW anymore, from being burnt out, to save a few bucks, along with the intention of getting a part time job, I have found that I have more time to watch tv, blog, and not work on preparing my taxes.

My line-up is limited by no longer having satellite tv. A little over 10 years ago, I realized that paying $20/month for 200 channels of uninterrupted rubbish wasn't really worth it. The prices have gone up since, I hear. While it would be nice to have Military, History, and Sci-Fi channels running in the background all day and night, it just plays into the stereotype of our nation's love to consume resources unnecessarily. I'm not saying that my current tv habits are scholarly either.

I really hate reality shows and let's-find-the-best-[enter entertainment profession here] shows. I don't care for sit-coms, nor dramas. I've also grown to dislike game shows, with the exception of Jeopardy! This leaves the 2,536 crime shows and PBS.

I love travel shows, but not all of them pull it off well to keep me pining for more. Of course, the more foreign the location, the better. Globe Trekker is a marvelous travel program showing a balanced exploration of culture, food, and the environment.

The show is paced well so there's rarely a feeling of being rushed, nor a feeling of "let's get the show on the road." Megan McCormick is my favorite traveler. Her naturalness is perfectly suited for hosting this type of show. It is amusing to see her remain polite while enduring some bizarre situations.

NCIS, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is a crime show involving naval and marine criminal cases. I initially gave this show a try because Michael Weatherly starred (still does) in it, being a "Dark Angel" fan. Fortunately, his character, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, is a goof and a cinephile so it makes this show all the more enjoyable.

I have enjoyed crime shows in the past that center around profiling. I was a big fan of the first couple of seasons of Profiler and Millennium. The Mentalist stars Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, a former celebrity psychic turned police consultant after his wife and daughter are murdered. Due to his acute observational skills, he is able to solve whodunits. It's a watchable show because the characters are likable, and the show, while dealing with murders, has a whimsical outlook.

I still follow CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a forensic science crime show that takes place in Las Vegas. The draw to this show for me initially was the filming style, location, and the rather exaggerated modernization of forensic science. I have always liked shows that centered around forensics, like Quincy, or even forensic anthropology.

I also enjoy House. Hugh Laurie's character, Dr. Gregory House, is hilarious, mainly because I am married to someone just like him, a cynical curmudgeon (is that redundant?), minus the doctor bit, the cane, and the addiction to pain pills.

Each week there's a main story with someone in a baffling and critical condition that the team has to solve. House usually comes up with a bizarre etiology with an even more incredulous means to test whether his hypothesis is true. His proposed etiology is often correct, but proven only via a strange and seemingly accidental angle. There is also a goofy outpatient story interjected into each episode taking up no more than 7 or so minutes for the initial consultation and follow-up visit.

It's kind of funky to look back at what I was watching a year ago. I wonder what I'll still be watching a year from now...what will still be on the air?

- Cassaendra

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thatness, Thereness

Some of my favorite songs...

I wanted to link more, but I've already linked too many...

Sakamoto Ryuichi - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (theme)

I saw Oshima Nagisa's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence some time in high school because I was in love with David Bowie on film since The Hunger. As a result of watching this movie, I was introduced to Sakamoto Ryuichi and became an avid collector of his 1980s-90s works. Based on what I knew of his music, I was surprised when I saw him perform live at UC Berkeley ~20 years ago. It was a loud, lively, and jazzy show with a lot of singing.

The screenplay is based on Laurens van der Post's "The Seed and the Sower," mostly taking place in a Japanese POW camp in Java during World War II, concluding with the outcome of a war crimes trial. The film is a brutal, humorous, and sentimental character-driven story about people unable to or not wanting to look past their cultural bubble as they collide during a tempestuous time.

Kitajima Saburo - Django Sasurai (from Sukiyaki Western Django)

I hated enka when I grudgingly listened to it as my mother watched Kohaku Utagassen on tv. I find myself frequently listening to this song after hearing it for the first time last August while watching the Miike Takashi and Quentin Tarantino film, Sukiyaki Western Django.

Dead Can Dance - Rakim

I've been fan of Dead Can Dance since 1986 and bought every LP, then switched over to imported CDs, as soon as they became available. To date, Dead Can Dance is the best group performance I have ever experienced and my most favorite band. They actually sounded better live than in studio! I saw them during their Spiritchaser tour in 1996. Lisa Gerrard's range, Brendan Perry's timbre, and musical arrangements varying through dark, lyrical, medieval, and tribal make them a timeless and unmatchable group.

The Gorillaz - El Manana

I love the video of this song and "Demon Days" is an awesome album!

The Gorillaz are an interesting marketing concept, a band made up of fictional characters -- a virtual band. Each band member has a history. The video for "El Manana" focuses on Noodle, a mysterious girl from Osaka.

Gogol Bordello - Start Wearing Purple

Bug caught Gogol Bordello 4 years ago on NPR when they came out with the album "Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike." We've been fans since, and have seen them live whenever they've swung by. I would have linked up "60 Revolutions," my FAVORITE song from them, but I am unable to link up a studio version of that song. Oh well.

Their live shows are really entertaining and you feel that everyone is having FUN. They're spunky, captivating, with a lot going on the stage. The downside is that time slips by so quickly that the end of the show (2 hour set) sneaks up on you, and you're left wanting more...

Eugene Hütz, the lead singer, co-starred with Elijah Wood in the movie, "Everything is Illuminated," based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer. Wood plays Jonathan, who is in search of a Ukrainian woman who hid his grandfather during the Holocaust. Hütz plays Alex, who, along with his grandfather, guide Jonathan around the Ukrainian countryside looking for the village, which was decimated by the Nazis. It is an excellent film with quirky characters scribed into a beautiful diorama of humor, solemnity, and illumination.

Lacuna Coil - Swamped

I used to watch Bug play Vampire: The Masquerade -- Bloodlines because it was an interesting game and the music was pretty solid. It introduced us to "Swamped," by Lacuna Coil, which is off of their third album, "Comalies." Too bad Troika, the gaming company, went belly up, and Lacuna Coil's subsequent album isn't as good. "Closer," from their fifth album, is used in Guitar Hero III and "Swamped" is available for download.

KMFDM - A Drug Against War

My mother introduced me to KMFDM years ago when the band came out with their new video "Vogue" (?early 1990s) and have been one of my all-time favorite bands; thus I've collected everything they've put out since Naive.

I love all of KMFDM's videos and album covers done in block print by Aidan "Brute!" Hughes.

Sakamoto Ryuichi - Fade (from Aile de Honneamise)

A good friend of mine back in college showed me a 5th generation videotape copy of Aile de Honneamise (Wings of Honneamise), or as many affectionately call it, Wings of Mayonnaise.

The anime was released in 1987 so the artwork is obviously older looking. It is classified as a military-sci-fi drama, note that "action" isn't included. The movie takes place in a territory on a parallel Earth trying to get a struggling, doomed-to-fail space program to launch their first space orbit amidst depressive circumstances -- war, poverty, as well as dealing with faith and sacrifice.

Of course, being a Sakamoto Ryuichi fanatic at the (one and only) time I watched this, I had to get the CD to the movie right away. "Fade" is my favorite track off the CD.

- Cassaendra

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Akemi's Big Adventure

Little Akemi got spayed today.

As we got to our front door, Bug told me not to laugh too hard when I see her. I actually didn't even think about laughing up until that moment -- I've been worried about her, hoping there were no surgical mishaps.

When Bug opened the door, I saw a sleepy puppy in a cage lying listlessly on her side, droopy eyes peering up at us with a clear conical siding pressed against the side of her head. A little giggle snuck through my lips. She looked so cute, but the poor thing didn't try to stand up as she routinely does with much exuberance each time we walk through the door.

As Bug opened the door to her cage, Akemi hoisted herself up gingerly. The top of the E-collar knocked her back each time she tried to wobble out, trying to squeeze between the framework of her cage with a megaphone strapped to her neck. I could not help but laugh. Yes, I know it's mean.

Party animal!

We gave Akemi a bowl of vittles, the first time she had eaten in 24 hours, but she had a difficult time figuring out how to get food from A (bowl) to B (mouth). Each time she'd try to eat from her bowl, the bottom cusp of the E-collar blocked her mouth from her food and pushed the bowl back toward her feet. We had to help tuck the shade under her bowl so she wouldn't back-step around her cage, clumsily bumping her neck accessory, in frustrating attempts to eat.

One down, 3 more days to go until we can think about taking her out for a brisk walk and remove that silly contraption. I can't wait to get my lively and carefree Akemi back!

- Cassaendra

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mortal Wombat

I saw a report saying that it was -15F last night with -30F windchill at the airport. I don't know anyone who lives near the airport to corroborate this. While I could feel my nose hairs crystallize when I inhaled, I didn't think it was quite THAT cold. At least we don't live in Marion, OH, just a 2 hour drive south of here, where it was reportedly -25F or in Fairbanks, AK where it was -35F. No worries that our tires will cling to the ice and peel off the rims.

Sub-Zero freeze

For the holidays, our landlord sent us a greeting card wishing us well and a $25 gift certificate to a neighborhood bakery, Lelolai. What a wonderful gesture!

Lelolai Bakery

Lelolai is owned and operated by a friendly Puerto Rican lady, Alma Sapia Alfonzo. As a result, the food served here has the flavor and heart of the Caribbean. The dining area was set up like a bright and warm lanai, a stark contrast to the arctic gusts outside.

Miami style Cuban sandwich + Spanish rice and beans

The Miami style Cuban sandwich is a garlicky sandwich with roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and lots of yellow mustard and pickles ($6.29). I am not a fan of copious amounts of mustard, or garlic for that matter, in my food, but it was awesome in this sandwich because of the boldness of flavors. The loaf was flaky and fresh. The downside of the sandwich experience was the meat that got stuck between my teeth.

I enjoyed the Spanish rice and beans. The fluffy rice and lentil beans were lightly seasoned (chicken and turmeric?) and balanced the chorizo puff pastry I had. I'd come back just for the rice.

Chorizo puff pastry

The chorizo pastry was sweet and flaky, which was unexpected. Upon the first bite, I thought that perhaps I really did get the guava and cheese puff pastry that I ordered along with the chorizo puff pastry. There was some confusion with the order so I canceled the sweet puff pastry order and was left with the chorizo.

Because I was enamored with the puff pastry, I ate around the chorizo. By the time I got to the meat, there wasn't much pastry left to balance the saltiness. I'm glad we had the rice!

Two chicken empanada

The chicken empanada ($2.29) was interesting. Bug described what an empanada was before we went into the bakery -- meat-filled bun with breading that is not too dissimilar to a tortilla and fried. I thought I had seen empanada in Hawaii, but seeing this didn't jog my memory the least bit. We would have ordered 1 chicken and 1 beef, but the beef empanada platter was empty.I ate half of one and gave the rest to Bug, since it was too salty for me.

Bug frequently teases about my salt sensitivity, saying that I would find snow salty.


I became quite thirsty by the end of the meal so I bought a can of Tropicola ($1.95). I am not a hot coffee drinker, so I was at their mercy. We normally pay $1.79 for a 2 liter bottle at the grocery store.

Vanilla and coconut flan

The flan was the main reason we had been mulling over trying Lelolai for the past year, having bought a portion at a local supermarket. I gobbled up the generous slice of coconut flan ($1.99) and Bug devoured the vanilla ($1.99). The coconut flan was creamy, like an egg-custard version of haupia with bits of coconut, but not as firm.

Cafe con leche ($2.79) came in 12 and 20 oz sizes. There was a sprinkle of cinnamon that gave the latte a pleasant scent. Despite not being a hot coffee drinker, I was able to drink a few sips without adding any extra sugar or milk, which is pretty much unheard of for me.

Slice of pastel con mango

The moist mango pound cake ($5.29) with swirls of mango jam was nestled in a 9" round tin stacked at the register screaming, "BUY ME!" Glad we listened.

There was an empty basket next to the chicharones sign. Maybe next time.

Our bill came out to $31. Since we had the gift certificate, our actual total was much less.

At a glance, Lelolai is a bit pricey, but well worth it for the homestyle food and unusual menu items. The highlights were the Miami-style Cuban sandwich, rice and beans, and the flan.

- Cassaendra

Lelolai Bakery and Cafe
1889 West 25th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 771-9956

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Over the past month, Bug has been getting increasingly depressed about no longer being able to get Ruby Red Squirt. Ruby Red Squirt was his replacement for Sonic's cherry limeade, since the closest Sonic was a 15+ hour drive away when he moved here.

During the past few years, Sonic has opened closer so we've driven to Dayton and Pittsburgh to eat there, as well as making it a point to go to Sonic daily when traveling to Tennessee and Kansas.

Last night, I decided to look up where the nearest Sonic was located; a search I perform every 2-3 months. Bug was busy playing World at War, when I jumped out of my seat from the search result that flashed onto my screen.

I barked that a Sonic is less than 30 miles away! Bug was elated, so we decided to place it at the top of the next day's itinerary.

Akemi the Ostrich

Just a wee bit of overnight snowfall.

We've been under a severe winter weather watch since Friday, due to expire some time on Sunday. In Akemi's world, this forecast means a fantastic fluffy puppy playground adventure instead of peeing and pooping. She has quickly mastered running in fluffy snow higher than her shoulders by leaping like a fox while running like a gazelle. She loves to dunk her head into the snow in search of buried treasure, aye. I think she's stealing nuts from the squirrels. When spring hits, if our band of yard squirrels survive the winter, I wouldn't be surprised if they launch air attacks on her, jumping from the rooftops. I'll tell her, I told you so. Knowing her, she'll probably think they've come out to play with her, as their claws dig into her back.

It took Bug 30 minutes to free the car from its frozen tomb since 8-10" of snow had accumulated since the watch took effect. Living on one of the few streets in the neighborhood that is routinely plowed early is great, but a down-side is that it wedges all of our cars in. Our neighbor was late to work as she was digging her car out as well. Drive time to Sonic was doubled, since we encountered numerous bottlenecks from lengths of snow-covered highways to accidents.

Park n Snarf

After parking, Bug asked me what I wanted. I knew what I wanted the night before, and recited my order to him -- a burger, no onions ($2.79), and a cherry limeade. I hopped out of the car to take pictures, while he decided on what to order, being careful not to get hit by any vehicles as everyone had their cars on idle.

It didn't seem like they got as much snow as we did.

What to eat...

There's a happy hour from 14:00 - 16:00 for all the drinks, except the cream drinks. Oooh!

More yummies

I took several pictures of the place and headed back to the car. Sonic sits on a lot of a newly built Super Wal-Mart. When I got back, the food was already being delivered to the car.

Sonic burger w/o onions

I didn't realize how unappetizing close-up shots of half-eaten hamburgers were. Oh well. There was very little room in the car to display the burger by opening it up and sans utensils, plus Bug was getting irritated because he wanted to eat. I slouched and laid on my back with the burger on my lap to take the shot.

My burger had just the right amount of sauce for car-food. Sonic is the only food I allow to be eaten in my car, well, and beef jerky. The bread to everything else ratio was heavier on the bread side on my first bite only. I had a good amount of patty, lettuce, tomato slice, and dill pickles between those soft and absorbent buns that the burger was pretty well-balanced and great tasting. I was also famished. I don't think I grunted...

Crunchy tater tots and hickory cheeseburger in the background

Bug had ordered tater tots ($2.09) and a hickory cheeseburger ($3.19). I wasn't going to attempt getting between Bug and his burger to get a picture of the hickory cheeseburger. He was snarling when I asked him to hold up the tots.

The tots were the best I've ever had. Each tot had a thin, crunchy "shell" when bitten in to. The shredded potatoes were moist and soft, yet defined. It was not your leathery school tater tots used as slingshot fodder to maim people.

Because the cherry limeade was the main reason for braving the weather, Bug ordered both limeades as Route 44s, their 44 oz label ($2.29).

Cherry limeades are a refreshing drink on a hot, sunny day (not today) or when you're sick (check). It's a concoction of Sprite, some maraschino cherry syrup, and 1 whole lime squeezed into each container. The squeezed, quartered slices of lime rest at the bottom of the cup with a half-filled cup of crushed ice. A maraschino cherry will often hang inside at the edge of the cup, stem clipped by the lid. Sometimes you'll find an extra cherry at the bottom of the drink too. :)

I'm sure Bug will sleep better now that he has his beloved Sonic close by.

- Cassaendra

9780 State Route 14
Streetsboro, OH 44241
Tel: (330) 626-9601‎

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wild, Wild West II

When I was a child, we received flaked salmon in bottles from family friends in Japan. They were delicious, but quite expensive (~$35/bottle).

That delicious memory resurfaced when I saw the salmon furikake recipe posted on I've been itching to make this for months...and we had 11 oz of fresh salmon filet sitting in the fridge.

Salmon Furikake from

This makes about a cup. Increase the amounts proportionately to suit the amount of salmon you have. It can be frozen.

1 raw salmon filet with skin on, about 150g / 4 1/2 oz
Sake (as in rice wine, not salmon)
1 Tbs mirin
2 tsp soy sauce (light soy is preferred)

If you are starting with some premade salted salmon, skip this step: salt both sides of the salmon filet well, and leave in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably overnight. This not only salts the fish but draws out some moisture as well.

Wipe off any excess moisture from the fish. Put skin side down in a dry non-stick frying pan. Add about 1/2 cup of sake. Put on a lid and let cook over medium heat until the fish is completely steam-cooked and the sake has evaporated.

Take the fish out of the pan, let cool and take off the skin. Flake the fish finely with a fork and your hands. While you work, remove any fine bones.

Wipe out the frying pan and put the fish flakes back in the pan. Add another tablespoonful of sake, the mirin, and soy sauce. Stir around to evaporate the moisture. At this point you can leave the flakes fairly moist, or continue stirring until they are quite dry and finely flaked. The more you dry it out, the longer it will keep. Just do not let it burn or color too much.

Let the flakes cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for about 1 week or so if it’s quite moist, and 2 weeks if it’s drier.

Our result...

salmon furikake

Salmon Furikake

We used almost triple the amount of salmon and only doubled the liquid amounts, since we ran out of shoyu and mirin. I was hoping that we could get it finer and fluffier like the ones I used to get in the bottle. This is still delicious. I think letting it sit in the fridge for a day makes a positive difference by drying it out a little.

One of my, I hate to say "resolution" since I do not make resolutions, goals this year is to cut down on my rice consumption, in particular, white rice. I did well for a bit, but this has made me fall off the wagon temporarily.

Of course, since we made this, I bought yamaimo, fukujinzuke, and kyuurizuke. I've been gorging on grated yamaimo (tororo) over everything before it goes bad, along with my pickles, and furikake.


- Cassaendra

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Message from Akemi

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Wild, Wild West I

We recently bought a pound of wild Northwest salmon steaks and an 11 oz filet, since we've been in the mood for salmon and they were surprisingly cheap.

A couple weeks ago, we bought "400 Sauces" by C Atkinson, C France, and M Mayhew published by Hermes House at Borders.

The rest of the title reads:
Dips, Dressings, Salsas, Jams, Jellies & Pickles
How to add something special to every dish for every occasion, from classic cooking sauces to fun party dips

400 Sauces

This concise, educational, beautifully put together 512-page cookbook was only $5. Each recipe, ranging from basic to fancy, has colorful and descriptive pictures, where at least one picture displays a crucial step or few through the final product.

We were eager to try the wild mushroom sauce (pg 125). The recipe directly from the book is as follows:

5 oz wild mushrooms preserved in olive oil
2 tbsp butter
5 oz fresh wild mushrooms, sliced if large
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped fresh marjoram or oregano, plus extra herbs to serve
4 garlic cloves, crushed
12 oz fresh or dried fusilli
1 cup heavy cream

Drain about 1 tbsp of the oil from the mushrooms into a medium pan. Slice or chop the preserved mushrooms into bite-size pieces, if they are large.

Add the butter to the oil in the pan and heat over a low heat until sizzling. Add the preserved and the fresh mushrooms, the chopped herbs and garlic. Season to taste.

Simmer over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until fresh mushrooms are soft and tender.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, until al dente, tender but with bite.

As soon as the mushrooms are cooked, increase the heat to high and toss the mixture with a wooden spoon to boil off any excess liquid. Pour in the cream and bring the mixture to a boil. Season if needed

Drain the pasta and turn it into a warmed bowl. Pour the sauce over and toss well. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs.

And here it comes

...the substitutions...

Since we couldn't find wild mushrooms preserved in oil, we just used 1 lb of fresh wild mushrooms. For whatever reason, we couldn't find those silly spindles so we bought rotini instead. They are similar so it's not like we subbed spaghetti squash for it...which might not be that bad an idea for next autumn. We also added a little katakuriko to thicken it a wee bit.

Bug spent the better part of the afternoon to make the sauce, steam the salmon steaks, and cook the pasta. There are no pictures, since silly little me didn't think about it.

While the flavor wouldn't have changed this recipe too drastically if one used fresh white button mushrooms and would have made this dish cheaper by $2, the texture of the various mushrooms are what seals the deal for me.

The meal was filling and delicious -- with loads of mushrooms and salmon, how could it not be?! And it wasn't salty, hooray!

- Cassaendra

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Hunan than Hunan

Prior to ~6 months before moving from Hawaii, I did not like Chinese food. I don't like goopy sauces, plum sauces, or anything overly sweet and/or sour.

While I still dislike chow mein, lemon/orange chicken, General Tso/whoever's chicken, chilled ginger chicken, fried rice, moo shuu, egg foo yong, Peking duck, that dark plum sauce, etc., these dishes had given me an aversion to all Chinese food until my father took me out to lunch on Fridays and introduced me to other Chinese dishes that I now truly enjoy, but cannot get in Cleveland, like duck noodle soup and choi sum with brown sauce. Of course, I have always loved steamed rice cakes (bok tong go) and dried, candied coconut, winter melon, carrots, and lotus root.

Just as my father opened my eyes to the plethora of Chinese dishes and restaurants Downtown, I left the islands and traveled cross country for 3 months.

I was introduced to Hunan Coventry on my first pass through Cleveland. I loved it! They were not stingy with their meat and shrimp, unlike other places where it's loaded with cabbage and onions.

The staff are dressed in white long-sleeved shirts, black vests and pants. The tables are always covered with white tablecloth and folded, standing cloth napkins. The water service is always excellent. Leftovers are always packed before you like a show. The server automatically splits the leftovers up evenly if the table is made up of separate couples.

I discovered hot and sour soup here. After trying the soup at numerous restaurants, Hunan Coventry still makes it the best; perhaps they shaped my tongue for the soup. Another discovery that has gone unmatched as well is their flower-shaped crab rangoon. The filling is rich and creamy, with chunks of imitation crab and green onions. I realize this isn't an authentic Chinese dish.

The other appetizers that we've tried over the years are all right. The barbecue ribs, which I am not a fan of to begin with, were large, meaty, and seasoned well. The egg rolls were huge, filled with shredded cabbage that must have been previously simmered in some kind of broth and pepper. I prefer Vietnamese summer rolls, as far as rolls go. The sauce was pretty awesome though, made with chunks of orange rind. Beef skewers were tender and tasty, marinated in shoyu, garlic, and ginger. The shrimp with bacon was made of ground shrimp and a slice of bacon, then deep fried. It had bacon, so Bug loved it. The won ton soup was yummy with fat, meaty dumplings. The broth wasn't salty, so it gets 2 thumbs up from me.

On a recent trip, we ordered:
- House special lo mein ($9.95) -- generous portions of beef, pork, chicken, and jumbo shrimp fried in a light sauce with thick lo mein and green onions. It's my favorite dish so I always order this. The noodles and meats are perfectly cooked, nothing is overcooked or chewy, and the sauce is light enough that it imparts flavor to the dish but doesn't require me to eat rice as a salt neutralizer nor is it chock full of garlic that most places need to use to cover up the lack of skill or bad quality ingredients.
- Orange chicken ($12.95) -- 5 battered, deep-fried large whole chicken breasts sliced, with an orange reduction (gastrique). The sauce also comprised of orange rind, garlic, and whole dried Sichuan chili peppers. I was skeptical at first, but I liked the sauce as it was not sweet. Breasts aren't my thing at all, so I ate one slice and left the rest for Bug to enjoy since he loves breasts. I'm a leg person.
- Kung pao beef ($11.95) -- diced water chestnuts, copious amounts of peanuts, whole Sichuan chili peppers, and chopped green onions in sauce.

This easily serves 5-6 adults, so it obviously fed us for 3 meals. And those chili peppers are NO JOKE! WOW!

A few years ago, we had a lo mein dish that was fantastic that I hope to be able to try again some day, as it is no longer on the menu. The dish consisted of an extremely thick, chopped peanut "sauce" that was folded into the noodles. The sauce was more like a thick, extremely chunky peanut spread, not the usual peanut dip that one encounters in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.

Hunan Coventry is my favorite Chinese restaurant because I always walk away feeling extremely satisfied with the flavor, great service, and quality. The large portions don't hurt either.

- Cassaendra

Hunan Coventry Chinese Restaurant
1800 Coventry Rd
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118
Tel: (216) 371-0777

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evening the Earth Stood Still

In early 2008, we walked up to the double doors leading into Shinano and read a posted sign thanking us for our patronage and that they were closing their doors. We were in shock.

It was a delicious, as usual, but bittersweet meal. Even though plans of reopening were mentioned, a location had not been secured. We were pessimistic and felt they may never re-open. We left our email address with only a sliver of hope we'd hear anything as we paid and bid them a sad farewell.

Months passed and we heard nothing. Bug routinely scoured the internet searching for a snippet of information.

Finally, in June, eureka! Bug ran across a morsel of info on Cleveland Foodie's site that mentioned a Shinano signage siting near Miles Market in Solon.

We hopped into the car to check it out. Sure as poop, there was the familiar sign in hiragana. We also noticed Viet Pho in another part of the mall. We were giddy. A sign meant that they'd have to be open in a couple of months, right?

We waited for months. No email. We'd go out of our way to check every few weeks. No progress. Grr. Viet Pho hadn't progressed at all either. I commented sarcastically that some of these "opening soon" storefronts have to be fake, to entice other businesses to sign up with the hopes of a lot of activity "coming soon."

In mid-December, we drove by and spied movement. Ooh! Can it be? We drove closer and it became apparent that they were workers...and some familiar faces! Bug rushed into a nearby spot to park the car and I barreled out of the car. The owners were just leaving to get into their cars, as I waved my hands and screamed, "HI!" They looked startled at first like I was a naked stalker jumping out of the bushes, but smiled after they recognized me or recognized I meant them no harm.

They were not dressed to be standing outside in the arctic gusts, but stuck around reassuring us that they'd be opening up soon, perhaps the last week of the year or the first week of 2009. Like adoring fans, we hung on every word they said.

On Thursday, New Year's Day, I happened to check my email just before heading to bed and there within an email, the announcement we were waiting for:

...[soft] opening Friday January 2nd, 2009 for dinner starting at 5:00 pm...


Despite me reeling from the news, it didn't mean that much to attend the soft opening, while it would be wonderful, with Bug reeling from a starkly different reason.

SicklyBug vs The Bug. Ding ding!

This match-up did not look good. Round 1. By mid-morning, Bug was nearly down for the count having vomited several times.

Finally, by round 3 at 16:00, after a nap, Bug called and proclaimed victory. He asked me to make reservations for us at 19:00, since traffic would be slow around town with it being a Friday evening.

Traffic wasn't as bad as we had anticipated. I had entertained the thought of returning home to switch from Bug's more unassuming Nikon L18 camera to my favorite camera, a Nikon D60, that takes superb pictures. We decided against returning home, a 30+ minute detour through Downtown traffic. After seeing the pictures, I regret the decision.

We meandered about at Borders for ~30 minutes, and still made it to the restaurant at 18:00.

The restaurant's interior was beautiful; modern, simple, and open. A few ukiyoe prints hung from the walls and Final Fantasy III type atmospheric music played in the background. The air, however, was electrified with the buzzing frenzy of anticipation. I shyly asked if it would be possible to be seated early, as we had reservations at 19:00. All but one of the tables were filled -- the one we were about to take.

I loved the shades and the slate floor tiles. The shades were a clean, fine gun-metallic weave that filtered images from the outside, softening the headlight glare of cars parking.

A glance at the newly printed menus (Century Gothic typeface) revealed that prices remained the same.

As EVERYONE who worked there passed our tables, they exclaimed, "Happy New Year! Long time, no see!" and asked how we were doing, as well as teasing Bug whether he was going to order sukiyaki tonight. I used to be the unajyu princess, but became enamored with their tendon the last year. It was great to see all the familiar faces of the family, the same sushi chefs, and the same servers with a couple of new faces mixed in.

Every few minutes, we heard similar long-lost exclamations across the restaurant. It felt like we were at a joyous family gathering of strangers within an ideal world encapsulated in this room percolating anticipation, joy, patience, remembrance, and appreciation.

salad and miso shiruSalad and miso soup

Typically, the miso soup comes first followed by the salad, but with it being a circus tonight, they came together thankfully.

I am the biggest hater on raw onions (garlic, too), but this salad dressing rocks! It almost brings tears (of joy) to my eyes when I eat this. I am not sure when I was converted, but I have a feeling it happened quite suddenly 2-3 years ago. I clearly remember hating this dressing when I first ate this here then at Benihana.

This dressing is perfect with cold, crunchy iceberg lettuce and julienne carrots. The salad also comes sparsely with julienne red cabbage. I am neutral about the red cabbage. I don't like it at all as sauerkraut.

gobo, unagi, and salmon skin makiGobo, unagi, and salmon skin makizushi

The sushi was served messy, unfortunately for the shot, but they tasted great. It's unusual that they looked as shoddy as this, but I'm sure their butts were lit with the amount of customers coming through the door.

Gobo maki ($4.95) with pickled gobo - not young carrots - were a great, piquant palate cleanser between the grilled unagi maki ($4.95) and the salmon skin maki ($4.95). The char was just right on both grilled rolls. I don't like chicken skin, but boy do I love me some salmon skin, from steamed to grilled.

Volcano rollVolcano roll, oh my!

The Volcano roll is our favorite roll. It's so un-Japanese, and yet it is. The textures, color, and flavor blend so harmoniously.

In a single bite, you first experience the soft steamed scallops with the firmer octopus teamed perfectly at room temperature under the warmed Kewpie mayonnaise, which invokes a creamy, slightly tart and shoyu essence; mid-bite gives way to the nutty avocado, the cool crunchy cucumber, essence of nori, and the texture of each rice grain; followed finally by the vibrant crunch of the red masago lava and toasted sesame.

Describing it, the flavors sound over-worked, too complex and jumbled to enjoy; however, the actual experience is far from it. This roll is to be savored, much like one would savor a perfect serving of (non-vegetarian) dolmades with avgolemono sauce, bite by bite.

sake shioyaki teishokuSalmon shioyaki with tempura

I decided to go with something different and ordered the combination with salmon shioyaki and tempura ($18.95). Bug was jealous. Missing from the picture above, but appears in the picture below, is my tempura dipping sauce because I requested more grated daikon.

The tempura was crispy, especially considering the volume of customers. There were 1 broccoli, 3 shrimp, 1 sweet potato, 1 kabocha, and a 4-green bean (think pan flute) tempura. The broccoli and carrots were steamed perfectly.

The portion of the salmon skin was perfectly charred so it was slightly bitter, not too different from the flavor of sansho pepper. I enjoyed my dish, but I will return to my tendon, which is $6 cheaper. Bug was quite impressed by it and said that this teishoku would rival sukiyaki as top items he would order here.

yakiniku platterYakiniku platter

Bug decided to be different and ordered the yakiniku platter ($15.95) instead of sukiyaki ($18.95). The meat was tender, but too garlicky and oniony for me.

When we walked out 2 hours later, each table was filled. The soft reception, I am sure, was declared a success at the end of the evening.

Driving away, Viet Pho's space remained dark. I wondered how many anxious fans await their opening.

- Cassaendra

Shinano Sushi Bar and Japanese Cuisine
28500 Miles Rd
Solon, Ohio 44139
Tel: (440) 498-1614

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou!

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!
Happy New Year!

When I woke up this morning, my first thought, after exclaiming my back hurts, was a memory of waking up early in the morning as a child on New Year's Day, walking out of the house into the chilly, sulfur-infused morning air gazing at hazy wisps that hung frozen along the lush green valley from the previous nights festivities.

I thought of Christina's dad, Mr. Choi, from across the street who celebrated each year with an impressive 10' long (maybe more!) conglomerate of black powder and red paper suspended from an enormous tree limb 15' in the air. How did he get it up there?

The clamor was always set off 5 minutes 'til midnight and would go on forever. Bathed in citrine sparks, the red flakes would meander earthward as the smoke drew skyward. Time thickens when you're mesmerized, or deafened, blinded, and accosted by sulfur. Not a chance of an evil spirit at his house!

Later in the morning, we'd drive through the eerily empty Beretania and King Streets Downtown. The air smelled even more singed. I loved watching the crimson swirl behind us as we drove by the tufts of red petals.

Back home to eat leftover osechi while watching New Year's dramas from NHK, TBS, Fujiterebi, news specials, and Kohaku Utagassen. Go Red!

Reminiscing. I must be getting old. Must be getting to be that time...

- Cassaendra

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