The Worst Obstacle


I Was Looking for a Change

The Reminder by Feist

The Reminder by Feist (2007)

I bought this album some time ago as a change of pace to what I had been listening and perhaps to broaden my range. I was trying to step away from the electronic and fast-paced rock-style albums.  The Reminder is similar to the works of artists like Adele and Sondre Lerche. The album is a nice balance of fast-paced and slow songs with each track having a coherent, yet distinctive, sound. Many of the tracks rely on the soft sounds of the acoustic guitar and piano accompanied by Feist’s breathy, yet fierce vocals to portray a sense of longing, love, vulnerability, and strength.

My favorite track on this album is the duet “How My Heart Behaves” with Eirik Glambek Bøe. A close second is “The Limit to Your Love.” “The Water” is a somber track which sounds endlessly deep, as if you could drown in it. “Sealion” is based on an American folk and children’s playground song; it is quite upbeat and catchy as it describes a less than reputable woman. There really aren’t any tracks on this album I hate or find unsatisfactory; in fact, despite being an older album I think it still holds up to current trends.

View The Reminder on Amazon.

A Favorite Food at any Family Function

It started many years ago when my mother found this raspberry dessert recipe and brought it to one of our family gatherings. It was a hit! My cousins would request that she make it for subsequent get-togethers. Over time, no one needed to make that request; she would simply bring it.

The wonderful thing about this dessert is its layers. The pretzel crust has a salty and nutty flavor. The cream cheese layer is sweet and rich, but not heavy. The raspberry layer is tart and refreshing. Together, the dessert is a complex symphony of flavors and textures that perfectly balance each other.

Try it out, it may become one of your family’s favorites too!

“Like the Faint Exquisite Music of a Dream”

Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes (2008)

Like the faint exquisite music of a dream;–
All was too much for him, too full of bliss:
The heart could nothing feel, that felt not this.
–Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore said it perfectly. I don’t know if I can adequately put this album into words. It has become one of my favorites when I’m in the mood for something mellow. The vocals captivate with pleasing harmonies while the folksy guitar flows over you as if it were water. Songs like “Ragged Wood” and “He Doesn’t Know Why” have a more upbeat rock feel which keep the album from becoming too depressing. While songs like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”,  “Meadowlarks”, and “Heard Them Stirring” are rather solemn and reflective.

This group also has a couple of other songs I enjoy on their earlier Sun Giant EP: “Mykonos” and “English House.” I can’t help but hear the essence of Neil Young in “Mykonos” and it’s definitely worthy of a listen.

View Fleet Foxes on Amazon.

View Sun Giant EP on Amazon.

A Sentimental Side Dish

I grew up eating these wonderful pickled onions and cucumbers. My grandma makes them for family gatherings during the summer; so I’ve come to associate them with a fish-fry, BBQ, or a bonfire and hot-dogs. I would have absolutely no problem eating them with every meal, but perhaps I’m a bit odd.

There is a creamy version of this recipe floating around, but I always stick with this one. There’s no need to weigh it down with a fattening mayonnaise dressing when it is perfectly fine in all its tangy glory. And better yet, when the cucumbers and onions are gone, the vinegar can be heated and reused again for a new batch. Although I would still be cautious about how many times I’ve used it and for how long.

It’s Never Too Late…

Futurama by Supercar

Futurama by Supercar (2001)

It’s no secret I love older music. By the time I discovered this album, the group had already disbanded (with some members going on to form the group LAMA). It’s a shame too, because this was such a standout album. It takes all that was enjoyable about millennial music and wraps it in a blanket of bubbly electronic goodness.

The Japanese lyrics, with the occasional English thrown in, have a rhyme and catchy repetitiveness. I often find myself trying to sing along, usually horribly. I may not understand the lyrics, but I try not to let that stop me from enjoying something new (even if it is old).

All of the songs on this album are pretty solid. “Baby Once More” is reminiscent of a song by Sugar Ray, while “New Young City” has more of a Goo Goo Dolls/Verve feel. My other favorites include “A.O.S.A.”, “Blue Subrhyme”, and “I’m Nothing”.  Because Amazon doesn’t have any track previews, I’ve included some Youtube videos below for your viewing pleasure.

View Futurama on Amazon.

Show Youtube Videos

Say Hello to My Little Friend…the Eggplant

Ah, this poor little vegetable (technically a berry). So often it finds itself misunderstood and on peoples’ list of least desirable edibles. Maybe it’s a general lack of knowledge, bad past experiences, or simply its shape that frightens people away.

However, with rising food costs, it’s nice to have alternatives. I often consider eggplant as a great meat substitute taste wise, along with mushrooms. I’m not a vegetarian, I simply eat what tastes great. And I can say without a doubt this dish will leave meat-lovers satisfied.

I’m Leaving on a JET Plane (Maybe)

One of my friends once asked me, “Why don’t you go teach English in Japan?” My first thought was, I’m not a teacher. She knew I had been trying to learn Japanese, and no doubt some cultural immersion would be a good thing.

After doing some research, I learned that being a teacher is not necessarily a prerequisite to participate. It turns out that Japan often accepts a limited number of native English speakers each year to assist in their education program. The best part, participants are expected to study Japanese as well.

I know for sure I would enjoy doing this, but it’s a fairly large commitment. Hopefully by the time applications for the 2014 year are accepted I will have decided if I want to proceed. I’ll have to consider leaving my employment and living arrangements, all the natural disasters, and even the political environment. I’d hate to arrive just before N. Korea decides to test a nuclear device on the island or miss the opportunity to go for the same reason.

If you are a U.S. citizen and the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program interests you, go to the embassy website here for more information.

An Addiction to Green Tea

I have become addicted to green tea! However, it’s not because of the caffeine. It’s like having a cup of pure joy. It warms me up during these cold months with a light grassy aroma and fresh flavor.

Of course I’m not talking about Lipton’s or any other brand you would buy at the local supermarket either. The tea in those little innocent-looking tea bags is nothing short of undrinkable. That may sound quite snobbish, but it is true. If you buy green tea and the leaves are not green, then it has oxidized. The only tea that should be oxidized is black tea. Oxidation gives tea a slightly bitter or astringent taste, which is fine as long as it is intentional.

Loose Leaf Green Tea

Organic Kabusecha Green Tea

I have been ordering my tea straight from the source, Japan. I usually find a better bargain with loose leaf teas instead of those in filter bags. The price, while higher than store-bought, is definitely worth it. I have previously ordered higher priced tea, in the $30 per 100 gram range and found almost no noticeable difference in taste to some of the cheaper $12 varieties. My point: go with the cheaper tea. The cheapest tea will still beat out anything you can get in a grocery store or Asian market.

The tea in the picture is an organic kabusecha from O-Cha. Note: cha is Japanese for tea. The site is a little amateurish, but I have never been disappointed by their service or quality of goods. But don’t feel the need to limit yourself to one site, shop around.

Japanese language resources – Part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post the need for a good dictionary when learning a language. The peculiar thing about Japanese is that there are three different ways of writing the same word. Hiragana and katakana, which provide pronunciation cues, don’t offer much in terms of word meaning. Kanji characters, based on ideographs from Chinese, provide cues to word meanings but can leave a person dumbfounded when trying to pronounce them. There are well over 2000 different kanji characters used in Japan today; so start learning early!

P.G. O’Neill’s “Essential Kanji” is another nicely priced book that provides a good starting point for beginners. It shows pronunciation, stroke order, and word meaning for 2000 kanji characters. The book is arranged so that simpler characters are found earlier, while the more complicated characters are later. I wish the book grouped characters together by JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) levels, but the character ordering is fairly similar.

P.G. O'Neill's Essential Kanji

If this book interests you, check it out at:
Essential Kanji: 2,000 Basic Japanese Characters Systematically Arranged For Learning And Reference

A Nod to the Superbowl

Last weekend was a time of both rivalry and camaraderie for football lovers nationwide. People gathered together to drink beer and eat their favorite party foods; and nothing quite symbolizes a Superbowl party like chicken wings do. Although the Superbowl has come and gone, this dip is always a crowd-pleaser. Share it with friends or keep it all to yourself. Either way, you may not have enough!

Dreaming of Spring

As I sit here writing this, I’m looking out the window at an overcast sky and wishing winter would end. With spring about a month and a half away, I can’t help but think about all the flowers and the vibrant colors they will bring. This brings me to the point, a colorful sweet dessert that I look forward to as the seasons change. What is this wonderful dessert you may ask? A fruit pizza of course!

This pizza has a light shortbread crust covered with a sweet cream cheese spread and an assortment of fresh and canned fruits. I have eaten several variations of this dessert, most of these involving sugar cookie dough as a crust. Not that this is a terrible idea, it can be a convenience to just buy a pre-made dough. However, the crust usually ends up chewy, and honestly I prefer to have more control over the ingredients. A shortbread crust is lighter in texture and adds less sugar to an already tremendously sweet dessert.

Another good thing about this dessert you can use whatever fresh fruit is available. The usual standbys are strawberries, bananas, kiwis, pineapple, and mandarin orange slices. Of course you can substitute anything you want but there are also fruits I would avoid such as apples. Grapes in my opinion don’t add much in terms of flavor.

Here is the link for the recipe and instructions on how to make this dessert.

A Cure for the Conventional

151a by Kishi Bashi

151a by Kishi Bashi (2012)

I went home over Thanksgiving weekend (this post is a little overdue) and my cousin asked if I had ever heard of Kishi Bashi. Knowing my taste in music, she thought this would be a fit. She played a sample song for me. At first, I was a little put off…it was a pretty strange song. However, she played track 3 for me and immediately the light bulb went on. It was a familiar song I had heard countless times. Where? It had been played relentlessly as a background song in a Windows 8 commercial.  I never knew the artist or name of the song until then. That song was called “Bright Whites.” It was pretty catchy so I gave the album the benefit of the doubt and listened to every song.

Some of the standouts are “Manchester”, “Bright Whites”, “Atticus, In the Desert”, and “Beat the Bright Out of Me”. “Bright Whites” is definitely a feel-good song. “Atticus, In the Desert” has the ability to transport you to another place. “Beat the Bright Out of Me” is a cross of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles with “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and a hint of “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady” by Oasis. Most of the songs have beautiful strings and a quirkiness to them. If you like Indie music and clever lyrics then this might be an album you’ll like. I’m going to be watching this artist closely in the future.

View 151a on Amazon.