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    Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, Japan

    Japan is notorious for their epic and impressive festivals. And the Nebuta Matsuri did not disappoint.

    Designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan in 1980, the Nebuta Matsuri is a Tanabata, a summer-related festival (or matsuri in Japanese), that is held in the Tohoku, the northern region of the main island of Honshu. Towns in Aomori Prefecture all have their own version of the festival, but the largest is held in Aomori City which is held annually from August 2 to 7. During the festival, giant floats showcasing warriors from plays and myths are paraded down the street while hundreds of dancers dressed in costumes called haneto and shouting the chant “Rassera!!” and inviting others to join in.

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    Food, Panama

    Morning Buzz: Finca la Milagrosa Coffee Plantation

    finca la milagrosa

    I had yet to write about my wonderful trip to Panama from last year. My mom’s best friends won a silent auction for a five-day stay at a lovely little boutique in Boquete and we jumped on the opportunity to join them on the trip. Part of the stay included meals and four activities, including a tour of a small local coffee plantation, Finca La Milagrosa. Lemme tell you…it was some of the best coffee I had ever tasted. Read more

    Food, Texas

    Diversity Found in Austin’s Food Trucks

    A three-week work trip to Texas this past month wasn’t complete unless I sampled some of the many food trucks the city of Austin has to offer. Lining the streets of South Congress (aka SoCo) and 1st Street, the trucks and trailers offered a variety of snacks and meals ranging from sweet to savory, tacos to donuts, and ice cream to fresh, cold pressed juice.

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    Food, Japan

    Sea Urchin for Breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market

    A visit to Tokyo is not complete until you’ve set foot at the Tusujiki Fish Market. Established in 1923 and open daily, with the exception of Sundays and holidays, the Fish Market is one of the largest of its kind, if not the largest in the country of Japan. Known for fresh seafood and produce and the intense, early morning tuna auction, the market is bustling with locals and foreigners trying to buy groceries and to grab a quick meal at one of the local vendors.

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    Food, Lifestyle

    Țuică: A Homemade Cold Remedy

    Just recently I had whatever ‘crud’ was going around, which always starts off as a minor tickle in the throat and eventually turns into a dry, unproductive cough, hoarse throat, sinus headache, and finally a stuffy then runny nose. Not quite the best way to spend New Years, but my dog kept me company as I braved the cold South Dakota weather for his walks and then curled up in bed or on the sofa among tons of blankets.

    We all have our own remedies. Some swear by hot water with lemon and honey. Others drink hot toddy. A coworker of mine drinks an entire bottle of orange juice, with lots of pulp, and drinking a ton of Southern Comfort after. “I feel hungover the next day,” he says, “But my cold…is GONE!” (To put things in perspective, this guy also has a pet pig named Fred…).

    Me? Well, I grew up with my grandmother making me Țuică, which is essentially Romanian moonshine, boiled with cloves and sugar. It’s not the most pleasant of cold remedies, although I much prefer it over cough syrup and it clears your sinuses and soothes the throat quite well.

    The recipe is quite easy and you don’t need that much alcohol.

    • Measure an espresso cup’s worth of Slivovitz Old Plum Brandy and pour it into aa cezve (a pot designed to make Armenian or Turkish coffee).
    • Add half a teaspoon of whole cloves.
    • Bring to a boil.
    • Pour into the espresso cup and add a desired amount of honey. If using cane sugar, add prior to boiling.
    • Down that sucker in one shot.

    You should be feeling fine in no time 😉

    Arizona, Food, Travel

    From the Desert to the Black Hills: Part 1

    I’ve now spent about two months living in Rapid City and while I am not overly crazy about it, the scenery and the people have proved it to be a pleasant experience so far. The weather finally hit below freezing a few mornings in a row, a huge relief from the continuous string of triple digit temperatures while living in Tucson, and the first snow of the season is expected shortly.

    My road trip from Tucson to the Black Hills took a couple days to plan. I had four days to get to my destination and decided to do some sight seeing on the way. Because I couldn’t travel with my dog due to my Jeep being involved in the most elaborate game of Tetris imaginable, I had much more flexibility with taking side trips and which would otherwise be difficult to do with a very curious husky. The trip took four whole days and I traveled over 2,000 miles, checking off items from by travel bucket list along the way.

    I left Tucson early on a Tuesday morning. It was a rough three years living and working in that town and I couldn’t leave fast enough. With monsoon season in full swing, the ground was wet with recent rain as I packed some final few items in my Jeep. The sun was still below the horizon when I checked out of my hotel and hopped on Interstate 10, heading north towards Phoenix. Leaving Tucson was bittersweet. I wasn’t going to miss it. The location, the sights, the food…those things were great. There are some wonderful people who I am going to miss as well. Being in the desert never bothered me, but the work environment made me want to leave and never go back. But I was mentally prepared to leave and to start a new chapter in my life in South Dakota.

    ground control

    It took around two hours to get to Phoenix, one of my favorite cities. I wasn’t planning on staying long but I had to take a quick stop at Ground Control, a coffee and wine bar in Litchfield Park near Luke Air Force Base. Established about seven years ago, Ground Control is owned by an F-16 pilot and his wife and was meant to be a good after-work hang out. With locally roasted coffee and beer and wine from around the world, it’s one of the few locally owned coffee shops frequently visited. Naturally I had to make one final stop and order a Viennese iced coffee. Somehow, I also walked away with six pounds of roasted coffee. Not sure how that happened, but it did make my car smell delicious and I now have enough coffee to last me a while.

    I continuroute 66ed my drive north on Interstate 17 and instead of stopping in Flagstaff like I had origianlly planned, I made a quick stop in Seligman, the birthplace of Historic Route 66. The town, while small and a bit touristy, is full of life. I had to grab lunch at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap, well prepared for the shenanigans that took place in the small eatery. Originally a drive-in, it was built in the 1950’s by Juan Delgadillo, a local. The eatery is still run by the family and was a delight to visit.

    It was a warm day in Arizona, which was expected in the summer, and I waited in line after futilely attempting to open the door using the dummy door knob. Joke was on me, right? The woman in front of me asked for two cones, and was presented with two small orange traffic cones. She looked at them quizzically before being ‘squirted’ with mustard and ketchup, initially mortified before realizing they were all silly gags. The owners continue to have a sense of humor, offering the woman a tiny sample sized ice-cream when she asked for a small. The jokes were endless…and the line had gotten long quick. Worth the visit and the wait for that hot dog I had ordered (I’m sure the rest of the menu was good as well).

    snow cap car

    An Arizona road trip isn’t complete without seeing the magnificent Grand Canyon. I had been there 20 years ago with my family on our first family road trip. Memories fade and I don’t think as a kid you really appreciate how large and beautiful the Grand Canyon really is. I mean, just look at it!

    grand canyon1

    grand canyon2

    The easiest way to see the Grand Canyon was by going through the South Rim. It’s open all year round, where as the North Rim is typically open during the summer. I would have loved to have hiked the Grand Canyon, but I unfortunately didn’t take advantage of it while living in Arizona for three years. Driving through the National Park was a treat, with thick lush trees lining the sides of the road, a stark difference from the desert in Tucson and Phoenix. I was able to find a place to enjoy the scenery by myself in less popular spots without the overbearing crowds. After driving through the National Park, I finally started heading toward Page. It was tempting to take the road that would have led me to the North Rim, but it was getting late and I still had a long drive ahead of me. While it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, the skies opened and there was a torrential downpour as I continued to drive north, stopping momentarily to peruse some Native American art and jewelry on the side of the road crafted by local artisans. dinner 2 copy

    Finally, after a long day of driving, I had made it to Page. After checking into the hotel, I decided to grab a quick bite at a small local wine bar. A bit difficult to find since the restaurant blended in with the rest of the stores lining a large parking lot, the Blue Wine Bar was a perfect way to end the first day of my road trip with unique alcoholic drinks and a wide variety of tapas. I settled for a dirty tomato martini and the calamari and avocado tacos, beautifully presented and surprisingly filling. Let’s not forget the salted caramel cheesecake, which was amazing!

    Stay tuned for Part 2, with a tour of Antelope Canyon, driving through Monument Valley, and viewing the unique rock formations in Goblin Valley.