Blues and Noodles

Last week my husband came home after two months away. The joyous homecoming, with an anticipated 3-day holiday weekend, was short-lived however, as less than 48 hours later the navy sent him back out again to avoid a “typhoon.” Not all the ships were sent out from Yokosuka, Rob just got lucky. So Chip and I were left alone to face the “typhoon.” I put “typhoon” in quotation marks because I was not impressed. Despite dire warnings issued by the base weather service, the only damage we sustained was Rob’s bike blowing over. Other than that, it was just cold rain as usual.

There was no way I was staying in the house with a 1-year-old all weekend, “typhoon” or not. I needed some cheering up, and as a long walk on the beach was out of the question, some comfort food was in order. As Japan has no Museum of Macaroni and Cheese or Museum of Bread Pudding, Chip and I went to the next best thing: the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. Yes, a whole museum devoted to noodles!

The Ramen Museum. And "typhoon."

Admission was only 300 yen but, as the guide warned me, all adult visitors are expected to buy a large bowl of noodles. No problem. I had no idea what to expect, but Tokyo in a basement was not it. There was a whole neighborhood of Tokyo circa 1958 reproduced underground.

Behold the City of Noodles.

Why 1958? According to the website: “Why did we reproduce the year Showa 33 (1958)? The mood from the good old days of Showa fills visitors with nostalgia and an appetite to taste ramen.”

Nostalgia always does make me hungry. It must have made the citizens of this neighborhood particularly hungry, too, because every shop in it was a ramen restaurant. I certainly hope the denizens of this quarter never had to buy bread, or tea, or clothing, or a broom or something like that.

Each shop served ramen from a different region of Japan. I wish I could read; all the descriptions were in Japanese. With that obstacle, not to mention Chip doing his best to get lost in the good old days, I simply looked for a restaurant that didn’t have a line and did have a high chair, which are probably not the best criteria for really choosing your ramen. Anyway, bingo, we found one right on the neighborhood square. All the ordering was automated; I recognized the word ramen, 700 yen, on the little ticket dispenser and managed to get that. To my delight, I also recognized gyoza which are these little pan-fried dumplings that I love.

Chip and I got to sit at the counter and watch them make the ramen, which is fun. The ramen itself was interesting; my best guess is that it was “taiho” ramen from Fukuoka in southern Japan. Wherever it was from certainly reveres the pig. The broth was very pork-y and there were thin slices of pork on top. The noodles were also very thin. It was good, but I like my Hayama miso ramen at my neighborhood noodle shop much better. The gyoza were small and wonderful, and I had to fight Chip for them.

Please, sir, can I have some more?

I wish I could have tried more (I have a pretty bottomless capacity for ramen), but Chip-chan was ready to go back to the 21st century. He had a rather spectacular meltdown on the train ride home, but time travel will do that to you.

And now maybe my husband will come home again, and we will get to have a re-reunion. If not, I always have the noodle shop just down the street.


Strange Fruit

Coming back to Hayama I’ve been kind of sad to see that there aren’t many signs of fall that I recognize. The small, semi-tropical trees we have are still pretty green, the rain looks the same all year round, and there aren’t baskets of local apples overflowing at my neighborhood grocery store. Perhaps what is most sad is the absence of pumpkins on porches, or just pumpkins in general. But just when I was about to give up on the spirit of autumn, bam! Little round orange harbingers of fall literally fell into my lap. The other day my neighbor Yoshi brought over a bag of persimmons, which she called kaki, from the tree in her yard. Yoshi admitted that she is not a huge fan of the fruit, and told me to come over and just take as many as I wanted.

Yoshi's persimmon tree, just behind the kind of dead-looking tree.

I was thrilled. New fruit! I had never tasted a persimmon before. According to the two cookbooks I consulted, Joy of Cooking and Local Flavors, they usually fall off of the tree quite ripe, so all you have to do is peel them and eat. The cookbooks also told me that I was very fortunate to have ripe persimmons, so with appropriate gratitude I dug into one, and it was pretty good. It wasn’t quite the transcendent experience I had the first time I tasted a mango, but they were very sweet and juicy.

If I squint, they look almost like little pumpkins.

So now I have lots of persimmons and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. Anyone have any ideas? Emily? Betsy?

Gimpy no more

Look who’s cast-free and loving it:

Sorry the picture's not better, but the child won't stand still.

The only tarnish on the experience was Chip’s first thorough scrubbing in 6 weeks. He was none too pleased with it.

Chip on a trip

Here’s a funny similarity between Japan and Kansas. As one goes through security at Narita airport, one sees this sign. Ha! No sword in aircraft, samurai-san! And in Kansas one sees signs on the doors of all kinds of public buildings that say “No guns.” Ha! No gun in school, cowboy!

I point this out because Chip and I just got back from a lovely long visit to Kansas. It was a perfect break from the Land of Rain and Pavement: clear air, sunny skies, bright foliage, and wide open spaces. It was funny to see Chip discover the wonders of America: Sesame Street, grass, backyards, playgrounds, grandparents, stairways with wide carpeted steps, dishwashers, Halloween decorations–particularly large inflatable ghouls in yards, homemade baked goods (Mama went on a bit of a baking spree), and the toy aisle at Target. It was fun for me to rediscover the wonders of America: daylight savings time, pumpkin-flavored everything, Chipotle, haircuts in which one has a good chance of leaving with the desired results, Mad Men live, reading things, eavesdropping, football on the TV all weekend (except the Chiefs start losing the minute I come back), wide streets, sidewalks, big maple trees, songbirds, train whistles, brunch, and old friends.

Some more highlights:

  • Accompanying Dad/Grandpa on a business call to Council Grove which featured two places of scenic and cultural importance: the Flint Hills and Dairy Queen.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve south of Council Grove. All the grass! A site for sore Japanese eyes.

Chip and Grandpa at the Council Grove DQ. Note the new yellow "sport cast."

  • Several trips to the playground.

Hey cool guy! Uncle Andrew!

  • Lawn tractor wagon rides!

In Japan, this would qualify as a full-size vehicle and trailer.

  • A trip to the farm to pick pumpkins and learn that animals are real. I could literally see Chip’s little brain processing the mind-blowing information that chickens are not just pictures in a book.

They're real!

Chip was very brave around the cow. Until it mooed. Then he sat down in the dirt and cried.

Chip sticks the landing on the hay slide.

I'll take this one.

  • Visiting Grandma Betty at her school library and getting to play with an entire box of remote controls, watching her hermit crabs (from a distance), and running around the school gym.
  • Twice the doting: a visit from Grandma Elizabeth, too!
  • Playing with our new old friend Alex.

The trip was worth every second of plane travel it took to get there, which is saying a lot.