From Tokyo to Hamamatsu, via Dango-zaka, Oshino Hakkai and a view of Mount Fuji

From the Japan Air Self-Defense facilities, we were on the road again, first by motor coach then by Shinkansen or bullet train. Bullet trains have been used in Japan since the 1960s. We are WAY behind on this technology and ability to travel with speed.

We had lunch at Dango-zaka rest area and it was like a Buc-ees! They had food, souvenirs, lovely restrooms and gas. What else can you ask for? The dining there was a food court situation and as I looked through the picture menus (my reading of Japanese is minimal) but I found a picture of  zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles with a chilled broth) that struck a nostalgia nerve and I knew that was going to be my lunch. I was proud of my ability to order in Japanese and it be understood as well. This was only our first full day in Japan and I was very nervous about how rusty my Japanese speaking skills were.

Also, as I was waiting to put in my order, one of the folks on the trip was having communication issues on how to order his meal at the next restaurant over. They apparently order via a touch screen machine off to the side. You know how Americans tend to speak louder when there’s a language barrier? Apparently, it’s not just Americans! I was able to help translate what my fellow traveler was to do for this lovely couple (I can’t remember who it was, though) and they were able to order their meal. Proud moment there – my Japanese wasn’t as extremely rusty as I had thought!!

So, here’s my yummy lunch from the rest stop:

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The broth is at the bottom left and you dump as much of the green onions, radish and wasabi into it as you’d like, then dip the noodles in before eat

ing. You dip your tempura in that broth as well. It obviously wasn’t homemade but it was certainly yummy!

Once we were done with eating and shopping (the first of many shopping stops) and taking pictures, we headed back on the bus to head to Oshino Hakkai and have a great view of Mount Fuji. There are 8 ponds there that are all fed from the water than comes off Fuji Yama and that water is COLD! The scenery is absolutely spectacular, even when she (Mount Fuji is thought to be a woman with many moods) isn’t wanting to cooperate and has covered herself over with clouds. Or maybe she was not sure what she was in for wit

h the load of crazy Texas band directors coming her way!

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As we approached the area, we spotted a theme park with several large roller coasters. Six Flags over Mount Fuji anyone?

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Of course, there was more shopping, lots of food and great scenery. Our hosts, Ken & Yuriko Murakami and Tomomi Kubo were also delightful in taking photos with as many of us! Many went ahead with hand signs of their respective universities but I choose the typical Japanese peace sign. I have too many university hand signs to deal with!

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Once the shopping was done and pictures were taken, we were back on the road again to Mishima Station, where we’d take our first Shinkansen ride (bullet train)  to Hamamatsu. These bullet trains are SO fast! I got a video of one passing as we waited for ours. There is a chunk of it that is in slo-motion (I love the features of my iPhone!!) but understand that the train passed by in about 10 seconds. Crazy fast!! Often times, people commute via Shinkansen and on the way home, they need to eat dinner. So, you get a bento box and a beer and have a party on the train! Cliff and I had our own little bento box party. Here’s my bento box, complete with the actual wasabi root that you have to grind yourself. SO much more tasty!

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So that was our full first day in Japan. Next part of our journey are the several days we spent in Hamamatsu.

If you’d like to see all the pictures of this day, please view them in my Flickr account:

More adventures, food and shopping (always shopping) to come!
~C

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Japan 2018 – Tokyo, part 1

2 years ago, a bunch of my friends went to Japan and posted a ton of pictures on Facebook. I found out who organized the trip (Thank you, Keith Bearden) and decided right then and there that I was going on this trip the next time it was offered. And I did! The next few blog posts will be about various parts of our trip to Japan.

We begin with our trip from Austin>Dallas>Tokyo.

Cliff (my friend and Japan travel buddy) and I took the Megabus from Austin to Dallas. Turned out that Yvonne, who was my trip roommate had also taken the same bus so it was a little bit of a party on the Megabus. Once we got to Dallas, Cliff & I Ubered to our Airbnb, which was a lovely guest suite inside this gorgeous home owned by Nazare & Eric in Flower Mound. If you need to stay somewhere in the DFW area, I highly recommend looking into her Airbnb. She uses the money she makes from her rental to support a family in a 3rd world country overseas that one of her children worked with. They are beautiful people and I hope to spend more time with them in the future!

The next morning, we Ubered to the airport and I left my phone in the Uber. Thank goodness we had several hours before we boarded our flight, hadn’t gone through security yet AND Cliff had called the Uber because we were able to get the phone back without any issues and get our trip actually started. Once through security, we met up with 46 of who would become our closest friends at the gate.

We finally boarded our flight, which was about 13 hours long and began our journey to the Orient. 13 hours is a long flight and although we had all the luxuries offered by coach on JAL, I was tired of being on an airplane!

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Cliff and I were certainly happy to be off the airplane as we loaded our suitcases into the truck at Narita airport. By the way, THAT’S the way to travel with 48 people – have a truck move all the suitcases from hotel to hotel! And this was a cool truck, too. The door opened on the side, much like a transformer. Actually, quite a few things in Japan opened and shut like a transformer.

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From there, we bussed to our hotel, the New Otani Inn, had dinner at the Yebisu Bar nearby, where you can get amazing Yebisu beer that you can’t get in the US anymore, and my cousin Shigemasa joined us after work. I didn’t get a picture of us, though. I was too tired yet excited and forgot.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel, loaded up the motor coach with slippers and a gift and headed to the Japan Air Self-Defense Base. All the “military” forces in Japan are called “Self-Defense” because after WWII, Japan signed an agreement to not have their own military anymore. They are allowed to defend themselves, however, which is how the various Self-Defense forces came to be. We got a tour of their band facilities and they played a wonderful concert for us!

For pictures from this portion of the trip, please see my Flickr albums:
Tokyo
Japan Air Self-Defense Force Band

Stay tuned for the next portion of our adventure!
~C

Beef and Noodle Stir Fry

Beef and Noodle Stir Fry

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 TBS vegetable and sesame oil
  • 10-12 coriander seeds
  • 1 TBS shredded ginger
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 bag of frozen Asian stir fry veggies
  • 1/2 package rice noodles – vermicelli, cooked
  • salt
  • garlic powder
  • ginger powder
  • soy sauce

Cook rice noodles according to package directions. In a wok or large frying pan, heat oil and coriander seeds. When coriander seeds are browned, remove from oil.

Add shredded ginger to oil and within 10-15 seconds after, add ground beef. Stir until browned. Salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp for me).

Add frozen Asian stir fry veggies and stir until thawed and cooking. Add about 1/2 tsp each of garlic and ginger powder.

Add cooked rice noodles (include about a tsp of water from cooked noodles), a splash of soy sauce (to taste) and stir.

Enjoy!

Italian Sausage and Peppers

My friend Megan and I went undergrad and were in the band at Southwest Texas State University together. Through our sisterhood in Tau Beta Sigma, we got to know each other quite well and are still friends to this day. There was one winter that was particularly cold and we spent a bunch of time at Megan’s apartment. One day, she decided to make Italian sausage and peppers and I’ll never forget how much I loved it. This recipe isn’t exactly what she made that day but I make it as an homage to our friendship.

Italian Sausage and Peppers

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 package of Italian Sausage (I’ve used both mild & hot before but today, I used mild), 4 or 5 links come to a package.
  • 4 bell peppers – 2 green, 2 red, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced and quartered
  • mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • salt
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs dried basil
  • olive oil
  • pasta sauce
  • pasta
  • parmesan or similar cheese

I start by mincing the garlic and slicing the onions and sweating down in some olive oil and salt. I add the oregano and basil and cover.

Next, I slice and halve the bell peppers (after seeding). They go in the pot as well to sweat down. Stir regularly.

In a separate pan, I brown the sausage on two sides. Just let them sit in the pan for a while then turn and do the same to the other side. They won’t brown nearly as well if you’re moving them around the pan.

  

I then quarter the mushrooms and add them to the pot.

Once the sausage is browned on both sides, pull them to rest then cut them into 1 1/2″ pieces. I use a touch of the sauce or sometimes red wine to deglaze the pan.

So in the ingredients, I list “pasta sauce”. Often, I make it from scratch but because I’m in grad school, always have a ton of homework and little time to cook, I used store bought sauce today. I won’t name brands but my favorite is one that donates all its proceeds to charity in roasted garlic flavor. Let simmer about 15-25 minutes.

Cook the pasta of your choice (I like capellini) to the doneness of your choice and serve. Shave some cheese on top.

Enjoy!

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

I try to decide my weekend cooking project sometime the week before, actually, something during the week tends to inspire me, but this week was tough with a Thursday game and TONS of study for my midterm next week. So, I polled Facebook and the first suggestion was chicken pot pie. It wasn’t quite this recipe but it also included rotisserie chicken and as much as I like that, this is my recipe for easy chicken pot pie.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Poultry seasoning
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 package Frozen Mixed Veggies
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken soup
  • Water
  • 1/2 package of Frozen Puff Pastry

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Sauté in your pot with the poultry seasoning, salt & pepper and minced garlic until chicken is cooked through.

I even like to make the outside a little browned. Stir in frozen veggies, cream of chicken soup and water to cover all the ingredients (or even a little more).

Let simmer for about an hour and a half.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut puff pastry into thirds (fold lines) then those into halves. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 400 degrees until they puff up and are golden brown.

Fill bowl with soup and top with a puff pastry rectangle. Enjoy!

Red Beans & Rice

A while back, I decided I was going to make red beans and rice today. I scoured the interwebs to find just the right recipe and nothing quite looked right. So, I asked Carol R., who works in the UH Band office and is from Louisiana and this is the recipe she gave me. Enjoy!
~C

Ms. Carol's Crock Pot Red Beans and Rice

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • garlic to taste (I used 5 large cloves)
  • 1 Cup celery, sliced
  • 1 bag small red beans
  • 4 Cups chicken broth
  • 3 Cups water
  • 1 package (~14 oz) Andouille sausage (look at where it’s made – it needs to be in Louisiana or Beaumont, Tx)
  • Salt, Pepper, Cajun seasonings to taste

Dice and slice the veggies.

Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic, adding a little salt, pepper and cajun seasoning. I tend to not sauté celery unless a recipe calls for that flavor.

Cut sausage into thin slices.

Add all ingredients into crock pot. Let cook on high for 7 hours.

Cook rice to package directions.

Pour beans into bowl with a spoonful of rice on top. Many folks also eat with cornbread but I’m not a fan of cornbread in general (I know, *gasp*). Regardless of how you eat it – Enjoy!
~C 

You might have noticed the name (not URL) of this blog has changed. That’s because I’ve decided to start a new business called The Big Benford Show. Like an old fashioned variety show, it encompasses a few things that can relate to each other but aren’t exclusive of each other. The main portion (for now) is photography with a specialization in marching bands but it also includes organizing musicians for hire as well as officiating weddings.

Because it’s a variety show that I’m “hosting”, I can offer other services such as program administration, educational consulting and student leadership training. I’m promoting my renaissance woman-ness, I guess. 🙂 I’m really excited about the possibilities and opportunities this could create.

Help me celebrate the beginnings of this new business by visiting my website, liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter.

Love you, mean it!
~C