Grilled Chicken

Originally posted on The Perfect Salad Bowl:

Grilled Chicken SaladIMG_2151

Prep Time: 30 minutes (requires cooking to avoid salmonella)
Calories: Um… yes.
Healthy (+): Dark leafy greens are supposed to be good for you. Nice balance of protein, fiber and vitamins.
Healthy (-): Careful how much oil you use to cook the chicken. Crunchy noodles also add calories (but they’re so tasty!)
Cost: > $10
Delicious scale: four and a half stars

The wonderful thing about salads is that if you have a carnivore craving or you need a quick protein infusion, you can pile a bunch of meat onto the top of your green things and it’s still technically a salad! Now, I’m trying to go easy on the red meat after two weeks of gorging on bacon and steak in Canada over Christmas left me and my heart in a bit of a catatonic state. Scary stuff, yo. Fortunately, chicken is a nice little healthy substitute, if you’re into that…

View original 456 more words

New Tangent Reviews

I’ve got a couple new reviews up on Tangent for February. If short fantasy and science fiction is your thing, go take a look.

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination

Review of Weight of the World by José Pablo Iriarte, and She Opened Her Arms by Amanda C. Davis within their February 2015 issue.

On Spec

Review of Chance Encounters by Janet K. Nicolson, A Primer on the Ins and Outs of Building Bliss by Brent Knowles, Walk the Dinosaurs by Jayme Allen, Sunchild Blues by Al Onia, Downtime by Melanie Marttila, and A Little Leavening by Allan Weiss within their fall 2014 issue.

Upcoming Workshop in Kent, Washington

It’s no secret that workshops are a valuable part of any writer’s creative and professional advancement. The right workshop can not only impart valuable craft and writing techniques, but can also put authors in contact with editors and agents, and readers in contact with authors. I feel the lack of English workshops keenly here in Japan, but if you live in Washington there’s no need for you to feel the same emptiness.

Cascade Writers hosts a variety of genre specific writer workshops throughout the year in Kent, Washington. Their past speakers and instructors have included many industry professionals from top editors and agents to best selling authors. They are now looking to fill seats for their July 23-26 workshop, held at the Ramada Inn in Kent. The workshop will feature the following leaders and speakers:

  • Claire Eddy (Senior Editor, Tor/Forge Books)
  • John (J.A.) Pitts (Author)
  • Shannon Page (Author)
  • Mark J. Ferrari (Author)
  • Alex C. Renwick (Author)
  • Everett Maroon (Author)
  • Lee Moyer (Illustrator)
  • Laura Anne Gilman (Editor/Author)
  • Randy Henderson (Author)

Seating is limited, so if you’re looking to rub elbows with some fantastic, experienced people in science fiction and fantasy, at $250 per person, this is a great deal. Information can be found here.

Cascade Writers is a non-profit organization run by a group of dedicated individuals with the goal of bringing quality workshops and speakers to writers at an affordable cost. Admissions go toward venue rentals and transportation, lodging and meals for speakers. Who they can bring and for how long depends largely on workshop attendance. If you are unable to attend this event yourself, I encourage you to spread the word to other authors and fans who may be interested.

Coming in from out of town? Cascade Writers is inclusive and welcomes participants from all over America and the world. If you’re one of the 15-30% of out of town or overseas attendees, the Ramada Inn has a free shuttle service that can pick you up from SeaTac Airport.

Can’t make the July Workshop? No problem! Cascade Writers is hosting another event in September featuring such guests as Todd McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Bill Johnson, John Lovett, and more.

Still not convinced? Your support will help add teachers and speakers such as Django Wexler and John Scalzi to the already impressive list of talents and professionals who have appeared at Cascade Writers events in the past.

Have a question? The organizers at Cascade Writers are available to take your questions by phone or by email. Don’t be shy, ask away!

The Critters of Kyoto

An addendum to The White Prince.

Kyoto is a bit unique, as far as cities go. It’s a place where the old and the new exist in harmony; you’re as likely to see a shrine on a street corner as you are a 7-11. There are enough urban conveniences to make living here comfortable, but being snuggled in a bowl of mountains with two major rivers slicing it up, Kyoto City retains a lot of the rural feeling that nearby Osaka and Kobe have already given up. Nature, and all her little creatures can be found in abundance, without even leaving the city limits. Here are a few of the personalities which inspired me to write The White Prince.

EgretsLittle_Egret

There are two kinds of egret in The White Prince: the little egret (Egretta garzetta) which is common in and around Kyoto’s rivers, streams and canals, and the Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes). The little egret isn’t technically migratory–they stay in Japan year round. However, I’ve noticed that they congregate in large groups at certain times of the year. In the breeding season, naturally, but also, curiously, in the winter for a brief period of time. For about a week in December, a flock of roughly thirty birds can be found at a very specific spot on the Takano River, and then they disappear again, leaving only one or two birds which appear here and there, until spring.

The Chinese egret on the other hand is migratory. Much bigger than the little egret, it winters in Japan from China, Russia and Korea.  I have seen them in the Kamo at other times of the year though, so I don’t know, maybe a bunch of them decided ‘to hell with flying across the sea’, and settled down.

Both egrets are lovely to look at, though they don’t tolerate human presence very well, and tend to leave the area quickly if spotted. Little egrets grow extra plumage on their napes and chests during the breeding season, making them look especially princely for a few months in late spring. The garzetta subspecies is distinguishable by its bright yellow feet that make it look like it’s wearing a pair of shoes.

Cormorantscormorant

Cormorants are an interesting sort of bird. Squat and black, they look like someone combined a duck and a pelican together. They’re diving birds, capable of holding their breath for long periods of time while they hunt for fish in the river. After diving, cormorants hold their wings out to the sunlight to dry them.

They’re pretty wide spread in the world, and as birds go, they’re rather smart. In Japan, cormorants have an important seat in history and tradition. Ukai (鵜飼) is a method of fishing in which a snare is tied around the neck of a trained cormorant. The snare makes it possible for the bird to swallow smaller fish, but not larger ones. When a cormorant has a fish caught in its throat, it’s brought back into the fishing boat where it spits the fish out. You can watch ukai on the Oi River, in Arashiyama, Kyoto.

Mandarin Ducks / Mallardsmandarin duck

Mandarin ducks are almost always found in breed pairs. For a while, this led people to believe that they were monogamous breeders. Like many other birds that were previously thought to mate with one individual exclusively however, this turns out not to be the case. At least, not entirely. They’re a mostly migratory bird in Asia, though they live year round in Japan. Mandarins aren’t as common on the Takano as mallards are, though I’m convinced that there’s no place on earth where mallards aren’t common. I’ll have to investigate Antarctica to be sure.

Deersika

Sika (鹿 – literally ‘deer’ in Japanese) are the deer native to Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia and other parts of Asia. Of the deer in Japan, the Nara ‘bowing’ deer are most famous. For a very small fee, tourists can buy special crackers to feed the deer, which are protected in the city as messengers of the Shinto gods. Sika do not lose their spots in maturity, though in the winter when their coats thicken, the spots are less prominent.

It’s a rare but not unheard of treat to see a doe with her fawn walking in or along the Takano River. I’ve seen them four times during the time I’ve lived here. Like the egrets, they don’t tolerate human presence, but don’t quit the area in an excessive hurry if they’re spotted. I’ve never personally seen a stag outside of Nara, but they’re beautiful to look at, and if you get a chance to come to the Kansai region, a trip to the Nara deer park is a great family experience.

Rat Snakesrat snake

The green generals, ao-daisho are a species of non-venomous snake that live in most regions of Japan. Being a snake lover, I find them adorable. We found a juvenile sleeping under our front door last summer, and an attempt to relocate it to the garden ended with it slithering into our wall. I’m not all that worried. They’re a medium sized snake, with a dark yellow-green coloration. Like most non-venomous snakes, they’re shy, and would prefer not to interact with humans. They are also excellent swimmers and can be seen jetting from one bank of the Kamo to the other to escape predators in the summer months.

Kites black kite

For the longest time I thought these birds were hawks. They’re roughly the same size as a red-tailed hawk, but their color is more similar to a golden eagle. Kites are the dominant aerial predator in Kyoto. You can find them circling the Kamo year round, particularly around the bridge at Demachiyanagi Street where they can scavenge from the many people who congregate there. Kites are opportunistic hunters. They’ll more or less eat anything. If you’re planning on bringing a picnic lunch to the river, be prepared to defend it. Kites aren’t afraid of humans–in fact, Alex had her thumb scratched when a kite dove between us to steal her sandwich. Kites can be a lot of fun to watch, especially young kites practicing their flight agility. Roosting and perching kites have no problem posing for photographs, and like most other raptors, are only bothered by crows and ravens.

HeronsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In addition to the egrets, grey herons also live on the Kamo. On my stretch of the river, there is one heron in particular which seems to have a favorite rock. Last year between October and March, every day when I passed the rock, it was there. I couldn’t tell you why. It looked rather cold. Technically, great blue herons don’t live in Japan, but for the purpose of the story the rock hoarding grey heron became a great blue. They’re very similar in appearance. As the name suggests, they’re more grey in color and lack the tan tint on their necks that grey blue herons have. They can be territorial, and don’t suffer other large birds on their turf easily. To humans they are ambivalent, making them easily adaptable to city living.

 

There are many more interesting animals in Kyoto, but four years of nature watching brought these few together into a story for me. If you’re interested in learning more, Wild In Japan runs a wonderful blog about all sorts of creatures, great and small. He knows a great deal more about the specifics of Japanese animals than I do. Go check out his page!

And if you haven’t read The White Prince yet, what are you waiting for? ;)

 

 

The White Prince

Originally posted on Out of Print:

Egret Snow - The White PrinceThe White Prince
by N J Magas

December

The wind hissed through the brittle grass, as displeased to carry the chill as those who had to suffer it. The Takano River followed behind. Resistant to freezing, it snickered naked around the many shoals that broke it. Together they gave voice to the otherwise silent winter, ambiance to the egret court preparing to move to its winter palace.
The tall egret kings snapped orders from their rocky thrones and delighted to watch the lesser birds scatter at their command. First left, then right. Stand in pairs and then in threes. Order by age, and then by height and then by order of who could fetch them the most fish from the sluggish river. Cormorant acrobats darted between the white birds, spreading their black wings wide to designate the line boundaries as the kings dictated them. Before long, the entire court was…

View original 6,090 more words

My Complicated Relationship With Flight

I fly a decent amount. I’m not jet-setting around the world once a week, but I do board a plane more than a couple times a year, and my feelings toward flying and airplanes is best summed up as an uneasy affection. I’m fascinated with flight and all the advances we’ve made to put humans thousands of feet in the air, but every time I board a plane I do so with the knowledge that humans and the things we make are fallible, and in the past our ambitions have outreached our capabilities.

IcarusAmbition outreaching capabilities.

Flight isn’t perfect, and it likely never will be, and despite the statistics that say flying is one of, if not the safest way to travel, I can’t help thinking, ‘Yes, but we are still 35,000 feet in the air, and a mechanical failure on a car, or an error made by a driver doesn’t tend to cause the death of hundreds of people in one go.’ Likewise, if something does go terribly wrong in a car, and say, you hit a guard rail and flip over a couple times and land upside-down in a ditch, the chances that you will survive that sort of accident are, in my mind, much higher than if the same thing happens in a plane. What I’m saying is, I tend to view whipping through the air on wings filled with several hundred pounds of highly explosive jet fuel with some healthy suspicion. On average, small dogs bite people way more often than larger dogs, but it only takes one nasty bite from a larger breed to seriously affect someone’s quality of life.

Totally the same thing.

That said, call me crazy, but I still do love flying. The very mechanics, the years of engineering, skill and passion that goes and has gone into making and operating aircraft delights me. Think of it: the average weight of an empty Boeing 747 is about 400,000 pounds. That’s 200 tons of airplane flying with relative ease at heights that are difficult to imagine on one’s own. The fact that that much weight can even get off the ground is miraculous. Airplanes do so with such a complicated arrangement of parts that I couldn’t even begin to explain with any detailed comprehension how it happens. My knowledge is one step above ‘it’s magic’ and several below knowing the difference between a flap, an aileron, and an elevator.

airplane anatomyWords I somehow know, but don’t understand.

When I’m in a jet, taxiing to the runway, I’m made acutely aware of all the tiny yet essential things that make flight possible. Each part of the plane and its crew must work together harmoniously to ensure a safe takeoff and landing. Any chink in the armor or series of errors can put that in jeopardy. During takeoff my first and only thought, consistently is, Humans were never meant to do this. We’re not meant to be in the air. This is freaking incredible! Oddly enough, I rarely think about the dangers in those moments.

Except when something brings it to my attention.

Like the time my flight from SFO to YVR hit its rear end on the runway during take off. Tailstrikes, as they’re known, are common enough to have a name, but don’t usually pose significant, immediate threat to an aircraft. They happen when a plane takes off or lands at too steep of an angle. I didn’t know what was happening at the time. I heard a huge thud just after we started angling up. I thought some luggage that hadn’t been secured properly had been thrown into the back of the plane. It wasn’t until later that I’d realized the plane itself had hit something.

Fortunately that’s the most danger I’ve ever been in while inside an airplane. That I know of. Who’s to say that one of those twenty minute long instances of turbulence wasn’t wind, but something else going wrong with the plane? Certainly the cabin crew isn’t going to mention something’s wrong until it becomes an honest to god emergency.

"Austrian Crew" by Austrian Airlines (www.austrian.com). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Austrian_Crew.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Austrian_Crew.jpg

Nerves of steel, secured by a fashionable ascot.

In general, I trust airplanes and their various operators, in part because I have no choice. I have to fly to get where I need to go, and when I’m in an airplane my life and subsequently my faith is one hundred percent in the hands of the pilots and the structure and performance of the craft. It doesn’t do me any good to doubt. I don’t have any control in that situation. I must trust that everything is being handled capably, and I trust so hard in airplanes and their crews that if faith alone could fly a plane I could bring us to the Moon and back.

But every once in a while something happens that rattles that trust. Last year, unfortunately, was a particularly devastating year in recent aviation history. The disappearance of Malaysia flight 370, the destruction of Malaysia flight 17, and finally the crash of AirAsia flight 8501 reminded me, and probably many others that even today things can go tragically wrong. The AirAsia flight in particular hit me hard. Perhaps because I was in Canada at the time, due to fly again in less than two weeks. Perhaps because I take low cost airlines on vacations, and the AirAsia incident highlighted some of the real safety concerns of these flights based out of Asia.

I have a bit of a morbid fascination with plane crashes which I blame on my overactive imagination and my terrible fear of being a part of one. Since the plane’s disappearance, I’ve followed the story and the developments in its recovery daily. I don’t know why. I’m not personally invested in the crash, it doesn’t make me safer to know the details. It’s not going to change my decision to fly in the future. It’s a compulsion I think, tied in with equal parts fear, curiosity, and respect. I want to know why it happened, why so many people lost their lives, and remember that everyone of us has limits.

We’ve come a very long way since 1903, and every accident, incident and fatality since then has made flight safer for the people who have come afterward. I love flying and I’m terrified of it. Airplanes and all their miraculous parts and configurations that produce flight are marvels to watch and ride in. Engineers, pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel and more all have fantastically stressful jobs with enormous responsibility on their shoulders. When I disembark from an airplane, I wish it were possible to thank more people than just the cabin crew for a successful flight. Certainly, my continued love of airplanes and flight are because of the work of many dedicated people.

Thank you, to all of them.

Tastes of Japan: Mochi

Due to my epic journey back from the holidays in Canada and a week of grudgingly getting back into the swing of things at work, this post comes in a little late. Nevertheless, today’s entry was inspired by the recently expired New Year’s festivities, and the quintessential taste of January in Japan:

 Mochi 餅

kagami-mochi

Mochi is a plump, sticky sort of rice cake made by pounding glutinous short grained rice (mochigome) until it has the texture of dense bread dough. Traditionally, New Years mochi is made between December 25th and 28th (mochi-tsuki) by soaking the mochigome overnight, steaming it and then pounding it between a large wooden bowl (usu) and a wooden mallet (kine). Since the kine is rather heavy and the mochi itself is deceptively sticky, the job of pounding the mochi usually falls on the father of the family, while the mother rolls the mochi in the usu and adds water to prevent it from sticking to the tools. The children, in the meantime, wait patiently to eat all mochi they can stuff in their faces.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mochi made for the New Year (pictured at the top of the page) is packed into two flat, round cakes and offered to the god of the new year as kagami-mochi or, mirror mochi. It is typically topped with a Japanese orange, but other decorations vary by region and family tradition. On January 11th, after the kagami-mochi has hardened and cracked, it is shattered by force, heated until soft again, and eaten.

There are many different ways to eat mochi, and while it is consumed in large amounts as a traditional New Year’s food, it is also eaten year round. Here are a just few ways people in Japan enjoy mochi:

Zoni お雑煮 ozoni

Zoni is a savory vegetable soup with mochi inside that is eaten around New Years. The soup base varies by region; in Kanto it is made with a clear broth while in Kansai it is made from white miso. The size and shape of the mochi used also depends on where it is being made.

Kinako Mochi きな粉餅kinako mochi

This is probably my favorite way to eat mochi. The dry soy bean “kinako” powder tastes very similar to peanuts, and its texture compliments the fluffy mochi perfectly. It’s a bit messy to eat though, so be sure to bring your bowl or plate close to your mouth while eating or else risk the yellow powder making an unfortunate mess on your clothes.

 

Zenzai ぜんざいzenzai

Another great mochi dish (especially in winter) is zenzai, a.k.a oshiruko. A soup-like desert made from red beans, this is the mochi for you if you have a sweet tooth. The broth is thick, with a creamy and slightly sandy texture, and comes with a couple of pieces of melted mochi hidden in the deep red, opaque liquid. It’s as much fun to play with as it is to eat.

 

Daifuku 大福 daifuku

This one is a bit more of a February treat, especially the ones stuffed with whole or halved strawberries, but daifuku can be found year round, with a variety of fillings. We’ve even had daifuku in Kyoto that were stuffed with whole (though admittedly tiny) Japanese oranges. Traditional daifuku are flattened mochi blankets that are wrapped around an anko (red bean paste) filling. Since anko and mochi are both very dense and daifuku tend to come in palm sized portions, one serving is usually more than enough to fill anyone up.

 

Now that I’ve gotten your mouth watering with all the delicious ways one can eat mochi, it’s time to expose its dark side. Like marshmallows in the west, mochi poses a strikingly high risk of death by choking–especially among the young and the elderly. Within the first week of 2015, mochi killed at least 9 people, and sent 128 more to the hospital. Rocket News covered the whole grim story here. I recommend clicking the link, if for no other reason than to watch the strangely cheerful song at the end, about how mochi (and everything else, apparently) will kill your children and grandparents if you’re not careful.

And don’t forget to click the links in the headers to each mochi variety for recipes, if you’re interested in making mochi yourself.

A Year of Reading: 2014

It’s back! The end of the year reading stats, because the writing stats are embarrassingly non-existent. I read a lot of books this year–forty-two to be exact–and while it was my plan to read a lot more fantasy than I did last year, as you can see that didn’t really pan out. Anthologies take first prize this year, which I guess sort of count toward fantasy, since that figure is heavily weighted with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Non-fiction as always also scored high, and third place goes to the classics.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.12.31 PM

As far as format is concerned, you can see I got a lot more use out of my Kindle this year. I had a lot of books gifted to me, which is a blessing for any book lover. Having them all in one place was certainly handy, however the Paper White definitely has its disadvantages. Most notably its lag and the inability to quickly flip through to find a passage. The latter was especially frustrating when writing reviews.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.19.12 PMI did have a reading list of thirty books to get through in 2014. However, despite reading forty-two books this year, I only just made a dent in my list. I get distracted very–SQUIRREL!

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.29.19 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.29.44 PM

And finally, there were some truly amazing books that I read this year, which I feel deserve recognition. So instead of the huge photo dump of everything I read, here’s my

Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you to everyone who visited, liked and commented this year. I hope you enjoyed the content, and I look forward to seeing you again in 2015.

Happy New Year!

Tastes of Japan: Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake

christmas cake
AKA: You’re old and ugly and no one wants you anymore

Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when I say, “Christmas”? Was it Santa? Spending time with the family? Celebrating the birth of Jesus? I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t cake, however over here in Japan, the Christmas cake is probably the most recognizable symbol of the holiday season. Like most holiday traditions, the reasons for it are likely lost among the younger generation, but Christmas cake in Japan is a symbol of wealth, prosperity and the post-war recovery of the nation.

Christmas as a holiday isn’t really celebrated beyond its commercial meaning in Japan: young children get gifts, lovers give each other gifts, people give their bosses and teachers gifts and everyone eats cake (and KFC, but that’s a post for next year). Less than one percent of the Japanese population is Christian, so nativity scenes are scarce. The winter feast is on New Year’s day, so no one gorges on the 25th, and no one gets the day off. Christmas is a romantic holiday, more than a family one.

So what’s with the cake? The tradition of eating Christmas cake, as explained here, comes from the post-war era of Japanese history. American soldiers handing out sweets to citizens, and missionaries bringing Christian values into the country imparted a sense of commercial wealth and grandness from the west into the Japanese population. Since the ingredients to make it were scarce, sponge cake was an elite luxury that quickly became a symbol of economic growth as more and more of the population came to be able to purchase it in the recovery years. These days, the only thing that can keep people from buying their yearly cake is a severe butter shortage.

Christmas_cake

Pictured: Also not very good.

For my part, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas cake. Though it looks fluffy, creamy and delicious, for the most part it’s bland and unsatisfying, like vaguely vanilla flavored air. Not that western Christmas cake is much better, but then again, I’m not someone who goes wild over sweets.

 

And for those wondering what’s with the caption up at the top, ‘Christmas cake’ is how one calls a woman an old maid over here. The saying goes, “A woman is like a Christmas cake; after the 25th, nobody wants either”. It’s wrong on so many levels, but that’s what it is.

Merry Christmas to all my readers. Have a safe and happy holiday.

Want to make it yourself? Find the recipe here and have at it!