Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Buffet

There seemed to be a curious mix of diners on Thanksgiving at Thunder Valley Casino--large families on vacation, lonesome souls with massive appetites but no companions, hardcore gamblers taking a short break to refuel, and laid-back couples (like me and my husband) who chose to have a lazy Thanksgiving without cooking, cleaning or traveling hundreds of miles to join their families. The buffet area, free from dizzying cigarette smoke and vexatious slot ka-chings, welcomed us with its neat array of foods and festooned table runners. Regular brunch items, such as croissants and muffins, took a back seat and let their more festive cousin, the pumpkin cake rings, shine. The "Omelet Expert," rigged with tabletop stoves and little saucepans, stood waiting for eggy requests.  Lovely golden-brown turkeys took the center stage where apron-clad men were stationed with their long carving knives. And yes, there were lots and lots of pies.

I'd eaten there a couple times before and thought the foods were, at best, acceptable. Surprisingly, though, all their Thanksgiving items turned out to be quite impressive. My best bite of the day was the tender turkey wing bathed in robust gravy and accompanied by hearty succotash. The mushroom stuffing, rice pilaf and mashed potatoes also had me ravenously cleaning my plate. Although I did loathe the mushy bread pudding and the spice-deprived egg drop soup (from the Chinese food section), it was a satisfying Thanksgiving meal overall. Plus, a little bit of gambling afterwards kind of aided in digestion. I lost some, won some, lost again, won again, and in the end, left with a $12 surplus. No dirty pots, pans or plates waiting to be cleaned at home. Yep, it was a happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 4

Yes, my latest Pilates challenge has been overcome! After about five and a half weeks of practice, I finally accomplished the teaser. Am I receiving a medal or a prize money for this? Nope. My reward is this scrumptious sensation of victory and this realization that I am now stronger, more flexible and more able-bodied than I had ever been. I think there's a word for it.....ah yes, pride! 

Let's trace back to the beginning of my teaser journey. It all started with core strengthening and hamstring stretching. Some believe a strong core is all they need, but in reality, adequate flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back is also a must-have in this exercise. The process of gaining flexibility could take time, depending on each individual. What followed was practice, practice and practice. I practiced my teaser mostly on the mat. I've heard it's easier to practice on the reformer and rely on the straps to facilitate pulling the torso forward and up. That might be true for some people, but personally, during my first few weeks, I found the weight of the straps to be hindering rather than helpful. So I focused on refining my form and honing my balance on the mat first. 

Once I was confident enough to graduate to the reformer, sequencing the movement became my next challenge. I don't know about other Pilates practitioners, but for me, lying with my head hanging off the box and my arms splaying is an excruciatingly awkward position to be in. And let me just say moving from that into the teaser wasn't a walk in the park for me at all. Fortunately, though, my instructor was quite strategic. Together we worked on compartmentalizing "the teaser body": abs scooped, legs firmly pulled into the hip sockets, arms connected to the back muscles, elbows slightly bent, neck relaxed, shoulders open. Sounds easy, right? Yeah...until you actually have to maintain all those things at once while rolling up into the teaser. Well, I did fail on my first few attempts, mainly because of my tendency to initiate the movement with my neck and arms rather than my torso. But I finally got it in the end, and my instructor was so kind to capture this picture of me in my triumphant moment. 

Oh and as you may recall, I made a bet with myself that if I failed this challenge, Tofurky would be my doom. But well, lucky me, I'll be stuffing my face with real turkey this Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble! 

Pilates Teaser Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Kurogoma Tan Tan Men - Shoki Ramen House

There was not much else I'd rather do on a winter evening than join other ramen lovers at Shoki Ramen House, a popular midtown spot the size of a sardine can. Almost elbow to elbow, we sat contemplating the menu that invited us to either pick one of the classic options or customize our own ramen if we dared. Nope, I didn't take the creative route, but I did try something new: Kuroguma Tan Tan Men.

Packed with grounded black sesame seeds, the Kuroguma broth was dark, thick, earthy, and somewhat Halloweenish like something from a witch's cauldron. Tender bamboo shoots and al dente noodles swam together harmoniously. Grass-fed minced beef added subtle richness as it integrated with the broth. And fresh spinach was a jazzy decoration, much needed in this drab dish. I ordered "extra spicy" but got what I'd call "mild." No biggie, though. There was a jar of chili paste on the table, and I was gratefully eager to use it. Two spoonfuls--perfect!

Plus, having a full view of the ramen mavens in action was such a privilege. With energetic scrupulosity, they maneuvered multiple saucepans at once, switching from one burner to another, sprinkling this, stirring that, and occasionally yelling "Irasshaimase" to welcome entering customers. And oh how that six-year-old kid at the nearby table so enthusiastically and ineptly handled his chopsticks; he was adorable. As usual, a good bowl of ramen gratified me. But noticing others, both the skillful and the clumsy, made the dining experience even more heartening. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fitness Goal - Pilates Teaser Part 3

About a month ago, I ambitiously declared I would challenge myself to accomplish the Pilates teaser within 6 weeks...or else a severe self-punishment would be delivered. What's the punishment? Let me give you some clues. It looks suspicious, probably tastes like tofu, and is a tremendous insult to Thanksgiving turkey (No offense, vegans!). Yep, Tofurkey is what I'm talking about.

My practice strategy has been the same: stretching the hamstrings and lower back, strengthening the abs, doing the teaser every day (well, almost every day, almost!). One helpful technique, which is so basic and yet so often forgotten by us Pilates newbies, is the abdominal scoop. It's an act of pulling the navel in and up toward the spine. By doing this, the deepest abdominal muscle is contracted and fully engaged. I have to admit my first two weeks of teaser practice was done incorrectly; I forgot the scoop! So because my deep abdominal muscle wasn't really engaged, it was awfully hard to roll up. And once I was up in the teaser position, all the tension was dumped into my hip flexors and lower back, making it almost impossible to work on straightening my legs. In other words, my core was crumbling, and everything else went awry! The first time I remembered to do the abs scoop before initiating the roll up was a real aha moment. Rolling up into the teaser wasn't such a struggle anymore; my abs didn't quiver as much; and there was much less pressure in the hip flexors and lower back. I never thought the simple act of sucking in my gut could have such a significant impact on my entire form.

So I have about 10 more days to practice. I'm almost there, I think, judging from this picture which was taken just a few minutes ago. I can now straighten my legs almost all the way, and as I mentioned, rolling up is no longer a problem. It wouldn't be unsound to say that I can perform a decent teaser on the mat already. But my goal is to be able to do it on the reformer with the straps in my hands. Sad to say, a week ago when I attempted that, it didn't go well at all. I'll try it again next week, and we'll see whether my next blog post would be about me achieving my Pilates challenge or me crying over a plate of Tofurkey.

Pilates Teaser Part 1
Pilates Teaser Part 2
Pilates Teaser Part 4

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Football and Sushi at Oshima

Football watching usually involves buffalo wings, onion rings and all things deep-fried, but it wouldn't be sacrilegious to sometimes switch to something a little more refined and sushi! It can get quite boisterous at Oshima on Sundays during an NFL season. The place is big enough to accommodate up to two hundred guests. The sushi menu is two pages long. And a clique has obviously been long formed, as many jersey-clad regulars (who don't seem to come together) greet one another with hugs and firm handshakes. Chopsticks in hands, football fans huddle together in the bar section, furnished with lofty stools and swanky half-circle booths. For sushi lovers who prefer more privacy, there is a separate area for them, though it's doubtful they would be able to completely escape from the hubbub. 

My first experience there last Sunday was worth the time and trip. The spicy-garlic edamame seemed to be one of the most ordered items. Apparently, its in-your-face pungency proved to be a plus point rather than a deterrent. The Bloody Mary was whimsically spiced with Sriracha. The deep-fried calamari, seasoned and coated with a light tempura batter, was quite a treat even without its accompanying sauce. The three sushi rolls I tried all tasted similar, but each also had its own twist. The Crispy Kirk--an unorthodox invention stuffed with three types of fish and laden with cream cheese--might make an old-school sushi master from Tokyo shudder and scream, "Blasphemy!" Luckily, I'm not an old-school sushi master, so it didn't traumatize me. In fact, I quite enjoyed the richness of it. The Oshima roll had spicy tuna and soft-shell crab as its star components. And as history has proven time and again, any sushi with soft-shell crab in it guarantees a delightful texture and a fun masticating experience. The Ninja, although underwhelming with bland albacore and hamachi, made up for its shortcomings with a robust sauce and fat slices of jalapeno. 

At the end, my beloved team, the New York Giants, allowed the lame Saints to score in the last five seconds and win with a field goal. My second favorite, the Niners, also lost. My third favorite, the Lions, lost more badly and more embarrassingly than the others. And the Oshima football clique didn't even invite me to be their newest member. But I just shrugged and left without feeling too defeated. I had a good time; it was all right.