I don’t know about all of you, but January has really flown by for me. Looking back at the past month, I certainly can’t complain because it’s been a great start to the year. I’ve enjoyed the twinkling lights of winter illuminations, admired the beautiful kimonos that appeared for Coming of Age Day, and celebrated the New Year in Japanese style with all the traditions, food, decorations, and festivals that entails. Since it’s the first month of the year and the first full month for this blog, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been loving this past month.
Nabe, short for nabemono (鍋物, “cooking pot” + “things”), is a general term for one pot Japanese dishes. These are so easy to make that even I can do it! You just pour stock into a pot, let it come to a boil, add selected meat, allow it to cook a bit, add assorted veggies, and then allow to simmer until the veggies cook down a bit into the stock. What makes this even easier is that grocery stores all carry prepared stock, veggies, and meats in just the right quantity for a nabe dish. You can select various types of stock (I’m partial to the stronger miso or soy sauce flavored varieties) and meats (chicken dumplings, pork, or assorted seafood…yum!) so this simple dish never gets boring. Once it’s ready, you can just take the pot to the table and everyone can serve themselves. It’s delicious, easy, and perfect for a cold winter day.
2. Chocolate goodies: Godiva Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa and Ghirardelli Dark & Sea Salt Caramel Squares
I am a huge fan of chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Godiva Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa has the rich, decadent taste of Godiva dark chocolate truffles but in drink form and has been a favorite of mine for years. I’ve tried many varieties of Ghirardelli chocolate squares but this was the first time I’ve ever had the Dark & Sea Salt Caramel version and I love it! The dark chocolate combined with the salty, sweet caramel filling is such a great taste combination. This is the type of treat that is so delicious I just want to savor each piece and make the bag last for as long as possible. So good!
3. Lip products: e.l.f. Lip Exfoliator and spearmint flavored ChapStick
This winter has been really rough on my lips. Between the cold temperatures when I’m outdoors and the extremely dry air indoors, my lips were looking and feeling very unhappy. I was using a lip balm but it just wasn’t enough so I decided to try the e.l.f. Lip Exfoliator. The first time I tried it I wasn’t sure it was doing anything for me but I think I just needed to wear it down a bit to get the full exfoliating effect because now it leaves my lips feeling so smooth and healthy. And it smells great, too! After using the exfoliator, I always apply some lip balm to keep my lips feeling great. My favorite at the moment is the spearmint flavored ChapStick. It really moisturizes and I love the minty flavor.
4. Bath & Body Works Vanilla Bean Noel Body Cream
Besides my lips, all my skin has been feeling so dry this winter so I was very happy to receive some Bath & Body Works triple moisture body cream as a gift. I’ll admit, I hardly ever venture into their stores simply because I am fairly sensitive to scented products and walking into a store with so many scented products can be a bit overwhelming to my system. I was happily surprised to find that the Vanilla Bean Noel variety isn’t too strong for me. I like the scent but most of all I like that the thickness of the cream makes it feel much more substantial and long-lasting.
5. Fitness helpers: Outdoor Research Ear Band and Fitbit One
Since I’ve been enjoying all those tasty treats, like those chocolates above, I’ve also been trying to balance out the decadence with plenty of exercise. In winter, I have a hard time running out in the cold because my ears start to ache in the first few minutes and I eventually get a nasty headache. This year, I armed myself with a windproof ear band from Outdoor Research. Its contoured shape covers my ears completely while the velcro closure makes it easy to fit and—voilà—no more earache!
I also just got the Fitbit One a few weeks ago and I absolutely love it! For something so small and light that it’s easy to wear all day without anyone else even noticing it, it’s making a big difference in how I look at daily activity. Since it tracks my steps, distance, stairs climbed, and time active, I know just how much, or how little, I’ve done so far in the day. And though it doesn’t make me do anything at all, I have become so much more mindful of my activity level that I find myself checking it to see how I’m doing each day and taking extra walks or heading out to run up and down a few flights of stairs just to meet my daily goals. It’s also great that I can connect with friends and we can encourage each other toward our goals or challenge each other to a friendly competition. There are several versions of the Fitbit but the One also tracks time and quality of sleep, which is interesting to see. Now I can see just how long I slept the previous night and how often and for how long I was restless. Some days I use this objective proof of too little sleep to convince myself to stop playing around on the computer and get in bed earlier!
6. Japanese language study tool: Anki
I’ve been working on increasing my Japanese vocabulary and one of my go-to strategies for memorization is the flash card system. As I was working through some paper flash cards one day, I started thinking it would be really helpful if I could develop a system to quiz myself more often on the words I have trouble with so I can focus more of my time and energy on those words. Then I wondered, has anyone developed an app for this and, if so, does it allow Japanese input? Enter Anki. Anki is a free flashcard program that does just this (appropriately, anki means “memorization” in Japanese). It’s easy to create your flashcards one at a time or in batches and organize them into decks for convenient study. When studying, Anki shows the front of a card and once you’ve selected the option to view the back of the card and see if you were correct, you can then rate how easy that card was. The easier it was, the longer it will be before Anki quizzes you with that card again. If you didn’t know that card, then Anki will put it back into the deck to be reviewed a few minutes later. It really is a great system. I currently have it set up on my laptop and synced to my Android so I can study on the go as well. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good flashcard system.
I hope that January has been as good to all of you as it has been to me. I have a few fun things planned for February, including a trip to Sapporo, so February, here I come!