Fatter at Home

Here in California, we’ve been ordered to not go out unless you need groceries or go for a walk. And when you walk, you have to avoid people. Try to pretend you’re in a hamster wheel, basically. It’s going to be a huge lifestyle change for a whole lot of people.

I’ve been performing this civic duty. Just before the order hit, I came down with hay fever. Yeah, yeah, I know. It might be COVID 19. I’ve been treating it as if it has been. But I have this allergy party every year (except for last year, which I credit to nasal spray) and the symptoms are all too familiar. Itchy eyes? Yup. Soul crushing full body coughing in the morning? Unfortunately, yes. I wonder what my neighbors think. Weird, pale yellow phlegm? Check. Aches? Yeah, a little. Fever? Nope. Not even a little. And believe me, I’ve been checking. We got a thermometer recently. It looks kind of like a type 2 phaser from Star Trek: TNG. I’ve been phasering myself right between my eyebrows everyday, three times a day.

The good news is, I’m past the nasty ass cough. Feeling pretty much back to normal. Maybe self-quarantining is making my recovery faster since I’m not walking to the market, going to practice, or even spending any time outside.

But I’ve been thinking that my lifestyle hasn’t really changed much. I’m a work at coffee shop author that’s become a work at home author. Ever since I left the video games industry I’ve tried my damnedest to keep costs low. Also, I’m fat. So one of the obvious places to save money and cut calories is eating out. For years now I’ve been improving my culinary abilities, and I think I’m better. I certainly don’t think I’d qualify to go on Worst Cooks in America. (It’s a fun show, BTW.) Point being, when safer at home started, I was already doing most of what I need to do at home. Cooking and eating, exercise (thanks Nintendo), and now trying to work in my distracting home environment.

So backtrack to a few days ago. I’m coughing, my body aches, I’m trying unsuccessfully to get work done, and the news is on all day. I caught myself eating stuff for no reason than it was something to do. Yikes. I wonder how many other people might be lazing around their house with their thirty bags of cheesy puffs, a freezer full of frozen pizza, and enough canned goods to be an excellent house in a month for zombie apocalypse survivors to raid, might be absentmindedly stuffing their faces to keep busy?

If we stay inside for a month, living the fallout shelter life, are we going to put on like fifteen pounds?

Don’t let yourselves go people. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay safe and take care of each other.

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It Sure Feels Like the Apocalypse

Hoarding.

Large events cancelled.

Movie theaters closed.

You can only get takeout or delivery at restaurants.

Schools closed.

Borders closing.

It may not be the end of the world, but it sure feels like it.

If you’ve read my book, you know I have more than a passing interest in the end of civilization. I couldn’t have imagined the toilet paper/hand soap/cleaning wipes thing. It’s still hard to believe.

I also think if people don’t keep themselves occupied it’s easy to work yourself up into a frenzy. Dire warnings from Italy telling you to take this seriously.

I have to remind myself that control seems to be returning in Wuhan. Macau was able to lock everything down quick. I believe we will weather this, despite how scary things are right now.

Enough of that. You get plenty of that on the news and probably in your social media feeds. Use common sense.

The first draft of the second book is 95% complete. I’m sorry I didn’t get it out in time for this period of recommended self-quarantine, but I’m still surprised that I got that much done. It took me several years to write the first one. Though I had to stop for a while because I was dragged back into my old industry. The way it’s going, the second book will be about as long as the first book, yet it took a fraction of the time to do it. That said, it’s probably still going to be months to get it to a state where I will be able to send it into the world. In the back of my mind I’m already thinking about where it’s lacking and some ideas I have to improve the draft.

It’s a little tough working from home, but the work is progressing. It was nice being able to go outside where I can have “office hours” at my local Starbucks or Coffee Bean. Walking was a nice side effect as well. Oh well, give it some time. I’ll try not to get distracted here at home.

In other news, I’ve finally finished the main story of Ni no Kuni 2. It really is a good game. I’m still playing it to get all the higglies, finish all the research, and max out my citizens. That’s when I found the free adventure pack DLC. So now, I’m doing the new quest chain. Also, I’m doing the new research to make it easier to farm mats from the Faraway Dreamers Door so I can make dem higglies. Maybe in a week I’ll be moving on to the next PS4 title on my list. Still thinking about what that’s going to be.

For Xmas, I got a new Kindle reader. It came with three months of Kindle Unlimited so I’ve been casting about looking for stuff to read. The best thing I found was the Yarnsworld series by Benedict Patrick. It’s a fun mix of fantasy and folktales. I’m reading the fourth one now which is kind of a continuation of the first book. The second and third are standalone, though the people in all four books all have a special “knack” for doing something. This can range from sword fighting to washing laundry. Anyway, if you’ve read my book and need something else, give Yarnsworld a try!

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I’ve Been Playing Ring Fit Adventure

The year is almost over. I think it’s been a turbulent one. Work on the next story continues and I think I’m ready to delve into writing the final act. That said, on to the topic I wanted to talk about.

So I’ve always been a big fan of video games that also make you exercise. The first one I remember playing was an exercise bike arcade game that made you fly around and pop balloons as the timer ran down. Google says it’s called Prop Cycle. As that damn timer ticked down, I was pedaling like crazy trying to pop just one more balloon so I could extend the timer. Unfortunately, after two or three plays I was done for the day. Nothing like seating through my street clothes and then running around like that for the rest of the day.

The next one I enjoyed would be Dance Central which utilized the Kinect. I played a lot of that game too, but my living room is tiny and often times the game would complain that I was too damn close and it was hard to map my body. Nevertheless, I logged many hours flailing around like an idiot.

I even worked on an exercise game. UFC Trainer. As a game developer, it was a fascinating experience to figure out how to make the Wii/PS3/360 determine if you were performing a particular exercise correctly. Ultimately though, after it was done I didn’t play it at all. It was just too much like a gym and I’m not into UFC, so it couldn’t hold my attention.

Now a little bit of background about me. I used to be a gym rat. During lunches at work I walked over to the gym down the street and did a half hour of cardio, weight training, and stretching. I’m no stranger to exercise and even when I stopped working at the game studio near the gym and let my membership run out, I would do exercise videos at home.

Which brings us to Ring Fit. I’m sucker for stuff like this. Ring Fit comes with a ring with two grips on the sides and a slot at the top to slide your Switch controller into. The thing has been pretty durable so far! It also gives you a lap strap to wrap around your left thigh. You put the other controller into this strap and between the two controllers, they can figure out what exercises you’re doing.

So, as of yesterday, I’m into the 37th day of Ring Fit Adventure. My sessions can last from 30 minutes to an hour. There’s a clock in the bottom left of the screen that tells you how long you’ve been moving around, and that’s different from the time that’s spent just standing in front of your Switch. You’ll be spending some time reading the dialogue from the characters, taking your pulse, buying new gear, and moving around the map. So I’d say that when the game says I’ve been moving around, exercising for 30 minutes, I’ve actually spent 40-50 minutes playing the game.

I’ve been enjoying it so far. On the game side of things it’s a light RPG. You meet a magic ring and you have to help it get it’s powers back so you can fight an evil dragon/workout fiend. Your stats are offense, defense, and health. You can augment these stats by purchasing better shirts, pants, and shoes. Sometimes, getting a matching set of clothes will provide an additional set bonus.

There’s also a skill tree. At some point you will start gaining a skill point every time you level up. You can then take these skill points and apply them to a skill tree which can give you different exercise moves, add to your offense or defense, increase your health bar, and give your attacks and defensive moves chances to proc additional benefits. The tree starts off small, but as I’ve leveled up I’ve seen the tree expand twice so far.

So the game hub is kind of like one of the old Mario games. 3 maybe? You start at World 1 and you’re looking at a 2D map with points of interest connected by lines. Generally, you go to a point of interest and play it which will open up the next area. At the end of each map you’ll fight a boss. Last night I cleared World 14, so there’s a hearty amount of content.

The main type of level in the game is a course. You’ll start at one end of a 3D environment and have to run to the other end. Along the way you’ll have to fight monsters, performing very light platforming challenges, suck up coins and mats for smoothies. To equate the exercise part of it to the real world, it’s like running through a park that has a fitness trail with some simple exercise equipment. That’s an oversimplification though. The environments can range from outdoorsy areas where you’re paddling on a river or flying in the sky, to more industrial feeling indoor spaces.

You’ll start running (in place) and you can run faster if you move your legs more. You know, like in real life? You won’t have to do much in the way of navigating though, because you’re on what we call a “rail”. Not a literal one. Though, sometimes in the game you are. The idea though is that the game itself keeps you on the path. Your running in place is what’s propelling you forward. At points along the path you might run into monsters. When this happens you’ll go into a turn based fight mode. The monsters which look like ghosts when you’re running in the world will manifest into things like goblin looking things, or monsterized yoga mats, balance balls, kettle bells, and so on.

Once you’re in a fight, you’ll go first. You select an exercise you’d like to do and then pick which monster you’d like to hit. Each rep will cause damage, and if you perform the exercise well, it’ll hit for a little more. You can tell when you’re doing it to the game’s satisfaction because your characters hair will look all golden. After you finish the set, the monsters will get there turn and they may or may not attack you. This cycle repeats until either you run out of health or you beat up the monsters. (Which fly way off into the distance, screaming, when they’re out of health.)

There are four types of exercise, and this theme is reinforced later in the game. Red exercises are strength training exercises for your arms, blue are strength training exercises for your legs, yellow exercises focus on your abs, and green exercises focus on your balance, having strong yoga flavor. Monsters can come in all four of the aforementioned colors and you’ll do extra damage versus a monster sharing the color of the exercise your using. (I.e. doing ab exercises against yellow monster will give you an edge.)

Also important to note, is that your some of your exercises can hit multiple enemies. You can encounter up to 5 enemies at one time. Certain exercises will allow you to hit all 5 with each rep performed. These exercises generally don’t do as much damage as some of the single target exercises. There are also exercises that will hit 3 adjacent enemies but will do a little more damage per rep than the ones that can hit all 5. When you consider that enemies are weak versus certain exercises types, there’s actually some strategy to selecting which exercise to do on your turn to get the best effect. And as you level up, you’ll be rotating in better exercises that do more damage, so what you’re doing from session to session will gradually change.

I found that my strategy in general would be to use my highest damage AoE exercise against large groups of enemies, favoring colors whenever I could, and then use my highest damage single target exercise to finish them off. When yoga mat monsters started to show up, I was super annoyed to discover that they could heal themselves or the other monsters, so I would tend to try to get rid of them as quickly as I could. I managed to unlock a blue exercise through the skill tree, and it was a type of squat that did 295 damage. That lasted me a long time until ultimately I started getting more powerful moves, but man did I get a ton of mileage out of that exercise. I did a whole bunch of squats too.

One of my concerns when I first played the game was seeing some of the exercises get swapped out as I got new ones. I just removed squat from my list of skills and I was actually asking if that meant that squat was gone from the game now. Well, I needn’t have worried. As you progress into the later worlds, during the courses these exercises are mixed in outside of combat as part of the challenges when running through the course. For example, your character might arrive at a series of personal catapults and you’ll have to perform a squat on top of it to make it launch you to the next one. I enjoyed the variety of exercises I was doing on a lot of the worlds in later courses. And if somehow you love squats, don’t worry. The same exercises come back with level 2 and 3 versions that have higher damage than the one you started with.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m enjoying the experience so far. I’m 15 worlds in and there’s no end in sight. There’s a lot of content and for me that translates to motivation. The combat system is simple but I do feel like I’m making choices that maximize damage. It’s even making me reach for those exercises that I don’t enjoy (screw you, mountain climbers!)

My biggest gripe is the damn leg strap. It just keeps sliding down to under my knee and I’m having to always slide back up into position. It can be super annoying when you’re running up steps in the game and your Ring will tell you that if you bring your knees up you’ll go up the stairs faster. So there I am, doing a bunch of high knees and my leg strap as slid down and my character on screen is now going slow. Yeah, it’s frustrating.

My biggest pet peeve is with a mini game mode called Dreadmill. Wow, perfect name. You’re on a treadmill at the bottom of the screen pushing you to the left. You have to run to control your characters speed. There are four lanes across the screen that will either have coins or bombs. So the idea is that you want to run in a way to keep you in the lanes with coins and out of the ones with bombs. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. I’m having serious problems finding a pace to keep me smack in one of the lanes. Either I’m too slow, or too fast. So now I’m taking weird shuffle steps to try to convince the game to speed me up or slow down. They also have this optional mission in one of the worlds where you can’t miss a coin. Yeah, I’m still trying to finish that one.

Also kind of disappointing is the gear you get as rewards when you’re playing through the game. Actually, I was excited when I got a shirt that promised a nice set bonus if I could get the other two pieces. But sometimes, you have to finish certain missions that aren’t immediately available and you have to go back to the world later. By the time I’d found the rest of the set, I already had better gear.

The game has it’s minor flaws, but what game doesn’t? My experience has been and continues to be overwhelmingly positive. I do feel like I get a light workout, and the act of navigating the map, reading dialogue, gives you brief breaks before tackling the next course. I only raised the difficulty up once and that was a macho fueled decision on my second session when the game asked how it was going.

If you’re looking for a fun way to move around more, I think Ring Fit Adventure is well worth the investment. On a final note, at the end of each course it makes you do this victory pose where you squat and hold for a few seconds and then thrust your ring up above your head. Yeah, I enjoy that a little too much.

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My Hobbies Have Dominated My Life For the Last Few Weeks

Yeah, I’m still here.

I know. I haven’t updated in forever. But I have reasons.

I have this thing that I’ve been doing since college. It’d be my profession if I could actually earning a living from it. But since I can’t, I write books. Anyway, this hobby has kicked into overdrive over the last few weeks.

I went to Japan to be with all of the other people that do what I do, and was fortunate enough to be able to go with some of the people at my local branch that decided to go, including a very good friend of mine whom I’ve been trying to get to accompany me for years now. It was a very busy and exhausting, but it ended up being a great time for everyone. Definitely one for the books.

Then I came back and began the super annoying process of re-acclimating my body to my original time zone. Ever been super tired, go to sleep then wake up four hours later anyway? Yeah. It’s as fun as it sounds. Even better is getting obnoxiously sleepy right in the middle of the afternoon. The only thing for it is lots of water and napping. I really don’t get the people who just force themselves back on schedule. I have to say… that shit don’t work for me.

Oh, but it gets better. I was also the primary organizer for an anniversary party celebrating a quarter century of our branch’s continued participation in the aforementioned hobby. I had help of course, but I was the one who provided the vision. Last night, this vision came to be realized. And it didn’t. Things never seem to go as I imagine they will. But all of the primary components were there, just not in the order I had thought them to be. I kept it loose, listened to my teacher who gave excellent on the fly advice, and everything turned out a-ok. I’m fortunate to have colleagues with low standards.

I’m very glad that’s done and over with.

Or I’d like to say that, but it’s not quite over. There’s still some of the aftermath to deal with, but today I’m just going to relax a bit.

Work on the sequel to Buried Instincts has slowed to a crawl unfortunately. I’ve managed to sneak in an hour of writing here and there. Jet lag’s a bitch and so is putting on hooplah. I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow when I expect to just be able to get some coffee and immerse myself into Blake’s post-apocalyptic adventure again.

There’s good things coming!

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A Little Slice of Armageddon

Yeah, I know. It’s been a while since I last posted anything. I’ve actually been very productive on the sequel to Buried Instincts, so I’ve been putting off doing things like updating my website. Or exercising.

But without further ado, here’s a little news that might be interesting.

So last Saturday night I’m up late because I’m always up late. It’s around 2am and I’m playing video games when I hear a bunch of partiers in the street. Well, it is LA after all. I don’t even get up to look. I’m not so old yet that I go out in my long johns and angrily shake my fist at them. Also, I don’t have long johns. I’m too fat to wear them without sweating. I’m not even sure why I brought it up.

They eventually leave, and relative peace returns. An hour later I go down to do dishes. Yeah, I know. At 3am? But something is off. As I’m washing the dishes, I notice the water pressure is way weaker than it should be. In my brain, somehow I think it’s connected to the partiers from before. I look out the window. Hmmm, that’s weird. Is it raining? Well, I’m sure it’s not raining, I would’ve heard it. SO WHY IS THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE STREET COVERED WITH WATER?!

Of course, I put on proper disaster gear. Basketball shorts and a t-shirt thus donned, I run out into the street. The street has cracked and water is bubbling out of the damaged sections!

This was taken a little after 3:20am. Yeah, I know I’m a suck photographer. But notice the crazy looking hole!

By now, other people are also starting to notice what’s going on. Especially the people who live on the opposite side of the street. At this point, I decide to call the LADWP. I saw on their website that they will talk to you 24/7 if there’s an emergency.

I decide this constitutes an emergency. I navigate through their automated system. I get a person. I tell him water’s coming up out of the god damn street. I give him the address. I give him my name. He promises to send someone out.

Go me. I could’ve just decided this was bullshit and gone to bed.

I decide that I’d better take a shower before they shut the water off. I barely manage to do so because I had to coax water into the shower head because the pressure sucks. I get myself into a state where I’m 95% less oily, pat myself on the back, then head back out.

My more astute neighbors are rallying people. A lot of them are moving their cars out of their parking to someplace more dry. Several drive over the hole in the street where water is coming out. It sounds crunchy and I question their common sense.

The fire department shows up. They walk around. The water continues. Well, I guess calling 911 is a good initial reaction. I’m not sure they were able to do anything. They eventually leave.

It’s after 4am now. I’ve been running in and out of my place giving updates to Maggie. This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in a while. A horde of people is now across the street watching their parking get more and more flooded. A few brave souls armor their legs in trash bags and wade out to their vehicles to move them. Finally the LADWP shows up to work their magic. The water is now off and isn’t coming out of the street anymore. Shows over for me. It’s 5am. Bed time.

I wake up and head outside to see what’s transpired since the sun came up. Well, since that time and add about 4 hours.

The street is filthy. But it’s mostly dry.
Ho, man… I hope that car is ok…

They blocked the street. That’s good. They’re fixing the pipe. Also good. And they’ve got a truck to pump all the water out of the flooded parking. Water’s still off. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I was, however, surprised when I came back from running errands in the afternoon to discover the water was already back on. Unexpected! I thought for sure I’d have to drive to a gym to shower.

A day later it looks like this:

Good as new! Ok, maybe not new, but our street now has cool battle damage! Like when Khan shot up the Enterprise and Scotty welded steel plates over the holes.

I have to say, for as much water that came out of the road, I was pretty impressed that it only took a full day to resolve this.

I still don’t know if the partiers I heard somehow caused this to happen. Maybe they were Fremen who plunked down a thumper to try to call a sandworm. But instead of a Shai-Hulud working for Uber showing up to take them home, they screwed up the water system. Dicks. And if I learned anything, it’s that when you’re looking for someplace to live, you should consider where the water is going to flow if the earth cracks and the waters come.

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Sister was in Town followed by Jury Duty

Been busy. Though I wish I could say it was all because I’ve been writing the next part of Buried Instincts.

Life happens.

My sister and her kids came to town, so I dropped a lot of my normal routine to spend time with them. My niece is still a whirlwind of personality. My nephew is still a sweet kid, and apparently flush with cash. Over $400 at last count! We spent some time eating ramen in Little Tokyo and a day in Legoland. On the way to the theme park we accidentally learned how toll roads work in Orange County. My nephew enjoyed Legoland and enjoys theme parks in general. My niece… not so much this time. Any roller coaster and any ride with a line that goes through a dimly lit area was scary. She wouldn’t even go on the very kid friendly submarine ride. I think about halfway through she started to have fun. Always gratifying to drive a long distance, spend gobs of money, only to insist about an hour in that one of the kids wants to go home.

They went back home the next day and the court called me in.

Somehow, lawyers love me. The last two times I was called into a courtroom to participate in the jury selection process I was selected. The first was some old guy trying to get out of his DUI. The defense didn’t even dispute any of the evidence which was basically that the guy add alcohol in his blood stream. In her closing argument she weaved a fantastic tale where the cops were just conspiring to set up a poor old man. We had to remind a few of the jurors that there was no evidence of this. I was actually excited to sit on the trial. I have played most of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games and when the cops, the science experts, and witnesses were on the standing, I was looking for contradictions and taking notes. I think the time practically flew by. The only complaint I have is that courts usually start early in the morning. I don’t usually start early in the morning, thus I don’t look forward to performing my civic duty. When the jury finally entered deliberations, I was shocked to learn that most of them thought this trial was a big waste of time. In retrospect, they were right. Man, I even wore slacks and a buttoned down shirt. When I got back to the office, my female co-workers were even acting perkier than usual around me.

The second trial was a civil case. During the jury selection process they excused juror after juror until I ended up in the box. Once I made it in there they were thrilled of course. Then I got to see a whole slew of evidence against a millionaire who had a friend come up with an idea for a product they could market on QVC. The millionaire tried to cut his pal out of the deal. At the end, once we deliberated we all had great dislike for the plaintiff. His personality, maybe? The defendant lost, and we had to come up with a dollar amount to punish him. But the jury didn’t like the idea that the plaintiff was the one receiving the money. We ended up just pulling numbers out of our asses and averaging it together.

So this time, I thought for sure I would have to be on the jury again, because I was called into the courtroom. This time it was a murder trial. Maybe I wouldn’t be disappointed to get picked! Besides, with my book selling the way it is, $15 a day is actually a raise for me. Ah, but this would be the longest jury selection process I’ve experienced. It took three days for me even to reach the jury box after the lawyers dismissed potential juror after juror for who knows why? A lot of them seemed like perfectly normal people to me? So once I made it to the box, I thought for sure I was going to see it through to the end. During the questioning process, they brought a whole new group of jurors into the court. This was also something I hadn’t seen before. Meat for the grinder.

Anyway, after the questions they sent a bunch more of the jurors packing and I got dropped into seat #1. I was #1 in the DUI trial so I resigned myself to my fate and went on the 15 minute morning break. When we got back, they rotated the last of the people from the initial group into the box, questioned them, then when it was time to excuse people, I was the first one excused. I was shocked. I wasn’t even trying to get out of doing it. Well, freedom does taste good, and I was happy to go back to my late waking schedule.

The questions though gave hints as to what strategies the prosecution and the defense were going to use. A gathered there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. I also gathered that if the defense could come up with an equal or better explanation of that evidence she could cast doubt on it.

I returned home and searched for information on this case. It did make the news! https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/15/police-hunt-for-killer-after-womans-body-is-found-in-backyard-of-alhambra-home/

I thought about sitting in on the trial, but having to wake up early and my strong desire to keep writing my novel will keep me from going. I do wonder how it will go though.

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craft – Taking mom was more of an excuse for us to eat here again

So we’d eaten here once before. I looked on Yelp for a new place to celebrate my lady’s birthday. During that meal we decided that it was good and worthy of taking my mom for Mother’s Day. Fast forward to now.

It’s a nice restaurant. It’s located near the Century City Mall, surrounded by office buildings. It’s definitely the type of place where food is on the expensive side and you’re celebrating something. Great place for couples, but I think better to bring more people. If you’re a foodie and you’re concerned about overeating, I think bringing more people allows you to order more things to try. And this is certainly the type of restaurant where you’ll want to hop around the menu.

We started with a couple of salads. One, the beet salad, was a repeat from our previous experience. Turns out the lady is huge fan of beets, and the beet salad does not disappoint. How many of you know that there is more than one kind of beet?

I assure you it’s pretty much all beets.

The beet salad was just as good as I remember it. The little bits of cheese contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the beets.

I decided to order an avocado salad to sit next to the beet salad. We have four people, after all! The tomatillo in it was the big winner for me. I don’t like avocado by itself. But I love it when it accompanies things. Like in back bean soup. Or in my street tacos. The spiced peanuts in it were an interesting idea, but overall I feel like this salad was designed to let the avocados that were in it shine. Which was why for me, it fell a little short.

If you’re the type that scoops avocado directly into your mouth after cutting it in half, you’re going to love this.

For the main courses we got Texas Quail over red eye gravy and polenta, diver scallops (another repeat from the first time), a BBQ pork belly sandwich, and the Angus flat iron steak (also a repeat). Sides were Russian potatoes, assorted mushrooms (repeat), and broccoli di Cicco.

I’m not a big fan of bird meat. Something about the texture is gross to me. But mom’s boyfriend enjoyed it. He was surprised by how good the gravy was to the point that he looked it up. And then after looking it up, questioned the waiter about it. The waiter then told us they had their own way of preparing it that wasn’t typical.

How many quails are in there?

The diver scallops are good. I feel like when you order a dish at craft, the main ingredient of the dish is allowed to shine. We’d had them previously, but I think lunch time was a little different. At dinner, we got three scallops. At lunch we got three scallops and maybe a daikon salad?

Nothing overpowering here. The sauce allows the scallops to shine.

We asked the flat iron steak to be cooked medium rare. This is because I trust them to actually cook it medium rare. If I were at another steak restaurant, I’d ask for it medium. We’d had this before but we wanted to make sure everyone got to try it. Again, the steak is the star of the show with everything else just boosting it up.

Can you see the medium rarity? I sure could.

The BBQ pork sandwich was tasty. I was only able to eat half because I was too busy eating all of the other stuff. The sharpness of the cheddar went well with the tender pork. The bread was thick and toasted well. It came with what are doubtless, homemade chips. Simple flavors!

Looks good, right?

Potatoes were a mouthful each. Cooked with the skins still on.

We had to take some home.

I’m pretty sure you can choose to get a specific type of mushroom as a side. We always panic and go for the assortment.

Can you identify them all?

The real surprise was the broccoli. It had some fried something in it. The broccoli was sauteed in lots of oil. There was no bitterness, just broccoli being elevated by the crunchy deliciousness that got mixed in. My mom ended up polishing it off. Highly recommended!

The taste more than makes up for this aesthetically challenged clump of sauteed vegetation.

We shared two desserts. Ricotta Cheesecake with citrus and blood orange sorbet, and almond berry shortcake with market berries and raspberry ice cream.

The cheesecake was good. The sorbet was delicious, reminding me a lot of what we had in Portugal. All the different orange slices though didn’t really mesh well with the cheesecake, which was a little disappointing.

Mmm… blood orange sorbet.

The hit for me was the shortcake, which surprised me because that’s not my usual fare. The cake component was crunchy and pleasant, working well with the cream and berries underneath it. I hit a super tart berry, but no one else had this happen, so I must’ve won the berry lottery. The raspberry ice cream that this was paired with was nothing short of amazing.

Every one was happy at the end. My mom thought since the portions were on the small side, she wasn’t going to get full. I doubt she’s going to be pulling through a drive thru on the way home.

Thanks craft! I’m looking for the next excuse to justify coming back!

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Mogu Mogu Mazemen and Ramen – Ramen Without the Annoying Soup

Deluxe Mazemen – Mmmm… eggs

So I noticed when I was driving near the Japantown area in West Los Angeles doing whatever it is that I do, one of our favorite places to get ramen, Dosanko, had disappeared with a new place already in its spot. I looked it up and I found that they’re in their grand opening phase of business and their signature items were being sold for 50% off. Well, I grabbed my lady and dragged her out to try Mogu Mogu! If you’re interested, mogu mogu is Japanese onomatopoeia that sounds like chewing.

So for starters, what is Mazemen? Ramen, hold the soup. Maze (まぜ) is translated by Google as meaning “mixed”. Men(麵) is noodles. So just a guess, noodles that you mix together?

Standard practice for us when we visit a new restaurant is to order two different items so that we can try each others food. We both opted for types of mazemen as this form of cuisine is new to us. She ordered the deluxe, I went for the cheese.

The server was very helpful in explaining the process of eating mazemen. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for foods that have some form of procedure. For example, in soba shops in Japan they will reserve the water the soba was boiled in and at the end of your meal, mix it with your soba dipping sauce giving you a nice soup to end your meal. So here’s what I got:

Cheese Mazemen!

The first step, as they list it, is to take a picture and post it on social media. I’m pretty sure it’s an optional step, but maybe not so much these days… The second step is to mix it up for 30 seconds, resulting in:

Mixed up! The random chashu chunk was added by my dining partner. Note it has a creamy sheen to it, that’s the cheese doing its thing.

Then I plowed through about half of it to get to the next step. The noodles were chewy. The flavors were nice! I’m enjoying the combination of all the toppings. The third step is to add their umami vinegar and mix that into what you have left to change the flavor. I’m a huge vinegar fan, so I was done to do this. And yes, it kind of turned my noodles into a different, but pleasant experience!

The final step is that they’ll give you a very small amount of rice to toss into the bowl to soak up whatever soup is left in there. It’s a practice that brought me back to when I was in Italy and they were telling me to sop up whatever sauce was left on my plate with bread.

Soak up the sauce with rice. Way more civilized than licking your bowl and possibly getting nori in your hair.

Even with the small amount of rice, I found I hadn’t left enough sauce to soak the rice. But that’s really a me problem. Chalk that up to inexperience.

Overall, the food was tasted good. The service was quick and helpful. They did run us through the mazemen tutorial so if you’re not into reading the wall, don’t fret. The rpice without the grand opening promotion will be pretty standard for ramen, going around $10 for one of the standard options. I’d note they also have soup ramen as well and a variety of appetizers.

There’s a small amount of parking in an attached lot, and some metered street parking on Olympic. It’s far enough away from Japantown that I don’t think you’ll encounter the same parking nightmare when you come here. There are three tables for groups of 4 and six smaller ones for pairs. I didn’t visit the bathroom here, but if I know they have one from when it was Dosanko and Ramenya. Two screens were showing anime at the time I visited (just before noon). So if you’re a solo eater or you’re just not that into whoever you’re eating with, they got you covered.

I’ll be back, I’m looking forward to my next trip!

Mogu Mogu Ramen is located at 11555 W Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles. The cross street is Colby. They’re open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30am until 3pm, then again from 5pm until 10pm. You can check them out at https://mogumoguus.com/

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Initial D Changed the Way I Drive

In case you’ve never heard of it, Initial D is a Japanese manga/anime about street racing. More specifically, the protagonist is a downhill racer who learned his skills by being forced to help his dad’s business out by delivering tofu to a hotel on the other side of a mountain pass.

I can guess what you’re thinking. I read a comic book and now I think I’m qualified to race in NASCAR.

Reading the story did not give me delusions of street racing grandeur. I don’t floor it the second the light turns green because I entered into some imaginary race with the cars that are adjacent to me.

Actually, what has happened is the manga has made me think about why Takumi is such a good driver, how he continues to grow throughout the story, and how I might be able to apply the same principles to my own driving.

For starters, Takumi once told his friends that his dad makes him deliver tofu with a paper cup of water placed in his cup holder. His dad said that if you drive too crazy, you’ll damage the tofu. You’ll know that you’re damaging the tofu if the water spills from the cup. So Takumi learned how to drive without spilling the water. Then he learned how to drive fast without spilling the water.

I did not attempt to replicate his training. There are speed bumps on my street and I’m pretty sure no matter how much I baby my car over those bumps, I’m going to splash water everywhere. Probably on to my crotch.

But what I did take away from it was that Takumi said it was really difficult to drive without spilling. If accelerating or braking was even a little rough, the water would fly out of the cup. Thinking about that idea, I tried to drive smoother by feathering the brake and being gentle with the accelerator. Something else that stuck out was that Natsuki (his girlfriend of sorts) said that she usually gets carsick, but doesn’t when Takumi drives. I wondered if that principle could be applied to my own girlfriend. The jury is still out on that, but I do now notice that when I ride in other peoples cars, their driving tends to be a lot rougher than my own. I’ve shared this with some people and they said that this style of driving is how limo drivers are supposed to drive.

And now because I’m paying attention to being more gentle with the pedals, I’ve also found that my brain is more focused on driving and made me more attentive. Trips to places aren’t as boring. Also because I’m actively trying not to have the people or objects in my car be affected by sudden changes in inertia, I’m more attentive to the speed and location of the cars around me. In general, I’m paying attention more and I think that’s a welcome thing in this world of distractions.

Another thing in the manga that the other characters discuss is why Takumi can beat newer, more powerful cars using an old 86. Part of the reason is that he only slows down when necessary to make turns and he places a minimum amount of stress on his tires and brakes. How am I applying this to everyday driving? By going more with the flow of traffic. Ever see those douchebags that weave in and out of traffic, changing lanes suddenly and powering down their new lane only to step on the brakes like five seconds later? Sometimes I pace my progress compared to those people and more often than not, when I stay in one lane I’ll still see that car several minutes later. It’s made me realize that in the grand scheme of things, driving like an idiot might save you a minute if you can somehow always make lane changes into the lane that has the fastest moving traffic. But what are the odds anyone can do that? So maybe you should chill out and just listen to some music? It’s safer to just go at whatever speed everyone else is going and there will likely be less accidents.

The manga and anime are among my favorites. I love the eurobeat soundtrack for all five seasons and sometimes when I’m working, I’ll have the anime playing in the background. Check out the series if you haven’t already! Don’t crash your car though.

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To the Bay Area and back again

So last week we were in the Bay Area visiting family. Prior to this our mechanic was complaining about how we don’t drive our cars enough which can lead to problems. So instead of flying we decided to drive up there. We had a pleasant ride up and after a couple of days of jet lag caused by living with little children and being forced to their schedule I got a fair amount of work done at random coffee houses around where they live. Paris Baguette Cafe was definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

During this trip I also met up with a college friend whom I hadn’t been in contact with for about 20 years. It’s surprising how familiar a person can feel despite a long block of time passing. She has a doctorate, has two kids, but despite that it was almost like going back in time. I’d forgotten she has a penchant for saying the word, “Dude” a lot. Well worth the effort of driving a little to meet up.

On the way back we decided to visit San Luis Obispo to visit Hearst Castle. I’d been there back when I was kid, but I don’t remember anything other than it being a very long drive. I’d forgotten that it’s not actually a castle. They do have a nice forty minute film that talks about William Hearst and why he built it and such. I was expecting a snoozefest, but it was actually quite interesting! Go see the movie if you happen to be visiting!

My favorite part of this place: the pool!

Afterwards we stayed at the famous Madonna Inn. It’s a hotel with 110 differently themed rooms. Through the power of Yelp, we discovered a restaurant called the Firestone Grill, specializing in Tri-tip sandwiches. It was amaze-a-balls. The steak was tender, the sauce was sweet and tangy, and the bread was buttered and toasted to delicious perfection. Well worth stopping in for if you happen to be in that area! Afterwards we walked around town for a bit and then headed back to the hotel where I swam in their heated pool for a bit then called it a night.

Our room was in this building
This tasted about a billion times better than it looked.

My uncle on my dad’s side lives in nearby Santa Maria, so we popped in there for brunch. I got to meet a couple of his grandkids who I’ve only been aware of because of Facebook. I think of my dad’s side of the family as a bunch of lone wolves because they’re all spread out far enough from each other that it takes some effort to visit each other. But maybe that’s why when visits do happen it’s so satisfying.

I’m back home now and it’s the pollenacolypse here. My sneezing has increased considerably, and shortly after waking up I had a coughing fit. Time to vacuum and snort nasal spray.

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