I fell in love with the flavor of mackerel when traveling in Japan. This Sriracha lime marinade adds a light freshness and helps balance the otherwise strong flavors of mackerel.
When I was on my Japan trip this past summer I stayed for a few days with Jiho, a Zen Buddhist monk in Oita. Oita is is a coastal town and I soon became spoiled with fresh seafood from the nearby market and fresh limes from Jiho’s garden.
Jiho’s favorite dish was taking a simple mixture of soy sauce, lime, green onion and garlic and then use it as a dipping sauce for mackerel sashimi. The citrus of the lime really helped cut the strong fishiness flavor of the mackerel – it was absolutely divine and easy to make!
Since coming home I’ve missed this dish – sashimi grade mackerel is tough to come by here in D.C. so I’ve taken to using the sauce as a marinade for grilled mackerel. I simply marinade the fish in the lime sauce for a few minutes, pan fry, and enjoy. The principals still hold true- simple to make and the citrus from the lime really adds a fresh flavor to the fish!
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Pan Fried Spanish Mackerel Marinated in a Sriracha Soy Lime Sauce
Exhausted, hurt, dazed, and confused – I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.
Running a marathon was always one of those goals I’ve had in the back of my mind, but never fully executed on – things would come up that diverted my attention. A year ago I was at a strange crossroads in my life and oddly decided running for 5+ hours would be the best use of my time, and registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. Having never run more than a half marathon and being badly out of shape, I knew I had a really long way to go.
My parents and friends pledged full support of my endeavor and my good friend Erik, a ultra marathon runner, even promised to draft up a training plan for me. When I later found out I had won the lottery and secured a spot in the race there was no turning back.
Training was tough – not physically but mentally. I simply had no motivation for my long runs. I was giving up partly through my runs and not accomplishing the distances I needed. I was beginning to question my decision to even run the Marine Corps Marathon in the first place. My training became even more difficult because halfway through my trip to Japan came up. Before leaving for Japan I could barely run 10 miles without stopping – how was I supposed to return from the trip and get re-motivated with less than 2 months to go?
Mile 16 – It’s amazing the boost a friendly face on the sideline can do for you.
Fueled by my parents booking hotels and flights to come see my first marathon, I had new focus in my marathon training. On one of the first weekends back, I ran 18 miles, only stopping to walk a mile roughly 13.5 miles into my run. It was the longest run I had ever done (and I could barely walk afterwards!) I was worried about the marathon now but Erik assured me I had broken through “the wall” and any subsequent run would be nothing. He was partly right, the following weekend I ran 15.6 miles without stoping. I felt great afterwards and even went to the Washington Nationals play-off game afterwards!
But trouble started again. My right foot began to bother me with symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis. With only two weeks until the marathon I decided to lay low and just rest, because I was going to run the marathon, foot be dammed!
Reality struck when my parents flew into D.C. on Friday, the weekend of the marathon. The reality of my foot injury and the closeness of the marathon began to set in. There was no turning back now as all the pieces were coming into play. The night before I could barely sleep. They say no-one sleeps before running marathons and they couldn’t be more right. Worried about my foot and beginning to doubt even running at all, I think I only managed about 3 hours of sleep.
Perhaps it was the energy from being anxious, and all the pre-race excitement, but the race started off without a hitch. I decided to run with the 5 hour group – something I thought was reasonable given my injury. The pace group I ran with through me off though. We would run and at the mile markers we would walk for 15~30 seconds, which wasn’t how I had trained.
My foot began hurting at mile one. While I was able to fight it off for the first thirteen miles or so (and stay with my pace group), the combination of throbbing pain and the constant start / stop of the pace group proved too much. I began walking around mile 14 to let my foot rest some. At mile 16 I popped some pain pills I had brought with me – but as expected didn’t do too much to kill the pain. I still had 10 miles to go! Mentally I began telling myself that it was just 10 miles – I could run that in my sleep. While the mental games worked for a few miles, I had to walk the majority of mile 19 through 21 and I began doubting again my decision to run and even began to contemplate defeat.
Although my friends and family are yelling at me like crazy, I’m really smiling because the finish is just within sight.
At mile 24, I turned the corner and, not expecting to see anyone, my mom surprised me with a huge smile and hug. That spurred me on, and then I saw one sign that changed my entire outlook. Someone, who appeared to be standing by themselves, was holding a sign that said “Remember this is your dream.” It struck me in a way nothing else had the entire day. After seeing countless “Worst parade ever” and “I only run if I’m being chased” signs I began to tune them out, but I noticed this one. And it became the mantra that stuck with me as I finished the race.
I had pledged to do a marathon. It was something I always had wanted to do. My original goal of getting a good time was long gone – but the dream of completing the actual marathon was still alive. As silly as it sounds, this one sign changed my entire outlook on the race. Sometimes in the mist of chaos we loose sight of what’s important. Our set backs and doubts can overcome us, if we let them. But our dreams remain sitting on the sidelines ready to be conquered. Sometimes all we need to get back on track is a gentle reminder of what those goals are, even if it’s from a complete stranger.
Queso fundido with chorizo is the perfect appetizer to spice up any meal!
Queso Fundido, Spanish for molten cheese, is a delicious Mexican appetizer that can add a bit of flare to any meal. My girlfriend and I always order queso fundido with added chorizo (a spicy Spanish sausage) when we are out at a Mexican restauraunt. After ordering it repeatedly at restaurants (and spending who knows how much) I decided to learn to make it on my own.
Turns out its a really easy recipe to recreate, you simply melt, then broil the cheese and top with the chorizo cooked separately. I’m beginning to question why its so expensive at restaurants!
The recipe below is a fairly simplified version. Feel free to add diced tomatoes, cilantro or sliced jalapeños after broiling to make it really something special! Served with tortilla chips, use it as an appetizer for the Super Bowl or just as a way to spice up a main course. I guarantee it will your new go-to side dish or appetizer!
The bridge framing this shot was all that was left of the Shukkeien Gardens after the bomb fell
The Bank of Japan was one of the few surviving buildings after the bomb fell.
Hiroshima is known for it’s Okonomiyaki. Seek it out!
The boat ride back from the Itsukushima Shrine was memorable
Old and New – the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is framed by a new construction in the background. Not wanting to completely erase the travesty of the bombing, Japan has opted to preserve the site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hiroshima: the sight of 80,000 horrors. On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. the US dropped the bomb that led to the end of the war.
When first planning my trip to Japan, I put Hiroshima as a top destination to go. I’ve read about the bombing in books, watched documentaries and movies, but wanted to experience it for myself. In doing so I learned a lot more about what happened then what is told in books.
Getting to Hiroshima
Hiroshima is a 2.5 hour train ride from Osaka, Japan. From Tokyo it’s roughly 5 hours. As it’s on the main train line through Japan, there are several daily Shinkansen trains passing through, including trains eligible for the JR Pass, so it’s an easy city to visit, logistically. From Hiroshima station the Atom Dome take trams 2 or 6 to the Genbaku Dome-mae Station, or I just walked, as it’s roughly one mile.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Ground Zero. Roughly 2000 feet (600 meters) above where this photo was taken, Little Boy was detonated with a force of 13 kilotons.
Inside the park is the A-Bomb Dome (otherwise known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial), which is famous for being the closest building to ground zero that survived. It is a haunting reminder of the devastating power of atomic weaponry.
In addition, I highly recommend visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a 50 yen entry fee (about 50 cents). The museum contains hundreds of artifacts of the victims. I learned that a large portion of the victims were children that the were in the city working that day as part of the Student Mobilization Policy.
The Student Mobilization Policy was a “volunteer” government program that had middle and high school age students working in factories and other public works projects. After the government relocated the women and children away from city centers, which were targets of US attacks, the students joined the work program. Their purpose that day was to clear firebreaks in Hiroshima in case of a future attack. Wandering through the museum and reading story after story about various child victims I learned that many Japanese blame their own government for the attack. Had the students not been in the city that day, clearing useless firebreaks, those victims would have been home safe in the hills.
A much needed pick me up after spending the day in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
After this moving experience, I took a much needed break and popped into a restaurant to get an okonomiyaki lunch. Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake famous in both Osaka and Hiroshima that is made from batter, cabbage, and bean sprouts and topped with a wide variety of options.
The Hiroshima style is cooked with bacon, egg and noodles. I washed it down with a beer to enjoy this delicious late lunch. In addition to Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima is famous for oysters. I tried them later in my visit, they are absolutely amazing!
Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine
Catching some of the later boats to see the Itsukushima Shrine Torii Gate at Sunset is well worth it!
The Torrii Gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima is an iconic Japanese image. Rebuilt several times over its history, the present structure dates from the mid 16th century. Built on pier-like structures, during high tide the shrine appears to be floating on water.
Only a short train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, I highly recommend the half day side trip while visiting the city.
Getting to Miyajima
With a JR pass one can do the trip for free, because the JR ferry that takes you from the shore to the island is included fare. You can also take a boat from the Peace Memorial, but this is not covered by the JR Pass.
From the Hiroshima train station take the JR Sanyo line to Miyajimaguchi station. Then walk to the ferry port and catch one of the half hourly ferries to the island. Pay attention to the tide schedule because while it’s neat to see the shrine when the water is low, high tide makes for the best photos.
Miyajima has a lot of hidden pathways that are fun to explore.
The Itsukushima Shrine is a 10 minute walk from the island pier. The best shots of the Torii gate itself are taken from the east side before approaching the Shrine. My sunset picture, above, was shot at this angle! The shrine itself offers little in terms of views and can be skipped without missing much, if you’re not up for the entry fee.
The island is also know for the deer that roam around freely, so pay close attention when eating a snack or picnic or you might have an unwanted visitor! Most of the activities, buildings and shops on the island close around 5PM, so if you want to do any sightseeing besides the gate itself be sure to arrive with enough time beforehand.
Although there are hotels on the island itself, I don’t think staying on Mijajima would be worth a night’s visit. I was able to see plenty of the island with just a few hours stroll, and it’s easy enough to get to from Hiroshima in an afternoon.
I enjoyed my time in Hiroshima. Not knowing what to expect, I left with a deeper understanding of not only the attack but of Japan itself. It was well worth the time to visit.
The fox is the main animal of Inari shrines and one can leave a note and draw a face for good luck!
More tori gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha
Heading back down from the main shrine at Fushimi Inari-taisha
One of the many sub shrines at Fushimi Inari-taisha
A photo shoot of Geisha in Kyoto
The many tori of Fushimi Inari-taisha
The main gate and temple of Fushimi Inari-taisha
Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, glimmering in the pond
Kyoto, city of thousands of shrine and temples. Having seen the Silver Pavilion the day before, it was time to see Kyoto’s crowning jewel: Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Unlike Ginkaku-ji, which was never actually covered in silver, Kinkaku-ji glimmers in the sunlight and is quite a spectacle to see.
While the main pavilion is the attraction of Ginkaku-ji, one should still spend time wandering around the gardens. From Ginkaku-ji we headed over to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine which is know for it’s thousands of torii gates that snake through the hillsides up to a sacred shrine at the top of the hill.
Red Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha
Donors can buy the larger torii gates and place a message or advertisement on them.
It was simply amazing to wonder through the tens of thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha. Quite a work out too – for those attempting to hike to the top it took us a good hour walking at a brisk pace. It was tough – the last mile or so was strictly up stairs. While there is no view at the top, it was still worth it to see all the small sub-shrines and just gawk at the thousands of gates you are walking through. Finally with a little time left we hopped on a train to see the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
One of the many gardens at the Tenryu-ji Temple
Before stopping at the grove we decided to pair our visit with a trip to the Tenryu-ji Temple. Tenryu-ji is ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. Tenryu-ji is the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.
The gardens are an incredible site to see and are apparently original (unlikes the buildings which have been rebuilt due to fires). The garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains. From the garden we exited and found us among the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Everyone going to Kyoto should spend some time to walk through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove was an amazing sight to see! Standing among the bamboo forrest with the day light filtering through is an experience that’s difficult to grasp with photographs and has to be experienced first had.
Both the forest and Tenryu-ji are a fairly short JR train ride from the Fushimi shrine so those with a JR Pass should have no excuse to visit.
It’s amazing really how many different experiences the temples in Kyoto give you. From glimmering gold, to thousands of red gates, to a forest of bamboo – Kyoto has at least one thing that will touch just about anyone’s heart and soul.
The Torii Gate at the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan is one of the largest such gates in Japan
Arriving in Kyoto I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Home to over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, picking exactly what to visit can be quite the challenge. We stayed at OKI’s Inn, which was fairly centrally located. Near-by was the Heian Shrine so we decided to explore this first.
The Heian Shrine, while not widely listed on any “Must Visit” Shrines in Japan quickly proved it’s worth. While the main shrine itself was incredibly impressive, what I found far more interesting were the gardens.
The stepping stones in Heian-jingu garden were the same stones Scarlett Johanson walks over in the movie Lost in Translation
The gardens at the Heian Shrine were broken into four different gardens – West, South, Middle and East.
For 600 yen you start by entering the West garden where the focus is a quiet pond named Byakko-ike. When we were there the gardens were almost empty and a light rain began to fall, creating a very relaxing and peaceful setting to wonder around.
From the West garden you enter the South garden which contain many beautiful cherry trees. Supposedly aristocrats once used this garden to create poems during grand parties that used to be held here.
Looking across the Seiho-ik pond from the East Garden
You then enter the middle garden. It contains the Soryu-ike (Blue Dragon) pond which features the Garyu-kyo, a walkway consisting of stone pillars which once served as foundation stones for the girders of Sanjo Ohashi and Gojo Ohashi, famous bridges in the center of the city of Kyoto. This pathway was also featured in a scene from Lost in Translation.
Finally one enters the East Garden which features a beautiful view across the Seiho-ike (habit of the phoenix) pond to the Taihei-kaku and the Shobi-kan buildings. The Taihei-kaku is a roofed bridge one can walk across and feed the koi and turtles from. A relaxing way to spend the afternoon. From the Heian Jingu Shrine we made our way to the Ginkaku-ji Temple, or Temple of the Silver Pavilion.
Temple of the Silver Pavilion
A sand imitation of Fuji-san at the Ginkaku-ji temple
Ginkaku-ji, while quite small, is famous for it’s sand gardens. It’s popularly called the “Silver Pavilion” because of the initial plans to cover its exterior in silver foil, which were never followed through. The sand garden of Ginkaku-ji has become particularly well known; the carefully formed pile of sand is said to symbolize Mount Fuji and is an essential element in the garden.
While not nearly not as impressive as Kinkaku-ji (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”), Ginkaku-ji is still a site worth visiting. The sand gardens, the moss garden, and the temple itself radiate in their own beauty.