ALL The Ramen!

Sendai ramen

As a result of my Japanese heritage, my palate has always been primed for ramen.  I’m not talking about the economical dried version which has become a rescue meal for most monetarily challenged college students (admittedly, I availed myself of this habit when I was a struggling college student and also holding down two jobs).  I’m talking about authentic, Japanese ramen which can be found in ramen houses in Japantown areas around the United States, as well as ramen shops and yatai (stalls) throughout Japan.  A steaming bowl of authentic Japanese ramen is a masterpiece, full of slurpy golden noodles, briny broth, meat, and vegetables, irresistible and unforgettable.

There are over 32,000 ramen houses throughout Japan, and there are enough ramen varieties and regional variations to steep your fascination for this delectable soup.  It is quite common to see long lines of people spilling onto the street in anticipation of a bowl of heaven from the more popular noodle joints.

In the months leading up to my trip to Japan, which took place in March of 2020, ramen was the dish I was the most excited about eating while in my maternal grandparents’ native land.  Even though I am supposed to avoid wheat and eggs, I was NOT about to deprive myself of ramen while in Japan.  I ended up paying the price every single time I consumed a bowl of ramen, developing abdominal cramping within 20 minutes after ingesting each bowl of those incredible noodles.  Then the next day, I was ready to eat more ramen, even though I knew full well that my belly would writhe in digestive protest.

There wasn’t a single bowl of ramen I had while in Japan that was less than spectacular, and I truly got a kick out of the bizarre yet efficient way in which most ramen houses had their patrons order (basically, you order from a station and pay through it as well, without any human interaction).  I was also intrigued by the distinct regional variations which popped up depending on what prefecture I was visiting.  Curious about the main types?  Click here to learn more.

Sapporo Ramen…miso base with ground chicken, crabmeat

I quickly noticed that in Sapporo, miso ramen was featured in many of the ramen-ya.  And before you think it’s just a basic miso, noodle masters add in fresh garlic and ginger and simmer with pork broth for an unbelievably tasty concoction.

Kyoto Ramen

Kyoto Ramen

I had both shoyu ramen (first image above) and miso ramen while in Kyoto, and loved both.  Then as I headed further south, I encountered creamy, extremely flavorful broth.  In Okayama, I encountered a specific type of  tonkotsu style broth, made from slow simmered pork, but with Okayama-specific seasonings.  Delicious.

Okayama ramen

Then I arrived in Kumamoto, my grandmother’s birthplace, and noticed that the ramen houses featured a very milky, rich, flavorful broth which was also made from pork bones for many hours.  Though I am not a big consumer of pork, I was happy to ingest it daily as part of my almost daily ramen indulgence.

Obviously with all the ramen around, I didn’t follow a low carb diet.  In fact, I had rice balls to snack on whenever I rode the shinkansen (bullet train), and I had a devil of a time finding high protein meals or snacks of any kind.  So I just allowed myself to enjoy the constant carb bump for 2 weeks straight. If you ever travel to Japan, don’t deprive yourself of ramen, rice, mochi, manju, and other carb-heavy foods.  You will be moving around so much during the day that you will burn off the carbs pretty steadily.

I’m A Jasmin Influencer!

I am so thrilled to be a Jasmin Influencer!  I have been with them since early December, and I have a blast creating highlights for the site and posting every day.  Yes that’s right, every single day, even on holidays and weekends!

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Finally Going to Japan

source: 123rf
Image ID : 75553096
copyright : Sasin Tipchai

 

Next week I will be in Japan for two weeks, and though it hasn’t quite sunken in yet, I will finally see the country which is responsible for 50% of my DNA makeup and many of the  sensibilities and habits which were instilled in me when I was little.

For over 50 years, my desire to visit Japan was coupled with remorse over even wanting to visit without my mother, since she has never once visited the country from which her parents came.  Even more guilt-inducing was thinking about how in the world I could believe that my diluted, half-Japanese self had any right to visit Japan if my mother never got a chance.   For those of you who are wondering why I am not taking my mother on this trip, she is 87 years old, wheelchair-bound, incontinent, and actually refuses to take any trips anywhere due to her weary, broken state.  I know that she will live vicariously through me, as I retell the stories and experiences which I am about to create on this journey to the motherland.

Over the course of 14 days, I will visit Sapporo, Sendai, Kyoto/Osaka, Nara, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Fukuoka (the prefecture which my grandfather was from), Kumamoto (the prefecture my grandmother was from), Okayama, and Tokyo.  Most of my destinations within the land of the rising sun will be reached via Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train.

Because samurai blood runs deep on my grandfather’s side (we are also ultimately descended from the Imperial Family of Japan), I look forward to seeing the older architecture in some areas, and also plan to visit the cemetery in Fukuoka where some of my ancestors are buried.  But what I look forward to more than anything else while I am in Japan is the FOOD.

Many Japanese foods, like chawanmushi, mochi, takuan, sukiyaki, agedashi, ramen, sashimi, anpan, and manju, are my comfort foods, and since I will have all types of Japanese cuisine available to me to sample for two weeks, I have a feeling my taste buds will be very happy.  I also absolutely adore seafood (perhaps I was a cat in a past life), and will probably be eating it every single day while out there, which is why I will also continue to take chlorella daily to control the mercury levels in my body.

Once I return home, I look forward to creating a blog post in which I discuss my adventures in Japan.  It will truly be a blessing to visit the exquisitely beautiful country within which my family’s roots sit.

5 Fun Facts About Kentucky

Image Credit: Pixabay

When thinking of American states, the traditionally large and populous ones are the first to come to mind. States like New York, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are typically the first ones people think of. One of the commonly overlooked states is Kentucky. Often associated with southern culture and located near the heart of the U.S, the state of Kentucky has a lot to offer residents and visitors alike. So if you’re looking for Louisville houses for sale or Lexington real estate then it would probably behoove you to learn some facts and history about the Bluegrass state. So here’s five fun facts about Kentucky.

Horse Capital of the World
If there’s one thing you should know about Kentucky, it’s that they love their horse racing. There are many tracks in Kentucky, and even more horse breeders and jockeys. In fact, the state has been dubbed the horse racing capital of the world since the sport is so prominent in the area. One of the biggest reasons for horse racing’s local popularity is the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby is the oldest and most popular horse race in the country, held at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Thousands of people visit the state each year to see the Kentucky Derby, and millions more watch the event on T.V. However, Kentucky horse racing goes well beyond the Kentucky Derby, as the sport is ingrained into the local culture.

Celebrities and Politicians
Like many states, Kentucky is home to a handful of celebrities and famous politicians. Many people associate Abraham Lincoln with the state of Illinois, but the man who couldn’t tell a lie was actually originally born in the Bluegrass state. Ironically, Abraham Lincoln’s archrival, Jefferson Davis, was also born in Kentucky. Kentucky also has a smattering of celebrities born in-state as well. This includes Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Depp, Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lawrence, and George Clooney.

Holidays and Celebrations
Kentucky has also had a handful of contributions to the holidays and celebrations that we hold in America. When it comes to birthday celebrations, they wouldn’t be the same without Kentucky. Two Kentucky residents coined the famous “Happy Birthday Song”, and now it is sung at nearly every birthday celebration across the country. In addition, a resident of the state is credited with creating the holiday of Mother’s Day. According to the story, Mary Wilson was the first to recognize her mother on this holiday before it caught on. Over time more and more people began adopting the holiday. In 1916, Mother’s Day was officially made a federal holiday, however, its origins still trace back to Kentucky.

Food and Beverage
Several famous food and beverages are claimed to have originated in the state of Kentucky. For example, there is a claim that the cheeseburger originated in Kentucky in 1934. Also, the famous restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is true to its name and originated in Kentucky. Kentucky Fried Chicken started out as a small restaurant in Kentucky, but quickly grew to one of the world’s largest fast-food chains. In addition, the popular alcoholic beverage bourbon gets its name from Bourbon County, a county in Kentucky. The name comes from the fact that the county is where the beverage was first distilled.

Fort Knox
One of the most interesting locations in Kentucky is Fort Knox. Fort Knox is one of the most famous Army posts in the entire country. This stems from the fact that the U.S keeps a large portion of its gold reserves at this location. It is said that over half of the U.S gold reserves are stored in this location, totaling several millions of dollars in value. All of this gold in one location means that there is a need for high security. That’s why Fort Knox is one of the most well-guarded places in the world, spawning a saying that spans the entire country. If you’ve ever heard that something is “as secure as Fort Knox”, then now you know why.

Magical Thailand

image 15767344
Copyright : pakhnyushchyy

Last November I traveled to Thailand with an open mind and no set itinerary, and I fell in love with the country. From the island vibes of Koh Samui, to the many temples scattered throughout Chiang Mai, to the metropolitan atmosphere of Bangkok, Thailand far exceeded my expectations.

There was so much to do and see that the ten days which were earmarked for the trip weren’t nearly enough. Yet my friend Sasha and I were ambitious enough to travel to areas in north, south, and central Thailand, and we noticed differences between the areas.

If you like the idea of being on an island, then you might want to consider island hopping, but make sure that you designate most or all of the trip for the islands instead of trying to conquer areas on the mainland as well. Consider visiting Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Chang, Phuket, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Kood, etc.

Here’s a link to an article which describes the Thai islands in a bit more detail: https://www.roughguides.com/article/best-thailand-islands/

When we were on Koh Samui, we drove around the island (which took all of an hour), which was a bit of a challenge since Thai residents drive on the left side of the road, and the traffic is rather haphazard. We spent time on the beach, indulged in fresh seafood, got massages, and relaxed.

After four nights on Koh Samui, it was off to Chiang Mai, where we visited a number of Buddhist temples. As someone who identifies as a Buddhist, I immensely enjoyed honoring the Thai temples and praying to Buddha. Evidently there are over 300 Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. A word of warning though: Do NOT wear anything with Buddha’s image, such as a t-shirt. Thai people take honoring Buddha very seriously, and if you are seen using Buddha’s image as decoration, you could be arrested and thrown in jail!

Image 51223199 –
Copyright : Sutichak Yachiangkham

While in Chiang Mai, we also spent a half day at Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, where we fed and bathed the elephants. It was a tremendous experience and one which I highly recommend. Another activity which we found ourselves doing quite a bit of was shopping, which was surprising since shopping isn’t exactly one of my favorite activities. However, it is quite an experience to visit the night markets, not just for the souvenirs, but also for the sensory experience. The sounds, the sights, the aromas of Chiang Mai will surround you in such a way that you won’t mind so much that you are sweating through your clothing in the sweltering humidity and heat.

Last stop was Bangkok, where we spent two nights (“two nights in Bangkok”…I know, it’s supposed to be one night…) consuming fantastic food, visiting more temples, the Golden Palace, and getting fantastic massages at Perception Blind Massage. During the earlier part of our Thailand trip, we had made the mistake of going to two different massage places (one right on the beach while in Koh Samui, and the other in Chiang Mai) which were cheaper, but the masseuses were of questionable skill, and the massages were NOT good. But Perception Blind Massage in Bangkok (800 baht for 60 minutes, which is about $28) and Natural Wing Spa on Koh Samui were exceptional and well worth the extra expense.

A Thailand vacation is very reasonable on the pocketbook, so you will be able to explore the country in many different ways without breaking the bank. Typical dishes in most restaurants run around 50 to 80 baht ($1.70 to $2.70 right now), and a GOOD massage will run about 800 baht ($27). Hotels are also very reasonably priced, with a 5 star hotel in Bangkok averaging about $90 per night.

A Beach Inspired Haven

I’ve had a fixation with beach-themed bathrooms for over a decade now, and love using shells and beach-themed décor as fun accents to remind me of the ocean and the beach. When I moved to a new residence this past January, I decided to really have fun with the beach theme, and I took it to the extreme.

One of the features I have displayed in my bathroom is a collection of clear containers which hold sand and shells from different beaches I have visited.  Included in this collection are sand and shell samples from Hawaii, Costa Rica, Bali, Thailand and the Maldives.  Whenever I look at my collection, I am transported back to those magical destinations which captured my heart and spirit.

Whenever I feel like escaping to an island getaway, but I am stuck in Los Angeles, I’ll take a bubble bath while surrounded by my sand and shell collection, lit candles, and starfish lights.  It’s a wonderful way for me to recharge and to surround myself with reminders of my favorite terrain.  I also love the fact that I finally have a full bathtub in my bathroom after 20 years of having shower stalls.  Whenever my schedule allows, I try to take a relaxing bath, which beats taking a quick shower any day.

My International Travel Promise To Myself

Copyright : Sebastien Decoret

Back in 2014, I made a promise to myself that I would visit a foreign country, preferably one I had not visited before, every even-numbered year. I designated every even year primarily as a means to give myself enough time to prepare my schedule and my finances to be able to travel every other year, and I also chose that interval because I felt a strong itch to visit a foreign country in 2014.

Why was I struck with this idea in 2014? One reason was that I suddenly realized that year that I had not taken a bona fide vacation since 2007. The second and more compelling reason stemmed from deep conversations I had with my dear friend and meditation teacher, who was quickly succumbing to a very aggressive and deadly brain tumor. On more than one occasion during my visits with him, he told me, “Don’t wait to do the things you have always wanted to do, because you might run out of time to do them.”

What Rob told me really got me thinking. I thought of how my mom had a number of big dreams dashed because she had always pushed them to the side, believing that she either didn’t deserve to pursue them, or that her dreams would never come to fruition. For example, she had entertained a strong interest in travel, but she always made excuses for why she couldn’t go on vacations or getaways. In fact, the only “vacations” she ever took were when one of her siblings fell ill or died, and she had to fly to Hawaii to visit. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t think such trips should ever count as vacations, especially since they are so emotionally difficult. It’s not like my mom went to Hawaii and had a grand time at the funerals she attended.

Though I had traveled to various destinations for reasons other than the death of a relative, I knew that I had also fallen into a similar trap of making excuses about being too busy to take a vacation. So in the Spring of 2014 I decided to travel to Prague to compete in an IFBB Pro event, and figured that I would also visit Hungary, which was on my bucket list of destinations to visit.

My friend Rob passed away on April 29, 2014. After spending several weeks grieving for him, I decided to act upon my proposed travel plans to Eastern Europe. As I was planning the trip, I realized that since I would be in prep for a bodybuilding show, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Prague as a vacationing traveler, and also realized that I would only have a couple of days to explore Hungary. I ultimately decided not to compete, and instead booked a 7-day trip to Hungary which I completed in September of 2014.

Hungary turned out to be just as magical as I imagined it to be, and I honestly felt like I was honoring my dearly departed friend Rob when I was there. By an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to travel to Sydney, Australia and Bali the following month. Satisfied with having traveled to 3 new countries, I resolved to go somewhere new in 2016.

In March of 2016, I flew to Costa Rica, adding to my list of foreign destinations and keeping my promise to Rob and myself to travel internationally in an even year. After my Costa Rica trip, I wasn’t able to save money consistently for a trip in 2018, but whenever I had a chance to set something aside, I did.

I’m proud to say that I have fulfilled my promise yet again this year, when I traveled to the Maldives in September, and to Thailand earlier this month. Both trips were absolutely amazing, and I feel spiritually richer because of those experiences. I love the fact that I am able to say that I added six new countries in the last 5 years to my foreign travel roster, and I have every intention of adding to the list in 2020. My goal is to save up for a trip to Japan in 2020, but if I am unable to save enough money to travel to that destination, I will select a more reasonably priced excursion so that I can stay on track with my travel goals.

For those of you who are curious about what foreign countries I have visited, here is the list:

England (1980)
France (1980)
Switzerland (1980)
Italy (1980)
Germany (1980)
Austria (1980)
Greece (1980)
Turkey (1980)
Hungary (2014)
Mexico (1986, 1989, 1992)
Costa Rica (2016)
Australia (Sydney) (2014)
Bali (2014)
Maldives (2018)
Thailand (2018)

It will be exciting to think about what countries I will visit in the future. Some of the countries on my list include: Fiji, Bora Bora, Spain, Egypt, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nepal.

For those of you who dream of traveling, but who always seem to find a roadblock when trying to plan a trip, how about setting a similar goal to the one I have set for myself? You would give yourself at least a year to save up money between trips, and you would be able to travel to destinations you’ve always wanted to see.