Saturday, January 16, 2016

antibiotics and anti-inflammatories: a story and a "pudding" recipe

Some of you may know that I have been battling an awful kidney infection since early December. I was lucky that the doctors diagnosed it so quickly when I finally broke down and went to the emergency room!

What followed, though, is what I find to be the biggest difficulty of living with non-top-8 food allergies, especially while being overseas. I needed an antibiotic  in order to heal, but everything the doctor tried to prescribe to me was full of either corn or gluten. Most of the time, the labels did not say "corn," so alerting the pharmacist and medical team that I had to avoid corn made no difference. The doctor gave up pretty quickly, so Ben and I had to spend hours after my appointment on a late Sunday night, researching the medications they had in stock at the pharmacy. Luckily, the pharmacist was patient and did not seem to mind taking out all the pill-based antibiotics there so we could examine the ingredient lists, check websites, and compare them to the very small database of possible "corn-safe" and "gluten-safe" medications others with my allergies have been able to tolerate. The few we did find were cross-reactive to penicillin, and I have a penicillin allergy in my file. (Later on, we did a lab test, since I had a bad allergic reaction last time I had penicillin. The penicillin  test came back negative a few weeks later, so I finally have confirmation that the previous reaction was due to the corn in the meds and not the penicillin itself!) We finally found one, and the pharmacist convinced the doctor to write out another prescription.

Because of the severity of my allergies, she suggested that I take the meds under a doctor's care, so I had to make a follow-up appointment with a family practice doctor before I could start my course of antibiotics. This appointment also took hours, but this time the doctor and pharmacists worked with me to try and find something that was effective and also safe! The issue is that we didn't yet have the penicillin results back, so I was limited by the food-allergies in addition to a possible penicillin allergy. I did have some minor allergic reactions, but after several hospital visits and hours of research, we finally found an antibiotic that was safe for me to take! Unfortunately, though, it was not the best antibiotic for getting rid of a kidney infection. We finally agreed that I would take the full course and then make a follow-up appointment in January if it didn't work.

Fast-forward two weeks, and the kidney infection that had started to go away was now back in full force. Luckily, I received the penicillin labs the same day as my doctor appointment (negative, yay!) and I was able to get a large (4 shot) injection of a strong antibiotic that I was assured should do the trick. The medical staff also recommended taking anti-inflammatory medication (which, of course, I can't take because of the allergies) and to use any home remedies for inflammation that I could find to help the antibiotics do their job.

So, here is the reason for this post! I did some research on several anti-inflammatory foods to help kidney functions, and then put a bunch of them together to create some new recipes. Below is my favorite - even once the infection is gone for good, I'll definitely be using this one. It makes a great, healthy breakfast or snack!

Anti-Inflammatory, Paleo-Friendly Pudding (it's not actually's more the consistency of fro-yo or ice cream. I have no idea of what to call it! If any of you dear readers end up making it and can come up with a stellar name for it, let me know!)


- 1 cup thick coconut milk (I use this one!)
- 1 frozen banana
- 10 frozen cherries
- 1/3 cup fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon

- 1 tbsp flax meal (great anti-oxidant with lots of Omega-3's, and excellent for inflammation)
- 1/2 tsp D-Mannose (excellent for treating a UTI in case you ever have one)


Simply place all of your ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth! If you want a thicker, fro-yo sort of texture, put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes before eating.

**Optional: Since I've been making this concoction every day for the last week or so, I've been experimenting with some ways to change it up a bit.

- Exchange 1/3 of the coconut milk for 1/3 cup of Greek yogurt, especially if you're taking antibiotics! That "good" bacteria is important!
- After blending, add some mix-ins! I like to add some crunch to mine, so I've added different combinations of the following: cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, granola, or even a few chocolate chips to satisfy a sweet tooth!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

yummy yakiniku

If you've been in Japan for very long, you will probably have heard about yakiniku. If you're new to Japanese cuisine, yakiniku is translated as "grilled meat" and refers to a broad variety of bite-sized meats cooked on a grill. It's very easy to make yakiniku at home, and you'll often see locals cooking in this style with portable grills during festivals.

Yakiniku with veggies, rice, and lettuce
This style of cooking is also popular in restaurants, and as many have discovered, not all yakiniku restaurants are considered equal. Many of these establishments include all-you-can eat buffets or sets, where diners can choose their style of raw meats and veggies to cook on their own table-top grills. While it may be tempting to choose an inexpensive ¥1000, all-you-can eat yakiniku restaurant, the variety and quality of ingredients typically won't be very high. This is where Yakiniku King comes in!

Located on Highway 58 between Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base, Yakiniku King offers better quality meats, including several types of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood that are available in differently priced sets. The sets, which start at about ¥2600 per person for dinner, include a variety of different ingredients and meals to choose from. The mid-range set (referred to as the "Standard Course," which costs ¥2900) contains more than 100 different food options, to include rice and lettuce, meat and seafood, noodle dishes, Korean bibimbap, hot pots, various side dishes, and even dessert options!

Once diners have chosen their set, ordering is a breeze! All you have to do is choose the dishes you want to try, using a handy handheld digital tablet. There is even an English option for those customers who aren't able to read Japanese! Once the order is placed electronically, a server will bring your food and beverages right to the table. Orders are unlimited, as long as you place and eat them within the allotted 90 minute time frame.

While ordering on the tablet is entertaining, the real pleasure comes cooking and eating the actual meal. Once your raw food arrives, you can season and cook it to your liking with your table's built-in grill and the provided selection of sauces. Some meats come with sauce already and others come with only salt, so you can use soy, ponzu, lemon, or yakiniku sauce(s) to glaze your meat or use for dipping later on.

Customer service at Yakiniku King is wonderful! The servers can be called to refill drinks or provide a new grill net at the push of a button. The food is of nice quality and the vast variety of foods on the menu provides options for meat-lovers, for vegetarians, and for those who may have food allergies. It's no wonder this place has become one of our family's favorite places for a dinner with friends!

Friday, January 1, 2016

sunrises and fukubukuro

A few year's back, I wrote about some of the Christmas customs in Japan. This year, I thought I'd touch on some of the many traditions surrounding the coming of the new year, also known as Shogatsu!

Before the New Year

While most of the celebrations and traditions take place on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, some of them begin much earlier and continue well into the new year. For example, it's customary to decorate a few days before the new year begins using kadomatsu (ornamental decorations to place outside the home or business) and shimekazari (wreaths that are hung above door posts) made of pine, rice straw, and/or bamboo. These also typically contain items that are considered to be auspicious, such as oranges (to symbolize multiple generations and a long family line), or plum blossoms (symbolic of the spring to come and new life).

                       Shimekazari hanging near a doorway                                           Kadomatsu outside a home

Another tradition that begins a bit before the actual new year is known as o-souji, which literally means "big cleaning." Similar to the American "spring cleaning," this is a time to purify one's house and/or workspace to make them ready and fresh for the new year.

Before the new year arrives, it's customary to send out nengajyo, or New Year's cards. The post offices are often very busy during this time of year because of this, though apps and e-cards to make your own nengajyo are becoming more and more popular. The cards often have the zodiac animal for the new year in addition to wishes for prosperity and health. This is a wonderful way to let friends and family know that you're thinking of them as the new year arrives, just as westerners often do during the Christmas/holiday season.

New Year's card for 2016, the year of the monkey 

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve is a time for family and friends! Many travel to their hometowns to be with family during this time, and others host parties and celebrations with food and games. There are a few popular television programs that air annually on New Year's Eve as well! Some of these include Kohaku (a New Year's Eve music show that divides popular musical artists into competing teams) and Gaki no Tsukai  (a variety and comedy show that includes a segment where the participants are put into silly situations and must try not to laugh - if they laugh, they are hit on the behind with a bat, which often makes the rest of the participants laugh).

At midnight, it's customary to visit a local shrine or temple to literally ring in the new year, in addition to giving thanks for the protection of the previous year and to pray for a prosperous year to come. The Buddhist temples ring the bells 108 times at the stroke of midnight to welcome the new year.

Small Shinto shrine near our house at midnight on New Year's Eve

New Year's Day 

Hatsuhinode is the first sunrise of the year, and it's customary to wake up early in order to watch the sun come up for the first time in the new year. Often, mountaintops and beaches are packed with people, as these locations offer beautiful views of the sunrise. We are lucky to live where we do right now, because a beautiful view of the sun rising over the water is just feet away!

Hatsuhinode view from our balcony - Jan. 1, 2016

It's a good thing there are several Starbucks shops nearby for an early morning energy boost, because New Year's Day is a huge day for shopping! Likened to Black Friday, January 1 is a good day to find deals at your favorite shops. While many shops offer store-wide discounts from January 1-5, one of the main draws during this time is known as fukubukuro. Fukubukuro are known as lucky bags - they are basically surprise bags with goods inside. Usually the bags are sealed to keep the contents a secret, though basic descriptions are provided so you at least know the general type of product you're purchasing. Sometimes, sample bags are even displayed so the purchaser has an idea of what to expect!

We've seen fukubukuro at grocery stores, bakeries, mall shops, and even designer suit stores! The bags range in price, depending on the shop and the contents. The price is set for each type of bag, but you won't know what exactly you purchased until you unpack the contents after returning home. Typically, the bags have multiple items inside and the price you pay is a fraction of what you would have paid for the items separately.

Some of the fukubukuro we saw at the mall today

We really lucked out this year with what we bought! It's exciting to have a mall nearby, and we found fukubukuro at many of our favorite shops. After purchasing a few lucky bags, we returned home to unwrap our surprises. We tallied up the total cost of what we spent versus the total worth of the items, and found that we only spent about 1/3 of the total worth! What a deal!

Fukubukuro goodies: great deals on some things we've been wanting for a while!

These are just a few of the many New Year's traditions we've encountered so far in Japan, though I know there are several others! We wish you a happy new year, regardless of where you are, and hope that you enjoy your annual customs and traditions!