be mine, il laboratorio del gelato

If you’re like me and subscribe to a north of fifty RSS feeds of food blogs, then you know that ice creams and popsicle recipes are on fire this month.

In fact, this week is purported to be the popsicle week. Although I set up my RSS feed so that I only scroll through the titles, as opposed to the partial or the full post, I succumbed to clicking on alluring titles like “Toasted Oatmeal Ice Cream,” “The Petrovsky Popsicle,” and “Ab-Haveej Bastani – Persian Carrot Juice and Saffron Ice Cream Float.” Clearly, I am attracted to the novel and the exotic.

But there is a purist in me too. The ice cream parlor that transformed me from a flamboyant to a minimalist ice-creamist was il laboratorio del gelato.

Located on the illustrious Ludlow street in New York City (think of Katz and Russ & Daughters), il laboratorio del gelato crafts and sells more than 180 flavors of gelatos and sorbets. Although il laboratorio sources most of its ingredients from local organic farms, what makes il laboratorio special is the freshness of ingredients.

Never have I felt as intrinsically connected to a flavor as I have at il laboratorio. As with most ice cream parlors, you are welcome and encouraged to try out different flavors before taking your final pick. As per usual, I tried out my favorite flavor first: mint. I remember distinctly that I mentally noted that moment as one that I would remember until I die. It felt as though I was on a hallucinogen. The gelato was so abuzz with flavor and depth that I felt like I reached a gustatory satori.

The olive oil gelato did not disappoint either. Although I have been using EVOO as the base of my cooking and salad dressings, I immediately discovered the true potential of olive oil at il laboratorio. Recall a passage you read in a book so beautiful that you read it ten times in a row, or a song that is so perfect that you listen to it on repeat for a week. Had I lived in New York City, I would probably have gone back to il laboratorio on a daily basis until I felt like I truly grasped the flavor of their ice cream.

Upon returning home, I embarked on a journey in search of the best olive oil gelato recipe. Although I did not have top quality EVOO or an ice cream maker for that matter, I still managed to make a disgusting batch of sweet milky ice topped with a layer of oil. Case to the point: fine ice cream is worth the money and the outing. Although it seems easy (all desserts are sweet, thus delicious, right?), the finest ice cream is a labor of love and obsessive research. You can truly taste it.

1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Marathon 2014

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One of my favorite short stories begins as so:

Toward the end of March, in St. Louis, slush fills the gutters, and dirty snow lies heaped alongside porch steps, and everything seems to be suffocating in the embrace of a season that lasts too long. Radiators hiss mournfully, no one manages to be patient, the wind draws tears from your eyes, the clouds are filled with sadness. Women with scarves around their heads and their feet encased in fur-lined boots pick their way carefully over patches of melting ice. It seems that winter will last forever, that this is the decision of nature and nothing can be done about it.

Such was the kind of winter I encountered this year. 2014 started with a grim outlook. Another month of appalling utility bills. Another month without sunlight. Another month of wearing two sweaters and a coat to sleep. Another five pounds gained from winter depression. Despite all the negatives, one thing that pulled me through this dreadful polar vortex was running.

Yes, I ran in snow, and yes, I slipped on ice. There were more days than I can remember where I stepped out of the door but immediately turned back. There were days when I got hopelessly lost in the woods and thought I was going to die.

Winter, however, is my favorite running season. I love the harsh but crisp air. I love not having to worry about sweating or showering after a run. I learned to love running (or rather jogging) on the soft bed of snow. And there is something incredibly satisfying about conquering the challenge of (a) getting out of the door when no one is outside, and (b) running against the icy wind until your face hurts and your hands are frozen.

This is all to say that I like running under extreme conditions. So when the extreme conditions went away, I looked for the next big challenge.

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Right around the time I made my first ever batch of sauerkraut, I looked up for nearby marathons. It took me ten minutes to find the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Marathon and five minutes to sign up. Everything was optimal: the location, the time, and the flavor. As someone who is allergic to serious sports, the self-described “Is this a Boston Qualifier? Hell no!!!!!” marathon instantly won my heart. And what could be better than getting beer and bratwurst as a reward of running 26.2 miles?

Drivable distance? Check. Under $100? Check. A good looking race t-shirt? Check. Humor? Check! 🙂

When my roommate, who is from Germany, agreed to run this race with me, I was sold.

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I broke every marathon training law I could possibly break. I did not run regularly. I hardly stretched. I barely did any cross training. I ate meals right before a run. I suddenly decided to go minimalist. I ran 22 miles two days before the race. I binge ate the day before the race. On the race day, I wore an outfit that I have never worn before and chose a pair of socks not designed for sports. Suffer did I. Bouts of shin splints. Blisters. Bloating. Soreness. Exhaustion in and out on the day of the race.

Yet, I got away with doing fine. It was my second marathon, and according to my Nike+ Running app, my time was approximately 4:30:00, averaging to about a 10 min/mi pace — exactly as I expected. Had it not been for the fact that I ran past the finish line after the half-marathon (the full-marathon repeats the half-marathon course), my chip would have recorded a more accurate and legitimate time. But alas, I always manage a good gaffe. At least I have a colorful story tell later. 😉

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On the race day, my roommate and I left Princeton at 5:10 a.m., and arrived at the German Club around six. There were ample parking by the time we arrived. We were greeted by four volunteers at the registration desk, located in the basement of the club. There was no IDing. The race packet contained a bib tag, a race t-shirt, and meal tickets. I bought with me a bottle of water, my iPod, a jacket, and a granola bar before hopping on to a shuttle bus (AKA a school bus), which took the runners to Pennypack Park.

Once at the park, your race packet will be placed neatly on the ground based on your bib number. There will be masking tapes and pens available; so don’t worry about losing your race packet. There were approximately fifteen porta-potties at the start/finish line. Caution: nervous and excited runners = long lines. My roommate and I ended up spending our entire prep time waiting in line until a minute before the race started.

The crowd looked very experienced. Since it had been four years since my last marathon, I was surprised by how technically prepared people were. Water bottle belts, compression socks, iPod sleeves… I think I even saw a man wearing Bedrock Sandals.

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There were a total of four waves. I started at the beginning of the third wave, quickly surpassing people early on but pacing myself later in the race. At around mile three, I was greeted by the guy who plays the accordion (as advertised). I really wished that I could have stopped to chat with him, but I figured that my mission was to run and his mission was to entertain.

The weather was perfect. Most of the course was shaded with sprinkles of direct sunlight. There were breezes throughout the morning, and running under the tunnels were especially refreshing. The number of water stations was perfect for my needs. The mile markers were helpful and visible. The course was very easy to follow, and the scenery was superb.

The course was all pavements, except for an one-mile trail called Mount Cuckoo. Having read some daunting reviews online about the dreadful hill on Mount Cuckoo, I was a bit terrified. But Mount Cuckoo turned out to be like all the other rolling hills, maybe a bit steeper, but certainly the only hill that will paint your legs with mud.

From my memory, the course felt like this:

_ _ _ _ _- _ _ – _ _ _ _ _ ^_ _ _ _ _- _ _ – _ _ _ _ _

In fact, Mount Cuckoo was my favorite part of the race, as trails are my favorite terrain. Miles 14-17 were the hardest for me. Mile 14 was when I had to stop and walk. Despite my aversion towards walking during a race, my poor choice of socks resulted in multiple blisters by the end of the half marathon. In addition, I had to stop two times just to knock out the pebbles that managed to get into my shoes .

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Haruki Murakami once wrote an excellent book about what he thinks about when he’s running. Like him and most people, I don’t think about anything in particular when I’m running. I absorb the environment around me: the jolt of excitement when I see a deer or a squirrel run by, the alluring smell of flowers and trees, the bugs you encounter, the sense of horror when you must face the geese terror squad. Of course, I check out other runners I pass along the way, except for when I avoid the gaze of shirtless muscular men.

During 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut, all I could think about was (a) how many guys were wearing blue t-shirts, and (b) how hungry I was. To be fair, I think about the latter pretty much 24/7. But when I saw those godsend bowls of fig bars and cookie sandwiches at around mile 16, I screamed Hallelujah in my head. I grabbed as many bars as my tiny hands can hold, and wolfed them down so fast that a volunteer asked me whether I was okay.

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The end of the race was anticlimactic. Since all the celebrations occured at the German Club, all but a few spectators and workers were at the finish line, making the mile before the finish line rather spiritless. After I crossed the finish line, I received a medal and hugs from my roommate, who won first place in her age category for the half marathon (!), and my boyfriend.

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The bratwurst was excellent — it was exactly what I craved for. The bread was chewy and flavorful. The sauerkraut was 1/2 salty, 1/2 vinegary. I was a very happy camper.

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Recap of my race day attire: Moving Comforts tanktop, a hand me down from my host mother when I first moved to Princeton, North Face Better Than Naked Crop, Nike Dri-Fit Sports Bra, and Asics GT-2170. Other than the poor decision I made on the socks, I’d say the impromptu outfit was a success.

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Finally, if you’re going to make post-race pasta, then make it right. Mine is a stir fry of cooked pasta with veggies and anchovy fillets, plus a lot of garlic. No need to season or sauce. It’s ambrosial, trust me. 🙂

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Surprisingly, I did not feel sore the next day or the day after. Maybe it was the yoga I did the night before the race, or maybe it was the frozen yogurt I ate after the race. Either way, the race was fantastique! I would recommend it to any runners looking to have some fun (and pain).

食べログ



This past Saturday, my host family invited me to eat at an Italian spaghetti/pizza restaurant in Shiojiri, Nagano called びーばぁ. It had more than twenty choices of spaghetti dishes. I ended up choosing the 野菜イカ入り明太子スパゲティー(marinated roa spaghetti with vegetables and squid). It was very flavory, and the small (but deceitful) size of the serving was perfect. I think I would’ve preferred it to be a bit less salty, but otherwise it was a very satisfying dish. We also ordered a salmon salad topped with sea jelly strips and dragon fruits! It was quite a delightful appetizer.


In line with the previous post, I will end this post with a Western dish. I don’t think American Subways serve shrimp-based sandwich, but the one I ate here in Japan was a tearjerker. I feel like I burned the 292 kcal trying to soothe the pungent and spicy wasabi dressing in my mouth. Also, thanks to the Japanese touch, I didn’t have to use any napkins while attacking this sandwich. Everything was within the range of my bite 🙂

Mouthfeel

I failed to regularly update this blog once I arrived in Japan. I’m sorry. I had such an ambitious plan to write about my experiences and observations living in Japan–a plan to fully make this blog a true Japan blog, if you will–before I boarded the plane. But with limited time and internet, and the ease of telling a story through uploading photos on Facebook, I forgot all about WordPress. Nonetheless, here are some of the food I’ve been enjoying lately (captured with Instagram).

   

胡蝶庵(こちょうあん)sells many Matcha-based sweets. I ended up getting a box of 生どら焼き for my host grandma’s 70th Birthday. The flavors were 抹茶(Matcha)、あずき(red bean paste)、レアチーズ(rare cheese), and they were heavenly! Valentine’s Day here is a real treat. I enjoyed eating way too many chocolates during that week, including some really delicious and nicely designed chocolate from this book-shaped-chocolate-box. I love the Valentine’s Day zeal here!

 

I found this bag of HEB-produced sun-dried tomatoes in my first host mom’s house! Coming from San Antonio, TX, I was so surprised to see a product from my hometown on the kitchen table in Nagano, Japan. On the right side, you see the 唐辛子梅茶 (chili pepper plum tea). It really depends on what you like… I did not enjoy the content as much as the idea of it.

 

Of course if you’re in Nagano, you have to try some 信州そば(Shinshu Soba), unless you’re allergic to soba like my first host-mom. Yesterday, I had some really good soba near 松本(Matsumoto) at a placed called 小丸山そば with my current host-parents. It was probably the most delicious soba I’ve had here! The soba is made with the buckwheat grown nearby, and the mushrooms, rice, and other pickled vegetables on the side were all grown in the nearby farms. The mushrooms were so slippery and moist! The mouthfeel was absolutely heavenly. The wasabi and the とろろ汁 (grated Japanese yam) that went with the tsuyu were fresh and beyond delicious. On the right side is a black bean burrito, which really brought back the American food nostalgia. Mmmh, I should cook this for my host family tonight…

Theoretically…

This winter break has become the most unproductive vacation that I came to enjoy, not dismiss the theoretical time that I wasted. Besides getting a terrible flu that wrecked my body on and off for almost a month now, I learned how to use a manual SLR camera, planned my trip to Japan, and spent very little time practicing to use my new Bamboo tablet. I was going to be consumed in books, starting with The Marriage Plot and Chi Running. I was engrossed in The Marriage Plot for an entire night, before leaving its ebook soul on my desktop and putting it in my mental to-do list.  Chi Running I cheated on–not only because it is an impossible book to finish completely, but also because this was my second time browsing through it (The first time during the boring lectures of that Programming course…) I was proud that I read only the first four chapters, grasping its main contents. Where did I spend rest of my time? Consuming media (blogs, news, magazines, movies), running on the trail, making veggie juices, and cleaning my old room. Oh, and lots and lots of sleeping. Thanks, Nyquil.

Burn

Recently I received an email from a friend whom I haven’t talked to in a long time. In it, she included a link to her blog, which blew away my mind. After reading her first post, I ended up reading all five of the entries she wrote, and even the occasional comments that others had posted. There is something about reading such deep and intriguing sentences coming out of your friend’s mind that reveal an extra element of mystery. She has a very distinctive and commanding voice — a style that is obsessive, sardonic, and hot. By hot, I mean the addictive feeling of a hot shower. You want to turn the shower just a little bit hotter to see if your body can handle it. It takes something off of you, but you also want to stay in for longer. That’s how her writings made me feel.