Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘The Drum’ by Alvin Schwartz

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Happy Halloween everybody! This week’s Music Monday is going to be a little bit different and a whole lot more spooky. I’ve selected a short story from the audiobook version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s you might remember reading one of the Scary Stories volumes, which were collections of short scary stories that absolutely freaked the hell out of young children everywhere.

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I remember some of the ones that scared me the most were Green Ribbon and WendigoGreen Ribbon was about a man who was in love with, and married, a beautiful young woman who always wore a green ribbon around her neck. All the time they were together he asked her why she always wore the green ribbon, and if she would take it off just once for him. But she always refused and insisted she had to wear it at all times. One night, the man simply couldn’t resist any longer, and started to untie the green ribbon. Slowly and carefully he continued to pull and pull as the ribbon around her neck slowly started to come off until, just before it completely ran out, the girl’s head ripped from her body and rolled onto the floor. Wendigo was about a hunter who decided to go into one of the coldest and more remote areas of Canada for a hunt and brought along a local Native American guide. At night, after they’ve set up camp, the hunter’s guide DeFago hears his name being called outside in the wind. He tries to run away but is captured and dragged away by his feet by an unknown, unseen monster. A year later the hunter returns to the area and is visited by a stranger wrapped in a thick blanket. He realizes it’s the guide who disappeared and tries to take off the blanket but when he does, all he finds is a pile of ash and bones.

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The stories themselves were simple and sinister enough to instill fear into any young child’s imagination, but the real terror came in the beautifully creepy and insanely terrifying illustrations, all by the same illustrator for all three books. They were shockingly unrestrained and mercilessly frightening for kids, but they gave such a rush and thrill while reading. Some of the best and most frightening images I’ve included here, for example. I remember reading these stories in bed right before going to sleep and realizing what a terrible mistake that was. This was real, fun, gripping horror, meant to be actually scary for kids, and not safe fluff. These were stories written with kids in mind and how best to scare them, not with kinds in mind and how best to water it all down. I’d recommend anyone who might have the opportunity to share these stories with young children, do so, in the dark, with the curtains drawn, a flashlight, and your super scariest voice.

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Below is the story of ‘The Drum’, which is based on an actual folktale used in the 1800s to teach children to obey their parents. In this version though, it’s really just meant to scare kids into obedience, but then either way works. It’s about two young sisters who want a wandering gypsy woman’s beautiful drum. The gypsy tells the girls she will give them her drum but only if they are absolutely terrible and horrible to their mother and misbehave tremendously.

Single Guy Tries ‘Mid-Atlantic Seafood’…Again…and Again…and Again…

Okay okay so I’ve had my laughs pulling your leg the past couple days. I’ve had my fun. But hey, this is my first time in Virginia, I really should be getting some more ‘local’ flavors during my stay. So I promise. I think I’ve really got it down this time. Which is why yesterday I ate in…

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Mid-Atlantic Seafood in Laurel, MD

Laurel, Maryland.

HA.

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Yeah well, with a little bit of creative maneuvering I was able to condense my Thursday to the point that I’d free up my Friday. So I could either spend my last night in the hotel or power through it all, spend the afternoon driving back, and relax all on Friday. Going back up north I thought I’d grab a bit of lunch and instead of just stopping at some rest stop on the interstate I thought I’d revisit an old favorite of mine that I’d been to plenty of times before when I was traveling for my last job.

Mid-Atlantic Seafood is a modest cafeteria-style restaurant connected to a liquor store Mid Atlantic Hot Buffet 2and with its own full bar. Seriously, being a New Jersey native, I’m always so surprised by how much more lax other states are with their liquor restrictions. I’m jealous. Anyways, it’s an extremely simple and unassuming location that seems to be a local favorite; its humble exterior and misleading appearance (aside from the name nothing gives it away as an excellent seafood spot) protects office workers at lunch and locals at dinner from too many wandering tourists. They’re not entirely immune from those dedicated travelers savvy enough to sniff out the real spots worth visiting.

Laurel, MD has the unique strategic position of being almost exactly midway between Baltimore and Washington DC. This makes it a hot spot for work travelers. Not countingMid Atlantic Hot Buffet 2 yesterday’s lunch spot, I’ve actually stayed in Laurel three times in the past year. And every single time I’ve made sure to dedicate one night to revisit Mid-Atlantic Seafood. For me, that’s pretty high praise. I recognize the good fortune I have to be able to travel for work. I’m always eagerly looking for new places, new opportunities, new adventures. But there’s something about Mid Atlantic that inevitably draws me into its center whenever I’m anywhere near enough, orbiting the area, to feel its pull.

Mid Atlantic Before

Mid Atlantic is a mom and pop joint run by a Korean family, which is why their wildly varied hot food bar offers Southern classics like baked mac and cheese, catfish, fried chicken, cornbread, hush puppies, and collard greens all alongside more Asian dishes like chicken and beef stir-fry, japchae (Korean potato noodles), and fried rice. The catfish, giant pieces of cornbread, fried chicken, and fried seafood are all hugely popular dishes. I respect their variety and their ability to cover all their dishes seemingly well, but I wouldn’t be able to speak personally on any of it. In a restaurant that deserves high praise for repeated patronage, it’s their seafood that truly deserves the highest praise for its repeated order. This is Mid-Atlantic Seafood after all. Every time I go I always get raw oysters on the half shell, Alaskan snow crab legs, and steamed shrimp. The only thing that changes is the ratio and what I drink.

Mid Atlantic Lunch

First off, the snow crab legs are always worth looking forward to. They definitely pick the cream of the crop when they select their crab leg clusters. These are giant legs full of Mid Atlantic Shrimpplump. juicy, sweet and tender crab meat. Inside these shells is real fresh meat, not water like you might get at Chinese buffets. The shrimp here are always plump, fresh, and literally jumping out of their shells with minimal effort. Generously seasoned with Old Bay, they’re big enough to give you two really good, full bites per shrimp. The real star of the show though are the local oysters they have. These are consistently some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever had. First time I went here I realized there was something special about their oysters when I ordered an oyster shot at the bar and they served it to me in an old-fashioned glass vs the standard shot glass. Trying to slurp down that giant beast of an oyster plus the oz of vodka and the hot sauce and lemon juice all at once almost killed me. What a way to choke to death, on a monster mollusk. But oh my god, there’s something incredible in the oysters here. These are not the dinky buck a shuck oysters in your local bar. They’re incredibly large and surprisingly fleshy and have some actual bite and chew to them, releasing a flavorful explosion of fresh oyster liquor that leave a faint fragrance of ocean mist in your mouth. They’re served with plenty of freshly grated horseradish, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and lemon wedges. Uh, and not you know, orange slices.

Mid Atlantic Oysters

It took five and a half hours to finish what was supposed to be a three hour drive back home because lunch delayed me to the point of hitting rush hour traffic. Could I have justMid Atlantic Snow Crab driven straight home and got something just as good nearby? Most probably yes, maybe. But let’s face it. The company’s starting to get tighter with budgets and work trips are becoming more scarce. It’s great for the relaxed work-at-home life, but honestly outside of work, what business would you, or I, or anyone really, have to do in Laurel? It’s a tiny blip of a town with seemingly more business hotels than businesses. Which is a shame because Mid-Atlantic really does do an incredible job with its food. I had to take the detour because I knew there would be so few reasons for me to ever be in this area.

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Besides, I have to admit while having lunch yesterday I couldn’t help but chuckle and smile, not just because of the seafood feast I was having, but also because I knew I’d get a kick out of finishing my ‘Virginia’-week in Laurel, Maryland. Hahah.

Single Guy Tries ‘Marumen Ramen’

Okay, so I admit maybe a Korean-Mexican fusion rice bowl wasn’t exactly the most ‘Virginia’-esque thing to have on my first night here. BUT I do believe I’m getting closer to the true food ‘heart’ of Virginia. Which is why, of course, tonight I had a real Virginia treat…

Marumen Ramen

Yep. That’s right. Japanese ramen.

Whether for business or for pleasure, I’ve had the chance to travel extensively around the United States. I’m not surprised that I’m able to find Asian food no matter where I go. I’m surprised that no matter where I go, I’m able to find really good, authentic Asian food. And that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment that not many cuisines can claim to have. I mean, I’ve had some of the best and most authentic Chinese food like black bean braised tripe and scallop and Chinese sausage fried rice from a sit-down/sports bar in New Hampshire. I’ve found soul-satisfying Filipino pork adobo in Rochester, NY. But you try finding a decent Greek place with grilled octopus and taramasalata in Scottebluff, NE or soft grilled arepas filled with pulled pork or carnitas in Bangor, ME. So am I surprised to find a ramen place in Fairfax, VA? No, of course not. But am I surprised to find that it is comfortable, casual, and genuinely and authentically flavorful? Pleasantly so.

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I’ll be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of Japanese ramen. I don’t normally ever order it when I go out to Japanese restaurants, and in my pantry I much prefer the Korean versions of instant ramyun over their Japanese counterparts. My blood runs Nongshim over Nissin or Maruchan. My Japanese noodle hierarchy goes something along the lines of 1) soba 2) udon and then a far distant 3) ramen. But I had a little chat a couple weeks ago with a friend about ramen and it got me craving it again so it was good fortune that Marumen was less than ten minutes away from my hotel. It’s a simple place with a very familiar exterior. The roof immediately gives away the game and screams ‘this place used to be a Pizza Hut’. It’s a fun backdrop on the way to enjoying one of the most popular recent food imports to the US. There are white string lights running along the windows and ceilings, and the walls are adorned with bottles of sake and Japanese beers. Take your time to browse their menu, which consists of more traditional Japanese ramen styles like shio (sea salt), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso (bean paste) along with some Korean styles like an ‘army stew’ of sausage, SPAM, pork, and kimchi, as well as rice bowls and small plates like soft and fluffy pork buns or karaage (Japanese fried chicken thighs) which are the perfect size for sharing. While you’re deciding from their simple yet varied menu, your server will bring to your table your chopsticks, napkins, togarashi (a flavorful Japanese spice mixture to add to taste) and a plate of edamame (soybeans) dressed with sesame oil and sugar.

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The Japanese are feverishly obsessive, to the point of being militant, when it comes to their ramen. I could dedicate an entire blog to the complex art of crafting the perfect ramen broth and another on the importance of the alkaline noodles and then another on the delicate interplay of every topping and yet another on the etiquette of dining on ramen. But I am not a ramen fanatic, and you may be a relative rookie at ramen so let’s keep things simple. While ramen broths can vary greatly, almost all of the soups at Marumen use a paitan broth exclusively. You’ll notice that my soup’s broth has a thick, opaque, almost milky appearance. This comes from a very long process of boiling pork bones packed with fats, minerals, proteins, and most importantly, collagen that translates to a shiny appearance to the broth and a sticky sheen on the noodles that clings to your lips as you slurp them. I ordered the shio ramen which means my soup was further flavored by sea salt, which keeps my soup relatively light and mild, compared to the more robust flavors of soy sauce or miso. Japan reputedly has more varieties of noodles than Italy does pasta, but Marumen uses thick and wavy alkaline noodles with a hearty bounce and chew that absorbs the soup and slurps easily. It comes by default with bean sprouts, plenty of green onions, a nori seaweed sheet, and I opted for an extra portion of their nitamago (seasoned soft-boiled egg) and an extra portion of their chashu (rich fatty pork belly). The soup wasn’t served as unforgivingly hot as most authentic ramen places would, which meant I had no problems taking long, savory sips of the rich pork broth. Definitely lighter and milder than I’ve had before, but with no shortness of flavor. The noodles had just the right amount of bite and even I know you have to slurp your noodles people. They were just firm enough to pull out of the soup and slick enough to slurp with ease. Mixing in the green onion with some bites added freshness and crispness, while the egg, enjoyed separately, was delightfully creamy. The pork belly had beautiful thick streaks of fat and tender, juicy meaty bits with just a hint of smoke. This is not your ramen general’s most hardcore bowl of soup, but for someone who’s leaning pretty hard on the ramen fence to begin with, it’s just rich enough, without being too overbearing, to push me a bit closer to their side.

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A younger, wilder, less health-conscious me would have had no problem finishing the entire plate of karaage I also ordered, but then he would have been wobbling out of that restaurant in near-hysterical stomach busting pain. Instead, I have roughly half of the order in a styrofoam container in my hotel room’s fridge, hoping it’ll survive the four and a half hour drive home so my brother can enjoy it. I’m telling you, their ‘small plates’ are meant to share. Honestly, for the modest price, I was blown away by the number of deliciously delicate and crispy fried pieces of tender chicken thighs. Still pictures don’t do the chicken enough justice. Right out of the fryer they are generously dressed with a sweet-soy glaze, garlic mayo sauce, and tons of shaved katsuobushi (dried tuna). As the heat coming off the chicken warms and melts the katsuobushi the thinly shaved strips dance and jump before withering and melting on top of the chicken. I could just sit there watching, entertained by the live show, dancing flakes of dried tuna like little fish jumping out of the water’s surface. They are as much a delight to eat as they are to watch. Each piece is lightly coated in a crispy flavorful batter and they are quickly fried to preserve the juicy tender thigh meat. The dried tuna adds an extra element of umami that lends complexity to an otherwise modest dish.

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Ultimately though, I find it interesting that the same reason why Marumen works so well for me and why I enjoyed it so much is probably the same reason why there are many who would struggle to really endorse this value-driven and flavor-forward restaurant. More critical reviews of the restaurant have spoken about Marumen’s identity as a ramen shop as if it had ‘lost its way’. Look this is definitely a far cry from the hectic standing-only hardcore ramen shops of Tokyo. Ramen fanatics who pride themselves on their knowledge of broths and noodles and who would dedicate whole days to walking tours of Japanese city streets in search of the best ramen might find it hard to sit comfortably in this spacious, relaxed restaurant and sip on slightly hotter than lukewarm broth. Yes, there is more than just ramen on the menu. There are soft and fluffy pork buns. Spicy chicken wings. There’s fried rice and even Korean bibimbap. You can even order a small plate of seasoned chicharrones (fried pork skins)! But by Jove, I’d say it works for them. The ramen here lacks the borderline-OCD obsessiveness of other places, but then who said every restaurant had to try to be the last bastion of their respective specialty? Not every place can be the place with the definitive last word on how their food should be or taste. Some places, like Marumen, are just…comfortable. Homey. Modest. And yet…can still be damn good. That’s the most impressive thing about this place. The ramen reluctant such as myself can find what is probably the furthest extension of authentic ramen soup that they can enjoy. And the ramen ravenous will find something comfortable and familiar and endearingly simple and satisfying in their honest efforts. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned veteran of Japanese soups, the truth is we all slurp the same noodles.

Single Guy Tries ‘Bebop Korean-Mexican Grill’

It’s my first full day in the state of lovers and for dinner I thought I’d get a real taste of Fairfax, Virginia. So of course that means I’d have to get…

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BEBOP Korean-Mexican Grill

Because when you think ‘Virginia’ you think Korean-Mexican fusion…right? From the Bebop Outside.jpgnon-stop flow of young couples and local college kids, you’d think the answer would be ‘undoubtedly yes’. BEBOP Korean Mexican Grill opened last year with a very ‘Chipotle’-esque approach to serving fast, affordable, casual Korean flavors. Korean food has enjoyed a real boom in popularity in the United States recently. All you can eat Korean BBQ restaurants are like a mecca for meat lovers. Korean grocery stores like the mega-chain Hmart are popping up in more and more states giving people increased exposure to Korean imported goods, ingredients, and foods. And when it comes to popular foods, you can’t scroll an IG feed without inevitably running into Korean fried chicken, kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), or the ever-popular food truck trademark, Korean tacos. So it’s not surprising to see another Korean and ‘something’ fusion place open up, especially in a city like Fairfax with its large student population and growing Asian communities.

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BEBOP has a simple menu but its setup allows for nearly endless possibilities of combinations. Start by choosing from a burrito, tacos, or a rice bowl. Then your choice of protein: chicken, pork, bulgogi (marinated beef), carne asada, or galbi (sliced beef short rib). You can then elect to have either regular white rice, healthy purple rice, Spanish yellow rice, or kimchi-bacon fried rice. There are plenty of free toppings to add as many or as little as you like, like Mexican-style corn, salsa, cheese, and lettuce; or more Korean-themed choices like soybean sprouts, marinated cucumbers, or kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Finish it off with a selection of different house-made sauces similar to salsa verde, spicy sesame Korean chili paste, and a tangy white sauce. If this process sounds pretty familiar, it’s because it should. BEBOP certainly isn’t the first to come up with the idea of Korean-Mexican, but I do appreciate its streamlined, easy to access and order, quick assembly line ‘Chipotle’-esque approach to it. Which is saying much, because while I like the style, I despise Chipotle.

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My first dinner in Fairfax, VA is Korean-Mexican fusion at BEBOP

I ordered a bowl of kimchi-bacon fried rice with their galbi. I added Mexican street corn, bean sprouts, cucumbers, a fried egg, and extra of their spicy red sauce (sweet and salty Korean garlic-chili paste). The portion, for $13, is decent and generous. The galbi is their most expensive option, so getting this same amount of food with pork or chicken at a lower price really drives up its value. The galbi was perfectly worth it though. Plenty of tender, flavorful, sweet and charred chunks of grilled beef short rib. The meat had alternating textures of char, tenderness, and rich fattiness. The hot meat fresh off the grill was complemented by the crisp, cold sides. A contrast of texture and temperature familiar in another traditional Korean dish, bibimbap. The corn, mixed with sour cream and cilantro, was sweet and tangy. The Korean flavors of the rice and beef made me crave the familiar flavors of the marinated soybean sprouts and cucumbers, which are common side dishes in Korean restaurants. There was some great yolk action breaking up the fried egg and mixing it into the kimchi-bacon fried rice. While the flavors and the mixture of kimchi and bacon added greatly to the fried rice, my only minor complaint is that the rice, which was fried on the flattop grill as well, was a bit overdone, with some hard and chewy bits of dried rice. Overall though, I’d been looking forward to this meal ever since I looked it up last week, and the place did not disappoint. Fast, casual, comfortable setting, and while it’s nothing really new or entirely unique, the food is flavorful, interesting, well made, and thoroughly enjoyable. If you’re ever in Fairfax, check it out, and afterwards spend some time browsing the aisles of the Hmart right next door.

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Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘Sweet Virginia Breeze’ by The Robbin Thompson Band

Greetings from Virginia

Headed to Virginia this week for a work trip. Haven’t been on the road in like, a month and a half so it’ll be good to get some miles in again, and I’ve never been to Virginia. Don’t know much about it other than it’s part of the setting for one of my all-time favorite video games ever, Fallout 3. Don’t think I’ll be seeing any nuclear shelters and super mutants during my trip though. But maybe I’ll bring a couple bottle caps with me just in case. Ah, I just realized no one is going to understand any of that unless they played. Hahah. Oops.

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Anyways, this week’s posts will highlight some of the restaurants I’ll be trying while I’m down there. And to get me in a particularly ‘Virginia’-y kind of mood, this week’s Music Monday selection is the official ‘popular state song’ of Virginia, as voted in 2015. ‘Sweet Virginia Breeze’ by the Robbin Thompson Band. I’m off to hit the road and document some more food travels! Oh, and work. Enjoy this sweet, and not at all cacophonous, ballad to the state of Virginia.

Sweet Virginia Breeze

-by The Robbin Thompson Band

Woke up this morning- the breeze blowin’ cross my face

And I just had to look up above and thank Somebody for this place
Because He must’ve been thinkin’ bout me
When He planted that very first dogwood tree
It’s where I want to be
Livin’ in the Sweet Virginia Breeze

Take me out to the country- it feels mighty good out there
When I get back to the city of the monuments
It doesn’t matter where I hang my hat it’s home to me
The Blue Ridge Mountains tend to set me free
It’s where I want to be
Livin’ in the Sweet Virginia Breeze

Wakes me up in the mornin’
Rocks me to sleep at night
I’ve got a red bird singin’ on my window sill
I know everything will be all right
Livin’ in the Sweet Virginia Breeze

Just sittin on my back porch
I’m just watchin’ the sun come up
Sweet sweet Virginia Breeze blowin’ ripples ‘cross my coffee cup
Because He must’ve been thinkin’ bout me when He planted that very first dogwood tree
cause when that breeze comes blowin’ through the trees
you know everything will be alright
Livin’ in a Sweet Virginia Breeze
Sweet Virginia Breeze

Single Guy Says, ‘Why Are You Laughing?!’

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Between watching the IT movie a couple weeks ago and visiting Six Flags Fright Fest this past weekend I noticed a very strange but very common trend in reactions among people, including myself, in both places. Laughter. Whether it was in-between jump scares on the screen or people literally jumping out at us, the horrified screaming was perfectly understandable but the laughter afterwards was a bit…less expected. But ask anyone who’s been in these situations and they’ll tell you it feels just as natural as screaming. There must be some reason(s) why, when we’re faced with abject fear, we laugh as much as we scream. And since we’ll probably be doing a lot of screaming and laughing this October, I thought I’d try and find out a bit more of why.

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We laugh to avoid conflict

I’m thinking specifically of my time at Six Flags. So we’re in one of their haunted maze walks, and this time I can see there’s a ‘ghoul’ (what they call the volunteers who dress up to scare people inside) directly in front of me, just standing in the middle of the hall, blocking my path. I just slowly start to approach and instinctively I begin to chuckle. Maintain eye contact, smile, laugh, don’t react when the ‘ghoul’ starts to move and jerk about, casually saunter past, and let them focus their attention instead to the two cowering, already screaming, girls behind me. Phew. Many sociologists claim that laughter can be seen as a sign of submission. Primates smile and laugh when they feel threatened by more dominant, larger primates.

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We laugh to deny our fears

Laughter is inherently social. We laugh more often, and more readily, when we’re around others as a means to express certain feelings. Other than submission and the desire to avoid conflict, laughter can also be used to attempt to convince to ourselves and to others that what we are being confronted with isn’t actually all that scary. Whether it’s true or we’re simply, desperately, trying to convince ourselves it’s true, we laugh almost immediately after being frightened or experiencing some sort of trauma or shock to signal that things aren’t as horrible as they appear. We laugh in a haunted maze because we’re reminding ourselves that they’re just volunteers in makeup, and we laugh at horror movies because movies aren’t real…uhm…right?

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We laugh to balance out our emotion

In the same way that we sometimes cry when we’re overly happy,  we might laugh when we are terribly frightened. It’s a built in defense mechanism to keep us from short-circuiting. It might be terribly awkward in situations say like, with the news of a loved one’s passing, but be kind and forgive those who might suddenly and unexpectedly let out a little laugh. It could be that they are experiencing grief at such an intense level, that at the risk of becoming overwhelmed, the mind rejects the news, disbelieves, and expresses the complete opposite emotion to soften the fall back to reality. In the same way, it might feel like a relief or an escape to laugh in the face of fear, because we’re so frightened in that moment that the other possibility is we collapse.

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We laugh because humor and comedy are the same

In a way, humor and comedy are two sides of the same coin. They both rely on incongruity and unexpectedness. Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a good example of the relationship between both emotions, fear and laughter. If you think about it, if something were to go completely against expectations or social norms, it would either  be very funny or very scary. An inappropriate joke is unexpected and funny. Someone jumping out of what you thought was a portrait on the wall is fricking scary as hell. Sometimes our mind gets the signals crossed about which one to react with, and we laugh when we’re really scared. Or just confused.

Whether it’s walls with trap doors and hidden ‘ghouls’, or portraits that drop to reveal real people behind them, or just the scared laughter of poor lost wandering souls trying to find their way out, when it comes to haunted mazes and horrors, the one truth is nothing is ever as it seems.

Single Guy Says, ‘Do My Cooking in Your Kitchen’

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‘A lot of people think Japanese food is difficult, a lot of work. But you don’t have to buy the knife I have. You don’t have to train as long as I have. You can do my cooking in  your kitchen.

-Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto

When I was younger, I used to watch chefs on TV like Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, and Martin Yan. Thanks to public access TV I learned the basics of French, Italian, and Chinese cooking. Then over the years I’d continue to practice and experiment and learn more about food and cooking, but almost always around these three cuisines. At home I’d have Filipino food of course, so really my only exposure to Japanese food ever was either at sushi restaurants, at Mitsuwa (my local Japanese grocer and food court), or watching the original Iron Chef series on YouTube. Based off of these sources I assumed Japanese food was always a) expensive b) mostly about hard to find ingredients and c) complicated.

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One of my favorite items at Soba Azuma, the sashimi special with soba noodles

Of course, all that drastically changed in the past few years. I found ‘home cooking’ style Japanese YouTube chefs like Ochikeron and Cooking with Dog. More restaurants and more availability meant I was introduced to a greater variety of Japanese foods, like at Soba Azuma, a nearby Japanese restaurant that specializes in making their own fresh soba, or buckwheat, noodles. Nowadays I can say with confidence that if I could only ever eat one nation’s cuisine for the rest of my life, I would wholeheartedly choose Japan and Japanese food. But I don’t want to talk about how much I love to eat Japanese food. Actually, I want to talk about how much I love to cook Japanese food. As I learned more about Japanese cuisine one of the biggest surprises of all was just how accessible, easy, and fun it is to cook.


Japanese Cuisine is Simple and Convenient

This past Friday I had a ‘Japanese themed’ night where I cooked takoyaki (ball-shaped

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Homemade takoyaki

batter filled with octopus) and yakisoba (a Japanese noodle stir fry) and we all washed it down with lemon sours (a popular Japanese cocktail of rice wine, soda water, and lemon). Now in the past if I were to say, cook an Italian meal or a French, I’d probably be looking at around five pots and pans in my wake, at the very least three if I was especially lucky. But cooking a Japanese meal leaves surprisingly few dishes left to wash afterwards. I think part of this has to do with how small the average Japanese apartment is. Most do not have the convenience of dishwashers. So Japanese home cooking has evolved to be practical and convenient, limiting the amount of mess and cleanup afterwards. I steamed the yakisoba noodles in one wide pan, poured them onto the serving plate, then used the same pan to stir fry the seafood, pork belly, vegetables, and then make the sauce.

Meanwhile, I also got to enjoy the ease of making takoyaki with a special takoyaki pan that was actually recommended to me by a fellow blogger. I love Japanese appliances. ATakoyaki Pan.jpg lot of them extend the realm of what is possible in a simple home kitchen and, with most of them being electric, you can plug them in anywhere you like, making it again easier to cook in any way. Some of my favorite home cooking appliances are my electric takoyaki pan and my specially shaped tamagoyaki pan. This unique pan is great for making Japanese egg omelets which you can then stuff with seaweed or eel or cheese or whatever you want, but I’ve also used it to make desserts on occasion, like an improvised crepe pan or for baumkuchen, a rolled cake popular in Germany and, you guessed it, Japan.

Japanese Food Makes Use of Diverse Ingredients, Flavors, and Methods while Staying Healthy

The Japanese have what are considered to be the ‘Five Pillars’ essential to their cuisine. It

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Homemade yakisoba with a thick, savory sauce and mixed seafood, vegetables, and pork

is so ingrained into their culture that they hardly realize it, but for outsiders looking in, it can unlock a lot of the secrets of Japanese food and cooking. The five colors (white, black, red, green, and yellow) are almost always present in some way or form in a typical meal. This is more than just aesthetically pleasing,  it can be quite nutritious as well. When I try to be mindful of this I find myself balancing my meals with more vegetables and different sources of protein. It’s fun to think of the whole meal as a blank slate. I add white with a bowl of rice, yellow in the form of a delicate sweet rolled Japanese omelet, green and red with a simple salad of lettuce with bright plump cherry tomatoes and ginger dressing, and black in the dark but tender grilled fish, with its crispy skin. The five ways (raw, simmered, fried, steamed, and roasted/grilled) are the foundations of all Japanese dishes. While a traditional kaiseki (tasting menu) will highlight all of these, a typical home cooked meal might only need two or three. Again, ease, convenience, and yet still a variety of results, all with simplicity, clarity, and yet depth and complexity.

Japanese Cooking is Surprisingly Adaptable and Versatile

Aside from the fact that for the most part you don’t ever really need special pieces of

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Homemade miso grilled rice balls filled with eel

equipment and what you will need you’ll need less of (one pot cooking before one pot cooking became a thing), the truth is Japanese food is also very easy and fun to make because you probably have already been doing a bit of it yourself. Some of the most popular and quintessentially Japanese dishes are in fact, not Japanese at all in origin. Take for example tempura, various vegetables and seafoods or meats that are lightly battered and then deep-fried for an intensely delicate and yet crispy texture. Or the even more home-friendly ebi-furai (heavily battered and fried shrimp) or my all time favorite, kaki-furai (fried oysters). These were all made after learning frying techniques from visiting Portuguese traders. Katsudon is an improvised breaded pork cutlet fried in oil after schnitzel, which is traditionally fried in butter, proved to be too heavy for Japanese stomachs. This particular style of western-influenced Japanese foods is known as washoku, and is a great introduction not only to those who are new to eating Japanese food but also those who are new to cooking it.

You can also use what you already know and are familiar with to highlight very

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An absolute delicacy of the sea, uni is sea urchin roe

traditionally Japanese ingredients. A favorite pasta dish of mine to make when I can find it is mentaiko cream pasta, and nothing could be simpler. If you want to try this dish yourself at home, the hardest part is finding the mentaiko, or spicy cod roe. Otherwise it’s a simple matter of cutting open the roe and spilling the contents into a bowl, adding melted butter, black pepper, and cream, and then tossing freshly boiled pasta, letting the residual heat melt and cook everything together. If you are really lucky, you might even know where to find some shredded nori, or seaweed, to garnish. You can do the exact same thing with a much easier to find uni, or sea urchin. In fact, the salty-sweet fishiness of the sea urchin is very similar to Italian pastas that add anchovies. If you want to dress up your burger night without getting too risky, you can try wafu burgers, which are usually eaten sans bun and instead with a bowl of white rice. Into your usual ground beef mixture, add tofu, shiitake mushrooms, miso paste, soy sauce and freshly grated ginger root to give your burger a distinctly Japanese taste. A common favorite weekday dinner for Japanese homes with children.


Japanese food is so much more than just sushi, tempura, and ramen. Though there are

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The ever popular ‘lemon sour” cocktail

few days where I could say I wouldn’t be more than happy with any of those. But in our own home kitchens we might not have access to the best and highest quality fish. Or be in the mood for deep frying. Or have the time to master the deeply rich and complicated secrets of ramen broth. But that shouldn’t stop you or anyone from trying to make some simple and delicious and satisfying Japanese meals at home. It really is much easier than you might think, and the reward of having the ability to enjoy this wonderfully rich cuisine any time you want is totally worth it. And I know none of you should have any problems finding some sake to go with it all.

Jerel says, ‘do my cooking in your home’.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘Midnight Train’ by DJ Okawari feat. Emi Meyer

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This week’s song is Midnight Train by DJ Okawari with Emi Meyer on vocals. This is just one example of an interesting, intriguing, and exciting body of artists and works in Japan that fuse jazz with hip hop and often with strong piano and string influences and instrumentals as well. This slick and stylish ‘jazz hop’ is just one aspect of a hugely prominent jazz following in Japan, supposedly the largest proportion in the world. You can see its influence in jazu kissa (jazz cafes) across the country and in Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s works. As a loyal fan of both jazz and Japan, I can’t wait to finally take a trip to the country and experience both, sipping coffee and listening to jazz records in one of these cafes.

DJ Okawari is a Japanese artist, producer, and composer. His music has been used by Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi during the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships. He uses piano instrumentals as the center for many of his pieces but he blends them with jazz, hip hop, and vocals with other artists to create a beautifully soothing and mellow style. If you love the art pieces in this post, they are all the covers for DJ Okawari’s various albums, all created by Japanese artist Marumiyan. Emi Meyer is a jazz pianist and singer-songwriter who was born in Japan, raised in Seattle, and is an active jazz artist in both countries. Midnight is my favorite time of day, and trains are my favorite romantic mode of transport.

DJ Okawari Kaleidoscope

For more examples of this uniquely Japanese ‘jazz hop’ you can check out artists like Nujabes, who worked with a lot of American hip hop artists, or Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts, who did all of the  music for the anime Cowboy Bebop. Actually, Nujabes also did most of the background music for another anime, Samurai Champloo. For more by DJ Okawari I’d recommend Luv Letter or Flower Dance. I’d also recommend a quiet, peaceful corner, and a warm cup of coffee, and maybe an open window too.

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Midnight Train

-by DJ Okawari feat. Emi Meyer

I’ve been watching you there
Acting shy with good hair
Looking like you’re about to leave
I got tricks up my sleeve
You don’t play games with me
I made plans for the both of us

Timing has never been my strength
Ain’t it strange?
All my treasures I keep locked in a birdcage
All I want tonight’s a wild chase a small taste
Then I should be rid of you

Midnight Train
Even if we’ll never be the same
My heart is broken, but I feel no pain
Just as long as we go separate ways
Back home alone, oh oh
Back home alone
Back home alone

When the streets should be black
But Kowloon is a sleepless neon nonstop hangover
I’d be better off
Never knowing your name
Faces dissolve in Anonymity

I was honest but I spoke too soon
Look at you
My hands are tied by virtue
But not you
All I wanted was a wild chase a small taste
Then I should’ve been done with you

Midnight Train
Be the same
Feel no pain
Separate ways

Midnight Train
Even if we’ll never be the same
My heart is broken, but I feel no pain
Just as long as we go separate ways
Back home alone

Midnight Train
Even if we’ll never be the same
My heart is broken, but I feel no pain
Just as long as we go separate ways
Back home alone, oh oh
Back home alone

All I want tonight’s a wild chase a small taste
Back home alone (home alone)
Midnight Train
Even if we’ll never be the same
My heart is broken, but I feel no pain
Just as long as we go separate ways
Back home alone

Single Guy Says, ‘BOOGEDY BOOGEDY BOO, Babe’

Fall Dates

Let’s not forget that despite being a single guy, my blogging inception, and primary focus, has always been love and relationships and of course, dating. And there’s no better season to fan the flame of romance than fall. But while less creative, more orthodox websites and magazines might offer date suggestions straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting, I’m going to be a bit more…risky. I’m not opposed to going apple picking, or pumpkin carving, attending a football game, or hell, I could even go for a good old-fashioned weenie roast. But I say, this fall, if you really want to maximize your romantic capital, scare the living daylights out of your date.

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Now hold on, come back out from under the covers, and hear me out on this one. This is more than just the sadistic recommendation of an admitted horror and thrill junkie. Believe it or not, I have reasons that even those of you more likely to cover your eyes and look away may find appealing. And I promise, after all is said and done, I’ll even check your closets and under your bed for monsters.

1. A horror movie is the perfect excuse to get closer to your date,

You’re familiar with that feeling, when you’re watching a movie with your date, when you try desperately to find the chance to finesse your arm around them, or to gradually sneak your hand over and hold theirs. Well, in the context of a horror film, literally every jump scare, chainsaw rev, or demon vomit spew is the right time to break that physical barrier. Go ahead and cuddle closer to your sweetie. Get a bit comfier under the blankets, hide in each other’s arms, grip each other’s hands. Just say it was the monsters’ fault.

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2. A horror movie is the perfect time to get your best and worst side out.

One of two things is going to happen while you watch a scary movie. You could get out of it unfazed and unruffled, and therefore project an image of gutsiness, bravery, and bravado. Or you’ll scream like a little kid. You’ll cut off the circulation in their hand. You might even, in the sheer shock of the moment, jump so suddenly you spill all your popcorn, scare your date, and they in turn jump and bang their head on your jaw, causing you to bite your tongue. I mean, hypothetically. The point is, no matter what the outcome, you’ll be putting your best and worst out there for each other to see and react to, free of judgement. Be the hero or the lovable goof.

3. A horror movie is the perfect opportunity to learn some really personal information about your date.

You’ve already revealed your best and worst sides to each other, but a thriller is good for more than just showing how you and yours react in scary situations. Getting through a scary movie together is similar to the feeling of surviving an actual ordeal with them. You’ll both experience a huge rush of adrenaline during the movie and at the end, share a similar sense of relief and therefore, camaraderie. This can be a ‘shortcut’ or ‘speed boost’ to creating a great bonding factor. Having ‘survived’ together, you’ll both, at least in the immediate after-effects of the moment, feel a greater sense of trust and kinship. So why not make use of that? It’ll presumably be late when the movie ends, you’ll both feel close to each other, and nighttime naturally tends to loosen lips, so why not take the time to get to know your date just a little bit better. Besides, the talks could help to calm both of you down and help you both come back from the adrenaline rush and be able to sleep.

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4. It’s scientifically proven to make you more attractive and make your date feel closer.

The technical term for this is ‘misattribution of arousal’. It describes how our body can trick our mind into feeling something, or confusing signals the body sends for something else. Think of it this way. Your heart beats fast. Your blood pressure rises. Your skin is flush and you feel warm. Your pupils are dilated. These are all reactions that could either mean that you’re terribly scared, or terribly aroused. The problem is, while our minds are capable of feeling a wide seemingly infinite array of  emotions, our bodies are only capable of a certain amount of responses. So while our mind can cause our body to react, it’s pretty understandable that our body can trick our mind to react as well. And since scary movies elicit almost exactly the same physical reactions as arousal, it’s been proven that after the movie ends, those emotions and reactions carry over to the person we’re with. So whether you’re a budding couple that could use a little extra boost, or in a long-term relationship that could use an injection of excitement, a scary movie will do you much better than a rom-com.


Don’t believe me? Think I’m a fraud? Here is a list of some of my all-time favorite scary movies. Go ahead and give it a try. If you dare!

  • The Conjuring
  • Cabin in the Woods
  • The Strangers
  • Descent
  • The Woman in Black
  • Crazies
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004 version)
  • Drag Me to Hell
  • The Visit
  • The Awakening

Jerel says, ‘BOOGEDY BOOGEDY BOO, babe.’