This vegetarian black bean chili I made is damn good. Served on rice.

RPG a Day: Adjacent hobbies

26. What hobbies go well with RPGs?

  • Scratch-made pizzzaReading, of course! All those adventures playing in your head, inspiring you to the virtual adventures you want to have with your friends.
  • A lot of crafts go well with too, such as drawing, map-making, miniature painting, terrain building, even sewing and costuming.
  • Some of us have a passion for theatre, acting, public speaking, or writing.
  • Cooking is another good one! There is something about breaking bread together that creates bonds between people.

mountain of books PO-2s_Assembly




Day 12, Cycle 6: Coffee Ritual

Coffee-and-birdIt’s been a rough cycle, I was knocked down right from the day of infusion and I spent a lot of time in bed. In fact, yesterday was the first time I’d gotten out of the house since the infusion, it was for medical appointments, and I was exhausted afterwards.


As of day before yesterday, I have an appetite again, so I know I’ve turned this corner. It was wonderful to feel hunger again, and to have food taste good! Just one more infusion, and we’ll be done with this particular process.

This morning, I was lying in bed and just enjoying the ritual of coffee-making Edmund had started in the kitchen. I was smiling to myself as I imagined a row of bonzes hitting gongs and chanting with every step:

I hear water running.

The kettle has been filled. Aummmmm…

I hear the sound of beans tumbling and smell a whiff of rich coffee. Then the coffee grinder whirrs.

The beans have been ground. Aummmmm…

A pssshtt! of steam, a strong aroma of coffee fog unfurling.

The grounds have been wetted. Aummmmm…

The chiming of the kitchen timer, the slow sigh of the French press piston being carefully pushed down.

It is done. Coffee is reborn.  Aummmmm… Aummmmm… Aummmmm…



Day 7, Cycle 5: Blargh

2016-07-11 11.32.59This is my official complainy bitchy post.

It’s that time of the chemotherapy cycle when I’m weak and have little appetite. Everything aches or itches, I have mouth sores, my tonsils feel look two prickly pears jammed down my throat.

I had trouble swallowing the crushed nuts on my muffin this morning. I’ve been struggling for half an hour to eat the lunch in this photo — cream of corn, four saltines, peach yogourt, banana, and lemon-ginger tea. So far I have been able to ingest half the soup and one saltine.


Day 12, Cycle 1: Food is complicated

Crowd-sourcing time! I need help tracking my nutrient intake and I’m looking for recommendations for a decent phone app or spreadsheet.

I’m slow at recovering appetite. Most days’ food consumption last week has looked like this:

Not a lot there...
Not a lot there…

Today I was brash and asked for salmon so Edmund made this lovely plate for me, but I think I’ll take in about half:


I’m looking for nutrient intake tracking, not just calories or weight. I don’t want miracle diets, foods that ward against cancer, or anything like that — just good simple data management that would allow reasonable guesstimates based on portion size for typical food without too much fiddling on my phone.

Day 2 of first chemo cycle

Chemo haircut and #FlannelFriday
Chemo haircut and #FlannelFriday

TL;DR: I’m feeling well. No foolin’.

Pre-Treatment: I have been kept busy non-stop with medical appointments, bureaucratic processes for medical and disability insurances, and looking up information and resources. But I did schedule a haircut; this is what I look like and it’s taken the day after treatment, to prove that I’m doing well.

In the big chair: Yesterday I had a MUGA scan at the Nuclear Medicine department to check whether I had a heart, then I went to the Infusion Center for my first chemotherapy treatment. I was conscientious about following instructions on medication, hydration, food intake, etc. It was a long session because the first time the medical personnel administers each of the four medications at a reduce flow rate to monitor for adverse reactions. They provide you with pillows and pre-warmed blankets, juice, soups, etc. They are very attentive, friendly and professional.

Edmund had brought board and card games; some turned out to require too much space but we did play Race to Adventure! (Evil Hat Productions) and Mint Tin Pirates (subQuark Games). Having something to do not only passed the time faster but it really helped me not think about being sink. You know how when, getting on a boat, you sometimes start getting seasick just from worry about it or from seeing someone else ill? Keeping my mind occupied saves me from that.

The biggest hassle is when I have to go to the bathroom during infusion; I have to roll the whole IV drip and its attached monitors with me (they’re on batteries). The thing is heavy, cumbersome, and it moves like one of those damaged shopping carts at the grocery store. Do not like.

Cancer pagurus Linnaeus

Food and appetite: I went with some of dear friends for sushi farewell earlier this week because I’m forbidden from eating it during chemotherapy (depressed GI tract flora and immune system become more vulnerable to bacteria, etc.) I did order rolls that contained crab but refrained from making references to genus Cancer for the benefit of my table mates. I have not had any nausea or other unpleasant symptoms yet, except perhaps an early warning of acid reflux a few moments ago (the kind that usually don’t come to anything for me, but I will keep alert.)

Dumb luck, smart phone: I really appreciate having a smartphone right now, more than ever with the dumb luck of illness. I’m looking up information on treatment and funding, scheduling appointments, finding my destination for office visits, coordinating with friends, tracking my health record, snapping pictures of important documents, looking up personal information, showing my mom I’m doing well, playing silly little games to relax, and so much more.

Support network: I am so, so grateful for my husband and for my friends. I’m receiving wonderful help in so many forms. You have no idea how much even just well-wishes mean until the day you need to hear a friendly word. I love you all.


New Year 2015

Our friend Steve was raised heavily influenced by Japanese culture, so he has a tradition of hosting New Year in that style. This is what the table looked like; we had a lovely day with Steve, Dorene, Mark, Crystal, Chantal, Edmund and I. Dishes shown: burdock root salad, mochi, sashimi (tako, hamachi, maguro), rice crackers. Not shown: o-zōni soup, soy prawns, takuan, a number of other pickles and condiments.





Christmas Cheers and Holiday Haul

After our homey Christmas Eve, we slept in on Christmas Day. In the (late) morning, Edmund baked his contribution to the get-together later that day: another recipe from Where People Feast, Pacific macaroni and cheese… a deceptive title for a scrumptious baked pasta dish filled with fresh crab meat. It smelled so good, I started hoping San Francisco would be snowed in within the next half-hour so we could justify staying home and eating the whole dish!

Then we exchanged some stocking stuffers, and we headed out with the steaming dish to have Christmas lunch-dinner-feast at our friends’ Steve W. and Dorene with a bunch of other friends and family. As usual, everyone had brought wonderful dishes to share and Steve W. had cooked up a storm. It was a day of comfortable conversation, friendship, good food, and bad puns.

After exchanging gifts with our friends, we came home not too late because (1) we wanted to exchange the rest of our presents to each other, (2) I wanted to avoid seasonal drunk drivers as much as possible, and (3) our hosts had to fly out to a wedding on the 26.

We were quite pleased with the presents we gave, they seemed to hit the mark. And as usual, I received way more than I should, from people who know my tastes well. First, the “us” presents:

World of Dew coverEdmund got us a role-playing game right up my alley which I had somehow missed, Ben Woerner’s World of Dew (Woerner’s Wunder Werks). Happily for us, even though we had missed the Kickstarter campaign this spring, the good folks at EndGame had not, and they had ordered several retailer copies so that Edmund found this and brought it home. It is in turn based on John Wick’s game Blood and Honor (John Wick Presents), which I had also missed—in this case because it was released during our moratorium on all non-essential purchases. Both are beautiful books illustrated with vintage Japanese prints.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga trade paperback cover, vol.1To go with this, Edmund also got us volume 1 of the 30-tear anniversary Usagi Yojimbo compilation (Dark Horse Comics). We’re both fans of the long-eared ronin, it will be nice to re-read these adventures in one fell swoop. (I wonder how many volumes this new compilation will end up necessitating? I probably shouldn’t ask myself these questions, and should just enjoy my 600 pages of furry chanbara instead…)

Finally, Edmund also got us a paperback copy of the latest novel in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants.

Downwood Tales coverThen we received the latest expansion for the Mice & Mystics board game from our friends Steve W. and Dorene, Downwood Tales (Plaidhat Games). We’ve greatly enjoyed Mice & Mystics and we were looking forward to being eaten by snakes or having our mousey fur incinerated by firebelly newts, and playing new characters like Jakobe the gecko and Ditty the shrew. This is a massive expansion that seems to provide as much material as the original set—or perhaps even more, since some elements appear to increase replay value. This afternoon we made it through the first chapter and enjoyed it.

Hobbit Tales coverSteve P. and Maureen gave us another game, very story-oriented, Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn (Cubicle 7 Entertainment). It’s very similar to Atlas Games’ Once Upon A Time card game, though a bit more structured and also more competitive. I agree with reviewers who have suggested that for family play, you’ll get a better experience from not keeping score. In addition, Maureen gave me one of those handy vacuum sealing corks that allow you to keep wine good for a few days more after opening the bottle. Heidi and Eric gave us lovely glass-blown Christmas ornaments.

Race to Adventure! coverKaren Twelves and Sean Nittner gace us a copy of Evil Hat Productions’ Race to Adventure!, a compact board game based on the pulp universe of Spirit of the Century. This belongs in the category of games that, although competitive, are not too painful to lose at because you can play them in half an hour or less, like Race For the Galaxy (unrelated, despite similar title.)  I suppose this can also be said of the Hobbit Tales game above, but I feel the competitive aspect tends to detract from story, so I prefer to play it more cooperatively. Sean and Karen also gave us a print copy of the beautiful Atomic Robo RPG.

Finally, June and Edmund both got tons of sweets for us, especially chocolate.

Lovebirds broochLovebirds earringsPresents that were for me only: Edmund gave me beautiful silver jewellery designed by Haida artist Odin Lonning: a brooch and matching earrings on the Eagle and Raven lovebirds motif. Pacific Northwest people like the Haida and Tlingit (among others) have two main social groups, called moieties (literally, halves), the Eagles and the Ravens, each in turn containing 22 or 23 lineages. Traditionally, one cannot marry within a clan or lineage of the same moiety, so marriages typically signify the joining of an eagle to a raven. Eagle and Raven, when linked together, are consequently known as the Lovebirds. The Lovebirds are a popular design for items such as bracelets and rings, given as gifts between couples of these clans.

Strong Female Protagonist_01In addition, and perhaps to give the brooch something to hold in place, Edmund took me at my word when I said I would adopt The Feminist Killjoy Gift Guide as my Christmas wish list, so he gave me the Infinity Scarf (#29 in the list.) Amusingly, when I wore it yesterday I received several compliments on the look, but only Dorene noticed what the theme was. Hee hee. Rounding this up, Edmund also gave me the first collected volume of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag‘s Strong Female Protagonist, a comic book you can also enjoy online.

My mom sent me four little books she got at the annual book expo, le Salon du livre de Montréal: Le Journal d’Edward, hamster nihiliste, 1990-1990; Tous les coqs du matin chantaient; Mitsou: les aventures extraordinaires d’un chat végétalien; and La Fabrique des mots. She also sent two DVDs: Louis Cyr, the Strongest Man in the World; and The Scapegoat.

Christmas Eve at Home

I opened a Crabbie’s ginger beer and finished wrapping presents this afternoon. For dinner, Edmund made a couple of recipes out of Dolly and Annie Watts’ Where People Feast: An Indigenous People’s Cookbook, baked Alaskan halibut with lemon-dill butter with a side of beet and blackberry relish, plus his famous sautéed parsnips. Now we’re having dark chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

With dinner, we played Sentinels of the Multiverse—Legacy, Expatriette, Haka and Nightmist beat The Chairman in advanced mode, ha-ha. (But we were pretty far down by the end…)

We sure know how to rock the casbah. ^_^

Happy holidays, one and all. Here is a picture of one of the best things this year, Phantom coming to live with us since July (the black cat in this picture). With him is Valentine, our little beach foundling.

Val and Phantom in Edmund's lap

Sushi From Heaven: Hanazen

Hanazen - ChirashiFriday was my first pay day in my new job, and Edmund and I wanted to celebrate. In fact, we’d had to reschedule several times and were overdue for a night of fine dining with our friends Steve and Dorene so we’d agreed to go out for sushi celebration. At the very last minute, though, we ended up changing location to avoid having to drive across one of the Bay Area bridges at rush hour in wretched weather. In a fit of inspiration, Dorene suggested Hanazen in Orinda, which Edmund and I could take a BART train to and Steve and Dorene could easily drive to.

I don’t often give 5 stars but Hanazen earned it. One of a kind, artisanal preparation of lovely fresh ingredients, creating complex, nuanced flavours. Eating there for the first time requires a certain dose of humility and appreciation for art. This was more upscale, smaller, and altogether refined than the place we were originally going to eat at. I’ve been in many nice, pleasant sushi places but it had been a long time since I had been in a top-notch place where everything is about creating art, not about delivering a product. I say “art” as a compliment, not sarcasm: the art of a perfect balance of flavours, aromas, colours, shapes, and textures.

The Restaurant

I’d read the Yelp reviews, especially the negative ones (I always do) before trying this place. I “get” what the negative reviewers were unhappy with, but I think they missed the spirit and quality of this place.  For context, understand that this place is owned by a husband and wife who are chef and host—Kenji and Coco Horikawa—with no other personnel, and could seat 17 people at a time if it was jammed packed with no room to move. You go there for an evening of slowly savouring little bites of heaven and good conversation, not to have a well-timed meal before going to the Shakespeare play or the movies.

Most of the condiments, pickles, sauces, infused salts, and garnishes used in preparing the dishes are made by the chef himself rather than store-bought. This means that every element is so good it can be savoured on its own, but together they build these lovely complex flavours that unfold slowly as you eat. The sake menu is also diverse and offers a range of flavours as wide as any sommelier’s choice of wines in a fine French restaurant.

Service: The service started out formal and I understand why it seemed distant to some Yelp commenters. But as soon as we showed that we were interested, not too vain to receive pointers on how to appreciate the food and drinks, and happy to learn about the preparation details, we felt our host and server, Coco Horikawa, warm up to us. The service was attentive and helpful throughout the meal.

Freshness and Choice: This is the very opposite experience of chain restaurants where you can find everything everywhere, but of mediocre quality and always the same; it’s the one-of-a-kind experience that will be a little different every time. So no long menu with dozens of wacky Americanized rolls, just a solid core list and a board with a generous list of the current delicacies. Coco Horikawa is a sake expert, and Chef Kenji Horikawa’s speciality is kaiseki, a method of cooking that marks the seasons in Japan. Let them guide you to what’s good and fresh today, and works well together.

Price: Just think why your run-of-the-mill sushi bar is cheaper: made faster, with cheaper, store-bought ingredients and using shortcuts like big piggish rolls instead of nigiri pieces. Let’s not mince words, Hanazen is expensive for regular people on regular salaries—the kind of place we can only eat at for a special celebration. But it’s priced correctly for the value, quality, care, and work involved.

Reservations: It’s clear that every spot is marked “reserved” all the time. I believe the owners prefer to work by reservation only so they can pace the work and plan the ingredients accordingly. If you want to sit at the counter, mention that when you make your reservation.

Wheelchair access: Although Yelp says there is no wheelchair access, they actually put down a ramp in advance if you mention this in your reservation. However, don’t expect that anyone will have time to stop preparing or serving food to take care of this if you don’t mention it ahead of time.

What We Tried

We ordered “family style,” sharing all the dishes. We abandoned ourselves to the good judgement of the chef by ordering the Chef’s Choice for one plate of sushi, one of chirashi, and one of sashimi. We also tried some rolls (Dragon roll, tempura roll, and one maki with the chef’s own home-pickled kampyo.) Among the “small plates” listed on the board, we tried the grilled pike and the miso cod, sunomono, and probably something else I’m forgetting right now.

We also tried the saké sampler, with three very different drinks: if memory serves, a “manly,” sober Junmai; a complex Junmai Ginjo evoking aromas of melon, and a fruity, cheerful, complex and over-the-top Junmai Daiginjo (I hope I’m remembering them right, I should have taken notes.)

Something memorable for me: I usually find ikura (big pearly fish roe) completely uninteresting, but Chef Kenji marinates the ikura and gives it a superb, citrus-y flavour. Heck, a benchmark for Japanese restaurants: even the rice itself was lovely.

Photo taken from Foodio54 because we forgot to photograph most of our dishes, we just dove in. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.