Breathe In, Breathe Out

In Karate, I’ve learned the importance of breathing. Not only how to breathe while practicing basics or kata (and most recently, kumite – but that is a whole other story), but also to stop, re-focus and concentrate on your breath. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Slow down and focus.

And that’s what I want to do with this monthly, personal column. Slow down and reflect on where I’ve been, what I am accomplishing as a writer, and where I intend on going in this writer’s journey. Join me on the 22nd of each and every month and I’ll fill you in with what I am writing, how much I am doing and where I’m appearing.

Since this is the first column, there’s a lot to talk about.

First, I am working on writing a story under contract (a pure epic fantasy story), editing a story for a local publication, writing a column for another local publication and outlining a novel I hope to have finished by years end. The novel will be a cross between cyberpunk and Princess Mononoke. Hopefully the thought of that concept makes a few of you excited. Plus, I have another story that is out there right now, and I’ve been waiting to hear from the publisher as to whether it is acceptable or not.

I know, I know. Not a lot of substance. I can’t say much until announcements are made, and then I’ll announce them here. But what I am trying to say is…I’ve got a lot on the go. I’m trying to increase my daily word count and get stories done. And that’s hard when you’re juggling a busy family, a nine-to-five job, Karate (also with family), and writing. It’s not easy. And it is also part of why I’m doing this column. Accountability (For instance, this week I’ve written 2500 words – pretty well all on the C-Train). I’m letting you all know what I’m doing and I hate disappointing people. So, if you like my stories, I’ll be putting more out this year and hope to have my third novel written by years end. You’ll know if I succeed just by watching this column.

Now, back to breathing…inhale…exhale…

Tsundoku or Die!

Tsundoku or Die! is a short column in which I will highlight a book or books that you may want to consider reading or purchasing for yourself. All books I introduce here will be Asian in theme. This month, I want to introduce you to my friend Brandy Ackerley whose debut novel, will Hunter’s Gambit, has just been released. Read more below:

Kuzunoha is running out of options. In just a month she’ll be an adult but as the illegitimate younger daughter of a rich noble she can only see two possible futures. Both leave her a pawn in her elder sister’s game as family matriarch, a future as unacceptable to Kuzunoha as it is unavoidable.

That changes when Kuzunoha saves the life of a stranger. In return for her help, the stranger offers her a way to have a future that doesn’t tie her to her family. He’s heard of a forgotten treasure nearby and needs a guide to help him search for it. Her family and friends don’t trust this dangerous man’s offer, but Kuzunoha accepts, knowing that she can’t live the life her sister wants for her anymore.

Will she succeed in proving she can have a life outside of her sister’s shadow? Or will it all fall to pieces around her?

Brandy Ackerly can be found at:

Twitter: @FoxyWriter

Ramen of My Dreams

Deluxe Red Ramen from Tokyo Street Market

If I were to ask you to think about Japanese food, what is the first food that springs to mind? Teppanyaki? Tempura? Sukiyaki?
Yeah, that’s it. You’re nodding, aren’t you? Nothing against sushi, it’s great in all its forms. But it is far from being a Japanese staple.
These days, my go to Japanese food is ramen. Not the dry noodles in packages that every university student is familiar with (my favourite is Sapporo Ichiban), but ramen served in Japanese restaurants that specialize in ramen.
In Japan, ramen has been popular for decades. There is even a museum dedicated to the noodly goodness. But in the past 20 years, there has been a ramen renaissance of sorts – a renaissance that is only hitting North American shores. There are around 21,000 ramen restaurants in the Greater Tokyo area (Japan Explained FASAQ) but only a handful in Calgary. A number that is sure to grow.
And what do I like about? Everything. It is not as simple as just noodles in soup. The broth alone can take almost a day to simmer and the heady aroma of pork, ginger and other spices makes my head spin. Good ramen restaurants make their own noodles from scratch. Some even make their own chashu: delicate slices of barbecued pork belly that break apart on your chopsticks. The rest of the toppings range from bamboo shoots, green onions, soft-boiled eggs and corn. Other restaurants get even more exotic.
I’m getting hungry just writing about this.
So if you will try a bowl, as a ramen-lover who likes more traditional soups, I suggest trying any of the following three types to start before moving on to more exotic ramen dishes:
Tonkotsu Ramen: a ramen-traditionalist’s dream. A broth made with pork-bone and other seasonings and simmered for a day to create a thick broth that sticks to the noodles. The umami in a well-made bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen cannot be overstated. It’s heaven.
Shio Ramen: Not to be confused with Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce broth base) the broth in this dish is made from salt. But it is not as simple as it sounds. The number of components in shio ramen broth alone take a day to create. The balance of salt and pork fat, if done right, will make you immediately wish for another bowl.
Miso Ramen: Miso paste was added to ramen broths in northern Japan. Maybe they thought it was a remedy for cold winters, but Miso Ramen eventually made its way down south and across the Pacific. Fantastic on cold days for an extra shot of flavour

Tsukemen: Okay, I lied. There is another type of ramen I like, but its not fair to most people reading this. So far, I can’t find this on the continent. I had to travel all the way to Hawaii to enjoy this ramen dish. Tsukemen is served with hot broth and cold ramen noodles. The broth is more concentrated. You dip the noodles into the broth and consume. Exquisite when done right and I like to think I would go back to Honolulu just to have another bowl or two.
So there you have it. If you want to try a dish that many Japanese have on a daily basis, find a local ramen restaurant and chow down. You’ll find yourself traveling to Japan, at least in your stomach.

And now, it’s your turn. Send me an e-mail and let me know if you have tried ramen and if so, what is your favourite kind.

One last thing: My next post will be up on March 22 and the 22nd of every month hereafter. This post will be a column entitled “Breathe In, Breathe Out” and will be a monthly post about my writing – where it is going and what I’m writing. So, see you in two weeks.