Late Fall Retrospective

So about four weeks ago, I was walking across the still-damp yard first thing in the morning.  Something felt different. I looked down and noticed the leaves were different. They weren’t colorful, and they weren’t still-alive. They were wet and had shriveled from bright yellow to crinkly grey. It was the feel I’d noticed. Instead of the velvet brush of new fallen leaves against my shoes, they crackled. I realized that fall comes in phases.

Early fall is full of color and brilliance and warmth and life. My wife and I struggled to pick an avalanche of ripening tomatoes. I relished getting to harvest two little watermelons from our garden. We went on walks and marveled in the color collages.

Suddenly in that Saturday morning moment on the lawn I noticed that fall comes in phases. Previously, I thought it was one thing, and I didn’t like it. Thinking of fall made me feel depressed. It meant I’d be in the dark after five p.m. and freezing cold for the next seven months. It was my least favorite season.

My wife mentioned time and again while we were in Louisiana that she missed the fall colors. I didn’t notice the difference too much and was on a mission that she could find all the fall colors she needed there. She remained unconvinced. I must say that getting the chance to experience our fall in Illinois with new eyes, I too am captivated by the colors and the beauty. For the first time I noticed little things. A brilliant ivy against a limestone wall. Specked leaves against a green watermelon. A chorus of leaves having fallen to the sidewalk from brilliant weeds along a chain-linked fence. A yellow leaf sun-catcher caught by the wind. Beautiful was everywhere. Fall, I can say, warms my soul.


My Dream Tank: Cardinal Tetras, Rummynose, & Altum Angels

So I often dream of my ideal fish tank. I imagine a tank that attempts to forge a beautiful little window into the natural world. Cardinal tetras and rummynose tetras are spectacular tropical fish. The former for their electric red and blue and the latter for their tight schooling and fire engine red snouts.

Native to the black water tributaries of the Amazon, these fish are at home in low ph water tinted with the natural dark tannins of decaying leaves. I must state, however, that I don’t know how so many fish can safely live in this small of an aquarium, but I speculate that it must be through the daily or bi-daily changing of large amounts of water.

The large fish are Altum angelfish, the largest freshwater angelfish. As breeding occurs in the Amazon or Rio Negro the populations of tropical fish swell into the tens of millions during the wet-season, they are sustainably captured by native fishermen sold to aquarium hobbyists around the world. Since these fish experience incredibly high natural mortality rates in the wild, large quantities can be harvested without damaging the various species’ long term viability. (I must note, however, the fish in the video are a captive bred F1 generation).

Angelfish are hunters so I caution not to set up this aquarium at home unless you are prepared for the possibility of having your Angels pick off your cardinals and rummynose. I wouldn’t be comfortable with the possibility of my prized cardinals getting eaten, but perhaps there’s a trick to keep it from happening. If so, let me know, and I will keep dreaming of such a setup as this.

Great Greater-Chicago Happy-Hour Sushi

So my wife and I drove into the Chicago suburbs for me to attend a conference this weekend. We’d been looking forward to this because we were hoping to go to Nagoya, a sushi buffet that was one of two sister locations we’d enjoyed back in Baton Rouge. We’d never been to the one in Illinois so were were excited to make it to the Naperville location at four yesterday. It was just opening for dinner. Supposedly it had steamed lobster on the buffet, allowing me to rationalize the splurge of $30 a person.

Walking in the door they had a large saltwater reef tank just like the one in Baton Rouge. We were stoked. I asked if we could sit by the fish tank and they said no. The buffet area in Baton Rouge was bright and beautiful. Here it was dark, leaving us uneasy. The deal breaker came when we got to the end of the buffet and there was a hand made sign written in sharpie saying, “One Lobster per Guest per Visit.”

My wife’s terrible disappointment was magnified by her hunger. While I was finishing up the conference, she’d missed lunch. I had one chance to get it right and I was feelin’ my stars. I told her the new plan was to go a mile back down the road to a sushi place we passed on the way here that made my spidey senses tingle.

I had a feeling it would be awesome and was glad we’d get to double back and check.

The restaurant turned out to be Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar and it hit the nail on the head. The second we walked through the door, everything was turning up us. It was happy hour. All of their regular rolls were half price along with selected appetizers. We went nuts. We were excited to be able to eat sushi like a buffet only with incredible quality accompanying our quantity. The wasabi pork dumplings were a wake up. The wasabi sauce on only two dumplings did it for me. I depended on the hot green tea to reset my palate for the sushi.

My wife and I are generally not impressed by the pomp and fanfare of specialty rolls. Their tempura fried innards, mayonnaise sauces, and high prices don’t do much for us.

We’re quite satisfied to stick to regular rolls. We appreciate the clean, natural taste of the fish, and the rice, and the seaweed. Point in case, the chives in the yellowtail roll, juxtaposed beautifully with the clean white flesh of the fish and the subtle tang of the sushi vinegar. Any more would be less.

The spicy hotate-scallop nigiri turned out not to be what I thought I’d ordered. Though, I thought I’d ordered a plain scallop nigiri, I appreciated its visual presence on the plate.

The salmon rolls were simple and gorgeous. The cucumber crisp. Perfection.

Overall the sushi plate was a dream. The spicy tuna was actually incredibly spicy–a first for me. Great california rolls and tuna rolls.

Lately, however, I have a bad habit of judging a sushi place based on their white tuna. Done right, it is simple, buttery, and amazing. Here it was just that.

We enjoyed ourselves throughly. Though we’re not sushi snobs, we seek to maximize quantity and quality while managing cost. Here, for happy hour at least, we were able to address all three considerations in a way I’d only envisioned but never encountered.

Even during happy hour, the quality and beauty of the rolls were phenomenal. Based on our time at Shinto, we’re tempted to make the three hour commute again soon.  Shinto made our day, and your’s too, I hope:)

Shinto Japanese Steak House Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon