November 5, 2012: What day is it? Oh, let’s call it Osaka Day #1! And the tail end of Tokyo Day #7! L’Effervescence! And dogs eating ice cream!

Osaka

Today, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, riding (and eating) in comfort as the scenery whizzed by.

All aboard!

It was quite comfortable (surprisingly roomier than any airline I’ve ever flown), with reserve seating and food vendors who stroll up and down the various cars, offering up everything from ice cream and coffee to katsu (pork cutlet) sandwiches. 

The view from my seat.

I’m thinking that, in the future, this might be the way to see more of the country.  I could start in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern area, and wind my way south by train, getting off to explore some of the cities along the way.  I could spend a couple of nights in Kyoto, Nara, Okinawa, Kobe, Kyushu…

Before boarding, we loaded up on supplies – in the form of snackables.  Since we arrived at Tokyo Station early, we had to wait some ten minutes for the shops to open.  And, at exactly 8:00 a.m., they did – right on schedule.  Check it out:

I picked up three of those mini pork burgers (they come in both lean and not-so-lean), a bento box, and some macarons for dessert:

My travel bento – a little bit of everything.

I also had some of the chocolates my friend Tomomi gifted me the previous night:

These wicked little morsels of chocolate decadence are highly addictive. They’re like super-dense/moist/rich brownies laced with just a touch of salt. They’re from a place called Chocolat Chic in Minato-ku

Speaking of Tomomi, I promised to provide the details of the incredible meal we enjoyed…

L’Effervesence

It was a spectacular dinner and the culinary highpoint of this trip so far.  The restaurant, L’Effervescence, is located in a quiet side street steps away from the Chokokuji Temple.  It has only been open about two years but has already earned itself a Michelin star thanks to its young, innovate Chef Shinobu Namae.

I arrived early (because I assumed I’d get lost – and did), and relaxed in the sleek lounge while I awaited my dining companion.  Tomomi arrived right on time, looking as gorgeous as ever, and we were escorted to our table, tucked away in a cozy, semi-private section.

In the mad scramble to pack for Osaka, I misplaced the menu, so bear with me as I attempt to tap my spotty memory and recall what, exactly, we ate:

First up were six imported olives.  Three were regular, and no less delicious, olives while another three had been laced with a hint of blood orange.

Their version of kinpira (burdock and carrot) with a touch of yuzu, topped with a foam confrere and accompanied by some yuzu ice.  Apparently, very natsukashii.

Next up was the apple pie which – hey, check it out! – looks a lot like the hot apple pie I used to get at McDonalds when I was a kid.  Chef Namae’s version is made with braised beef cheeks and Japanese sweet potato.  And, yes, kind of tasted like apple pie.

This dish was a masterful marriage of subtle flavors, highlighted by some beautiful Spanish mackerel.

The restaurant’s signature dish is a daikon (Japanese turnip) that has been slow-cooked for some four hours – yet, surprisingly, still retains its firmness and a certain crunch.  No idea how they pull it off but it’s damn impressive. 

The sea bass was perfectly cooked and easily the best I’ve had.  Our waiter described the arduous preparation process that involved switching the fish off from varied heated environments to achieve that perfect textural balance.

Foie gras with fresh chestnuts, chestnut puree, and black truffles.    The foie gras chestnut combination has been a revelation on this trip.

Interesting.  Sipped on the left, the oolong tea is cold.  Sipped on the right, it is piping hot.  Sipped from the middle and you are treated to a swirling combination of the two.  The most unique palate cleanser I’ve ever had. 

The main course was a perfectly prepared piece of pork (Yes, they can serve it pink in Japan because of the type of pork they source) accompanied by some outstanding mushrooms.

I had the cheese course but should have joined Tomomi on the salad instead – made up of 27 different vegetables (out of the 40 in season). 

A pear dessert featuring cauliflower ice cream.  Hmmmm.  Interesting, but I actually think the ice cream would have been far more successful as an added element to a savory course.

Chef Namae’s take on tiramisu.  We were instructed to eat the coffee capsule on the spoon first, then crack the crunchy chocolate top and scoop out the cream and cake to complete the experience. 

We ended our meal with various small sweet bites, among them some pop rock chocolate pops – 

And lemon curd in a tube.  We were also gifted a take-away treat that, frankly, I was to full to eat – which Akemi likened to an incredibly moist caramel pound cake.

Akemi’s breakfast.

Once we were done, Chef Namae came by to introduce himself.  I told him how much I enjoyed the meal and greatly appreciated, not only the execution of the various dishes in terms of the complexity of textures and tastes, but also the amount of creativity and hard work that no doubt gone into their conception.  At some point, Chef Namae had to come up with the inspired idea, then he had to figure out a way to achieve it on the plate, coming up with a game plan followed by a trial and error approach that eventually yielded the sought-after results.  And all I did was show up and eat it!

Highly recommended.

Whew.  Got the first full day of Osaka under my belt.  It’s, uh, quite the unique city. Tomorrow, I’ll take you all on the guided tour.  Make sure to wear your comfy shoes!

And, finally – a some heartening news from sis who has decided to hold off on the difficult decision.  Although he’s not going to get better, Aspen appears to have bounced back and is in much better spirits.  Great to hear!

September 1, 2012: The Snow Monkeys Cometh! The Dogs Eating Ice Cream summer finale!

Finally!  Today was the day our fantasy football league, Vancouver United, gathered for our fantasy football draft.  It looks like my team, the Snow Monkeys, will have its work cut out for it as it faces off against fourteen other tough teams.  Well, thirteen tough teams plus the ragtag assortment of players Tio will manage to assemble every week.

Determined to repeat as champions.

After staying up late last night going over my stats, I woke up early this morning – to go over my stats – then opened up my three laptops, pulled out my research documents, and counted down.  Our draft positions were randomly generated thirty minutes before the draft, so there was no way to prepare – well, short of over-preparing which is what I did, running some three hundred different simulations that saw me drafting at all fourteen spots.  If there was one thing I discovered, it was that I didn’t want to end up drafting in the #5-7 position.  #1-4 and I would draft one of the top three RB’s.  #8-14 and I would have a shot at a couple of fairly strong runners as well.  Of course, as it turned out, I ended up with the 6th pick.

Ready to draft!

The draft began at 11:00 a.m. sharp.  VFX Supervisor Mark Savela (The Savela Skitterers) had the first pick and my buddy Tio, who must be commended for attempting to field a team made up entirely of quarterbacks, had the last pick.  Inside that hour and a half, I snapped up some great players, missed out on a few I’d had my eye on, and even landed a couple of potential sleepers.

Here are my new look Snow Monkeys:

QB: Drew Brees

RB: Fred Jackson

RB: Doug Martin

WR: Dwayne Bowe

WR: Marques Colston

TE: Jared Cook

R/W/T: Mark Ingram

K: Ryan Succop

D: Atlanta Falcons

Bench

RB: Jacquizz Rodgers

WR: Pierre Garcon

WR: Austin Collie

WR: Greg Little

WR: Jon Baldwin

WR: Justin Blackmon

In the end, I had to draft one of the top tier quarterbacks and I’m very happy with Brees.  Regardless of the vendetta against them, the Saints will be a powerhouse this year.  Which is why I also picked up the scoring machine Marques Colston and lead Saints back Mark Ingram who should assume most goal line rushing duties.  A very solid offensive line will make the Chiefs much improved, which means another great year for Bowe and possible breakout status for Baldwin.

Speaking of breakout status, speedy Justin Blackmon has already become a favorite of QB Blaine Gabbart in Jacksonville and he looks to have plenty of upside.  Our opening week match-up will no doubt see me crush Tio’s team, the woefully undermanned Crossplane.  Fred Jackson was well on his to a rushing title last season before breaking his leg.  He’s on the mend and gets another shot this year.  Meanwhile, rookie Doug Martin assumes lead rushing duties on a Bucs squad that also boasts a pretty solid o-line.  I went with a couple of #1 receivers, and a tight end, on teams with new quarterbacks that should be throwing their way plenty: Pierre Garcon, Greg Little, and Jared Cook.

My biggest reach was Atlanta runningback Jacquizz Rodgers but, with Michael Turner slowing down, the pass-catching Rodgers coming out of the backfield presents a terrific opportunity for the pass-happy Falcons. The only pick I’m unsure of is Colts receiver Austin Collie.  Hopefully, he develops some kind of rapport with first year QB Andrew Luck. Finally, as for the kicker and defense – there’s no way to tell at the beginning of the season so I just rolled the dice and will wait and see.

Thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?  Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about?   The last time I talked football with my friends, Akemi had this to say: “It sounds like you’re speaking English, but I don’t understand anything!”

As a reward for all those non-football fans who nevertheless read through the above post, here is video from this summer’s last soft serve outing with the dogs:

 

July 5, 2012: Days of Stargate: Atlantis Past! The Tower! And Dogs Eating Ice Cream!

THE TOWER (215)

In first season or so on the Stargate franchise, my writing partner and I co-wrote scripts in the truest sense of the term.  We actually sat (or paced) in an office, bouncing ideas and dialogue off each other, hammering out every scene and every line in the script.  Eventually, we found it easier (and faster) to simply pitch the script back and forth between us.  I’d write a scene, send it his way, then he would rewrite the scene, write the next one, and send it my way.  I would re-rewrite his rewrite of the first scene, rewrite the second scene, and move on to the third.  And so on.  As the demands of production increased, it simply became easier to write our own first drafts and then have our partner do a pass on that.  By the time Atlantis was in its second season, we were at this third stage of our writing partnership.  I came up with the initial kernel of an idea involving a sister Atlantis, but it was the writing department that developed the story while Paul did the lion’s share (aka = all) of the work on this one.  And what the hell was I doing?  Well, given the timing, I believe I was either rewriting Ripple Effect, writing The Scourge, or locked in my office making plans for my next trip to Tokyo.

Lots of humorous moments in this one and great visual cues, one of my favorite being the segue that juxtaposes the polite table manners of the downtrodden villagers to the boorish behavior of the so-called nobles.  Also, as far as great exchanges go, this is one of my favorites:

OTHO: This is terrible. I knew Tavius was cruel and vindictive, but to want to murder his own father?

SHEPPARD: Raising children can be very dangerous.

And later, after he ends up getting tossed in a cell with Sheppard, Beckett’s lament: “I really need to stop making house calls.”

Actor Jay Brazeau (Harlan from SG-1’s Tin Man and Double Jeopardy) returns to the franchise, this time playing the ailing Lord Protector who places his trust in the wrong person.  Peter Woodward is delightfully devilish as the scheming Otho.  Brendan Beiser (who used to play basketball with former Stargate script coordinator Alex Levine) was an unbelievably pleasant surprise as the scene-stealing Tavius.  And, of course, those of you watching Martin Gero’s new show, The L.A. Complex, will recognize Chelan Simmons who plays the role of Mara here (Alicia Lowe there).

The episode’s colorful characters were matched by some equally colorful costumes, rentals actually because the wardrobe department was swamped by the demands of two productions.

Finally, loved the fact that Atlantis gets to supplement its supply of puddle jumpers and drones – but this is one of those stories that simply begged for a follow-up episode.

Summer has finally arrived.  And you know what that means!  Yes.  It’s time for…

DOGS EATING ICE CREAM…

June 12, 2011: Bubba update! Ivon Bartok hits Banff! Woofstock! Pugs eating ice cream! Mailbag!

Bubba update!  We took him back to the vet’s for a second visit, this time getting him checked out by a second doctor.  We explained that he’d been quite lethargic of late and, every so often, was given to brief trembling bouts.  The vet informed us that this was a sign he was in pain and proceeded to test his range of motion: pushing, pulling, tapping, and tweaking.  Ultimately, he discovered that Bubba was displaying discomfort along his upper spine and shoulder area, suggesting he may have twisted or pulled something at daycare.  So now, he joins Jelly on the metacam train.  Hopefully he’ll be back to his old high-strung self in a couple of weeks.

My friend (and former Stargate Special Features Producer) Ivon Bartok is on his way to Banff.  And what will he be doing in Banff?  This! =  http://www.banffmediafestival.com/deal-makers-live-with-jonathan-torrens.php#contestants  Ivon is one of the eight lucky finalists in Deal Makers Live competition that will see him present a 30 second on-stage pitch of an original show idea.  Ivon and his seven co-contestants will “go head-to-head in a high-profile, high-tech battle for the hearts and minds of both our expert panel and the live BANFF audience”.  You can follow my buddy’s progress here:  http://twitter.com/ivonbartok  Wish him luck!

Damn!  Visited a couple of the local comic book shops yesterday to discover the exclusive Randy Bowen Modok statue has sold out.  One less villain to add to the office decor. sad

Today, we took in Toronto’s annual Woofstock festival with two of my four dogs.  Since Jelly has a hard time getting around due to her bad hips, and because Bubba is generally high-strung and anti-social in crowds, we elected to take Lulu and Maximus out for the day…

Akemi rarin' to go.
Lulu wonders "Where's the party at?"
Maximus. Totemo hansamu!

Dogs in silly outfits…

GO CANUCKS!!!

Dogs in strollers…

Pitbulls doing their best Hannibal Lecter…

And various sights…

Maximus - ten minutes in and he's already tired.
Cooling off on a hot day.
Lulu tests out the custom dog furniture on display.
Testing...
...testing...
Maximus helps.

Lulu sucks up for attention.
Check out that tongue! I think this pug is half frog.
Lulu cools off.
Akemi makes a new friend.
The St. Ignatius Pug Choir
Maximus wonders: "How much longer?".
Bored!
Stewie!

Meet 'n Greet!

Maximus is DONE!

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to blog regular Lisa R.’s husband.  Well, she’s the regular.  Anyway.  Good luck!

And GO MAVS!

Mailbag:

squishy writes: ”

In Ripple Effect (one of my favorite episodes!) when the ‘bad’ SG1 team is leaving, the bad Mitchell turns around before the Stargate puddle and says to the ‘good’ Mitchell: ‘When the time comes, cut the green one’. Enlighten me please?”

Answer: Among the notes I received on the script’s first draft from my fellow writer-producers was a suggestion from Damian Kindler that alt. Mitchell should throw out a cryptic line like: “When the times comes, cut the green one.”.  I loved the idea and put it in the script.  It wasn’t a set-up to any specific pay-off but, having said that, it was something we certainly could have touched on had the show gone another season.

dasndanger writes: “I’ve been meaning to ask how your mom and sister are these days. Are they glad to have you closer to home?”

Answer: They’re all fine.  I’ll be seeing them this Christmas, provided they don’t come up to visit me earlier.

fsmn36 writes: “I wondered about your thoughts on Marvel as a great comic book connoisseur. What were your favorite issues of X-Men (I figure you must have read some at one point)? Did you read the ones written by Joss Whedon? And ultimately…DC or Marvel?”

Answer: My passion for comic books ebbs and flows.  I’ll pick up every title out there, then start dropping them as I lose interest.  Eventually, I’ll drop the last one and go months without buying anything – then go out one day, pick up every title out there, and start over again.  My favorite X-Men were the new incarnation introduced in Uncanny X-Men #94/Giant Size X-Men #1 (well, “new” back then).  My favorite issues = #132-137, the end of the Hellfire Club storyline and the Dark Phoenix saga.  Haven’t checked out Astonishing X-Men yet but have eyed the omnibus.  Recommended?  DC or Marvel?  Depends on who’s writing.  TPB I’m reading now: Chew (Image), The Walking Dead (Image), Scalped (Vertigo), DMZ (Vertigo), Sweet Tooth (Vertigo), Secret Six (DC).

@iom666 writes: “How about cats ? Did you ever have a cat ? What do you think of ‘them’ ? ;)

Answer: I’ve had cats and love ’em as well.

Patricia-Stewart Bertrand writes: “My sister’s dogs are terrified of rain, and thunder and spiders and cats. They are two very large and friendly Border Collies. Any suggestions to help them conquer their fears?”

Answer: Just sit with them, pet them, reassure them.  Having the t.v. on helps as well.

Sebastian Meyer writes: “So you write /block the chase and stunt sequences yourself as the episode’s writer? Not all shows do that. How detailed do you get and did you do the same on Stargate?”

Answer: When writing a script, we do try to craft creative action sequences that will serve as a launch point for our stunt coordinators.  Realistically, they’re only guidelines because, when the time comes, what can or can’t be done will be entirely location dependent.  On Transporter: The Series, for instance, fight coordinator Cyril Raffaelli and car stunt coordinator Michel Julienne will no doubt use the scripted sequences as inspiration, but won’t be beholden to what’s on the page.  So why do we write them into the script?  Well, they do offer some insight into what we are expecting in terms of action.  Also, some people who read scripts have a hard time imagining “the good version”.  If I was to simply write “a car chase ensues and Frank gets away” the response I would no doubt receive would be something alone the lines of: “BOOOORING!  Can’t we come up with something better?”.

Randomness writes: “Have you had a chance to watch Spice and Wolf yet?”

Answer: Not yet.  Season one is sitting in my DVD room back in Vancouver.

Randomness also writes: “Also how are your Japanese skills coming along?”

Answer: Last night, Akemi and I went out to eat.  Over the course of our meal, we conversed in Japanese.  Our waiter marveled at my command of the language. I told him I only sounded proficient because he didn’t understand Japanese.  I possess the verbal skills of a very polite four year old Japanese boy.

Randomness also writes: “Code Geass has 2 movies in Japan on DVD/Blu Ray, they basically cover Season 1 and 2, and have some new footage here and there, they’re Japanese only with no subtitles, but if you want to watch Code Geass abridged, its something you might want to pick up from Japan next to you go Joe.”

Answer: One of Akemi’s favorites.  Already watched!

Randomness also writes: “And lastly any plans to get Chris Vance to do a blog appearance?”

Answer: Would love to have him come by and do a Q&A but, realistically, I don’t think he’ll have the time.  He’s going to be VERY busy.

chupeto writes: “Are the people who made the Ascension (like Alterans, or like the people of Abydos) called : “The Others” or “The Ancients” ?”

Answer: Sorry, I don’t understand the question.  If you’re asking whether all Ascended beings are Ancients, the answer is no.

paloosa writes: “So starting Monday, I’m headed to the Death Valley of the Valley…Woodland Hills. No studios nor even production companies. Despite the name, the Warner Center is just a bunch of boring corporate industrial buildings. I’m happy to still have a job, but it’s three times the mileage, cost and time. And over 100 degrees most of the summer.”

Answer: We’re following parallel paths!  Good luck!