So, this morning at 3am Tanegashima time, Cody and the NASA dudes completed their satellite mission. I was lucky enough to get to watch from the space center, so I had a decent view. Poor Cody had to be in a windowless room during the launch because he was part of the team that needed to monitor and control things if they went wrong. I’m not a photographer, but I lugged our giant camera to the viewing area, flipped the switch to “auto” and did my best to catch a few frames. If you ever get the opportunity to watch a rocket launch in person, I’d recommend taking advantage. It’s pretty dang beautiful, and the sound and feel of it is sort of hard to describe.

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

For video that pretty closely resembles what I saw, watch this.

For video that’s a good bit shinier than what I saw, watch this.

  1. Amazing photos of the launch. Also really love the new look of the blog. There is nothing you can't do!

    Lisa — February 28, 2014
    1. Thanks Lisa! The launch was awesome, and Cody did all site the updates for me. He's a talented guy!

      courtney — March 2, 2014
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  2. what an awesome opportunity! you are a super photographer. nice work. xoxom

    miranda — March 2, 2014
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  3. […] dressing you’ve never had. Or at least I had never had it, until Cody and I went to Japan for that NASA thing we did, and then I had it all the time. The little hotel that hosted us for our four-month Tanegashima […]

    Creamy Sesame Dressing | Sweet Salty Tart — December 15, 2015
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Words on Cheese

There are not many American foods I’ve missed during my three months in Japan. There was that one time when I really wanted a burrito. My only other longing has been for cheese.

While the sauce aisles, produce sections, and seafood departments of the grocery stores here in Tanegashima are gorgeous enough to make any food lover swoon, the dairy cases are abbreviated and elementary. So far I’ve found individually wrapped American “cheese” slices, little wedges of creamy cheese wrapped in foil, and cans of powdered “parmesan”. When I’m at home I like to keep enough real, delicious cheese on hand that I could grate it up and roll around in it if I wanted. But here I’ve had to console myself with meticulously prepared, charcoal grilled chicken. Which maybe undermines my whining completely…

My point is, when we landed in California last month, I had one immovable item on my agenda: find cheese and eat it (sorry family, priorities you know). Cody’s hometown of Sutter Creek has an adorable cheese shop where the owner hands out samples like her customers are starving, but I didn’t beat around the bush this time. I knew what I wanted: Two Sisters Isabella, and Lamb Chopper. Both aged goudas, one from cow, one from sheep, both sharp and nutty and utterly unavailable in Tanegashima. I cannot get enough aged gouda, and these are just different enough that I get to eat twice as much gouda and still feel like I’m having some variety in my cheese choices.


On the way back to Tanegashima I started devising ways to bring cheese with me. There was no way I was going another two months without cheese. Customs can be tricky though, so I found that giant department store I mentioned earlier: Isetan, home of the stink-less seafood department. They had a decent selection of cheese and I walked away with a wedge of parmesan, a block of some really rich swiss, a craggy hunk of mimolette, and a brick of basic yellow cheddar.  I promised myself I would share.


With the parmesan, I made a pretty successful risotto in the Sun Pearl’s kitchen with some gloriously starchy Japanese rice. Papa-san, your typical strong and silent type, actually spoke to me to tell me my risotto was “oishii” and it warmed my shriveled little heart. The rest I brought out to share with Midori-san and Suja. Midori had the funniest reaction to a little piece of parmesan she popped in her mouth. It was like the cheese was hot or sour – that kind of puckering squint. And this is a woman who likes spicy things and lives in a country where wasabi is liberally applied to 25% of the dishes. I tried to think of a dish that might elicit a similar reaction in me…maybe a huge mouthful of stilton? I’m just so used to Parmesan that her reaction was surprising and adorable.

It’s been about three weeks since I polished off my cheese stash, and I’m feeling…stable. But as much as I look forward to getting home and re-stocking my fridge with enough gouda and gruyere and feta to fill a human-sized bathtub, I know it means I’ll be giving up all my Japanese food crushes like crispy, charred yakitori shio and impossibly rich tonkotsu ramen. It will be interesting to see how long I make it in the US before I start getting rude cravings my favorite Japanese dishes. I’m anticipating a few desperate attempts at re-creating them at home, followed by an impulsive plane ticket purchase.

  1. Why can't Japan and the US just be closer? That might solve this dilemma. And I might actually get to visit Japan.

    Miranda — February 26, 2014
    1. Mir, I agree completely. Or someone needs to invent teleporting.

      courtney — March 2, 2014
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Shibuya Yakitori

I’ve been a busy girl ever since we got back here to Tangeashima, going to parties and dinners and a glass-bead making class, learning to cook Japanese dishes, and eating everything within reach. My impending return to the states is making me sort of frantic to squeeze every drop of experience out of this trip. I even agreed to sing at this potter’s (yes, a person who makes pots and has a kiln in his backyard) open mic-night on Saturday. Just everything. I’m the “yes” woman right now.

But really quick let me tell you about Shibuya. Cody and I were only there for a couple of hours, but it made an impression. It’s crowded. There’s good shopping. And I ate some exceptional yakitori while I was there.


This is a much larger and more organized restaurant than I’m used to in Tanegashima. It had that same amazing charred meat smell though.

yakitori counter

We’ve decided one of our favorite types of yakitori is this chicken and green onion combo.

yakitori skewers

And I can’t see a fried potato on any menu and pass it up. Below are some mashed potato croquettes.

potato croquettes

Asparagus is good when it’s wrapped in bacon. Put it on a stick and grill it over coal and, well, guess.


Then some chicken meatball sticks with raw egg yolk for dipping. Cody passed. I didn’t.


tokyo skyscraper

And our last snack before our flight back to Tanegashima: purple sweet-potato flavored Kit Kats.  Not bad, but chocolate is better.

purple sweet potato kit kat

  1. Wow, looks amazing.

    Jordan — February 20, 2014
    1. It was! Especially the chicken with green onions. Definitely bringing that one back with me.

      courtney — March 2, 2014
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  2. When to this yakitori place but forgot the location. Do you remember the name of it? =D

    Ley — May 18, 2016
    1. YES! I think I found it: It's called Toraiya. Here's a link to the restaurant's website, and a Google Maps link. I hope it's the same one! It's so tricky remembering restaurant info when it's all in a different language, isn't it? Website: and google map link:,139.6983562,3a,75y,19.77h,75.66t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1stQsS6zA_isoHSUFHlOMcQg!2e0!3e2!7i13312!8i6656

      courtney — May 22, 2016
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And Back Again

tokyo bike

After a week in California we started making our way back to Tanegashima for our last month before the rocket launches.

tokyo thrombosis

We were sure to avoid thrombosis on our 10 hour flight.

tokyo hotel

The picture above, plus one cigarette and minus one pair of pants would make for a little ScarJo “Lost in Translation” moment. Wife of a guy who takes photos (but mine also works for NASA) living in a hotel in Japan…hmm. I’d argue my situation is a bit better than hers . If I were the type to argue a hypothetical comparison with a fictional character.


Here’s a little peek down a street in Shinjuku. It’s food food food food, pachinko, electronics, food food food.

ramen restaurant

This is one of those ramen places with the vending machine out front. This particular joint is pork-centric.

pork and cheese noodles

I had noodles with braised pork belly and cheese. Not bad.

tokyo crab and hat

Shopping in Shinjuku.

ham at isetan

Legs of ham at a really really cool, really really big store called Isetan. Where I blew $50 on cheese to take back to Tanegashima. Have I mentioned that there is almost no proper cheese in Tanegashima? I realize $50 is a lot, but it was a lot of cheese, plus there’s supply and demand or somesuch thing.

fish at isetan

Fish in Isetan. This was probably the nicest smelling seafood display I’ve ever experienced.


And Muji, which is almost kind of like a Japanese Ikea. But maybe better (they have an online store and they ship to the US and you’re welcome). I used to think that if I ever had a fat wad of cash to blow on a frivolous shopping spree, I’d take it to New York, but now? I think Tokyo is winning.

  1. i hope you bought that classy hat! and i'm looking up muji right now.

    miranda — February 19, 2014
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California foothills

So the purpose of our leaving Japan was to take a little trip to California to visit Cody’s family. Cody’s sister just had a new baby and we got to meet him and hang out with our adorable niece Afton.


We basically had to trick Afton into putting on that kimono. She’s got spirit. But she eventually acquiesced and was epic cute.


Little Micah.

Afton in Amador

Afton posing for some family shots before our Sunday dinner. And I realized while making this awesome pork tenderloin recipe for the tenth time (which I got from Cody’s very sophisticated cousins) that I’ve been making this sauce, and it’s buerre blanc – which is kind of a tricky, old French master chef kind of sauce – and I had no idea. I may have to blog it.


Amador county has this great restaurant called Taste. We’ve been trying to go every time I’ve been in town but kept missing their lunch hours, which is the best time to go. This tortellini with butternut squash, goat cheese, crispy brussels sprouts and smoked eggplant kind of stole the show.


The burrito meter was on E. Not anymore.

Costco and tacos

They don’t really have Mexican food in Japan, or Costco. So we hit both.

In n Out

And of course, In n Out.

more foothills

  1. how did i miss this post? love it! so glad you filled your burrito meter, haha…i must've gotten the wrong thing when i went to that burrito truck. i got pork tacos…no bueno. just straight pork fat. sick. anyway, it was way fun having you guys here. we miss you guys!

    miranda — February 19, 2014
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Layover in Narita

Well, Cody and I are back in Tangeashima and going about our usual business. Yesterday I made risotto with Japanese rice here in the Sun Pearl’s kitchen and I think it’s the first thing I’ve made that Japanese people actually liked. While I was working I got to watch Papa-san slice up some sashimi (not his first rodeo) and he complimented me on my food (big win of the day). So we’re getting back into the swing of things, and enjoying the island weather (it’s been 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit since we landed).

Our trip to and from California went really well, no thanks to me and my very predictable airport rage (tell me I’m not the only one). On the way out we had an overnight layover in Narita which is an interesting area with too many good things to buy. The morning before our flight to San Francisco, we caught the bus into town and hiked to the temple which was decked out for the New Year. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the New Year here is a big, month-long deal.

Narita Temple at New Year

There were stalls set up all over the temple grounds selling food and good luck charms. The grounds themselves are gorgeous, with burning incense everywhere and little nature trails for sneaking off and being pensive I assume.

Narita Temple New Year Market

Before going in to pay their respects at the temple, people visited this fountain to wash their hands. You’ll notice the placard to the left of my dragon friend says “Hot Dog” so that’s what I will call him.

Hot Dog the Dragon at the Narita Temple

Be warned: blood and guts in this next photo. Narita has a lot of unagi restaurants and if you walk through in the morning you’ll likely get a little butchering show. It’s impressive and gross all at once.

Eels in Narita

And for the oddest possible juxtaposition to freshly slaughtered Japanese eel, how about some Japanese McDonalds?

Narita Airport McDonalds

The menu is pretty similar to the American version, with the addition of some kind of double-patty burger with an egg on top, and the absence of gigantic soda cups.

Narita Airport McDonalds

That up there’s a medium Japanese soda, which is basically a happy-meal size cup in the US. Below is my new favorite McDonald’s sandwich: Filet-o Ebi. The patty is made of shrimp, breaded and fried, and topped with spicy mayo. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Filet-o Ebi

More on the way! And it’ll be relatively quick now that my world is a bit more static.

  1. I've been waiting for the next blog installment! Loving the colorful pictures and adventures. Keep 'em coming!

    Lisa — February 3, 2014
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  2. My airport rage = "I'm sorry mam, you cannot bring this 4 oz jar of chutney on the plane." TSA hates chutney.

    Caitlin — February 3, 2014
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  3. Thanks Lisa! Caitlin - I'm very sorry they stole your chutney. I think they get bonuses for sucking joy out of travel, one innocuous gelatinous ounce at a time.

    courtney — February 4, 2014
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