Meals this week

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment and the time has once again come to get serious about meal prep. The first week or two in the new place, my options were somewhat limited as I was still lacking some crucial items that didn’t come with me where I used to live (and I was doing enough physical labor that I often allowed myself to indulge in a big burger after a hard day of lifting boxes). But with another trip to Japan on the horizon this autumn, I figured it was a good idea to start saving money again.

My shopping trip at the beginning of the week ran me about $80; mostly on staples that would last a few weeks, like bread, eggs, and a few different types of meat. I took a look at the reduced-for-quick-sale shelf in the produce section and picked up a pound of green beans and broccoli, a bag of plantains, and a bag of poblano peppers for about a dollar each. I also decided, last-minute, to pick up a rotisserie chicken. I usually don’t find the price to be quite as good as people make it out to be, and in most cases would rather prep my own chicken. However, this time I got a pretty good deal and the convenience was enough to push me over the edge.

One of my big plans from the beginning was to make Kapuśniak; a cabbage, bacon, and keilbasa soup that gets a lot of its flavor from sauerkraut. It takes no time to throw together and only gets better in the fridge. I made this on Sunday and ate it throughout the week.

I sauteed the poblano peppers with onions to make a fajita mix, and baked the plantains with some Creole seasoning for a nice mealy bite to mix into burritos (with the rotisserie chicken and black beans). At the end of the week, I finished off the mixture by making a quesadilla — always fun to be able to combine the same ingredients into a new format to keep things fresh. I also ate beef burgers for a few of my meals on days when I was working out particularly hard.

Blanched green beans and broccoli were a quick addition to just about any meal, and I would sometimes just eat them out of the fridge if I was in the mood for a quick bite.

While $80 is definitely higher than I want to be spending every week, this coming week should be much cheaper (I can almost make the meals I want without any additional ingredients). Hoping I can keep up the momentum.

Meditations: moving day

I recently moved into a new apartment.

My housemate, whom I also lived with a few years ago, rented a U-haul truck to do his move. A number of his friends came over to help, including me. We packed the truck as full as it could go and fit most of the remainder into our cars. From the time I arrived to the moment the final box had been brought inside, the entire move took no less than eight hours of constant work.

My move took place the following weekend. It took me about an hour to load my hatchback with everything I own, another hour to make the drive, and about half an hour to unpack.

Continue reading →

Red beans and rice

This is a dish I make pretty often. It’s quick and easy and the rice stretches it into a number of meals at low cost. I’ve made a few simplifications and will often make it with what I have on hand rather than going to the store for specific ingredients, so it’s not exactly traditional, but it’s quite good.

Continue reading →

Yes, you can “learn kanji”

“Don’t learn kanji, learn words!”

“you can’t ‘learn’ kanji lol”

Hang around in any Japanese-learning community for long enough and you’re guaranteed to see something along these lines. It’s advice that’s inspired by a long history of bad methods, and it’s given sincerely by people who genuinely want to help. It’s also something I happen to strongly disagree with.

Let me explain. I don’t think that the people who say these things, or the motivation behind it, are wrong. But I do think that “learn words, not kanji” is good advice, explained poorly, and that “you can’t learn kanji” is predicated on a bad definition of what it means to learn. I’ve tried to argue my case a number of times, and it never seems to go as well as I would like. This article is my attempt to put my thoughts in order.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can skip down to the summary at the end. However, I would really appreciate if you did read the whole thing, especially if you think you disagree. This is a topic I feel strongly about, and I feel like the very premise itself is fundamentally misunderstood. I’ve put a lot of care into trying to present my case in a way that will make sense, even to people who might completely disagree at first.

I would like to implore anyone reading further to read with an open mind. Be cognizant of the fact that everyone thinks in a different way, and that none of us are wrong — until we try to force our own thought process on another person who is incompatible with it. I’m only writing this article because I’m constantly told my way of learning kanji is invalid by people who don’t seem to even understand it in the first place.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it.

Continue reading →

Japanese output reflection

Yesterday my sister and I met up with a friend of mine and his family at a park in Japan. He’s originally from the US but has lived in Japan for several years now and is (from my perspective anyway) totally fluent. His wife (Aさん) can speak some English, and their nearly two year-old daughter knows an impressive amount of words in both languages (though she hasn’t quite figured out when to use them all).

Throughout the day I had a lot of opportunities to talk to Aさん about various topics, making this by far the most time I’ve spent speaking Japanese in a single “session”, and essentially (aside from my very brief “first conversation” in Kyoto in 2019) was the first time I’ve had any meaningful interaction in a face-to-face context. There’s a unique feeling that comes with looking somebody in the eye as you speak and while I definitely still struggled from time to time it was rewarding to feel like “I’m really communicating with another person here”.

As always I made a lot of mistakes, some of which I noticed immediately and some of which I totally missed until they were pointed out. Here are a few of the ones I remember:

  • When trying to say “when you went overseas, what was your favorite country?” I said 海外に行ったら、[…], when the obvious choice should have been 行ったとき. Fortunately my meaning came through and Aさん was able to correct me/confirm what I had meant to say.
  • At one point I was trying to describe my hometown and was struggling to remember the word, so I said something like 小さい頃住んでいたとこ (Aさん said 地元? which was the word I had been looking for). I also tried to describe it as 小さくなくて1I should have said 小さくないけど 、人が少なくい and she came back with 田舎. In retrospect, my hometown was definitely 田舎, but for some reason I had only ever thought of that word as meaning rural Japan.
  • At one point I was describing the general weather where I lived, and I gave the number in Celsius. When Aさん followed up to confirm that America uses “F”, I clarified using the phrase 郷に行けば郷に従え and felt pretty pleased that I had been able to pull it out of my memory in time. I realized after the fact that it should have been 入れば, but once again the meaning came through which is the main thing I guess.
  • On two occasions, describing my plans for the trip, I made two separate mistakes. The first was to say “16 days” instead of “until the 16th”, and the second (when I was trying to clarify, later) was to say 16月 — making up entirely new months! Fortunately this is the kind of mistake where it’s completely obvious what you meant to say and while it was kind of a funny moment it didn’t cause any confusion.

One last little story: at one point I noticed that the little girl had strawberries on her socks and I asked her いちご好き? Her response was いちごしない! which got a laugh out of me and her parents alike. Her father says she probably wanted to say いちごはない (since there weren’t any strawberries at the moment). Apparently this is a common thing among Japanese children; they’ll use する to replace all kinds of verbs, not just those where it would actually work.

I had a really nice time and while I definitely struggled to come up with words from time to time, I did feel like I was pretty functional overall. Looking forward to the next opportunity.

Japanese sweet potato curry

I came up with this a while ago for a friend of mine who couldn’t have gluten (and therefore was unable to eat typical Japanese curry, which uses wheat flour in the roux). It’s also pretty low-carb and incidentally vegan, though I usually add some meat.

Main ingredients

  • Large sweet potato
  • Medium onion
  • Medium carrot
  • 32oz chicken broth or water
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (optional)
  • Meat of your choice (optional)

Spice mix:

  • 1tbsp curry powder (S&B is best)
  • 1tsp garam masala
  • 1tsp grated ginger
  • 1tsp grated garlic
  • 1tsp tomato paste
  • 1/4tsp unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
  • Cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste (optional)


I use a single wok for the whole process, but any kind of pot is fine. You can also save a little time by doing the first two steps in parallel, though it’ll mean one more pan to wash.

Boil the sweet potato until completely soft. Remove skin and set aside.
Caramelize onions in wok using the America’s Test Kitchen fast method, and set aside.
If using meat, cut into small pieces and sear briefly to develop color.
Add pot with water or chicken broth and bring to a simmer. If using red wine, add it now.
Cut carrots (using rangiri for best results) and add to the pot.
Mash sweet potato in a bowl with all the spices.
Mix spice paste into liquid a little at a time, simmering until the desired consistency is reached.
Season with salt to taste.

Fitness progress

Another mixed week. I did hit most of my exercise days, with only one day per workout type missed.

In an effort to get some bonus gains I switched to goblet squats, using a 20lb weight. This might have been a bad idea. It took a few days to kick in but my knees are pretty sore. I’ll be giving squats a pass this week.

I did a fair amount of pushups, though not following a program this time. I tried focusing on explosive motion instead of rapid-fire motion. I also focused on curls and tricep extensions, the latter of which has recently become possible with my 20lb weights (though not as fast or high-rep as with my lower weights).

Meals this week

Most of this week was covered by the cooking I did last week with leftover and gifted ingredients. I did a small shopping trip at the beginning of the week to get eggs and brown sugar ($2.19, which will probably work out to something like $0.05 per bowl of oatmeal) along with a few fresh vegetables here and there. I took a second trip at the end of the week to get a couple of things for a family dinner. The total for both trips came to just over $60; still under my max of $70 per week but higher than I would prefer.

I ate oatmeal each morning; greek yogurt with apples and brown sugar, chicken sausage with cotija and arugula.

My parents visited during the middle of the week, which meant for a couple of free meals this time around as well. So far the best money-saving trick I’ve found is to have other people pay for your food. On the other hand, I also went out for dinner with some friends on Tuesday and spent basically the same amount on that one meal as I did on both of my shopping trips combined. I enjoy eating out but it’s definitely not something I can do on a regular basis. Maybe next time I can have people over to cook instead.

I had a nice realization this week that will translate into savings in the future — brewed with the right technique, I actually get more enjoyable results from supermarket coffee (Eight o’clock, $10/lb) than I do from the specialty coffee I’ve been buying for a little while now (Philz, $20/lb + $10 shipping). It generally takes me about three weeks to go through a bag of coffee beans so this is a considerable reduction in my regular spending.

Fitness progress

This past week was a bit of a wash. I didn’t hit all my workout days and I didn’t end up doing my exhaustion tests on Saturday. This coming week I’ll be using the results from last week to set the same goals again. Hoping to bounce back soon.

Meals this week

Very little shopping this time around. I spent the weekend with my parents and was sent home with a bunch of food which ended up being the basis for most of what I ate.

Before I get into what I did eat though, a quick mention of what I didn’t eat — or more specifically, what I bought that went to waste. Last week I picked up a couple of greenhouse tomatoes ($4.96) with the idea of eating them in sandwiches as a special treat. The first one was disappointingly mealy and I ended up neglecting the other one, and by the time I noticed it in the middle of the week it had molded. It feels bad to waste money on ingredients this close to the beginning of the program, especially when they’re comparatively expensive. Going forward I’ll try to be more careful of the perishable goods I buy; both in making good selections and also being proactive about using them up, even if it’s for a purpose that I didn’t originally intend.

The first of my two big meal preps this week was a hearty soup I made with a roast ham my mom gave me. The key ingredients in this were a can of red beans ($1.19), about half of the napa cabbage I bought the first week ($1.70), plus some assorted vegetables and miscellaneous stuff from the pantry like pearl barley. The other meal was a rice casserole with mushrooms and chicken breast, for which nearly every ingredient was either from my mom or had been languishing in the freezer. Between these two meals I was basically set for the rest of the week and then some.

I had a couple of other random meals here and there, again made mostly with existing ingredients. Dinner one night was a grilled chicken wrap and the next was Japanese white stew (made by my sister with ingredients she bought). As a result I was able to freeze more of my prepared food than usual, which is another nice investment in future weeks.

I did a small shopping in the middle of the week which came out to just over $40. Most of this was bulk goods that I’ll be using in the coming weeks (canned tomatoes, brown sugar) as well as some fresh produce from the bargain shelf and a large carton of eggs.

I finished off the huevos rancheros add-ins that I had made for oatmeal the week before, and alternated between sweet (brown sugar and yogurt) and savory (goat cheese and chicken sausage) throughout the rest of the week.