Eating Japan: Hokkaido

I’m using Hokkaido loosely as a catch all area to cover the two towns we stayed in, Furano and Niseko. Both are ski villages, so using “Hokkaido” to name this post is a little misleading, as we didn’t venture far from the ski resorts. However, we did eat well and often.

In Furano, much of the food we ate was at restaurants on the ski fields. In Niseko we ate out far more often, so I’ve tried to cover a few of the places we ate both on and off piste.

FURANO

Ramen is pretty dominant here. We ate it until we were sick of it!

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Miso Ramen, Furano ski resort (by the bottom of the gondola, Kitanomine side)
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Coffee stop 1: Whiteroom Cafe (across the road from the gondola, Kitanomine side). They sell Allpress. Enough said.
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Coffee stop 2: Rojo Coffee cart (bottom of the gondola, Kitanomine side). Lovely people, great coffee. Try to avoid busy times!

Getting fired up at Teppan Okonomiyaki Masaya, Furano.

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Chicken burger, Ajito Bar. They serve good simple food, and have a pool table. What’s not to like?

NISEKO

Niseko is far more of an upmarket ski resort, compared to Furano, and with it comes more upmarket options for dining out.

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Agadashi Tofu, Bang Bang
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Sashimi, Bang Bang
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Sukiyaki, King Bell (top of the gondola, Grand Hirafu)
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Spicy miso and miso ramen, King Bell (top of the gondola, Grand Hirafu)
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Burger and fries, Musu, Grand Hirafu (in the Odin building)
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Snow crab ramen, Hanazono 338, bottom of the gondola 
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Koko Bakery, Grand Hirafu. The chef is a French baker, so you know it’s good.
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Gorilla Niseko – a cafe and gourmet grocer, ground floor of the Shiki Hotel

Snow falling outside The Barn, Niseko. Worth a visit for the fois gras sushi alone!

Salad of the week: Grilled eggplant with goats’ cheese

For someone who writes about food, who spends quite a bit of time thinking about food, and the rest of my time making food, my salad repertoire is proving to be more than a little woeful.

My default is a green salad with leaf, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, red capsicum and avocado (if I can time the fine line between rock hard and mush brown correctly). The only innovative thing about it is a vinaigrette. And half the time I just sprinkle over olive oil and red wine vinegar.

It is nice enough, just a little sub-par.

So, this year, I am lifting my salad game. This is my first effort.

The irony that it contains many of the above ingredients is not lost on me. Baby steps.

GRILLED EGGPLANT AND GOAT’S CHEESE SALAD
(Serves 4)

1 eggplant, sliced into 1cm slices2017-02-01-19-51-58-hdr-v1
Olive oil for brushing
Mescalin greens
1/2 red onion finely sliced
50g goats’ cheese
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful mint leaves, finely sliced

Vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt/Pepper

  1. Heat a barbecue until very hot
  2. Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until charred and soft on both sides. Set aside to cool, then cut into chunks.
  3. For the vinaigrette, pour ingredients into a jar and shake to combine.
  4. Assemble all the salad ingredients in a large shallow salad bowl or platter and dress with the salad dressing. Serve immediately.

All the green stuff

I came home from Japan with matcha tea.

If you haven’t ever tried it, you should. It’s delicious, in a grassy, savoury kind of way. It’s

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Credit: frasideilibri.com

green tea, ground into a fine fluorescent green powder, and is the highest quality powdered green tea available. The Japanese drink it whisked into boiling water. It’s quite the ceremony (as Japan and tea often is), with bowls and whisks and small, beautiful cups.

Being Westerners, we’ve then bastardised this idea in our own special way by adding milk and turning matcha into a latte. This seems very Starbucks-like (they do a version but it’s horrifically sweet and to be avoided in my opinion), but is actually brilliant. So good, you can buy them almost anywhere in Japan.

Matcha is high in antioxidants, especially catechin, which is recognised for cancer fighting properties. Read more about the health benefits here.

Anyway, being summer, it is hot in the afternoon. A warm matcha latte will not be as beneficial as I would like. I also find myself a little peckish mid-arvo, so I created a smoothie using matcha instead. It’s good.

If you want to give it a protein boost, add a scoop of protein powder. If it’s not as cold as you’d like, add a handful of ice cubes. If it’s not sweet enough, add maple syrup or honey to taste.

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GREEN MATCHA SMOOTHIE

1 tsp matcha powder
1/2 banana
handful spinach leaves
1/2 cup natural unsweetened yoghurt
1 cup coconut milk

Blend all ingredients together.

 

 

I’m not keeping up

Keeping up with the Joneses.

The concept of trying to have as much money, as nice a house, be dressed as nicely, be as fit, successful, attractive as “insert-their-name-here”. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

It’s a trap. A bit like being in a mouse wheel, running flat out, never managing to go anywhere or to stop. Running after something you can never catch. Because there’s always someone wealthier, prettier, thinner, more stylish than you.

We don’t just put this pressure on ourselves. We also put it on our children. Comparing our children’s performance in the classroom, on the sports field, on the stage, with our friends’, colleagues’, acquaintances’ children.

 

I can get totally sucked into that void.

But I’m trying to change that. The first step to moving away from “keeping up” was selling our house. It was a big house, on a large section, in a wealthy suburb. I’d installed a chandelier in the living room, an enormous mirror over the fireplace. The garden was planted with standard roses and box hedging. All obvious displays of our wealth.

Except that we had an enormous mortgage to pay for it. And both my husband and I needed to have high paying, high demand jobs to meet that mortgage. And I rarely saw the house (or my children). And the beautiful garden and enormous house needed so much work, which we didn’t have time to do because of said high paying jobs. And couldn’t pay someone else to do the work because of said enormous mortgage.

So we sold it. We moved to a townhouse in a nice, but slightly less wealthy suburb. We have a courtyard, rather than lawns and roses. Most importantly we have no mortgage.

Rationally, it was the right thing to do. I’ve been able to pull out of the high paying job to write about food and myself, which I rather enjoy. Besides, we have more money available to spend on life experiences, which tie nicely into my goals for 2017.

Emotionally, it’s been an interesting time. Because the Joneses keep knocking. I loved having people over to our old house. I was proud of the work we had done, and of how successful it made us appear. On the other hand, I also love our new house, its simplicity, its more manageable size, its proximity to the beach.

But I have to stop myself from feeling like its a step down. Like we are somehow less successful than we were. That we’re not keeping up.

It is impossible to keep up. Every time you think you’re the one in front, someone passes you. So where does it stop?

It stops when you reassess your priorities. When you realise that a house is just stuff. That having a thin body can be a road to physical illness (and possibly mental) and is impossible to maintain. That your children’s success at primary school is not as important as their happiness. That on your deathbed you won’t reflect on your life and say “thank God I had a bigger engagement ring than my friends”.

You’ll be reflecting on who you loved. The many experiences you had and the memories they made. The time spent with your children, watching them grow into amazing adults.

Recognising that success takes many forms. Embracing simple joys over material items. Living a good life and making good memories.

So I’m closing the door on the Joneses. They’re not my friends.

Eating Japan: Osaka

Osaka is renowned for it’s food. The city’s unofficial slogan is kuidore, which means “eat ’til you drop”.

The food here is plentiful and inexpensive. Everything is bigger than big, the bright lights, the 3D food signs, even the softserve icecreams. The great thing about Osaka is a couple of days in the city will be enough time to see as much as you need to, if not to eat as much as you would like to.

If nothing else, make sure you make your way to Dotonbori at night. It’s bright, busy and crazy. Like Tokyo, but a bit more manageable.

This is what we liked.

RIDICULOUSLY LARGE 3D FOOD SIGNS

 SUSHI TRAIN – INVENTED IN OSAKA

Sushi trains are always cool. We went to Daiki Suisan in Dotonbori. Everything was good, super fresh and varied enough to be interesting. It was all fun until a hoard of kiwi lads next to us decided to order whale sushi. Then I felt ill and left.

KUSHIKATSU IN SHIN-SEKAI

OK, I have to admit that fried food on sticks doesn’t exactly rock my world as far as high end gastronomic experiences go. But Shin-Sekai is worth a visit just to eat in a room solely with other Japanese (the odds of seeing any other Westerners is very low). We roamed the streets as we came out of the subway, and looked for the busiest places. They turn the tables quickly, so there are no issues with long wait times.

Kushikatsu is a local speciality, and is effectively yakitori, crumbed and deep fried. We had a set selection at Daruma, including beef, pork, quails eggs, mochi (glutinous rice paste) and prawns. We also had a side of a mystery meat stew. It was delicious, but best not to question the cuts of beef included.

SHABU-SHABU IN SHINSAIBASHI

This was by far and away the best meal we ate during our time in Kyoto and Osaka. It was also the most expensive, but still excellent value for money.

Nishiya is tucked down a side street, not far from the Shinsaibashi shopping mall. They offer udon, nabe and shabu-shabu. We went for the shabu-shabu, cooked at our tables, and heaped with vegetables (which we needed after too much carbs and protein). Definitely recommended.

 

Brightly coloured hot milk in a glass

Turmeric and matcha lattes are a thing.2016-10-27 17.51.55-1 v1.jpg

Both have all the brightly coloured, antioxidanty goodness that you want in your hot drinks. They look pretty and taste good. And if you moderate the amount of sweetener you use, you can tick the less sugar box too.

Added bonus – matcha has caffeine, so mid-morning slump for you. Happy days.

One thing worth noting, the active antioxidant in turmeric, curcumin, can be boosted by adding black pepper. Read about the whys and hows here.

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This is an iced matcha latte.

TURMERIC LATTE

Heat a cup of almond milk with 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Sweeten with maple syrup to taste.  Spicy and delicious.


MATCHA LATTE

Heat a cup of milk or almond milk. Stir a teaspoon of matcha powder with a small amount of boiling water to dissolve the matcha. Pour over heated milk and sweeten to taste with maple syrup or sugar.

Eating Japan: Kyoto

We spent three days in Kyoto, one of which I’ve already detailed in my post about the amazing Nishiki Markets. We did a bit of temple hopping (more to come on that), and a great deal of eating.

The food was generally amazing. From street food outside temples to more refined restaurant fare in Gion, we ate exceptionally well.

There are places to eat everywhere, so there is rarely a time when you can’t find something to fill a hole. Except at breakfast time. Most days we were trying to be out by about 8am (there’s a four hour time difference from NZ, so we were awake early). Sadly where we were staying (in north west Kyoto) there is very little open at that time of the day. Most food establishments don’t open until 11am. The exceptions are Western chains – McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. We at both of those mentioned, in desperation, once. I didn’t photograph it. I would recommend staying in the Kyoto CBD, as it just has more to offer throughout the day, without having to travel far when you’re tired and hungry.

TEMPLE FOOD

The temples in Kyoto are flat out busy, especially in the weekend, but from what I could see, throughout the week as well. The great thing about temple life in Japan is that they provide sustenance for weary pilgrims in the form of numerous, diverse food stalls.

Generally we found a mix of food on sticks (chicken, beef, pork, bacon), takoyaki (octopus balls), and unusual sweet offerings. This is some of what we sampled:

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Taiyaki – fish shaped pastries, filled with red bean paste or custard. This one was custard.
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Yakimochi – savoury glutinous rice balls (like mochi), brushed with soy sauce and chargrilled.
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Karaage – fried chicken. Enough said.
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Mitarashi Dango – smaller glutinous rice balls, but sweet this time. Served hot and drizzled with syrup, then dredged in powdered tea.
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Bacon on a stick – I’m sure it has a Japanese name, but I have no idea what it is. Apologies for the pink photo….

 

RESTAURANT FARE

It is possible to eat very cheaply in Japan, particularly if you go to an izakaya (effectively a bar that sells food). The biggest challenge is translating menus, but many locations offer an English menu or at the very least have photos of the food on their Japanese menu so you can point to what you want!

We ate at a mix of low end and high end places while we were in Kyoto. It’s worth checking out the restaurants in train stations, as they are often excellent.

Our first night was at an Okonomiyaki restaurant in north west Kyoto. The okonomiyaki (a thick Japanese pancake, filled with cabbage and pork and topped with sauces and bonito flakes) and yakisoba (fried noodles with meat and veggies) were cooked in the kitchen and then bought out to us and placed on a hot plate to keep warm while we ate.

Night two was higher end. We’d travelled down to Shijo-dori (basically the Kyoto CBD), got out at Shijo station and found a great Japanese restaurant before we’d emerged out onto the street. A win, since it was pouring with rain. Sadly I can’t give you the name since it was in Japanese, but the sign on the door is below.

Our final night we ate at a place called Wasabi in the back streets of Gion. This was the most expensive meal we had, but still reasonable at about NZ$70 per head. Again this was a varied Japanese offering, super fresh sashimi, and general deliciousness.

EVERYTHING ELSE

This is a bit of a dump of some of the other great food we ate, and where we ate it (to the best of my ability.

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Ramen – Ippudo is good
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Iced Matcha Lattes – available pretty much everywhere. Avoid Starbucks, their’s is far too sweet.
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Japanese Baked Goods – this bun filled with creme caramel was amazing. Worth trying for sure.
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Gyoza – these ones were from Ippudo. Delicious.
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The cutest doughnut ever. This one was from Shinkyogoku Shopping Mall.
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Great place for coffee and breakfast in Kyoto station. Coffee comes with free boiled egg and toast.

Finally, Baumkuchen. These rounds cakes are found all over Kyoto, are soft, not too sweet and delicious. They’re finely layered, and beautifully packaged. They even include a knife. I did an unboxing so you can see.

Stolen Recipes: Pork Souvlaki

I’ve been making this recipe for quite a few years now. It’s Jamie Oliver’s, from his TV series Jamie Does, but he’s also kindly published it online, which is where I found it. He calls these “wicked kebabs”.

I won’t be doing that.

This is one of those Friday night what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-feed-everyone-when-I-can’t-be-arsed-cooking kind of meals. It’s really simple. Marinated pork (takes minutes), cucumber Tzatziki (ditto), chargrilled capsicums (ok, this is a bit fiddly) and grilled pita (a cinch).

There are two elements that can slow proceedings some what:

  1. Threading the pork onto skewers. Depending on how I’m feeling, I either skewer up and barbecue the kebabs, or just fry the individual pieces in a frying pan, which works as well (but doesn’t look as pretty when serving).
  2. The grilled capsicum. The grilling takes a while. Taking the blackened skin off takes a while. I have made this as per Jamie, and it is really tasty. But you can sub in a jar of marinated red peppers/capsicum which does the job and removes the hassle factor. I haven’t included the capsicums in the recipe below, but you can find it here.

I should mention that dried mint is important here. It seems weird to use dried instead of fresh, but the flavour is different and it tastes good.

Once you’re done, you just stuff as much as you can into a grilled pita pocket and you’re away laughing.

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For the pork:
800g pork of your choice (I’ve used belly, rump and shoulder) cut into 2cm pieces
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 lemon , juice of
100 ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic , peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch sea salt

For the tzatziki:
½ large cucumber
200 ml fat-free natural yoghurt
1 small clove garlic , peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar

To serve:
8 pita breads
Jar of marinated capsicum/red peppers, thinly sliced

  1. Mix together the pork with all the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive dish and leave to marinate for 30 minutes (or longer).
  2. Grate the cucumber into a sieve placed over a bowl.
  3. Sprinkle with salt, then squeeze as much water out with your hands as possible.
  4. Discard the water, and mix squeezed cucumber with all other tzatziki ingredients.
  5. Thread the marinated pork onto either pre-soaked wooden skewers or metal kebab skewers
  6. Pre-heat a barbecue or griddle pan to very hot and cook pork until cooked through
  7. Brush pita breads with olive oil and chargrill until well browned.
  8. Put everything on the table and let everyone help themselves. You can add some lemon wedges for people to squeeze over, but I don’t think I ever have.

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Eating Japan: Nishiki Markets

Despite what many guide books say, Nishiki Markets is a must visit for anyone interested in Japanese food. Located in downtown Kyoto (off Shijo-dori) the market is a covered mall, running across 5 blocks.

The guidebook we had said the market opened at 9am, and since our expectation was that this market would be like Tsukiji Market in Tokyo (ie. open before dawn), we made sure we were prompt to try to see the best the market had to offer.

The guidebook was wrong. Some of the shops were open at 9am, but we ended up having a coffee for half an hour and coming back closer to 10.

Anyway, it’s loud, busy, varied in offering, selling everything from fresh fish and fruit, through to pickles, sweets, knick-knacks, kitchenware and ceramics.

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Takoyaki (octopus) balls with spring onion
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Fresh wasabi (the picture looks out of focus because it’s under water)
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Lollipops
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Soft serve matcha is everywhere in Kyoto.
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Matcha tea from the Snoopy shop
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Snoopy mochi at the Snoopy shop
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Pickled vegetables abound
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Barbecued seafood skewers
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These round cakes are layered, soft and delicious
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Tiny chopstick stands
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Fresh scallops and oysters.

2017: a new day dawns

I can’t take full responsibility for this post.

I was inspired to write this after reading Bunny Eats Design‘s blog. Her post about her manifesto for 2017 (she’s written one every year for the past few years) made me think about what I’m doing self-improvement wise as we head into a new year. So I’m copying her idea and sharing this with you.

(As as aside you should read her blog. She’s very good)

There’s a few things that I think I need to pay more attention to this year:

  1. Consumerism
    I’m not good with money. It slips through my fingers like water. I am fortunate to have a husband who is fiscally responsible, which keeps me in check somewhat. I’ve berated myself repeatedly over the years about my ability to overspend. Or worse, to be responsible for a week or so, then congratulate myself on my fiscal prudence by blowing everything apart on a nice pair of shoes.The thing is, the cycle of spending then self-flagellation is not helping me. I still do it. The weekly tracking of expenditure (yes, I have a spreadsheet) hasn’t worked. I still get to the end of the month and find that my outgoings and incomings are not matching.

    So I need to think about things differently. I need to think about my consumerism.

    A few days ago I watched the movie Captain Fantastic. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a father raising his kids in the wild, removed from the excesses of modern life. It’s about a great deal more than that also (familial love, loss, heartbreak, social rejection of outsiders, etc, etc), but the simplicity of their lives, and the joy they had without an abundance of material things really struck a chord with me.

    I spend money on stuff. I have a wardrobe full of clothes I hardly wear, I have a house full of things that look pretty. Meanwhile, my husband has clothes he’s owned for as long as I’ve known him (tracking at 20 years, give or take). He only buys clothes to replace what has worn out.

    I’m beginning to find my consumerism a bit repellent. It’s a part of my character that I am not fond of. I think that it’s time it moved on.

    2017 Goal: To only buy new things as the old needs replacing.

     

  2. More experiences
    This is directly related to the above.I’m spending too much money on stuff that doesn’t really make me happy and doesn’t build memories. When I’m 80, I won’t look back at my life and say “damn, those were a nice pair of shoes!”

    My kids are at the great age. Amelia is striding determinedly into her teens, Ollie is still my baby, but only has a couple of years to go until he too is a teenager. We have many years of our children still living in our house, but the number of years that we have where they want to spend time with us is dwindling.

    On top of that, I am now, sad to say, in middle age. That means half of my life is gone. Luckily, there’s another half to go, but who knows what will befall me in those years?

    I want to spend more time experiencing our amazing world and what it has to offer. Anyone who knows me, knows that we travel as much as we can, but experiences mean less time lying by a pool at a resort, and more time getting out and getting amongst it. Eating the food, seeing the temples, visiting the ruins, talking to people. Broadening ours and our children’s horizons. Recognising that we have a good life, and that we should not take it for granted.

    2017 Goal: Less stuff, more experiences

  3. Get to work
    My blog is really only a few months old. It took 6 months of not working at all to decide that this was an important part of what I wanted to do. It then took another 4 months for me to start taking it seriously, to make the effort to post regularly and to put some structure around what I post.But there’s still a long way to go. I am fortunate to have a few loyal followers (thanks to you guys!), but I need to put the effort in to get my numbers up so I can start making a dollar or two.

    I’m not naive. I know that it can take years for blogging to return even a small living. I figure that there’s no time like the present to start putting the hours in and building what I’ve started.

    2017 Goal: Less time messing about, more time building something good.

  4. The whirlpool in my stomach
    As I’ve talked about previously, work related stress has taken it’s toll on me. It continues to do so, a year down the track from moving away from advertising to follow my food dreams.It takes little effort for me to return to my old life mentally, to feel my stomach churn, my jaw clench, my muscles tighten, my heart rate increase. Over the past.

    It’s time to do what I need to do to live in the present. To learn to control the anxiety I feel, and put the past behind me. To appreciate what I have, enjoy the experiences that come my way, and be thankful.

    Yoga, mindfulness, meditation, all these things need to play a role in my life this year.

    2017 Goal: Put the past to bed, and be thankful for the present.