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divided attention, catching up & mexican casserole

April 19, 2011

One thing I have learned about myself over time is that I’m not so great at dividing my attention between several things at once. Oh, I can multitask and time several different concurrent actions very well when it comes to things like putting a meal together, or editing photos while watching TV and carrying on a twitter conversation at the same time; but when it comes to the subject of a main focus or activity in my life, I tend to only really be able to focus my attention on certain areas at any given time.

The most obvious example of this is an ongoing fight between a particular pair of my interests: fitness vs. knitting. I’m not sure why, but I have never managed to carry on both of these activities with any real dedication concurrently. The times I’ve been most productive and interested with knitting projects, I can’t seem to get myself to the gym– and the times when I am deep in my fitness routine, I don’t seem to be able to keep up with knitting.

But lately the struggle has been between blogging and actually living my life and enjoying my day-to-day activities.

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious from my last two posts here that this time of year is absolutely gorgeous in Japan. Because of the sudden upturn in the weather, and the fact that the real height of spring and the cherry blossoms only last for about two weeks tops, I have been doing my best to make the most of the daylight hours.

In addition to doing hanami at Shinjuku Gyoen and along the river near our neighborhood, I’ve also been heading out to the park near here most afternoons with a bottle of tea, some fruit, and a book to read. It’s been nice to jut sit out on the grass in the sunshine and watch the kids play and birds fly around over head for a few hours at a time.

But, being me, somehow this seems to have interfered with my ability to sit down later in the day and actually write, and as a result I’ve fallen pretty far off my preferred blog schedule of posting three times per week. This is never good for me, because having a backlog of things I want to blog about and pictures I really want to share tends to stress me out and make it even harder to get back on track.

So! Let’s play some catch up, and I’ll come back to topics I want to discuss in more detail later on.

Quake stuff:

The aftershocks continue. We’ve had several moderate to large jolts in the two weeks since I posted about the 7.1 aftershock, which was the largest since the day of the 9.0 itself. The biggest of those was a 7.0 the following Monday at about 5:17 pm.

Somehow I found myself watching videos of the earthquake taken from Tokyo that afternoon. I think with everything going on in Tohoku my memory of what the actual quake felt like here had gone hazy, and for some reason I wanted to remind myself of what it was actually like for us.

Since we escaped to the park just 15 seconds in, and rode out most of the shaking on solid ground rather than under our desks, my experience is different from what many of these videos portrayed. I watched several videos from places like Disneyland, Shibuya, etc., but the one that stuck out to me the most, was this video taken from a security camera in Edo-ku, Tokyo. Please take a minute to watch it, and remember that Tokyo was actually very, very lucky and didn’t suffer much real physical damage despite the power of the quake.

Then remember that we were about 300 km away from the actual epicenter, which significantly weakened it for us.

I was watching these videos and musing on how hard it was to recall the actual sensation of the world shaking like that when the Yurekuru alert went off on my iPhone. The shaking hit about 10 seconds later. I was still rattled from the previous aftershock a few days before and jumped up to get myself into a door frame without bothering to pause the video I was watching. I rode out the quake by myself with the startled screams and rumbling of the original quake playing in the background. To say it was disconcerting is an understatement if ever there was one.

It did not help that this quake mimicked the 9.0 in the sense that we were besieged by aftershocks once every 5-20 minutes for the rest of the evening afterwards. After several weeks of relative calm it felt like those first few days all over again. To make matters worse, the next morning at 8 am another strongish quake (6.3 or so) hit Chiba while I was having breakfast. It was one of the closest large quakes we’ve had. Not fun.

All this sudden activity after the recent quiet was mentally draining and took a toll on me. I was out of sorts for most of Tuesday and even tweeted at one point:

I bounced back fairly quickly after some time in the park and more hanami, but the largish aftershocks have continued every few days since then. No more 7.0s, but a few have been closer, such as the ones in Ibaraki the other evening, and Kanagawa at 2:30 am before that. Kanagawa was relatively weak, at I think only about 4.5, but it wa also the closest one we’ve had.


My student’s trip to Kesennuma was delayed by one day because of damage to the roads from the 7.1 aftershock on the evening of the 7th, but he still made it up there for several days of work that weekend. He came back with pictures to show me, and interesting tales of his work.

It seems that he did a lot of house calls to check on patients who were unable to receive medical care due to hospital closures, and also spent some time in evacuation shelters assessing some of the evacuees. He spoke of families so happy to receive medication from him that they tried to give him gifts in thanks, and said that the work was very rewarding.

Two things surprised him during his trip. The first is how Kesennuma is clearly divided into the coastal area, which was completely destroyed, and the inland area, which is still functioning relatively normally. He said the difference was really strange, especially since we don’t see much about the inland parts of the city on TV. He mentioned even being able to eat yakiniku one day at a restaurant there that had reopened already.

The second was that he did not diagnose many cases of PTSD. He said that a lot of the evacuees had low-level symptoms, but that very few had enough for a real diagnosis. In spite of the tough situation he said he would like to go again to help more people if given the chance by his hospital.

This is getting longer than I meant. I’ll finish catching up in another post. Here is a recipe in the meantime:

Last Monday, after I’d calmed down a bit from the latest aftershock, I made a mexican casserole I had been planning to put together for quite some time. I used to make black bean casserole fairly often and had actually had been thinking of making one again since before the quake. Just a few day before it hit, I’d made a batch and a half of corn tortillas while doing my taco prep to ensure I’d have enough tortillas leftover after for just such a purpose. Of course, in all the excitement of post-quake life that stack of leftover tortillas had been pushed to the back of the freezer and somewhat forgotten.

By the time I got around to actually following through on this recipe I didn’t actually have any black beans on hand. So rather than make my standard old recipe, I changed things up a bit to work with what I had available and needed to eat. It came out quite well, and we ended up getting a full eight servings out of this one recipe, which kept Eric and I fed for most of the week, with some other meals worked in between for variety.

Chicken & White Bean Mexican Casserole

6-8 corn tortillas, cut in half
480 g chicken breast, cooked
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
150 g onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
200 g red pepper, diced
240 g diced tomatoes (1 can)
240 g sweet corn (1 can)
240 g white beans (1 can)
3 jalapenos, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
150 g shredded mozzarella cheese
salt & pepper

Shred the chicken using your hands or two forks and set aside. I like to use poached organic chicken breasts for recipes like this. To poach the chicken, I place the breasts into a skillet with a splash of soy sauce and a few pepper corns and add just enough water to cover them, then bring the water to a full boil over high heat. Once the water is at a boil, I cover the skillet, turn off the heat, and let the chicken sit for 30 minutes to finish cooking, then drain and rinse the breasts with cool water before shredding.

In a medium skillet, heat the coconut oil add the diced onions. Cook the onions until they turn translucent, then add the garlic and red peppers. When the red peppers begin to soften, add the shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, spices, lemon juice,and about 1/2-1 can’s worth of water as needed.

Let cook for about 5-10 minutes, then add the corn and white beans. Heat the mixture through, adjust the seasonings as needed, and remove from the heat.

To make the casserole, layer the tortilla halves, chicken & white bean mixture, and cheese into two layers in a deep casserole dish.

Bake at 180°C (350°F) F for 25-30 minutes or until the casserole is heated through and the cheese is golden brown and melted. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 6-8 servings.

I like to go with smaller servings and beef up the meal with homemade drained yogurt and corn chip or a salad on the side to stretch it as far as possible.

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