Granfondo Yatsugatake 2014: My first cycling race

Hi everyone, after a long but unintended hiatus I am back to blog. I thought I would tell you about my bike race this past weekend. I went to Yamanashi prefecture, Hokuto city - Kiyosato, at Mount Yatsugatake for a 108 km bike race: Granfondo Yatsugatake. Just my luck it was not just rainy, but pouring buckets (a veritable typhoon!) for the entire day! However, I did have so much fun. I got to Hokuto the day before for registration. Kiyosato is a really beautiful part of town and so quaint. It is actually more countryside than Wakayama.

Kiyosato red bridge.
One of the best things about Kiyosato is the beautiful scenery. It is just the beginning of autumn now, and the leaves haven't started to change in Nagoya yet, but in Kiyosato, Yamanashi I saw the first changing leaves of the year! It's exciting!

Food tickets for the aid station, and my race number.
Another thing they pride themselves on is the local delicacies and vegetables! Interestingly enough, there were a lot of European restaurants (Italian, Swedish, etc.) scattered throughout the tiny town. However, I didn't eat there and got  tofu, pickles, and apples at the konbini instead. 
During the bike race, there were 7 aid stations giving out various foods like soba soup, salad, cucumbers with miso dip, oranges, grapefruit, apples, corn on the cob, sweet beans, salt candies, and rice balls. (There were also non-vegan foods like pork broth,  cookies, soft ice cream, apple pie, and chocolates.) That's what the tickets in the above picture were for. However, on the race day it was pouring rain, so they said to me, you don't need to give a ticket. They even let us have seconds and thirds of the food! I think some people must not have shown up due to the weather.
So every 20 km or so I could have a light meal! It was really nice. Usually on my long rides (more than 100 km) I'll only stop once or twice at a konbini to get tea and sometimes a snack. It was also heartwarming to see the old men's and ladies' smiling faces when they gave you a snack. 
There's me after the race!
I did it in 5 hours 40 minutes.

The last 30 - 40 km of the race were pretty tough because it was almost all uphill from there. I didn't walk my bike up the hills but I passed a couple of people having trouble. Finally, I got to the finish. I was glad it was only 108 km because after the race I had to ride back to the train station (maybe 12 km), still in the pouring rain. about 3 km from the station, I went to an onsen to have a shower and relax. Actually, I was very lucky because I met a pro cyclist there who noticed all my clothes were soaking wet, and she gave me a brand new cycling kit from her sponsor to wear home, so I didn't have to sit in my stinky wet bike shorts! By the way, I am so, so grateful to have a new pair of cycling tights and a jersey.. those are expensive!
From Yamanashi I had to go to Tokyo so I could transfer to the night bus going home. In Tokyo it was still pouring rain. I had 4 hours between the train getting in and the bus leaving so I went to a coin laundry to wash all my stuff, because not a single thing in my backpack was dry. Even the money in my wallet was completely soaked. I got on the bus at midnight and actually got a decent 5 hours of deep sleep! 

All in all, it was an amazing experience and I had so much fun! I'm hoping to maybe do another race soon, either cycling or running.


Intro to Shio-koji

I always make yummy things and then forget to write down the recipe, hoping to perfect it at a later date. and then I forget exactly how to make it and I'm like... dammit, how did i make that thing that was really good? and what exactly was it? so here's a couple of recipes, hope you like them.

in the first recipe below I have an interesting ingredient called Shio-koji. here is what the japanese wikipedia page has to say about it: "Shio-koji is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from koji [fermented rice] and salt mixed with water, through a process of aging and fermentation. It has been used since old times to pickle vegetables and fish, but since 2011 has also become popular in various other dishes."
Koji is an essential part of the production of miso paste. Shio-koji simply means "salt koji" and is easy to use in everyday foods.
This is a great ingredient for vegans because it can create a cheesy taste in foods. Due to the starch content from the rice, it also creates a bolder mouthfeel and a taste of umami.

Here's how to make fat free, 2-ingredient vegan cheese from shio-koji and tofu:

sliced tofu cheese over tomato pasta. (sorry, it doesn't melt!)
  1. drain and press the tofu until much of the water is out.
  2. put out a sheet of plastic wrap and put a dollop of shio-koji on there, and place the tofu block on top.
  3. smother the rest of the tofu block in shio-koji and wrap well. place in an airtight container in the fridge, and don't touch for at least 3 days.
  4. it will be ready after 3 days. slice and enjoy! you can eat it with the shio-koji still on. if the shio-koji has a strong taste for you, wipe it off. the taste and texture is similar to a light, soft cheese. if you mash it, it is similar to ricotta. 

Shio-koji may be hard to get outside Japan, but look around at Asian supermarkets like T&T or Fujiya if you're in Vancouver. it's cheap and plentiful here in japan so if you would like some please let me know and I will gladly send it to you, just so more people know about it!

creamy cheesey pasta with vegetables

main ingredients
2-3 cups pasta
your choice of leafy greens (i used baby kale)
your choice of mushroom (i used enoki)
your choice of colourful vegetable, julienned (i used carrot)

sauce ingredients: mix well and set aside
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp grape seed oil
2 tbsp nutritional yeast or garlic* depending on what flavour you want (I used nutritional yeast this time)
1 tbsp Shio-koji
½ tsp dijon mustard (leave out if you're making garlic sauce)
3 - 4 tbsp soy cream or non-dairy milk

  1. boil pasta in unseasoned water until soft. add any hard vegetables halfway through.
  2. when the pasta is al dente, turn the heat down to low, drain most of the water (leave about half a cup pasta water to cook the other things), and add finely chopped greens and mushrooms. 
  3. when the kale and mushrooms are cooked through, incorporate the sauce which you have mixed in advance. there should be some pasta water left, if not add more water or non-dairy milk so the pasta turns out creamy and not sticky.
  4. warm the pasta until the sauce is the consistency you like, garnish with parsley and basil, and serve immediately
*if you're going to make the garlic sauce, you might want to add some flour to the sauce. first mix the flour and oil before you add the other wet ingredients.

*piri-piri* pickled cabbage and cucumber salad

piri-piri: just a little kick of spiciness.
½ head of cabbage, chopped well
1 cucumber, sliced medium-thin
2 small red chilies, seeds removed and chopped finely
1½ - 2 tsp salt
a sprinkling of apple or rice vinegar
a sprinkling of Sansho ("japanese pepper")
a sprinkling of basil
as much dried parsley as you'd like

  1. basically just combine all ingredients and let sit for 2-3 days. 
  2. the salt is an essential part of pickling and reducing the cabbage, but it's easily overdone so be careful. Sansho is also easy to overdo. if you put a ton of sansho on, I think it has a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. but the right amount really brings an interesting taste element to many dishes.
  3. when cutting the cabbage, take care with the ribs because they are harder to soften than the leafy bits. so take the time to slice them thinly lengthwise.