A life without TV

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If you spent any time in my living room, you’d find it hard to believe I survived three months without cable TV.

Actually, without any TV.

I moved back in February to a place that didn’t have a cable subscription. The most I could do was connect my WiFi-enabled TV to an online streaming service like Netflix and watch old movies and TV shows.

Which I wasn’t about to do.

I was relegated to catching up with my favorite shows — yes, mostly on Bravo — on my laptop. It’s not as fun watching the reunion of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” in five-minute segments, trust me.

Back in my old apartment, I had three TVs hooked up to cable. Three. And it was just me living there. It’s not like my dogs were partial to any particular TV program.

I guess you could say I was addicted to my television. Not in a super unhealthy way. I just liked having it on, whether I was watching it or not. I took comfort in Ina Garten‘s voice, explaining to me how to cook a perfect roast, or catching up with the latest news from the crew on NBC’s “Today.” It made me feel normal.

So when I moved here without cable TV, I thought I wasn’t going to last a week.

Turns out, I actually can live with it.

I found myself cooking more, reading more, and working more. (Not that I’m happy about that last part.) I took longer walks and surfed in the early evenings — not things I did before.

If I wanted me TV fix, I snapped on the Internet and browsed YouTube or Hulu for my favorite show.

It was no surprise to me that the number of Americans who paid for TV through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by more than a quarter of a million in 2013, the first full-year decline. We’re using more online streaming services because we can, it’s free, and we’d rather pay for Internet than cable.

So even though 99 percent of U.S. homes have at least one television set, it doesn’t mean they’re all hooked up to cable services. (Just 56 percent of Americans pay for cable, actually.)

Of course, I wound up getting cable — digital, in fact. And I found myself, at least for the first week, completely engrossed in the Cooking Channel and the 2014 ASP Fiji Pro.

I still find comfort in flipping on the TV, though browsing the dizzying number of channels on digital is a bit daunting. It’s just nice to know it’s there whenever I need a distraction.

I just get way less done now.

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#NewEats: Ethiopian Restaurant in Kapahulu

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It all started with a photo on Instagram of a turmeric-pineapple elixir.

I asked my Insta-friend — who’s vegan — where she got it from. She asked me to lunch. I invited another vegan friend, who posted this comment: “I heard there is a vegan Ethiopian restaurant in Kapahulu now?”

And that was it. The lunch date was on.

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I had read about this restaurant in Frolic Hawaii last week. It opened on May 17 — as the sign outside would indicate (above) — inside Takahashiya Ramen on Kapahulu.

Yes, inside. Not near, not next door, but literally inside. The two restaurants share a dining area and kitchen. In fact, when you walk in, the server will ask you, “Ramen or Ethiopian?”

The backstory: The smiley Abraham Samuel owns and runs this restaurant with the help of some family members from Ethiopia. He’s friendly and helpful and will go over the menu with you if you have questions.

And I certainly did have questions about the menu.

I hadn’t eaten Ethiopian food since living in Chicago back in 1999. And I remember it being cheap, tasty and filling.

But ask me WHAT I ate and I couldn’t answer you.

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The menu here was pretty advanced for me. There’s something called kitfo (prime beef tartar seasoned with Ethopian clarified butter and spiced chili powder), derek ribs (beef sautéed in onions, chili, ginger and garlic), and asa dullet (tilapia sautéed with onions, rosemary, hot peppers and spices.

Here’s how it went down: You sit anywhere in the restaurant and ask for the Ethiopian menu. (You can also order ramen and gyoza, too.) Then you order and wait — and wait and wait. We had to put more money into the meters outside because the food took so long. But it’s OK — I prefer the food takes awhile to make if it’s being made entirely from scratch, which is was. But just a fair warning: if you’re pressed for time, you might want to reconsider.

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We started with the veggie sambas (above, $2.95 for one), filled with brown lentils, green peppers, onions and garlic. Very tasty and a great way to start the meal.

We ordered two vegan dishes — all vegetarian dishes here are prepared vegan; not sure why they don’t just label them vegan instead — and the meat combo plate. All three were served with injira, that delicious spongy bread used to wrap the food in lieu of utensils.

All three dishes came on the same platter, which I had expected from my experience in Chicago. But the vegan dishes were mixed with the meat ones, which sort of defeated the purpose.

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I wanted to try the dinch wot (above, $10.95), which is basically just potatoes and carrots sautéed with garlic, ginger and turmeric powder, and eaten with the injira. This was incredibly delicious, though pricey for the amount we got. (And, to be honest, I always thought, perhaps inaccurately, that Ethiopian food was more affordable. But hey, I’d pay good money for anything delicious!)

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This was part of the meat combination platter (above, $15.95 for one, $28.95 for two), which comes with key wot, alicha wot and kik alicha (yellow split peas simmered in a mild-flavored onion and herb sauce).

The vegetarian combo ($14.95 for one person; $27.95 for two) included red lentils spiced with red pepper sauce, yellow split peas, chopped cabbage and potatoes and carrots.

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The food was a bit on the oily side — the restaurant uses canola oil, we found out — but super flavorful and tasty. I loved the textures, the spices, the warmth, the fact that I could use my hands.

Will I be back? Definitely. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring more quarters for the parking meter!

Ethiopian Restaurant, 730 Kapahulu Avenue, inside Takahashiya Ramen. Hours: Tentatively open at noon through dinner, though times may change. Phone: (808) 725-7197

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What I’ve learned from Maya Angelou

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It’s not easy being a writer.

We have a love-hate relationship with our profession. We get writer’s block and carpal tunnel. And unless you’re JK Rowling, you’re probably living just above the poverty level.

Sure, there are careers for writers, like working as a journalist or grant-writer. We can pen screenplays and marketing campaigns and ad copy.

But most writers I know want something more than just a paycheck: they want to write the stuff that’s stewing in their heads. It could be a memoir, a work of science fiction, a travelogue.

And therein lies the frustration.

Consider this: an agent could get something like 500 manuscripts to read a month, and maybe one of those will get accepted and published. Those are small odds.

I have often compared publishing to winning the lottery, though that analogy isn’t entirely correct. Megabucks is a completely random thing; publishing can happen, and you do have some control over that.

It’s taken me a long time to feel even a little confident that I could pen a book — or even a story in a national magazine. And it has been the words of the late Maya Angelou that has helped me believe in what I can do.

The author-poet-activist, who passed away last week, was truly an inspiration, not just as a writer but as a human.

The gift she gave many writers: the courage to speak.

Here are a few of her quotes that have echoed in my head for years:

“You can never be great at anything unless you love it.”

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

These are great words to live by, whether you’re an aspiring writer or not. It’s about loving what you do, accepting who you are, and getting it done. Really, are there any other options?

Angelou taught people how to think about the world around them, how to navigate what’s important and screw what’s not. She famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that’s easily the most important lesson anyone can learn.

***

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
— Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

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#CatTravels: If you find yourself in #Issaquah…

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I thought we were flying to Seattle.

Instead, I found out that morning, we were heading to a small town east of Washington’s largest city city, to a place called Issaquah.

Issa-what?

At least that’s what I was saying in my head.

I’ve been to Seattle a bunch of times, even drove as far as Marysville once. But I had never been — or even heard of — Issaquah.

Turns out, it’s quite a city.

I was shocked at how many people knew about it when I posted my travel itinerary on social media. My girlfriend grew up there, her mom works for the school district, and others have lived or worked or traveled through for years.

Where has this place been all my life?

Here’s some background on Issaquah: The population here is close to 30,500. The name, “Issaquah,” is some kind of misspelling of a local Native American word that could mean “sound of the birds,” “snake” or “little stream.” It was a mining town that turned into a lumber town that turned into a highly desirable residential suburb, ranked the second fastest-growing ‘burn in the state by Forbes.com.

And it’s gorgeous, surrounded on three sides by the Issaquah Alps: Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains. To the north is Lake Sammamish.

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Oh, just something you’d see walking around Issaquah. So gorgeous.

We were here visiting a relative — and just for about 48 hours.

I thought, at first, that would be more than enough time to see this charming little town.

Boy, was I wrong.

That wasn’t enough time to just EAT in this city, packed with old-fashioned diners and cozy restaurants.

So if you ever find yourself heading to Issaquah and you’re wondering what to do, look no further. Here’s your travel plans:

1. Get breakfast at Issaquah Cafe

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Issaquah Cafe (1580 NW Gilman Blvd., 425-391-9690) is one of those hometown restaurants in a strip mall — and it’s so worth the visit. It was just a comfortable place to get a hearty breakfast. I can see why it’s so popular.

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One of the specials that morning was this omelet with bell peppers, onions, cheese and smothered in the restaurant’s country sausage gravy.

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Here’s the chicken fried steak — a tenderized piece of steak (often round steak) doused in fried chicken batter — with that same gravy. You can’t get this back in Hawaii, so we ate as much of it as humanly possible.

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White sausage gravy like this has bits of sausage on it — but it’s also cooked with that same pork fat. That’s what makes it so good — and so bad.

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In addition to gravy — I realize that’s all I talked about! — the cafe serves up other breakfast items including pancakes, cinnamon rolls and these pumpkin waffles.

2. Tour the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

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There’s a government-run salmon hatchery right in downtown Issaquah (125 W. Sunset Way, 425-392-1118). You can tour it during daylight hours on your own. Most times there are docents available to show you around. But we went at possibly the worst time ever — a Sunday morning in the summer, when not much is happening. Still, it was interesting to learn what happens here.

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Fall is the most active time at the hatchery, when adult chinook and coho salmon return here. The staff begins trapping adult salmon for brood stock in September through November, collecting eggs and milt, fertilizing eggs, and getting them settled into incubation trays. The hatchery also raises rainbow trout.

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In early October, the hatchery — and really the entire town — celebrates the salmon return with Issaquah Salmon Days Festival (www.salmondays.com), a two-day block party of sorts in downtown Issaquah with workshops, live music, food and more. (It’s on my bucket list.)

3. Get a root beer float from XXX Root Beer Drive-In

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According to the company, XXX Root Beer Drive-In (98 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-1266) was the first drive-in in the Pacific Northwest, established in 1930. The combination of the XXX brand of root beer and food worked and the concept spread across the country. There’s only two XXX drive-ins left — here and in Lafayette, Ind. It’s been in this location since 1968. And car shows here are a regular thing.

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This sign outside the drive-in really sets the tone.

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The drive-in’s got an extensive menu, with its burgers as the highlight. The Incredible XXX Burger is touted as the juiciest and messiest around, with three different cheeses, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles with the drive-in’s homemade dressing and freshly baked buns. If I hadn’t just eaten breakfast, I would have devoured this — and suffered later!

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The decor really looks like this: a mess of ’50s and ’60s memorabilia literally strewn everywhere.

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We just wanted to try the root beer, for which is what this place is known. The recipe dates back to 1930 and still made the same way. The float uses premium Darigold ice cream, and you can order them in frosted mugs. Perfection!

4. Lunch at JaK’s Grill

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We stumbled upon JaK’s Grill (28 Front St., 425-837-8834) while walking around the historic downtown area. And from the line that waiting outside, we figured it was worth checking out.

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JaK’s has three locations — the other two are in Laurelhurst and West Seattle — and it prides itself on being that great little neighborhood bar and grill. Which is certainly is.

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We happened to be there just in time for Sunday brunch, so we tried the JaK Bene, its take on the classic eggs Benedict but with its signature potato pancakes, grilled filet mignon and poached eggs topped with a Béarnaise sauce and served with freshly baked brioche bread.

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They were still cooking the barbecue pork, so we settled with the steak sandwich, made with marinated Nebraska aged New York steak, grilled to order and served on a steak butter toasted roll with the house au jus.

5. Stop at Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates

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My girlfriend’s mom teaches in Issaquah and sends her candies from Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates (255 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-6652). She told me it’s a must-stop, so naturally I went.

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The company was founded by the Swiss-Austrian Julius Boehm, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1940. He and partner George Tedlock opened the first candy kitchen in the north end of Seattle, then moved the company to Issaquah in 1956. He built the Edelweiss Chalet (photo above this one) and an alpine chapel. He lived here until he passed away in 1981. Today, Bernard Garbusjuk runs the company, having worked with Boehm for 10 years. The focus is still on handcrafted chocolates and candies.

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And look what we found: a little bit of Hawaii here.

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In fact, this is one of the chocolatier’s best-selling candy!

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Boehm’s featured a nice range of products, too, from these molded chocolate medallions to decadent, European-style truffles to classic chewy caramels and nut clusters. And the staff gives out free samples!

6. Eat (again) at 12th Avenue Grill

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Another recommendation: 12th Avenue Grill (775-G NW Gilman Blvd., 425-392-5975) in the Issaquah Commons shopping complex.

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This place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s because you can order breakfast all day long. (That’s always a draw.) Or maybe it’s because this neighborhood diner serves up classic comfort food like warm Belgian waffles, homemade buttermilk biscuits topped with white sausage gravy, blueberry pancakes, loaded baked potatoes and hearty chili topped with cheese, onions and garlic bread.

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We went for the French dip, with sliced roast beef served on toasted French bread with au jus.

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And here’s the fish and chips — four pieces of ale-battered halibut, deep fried and served with either tartar sauce or malt vinegar, with a load of fries on the side.

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And to finish the meal, get the homemade cinnamon roll slathered in icing with golden raisins and a syrupy cinnamon glaze that was to die for.

Not bad, Issaquah, not bad!

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The Great Weight Debate

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I was just browsing the new Frolic Hawaii site — a rebrand of the Nonstop Honolulu — and came across this blog post by my pal, Myong.

He’s trying to lose weight — again — and he’s documenting his progress on his blog.

I think everyone who loves to eat as much as Myong and I can agree: weight is a bitch. It’s hard to keep, it’s hard to shed, it’s hard to accept.

I don’t eat nearly as much as people think — my Instagram posts are a bit misleading in that regard — but I do eat. And I do eat a lot of high-caloric, fatty, starchy, sugary goodness (i.e.: crap) whenever I can. Donuts, malasadas, Spanish rolls, bowls of rice, Chinese pretzels, Lucky Charms, Thin Mint cookies, gelato — if it’s in front of me, chances are it won’t be for long.

I can’t say I’ve struggled with my weight in the Myong has — I’ve never lost 40 pounds in four months, for example! — but I’ve never been completely satisfied with my size. I guess like many women, I’ve bought into the whole skinny-is-beautiful campaign, and I have never, in my entire life, been skinny.

Yes, I work out and exercise (though surfing isn’t really a big calorie burn for me, if you consider the way I surf). Yes, I’m not one of the 217 million Americans considered overweight or obese by the government. And yeah, I don’t polish off entire dobash cakes. But I’m also not the healthiest, I’m not the fittest, and I could certainly afford to shed a few pounds.

So what do I do?

Eat better? I could. But I’m not in any emotional position to cut out white rice. Work out more? Yeah, but who’s got that kind of time?

The excuses just pile up!

So who else is out there struggling with their weight? What’s worked for you? And is there a way I can lose weight without cutting out dessert…?

***

Myong Choi is chronicling his weight loss adventure on his blog, Fast Forward, on Frolic Hawaii. Follow him!

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