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Warm and Cozy Beef Bourguignon Recipe

There’s something extra cozy about coming in from the cold to a huge pot of something delicious bubbling away on the stove. It’s been extra cold here in Tokyo. The other day, we went to a pottery fair and froze our butts off looking at all the gorgeous pieces. I felt bad for the vendors – at least we were able to move into the sunny patches and warm up for a bit.

Cold as it was, we had a blast! There was a DIY yakimochi corner where you could buy two mochi cakes, toast them over a grill, then enjoy them on a handmade plate. It was extra cozy, warming up our hands over the grill. I’ve never had yaki mochi with just miso before, but I think it’s going to be a regular thing now. After we filled our bellies, we took at look at the pottery — it was gorgeous. We bought 5 bowls and then stopped because our luggage space is a premium and I promised myself (and Mike) that this time, I wouldn’t buy so much stuff to bring home.


Speaking of home, after being in the cold for so long, it would have been awesome to tuck into this beef bourguignon. But since I made this back in Vancouver, it was not meant to be. Instead I asked Mike if we could stop into a combini (convenience store) to buy some kairo – little disposable Japanese hand warmers that you shake
up to activate. My hands were so cold that they didn’t feel warm at all. It would’ve been bomb if I had little hot foil packets filled with stew, that I could rip open and eat. But I don’t think there’s much of a market for that…

Anyway, back to this beef bourguignon! It’s thick, rich, and beefy – just what you want in a stew. I made it for an ongoing rotating dinner that we have going on with a good friend. We take turns cooking dinner every week (when we’re all in town), usually something that’s impressive/out of our comfort zone. I guess I kind of cop out a little bit because I’m always leaving it to the last minute. I really have to up my cooking game! Any impressive dishes that you guys have up your sleeves?

The thing is, I always have a ton of things I want to make, but then, when put on the spot, I blank. It took me forever to decide to make beef bourguignon, mostly because I thought it wasn’t impressive enough. But, the truth is, sometimes you don’t want impressive (I hope!). Sometimes you just want a rib-sticking big bowl of stew.

Hmm, now that I think about it, I guess this isn’t just basic beef stew. Typically, if I were doing a basic kind of thing, I’d literally throw everything into a pot and let it gently simmer for a couple of hours and call it a day. Here, I seared the beef in “steaks” because I’ve found that searing cubes is kind of time consuming. Bonus, I like the contrast of seared and un-seared bits on each cube of meat. I also strayed from the typical salt and added soy and fish sauce as umami boosters, which isn’t traditional, but adds that extra bit of oomph. Oh, one last thing, I love cooking the vegetables separately – they retain their bite and flavor without turning into mush. Definitely do the pearl onions, even if peeling them is a bitch. They are one of my favorite parts!

Hope you’re keeping warm!

Dealing With Stress

We experience potential stressors throughout our lives. Situations that can create stress are unavoidable. What we can control is how we react to them. Psychological stress can best be defined as emotional strain or tension in response to a particular event, behavior, place or person. While it isn’t always easy to find effective ways to manage the daily stressors we face it is important to try to find healthy ways to deal with stress. When we cannot, we often feel its damaging impact through anger, depression and a multitude of health problems.

Here are some facts about how stress impacts our lives:

  • Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents and suicide.
  • Almost 90 percent of all visits to primary health care providers are due to stress-related problems.
  • Nearly one-half of all adults suffer adverse effects from stress.
  • It is estimated that 1 million Americans miss work due to stress-related complaints.
  • Workplace violence has been attributed to stress. Homicide is the second leading cause of fatal occupational injury.

There are some situations that inherently rate high on the stress scale: divorce, death of a child or spouse, illness, a move or a change of job. But each of us has the ability to manage most stressful situations by altering the way we respond to them. It is impossible to manage or control all the people, events and places in our lives that place demands on us, and any attempt to do so causes our stress level to go up. We would be better off learning to accept those situations we can not change and to manage how we deal with stress by understanding the phenomenon of “being stressed.”

Stress is classified into two types – acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). People experience acute stress when they are dealing with a dangerous or life threatening situation. Because these circumstances were common in our evolutionary past, humans have a built-in mechanism that is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response, so named because of the way our bodies react to such an event. Immediate physiological responses, mediated by the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, prepare the body for this “fight or flight” response by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. In fact, blood flow can increase 300 to 400 percent in order to prepare the legs, brain and lungs for the added demands of either fighting off a physical threat, or running to safety. Conversely, other major body systems such as the digestive tract are shut down short-term, as they are considered non-essential during a stressful event. These physical changes were vital for survival in prehistoric times, and this response can still be important today when we are in a dangerous situation or even during an athletic event or a competition where a “ramped up” system can enhance the way we perform. The problem, however, is that this system now operates inappropriately in our modern world. Although heavy traffic, work deadlines and credit card statements are not life threatening, the system is activated by our response to them, often many times throughout the day. This is chronic stress, and over time the repetition of the “fight or flight” response, designed to allow us to survive occasional real threats, begins to alter our everyday physiology and health.

Some physical consequences of chronic stress:

  • Heart Disease. Sudden changes in heart rate and increased demands on the cardiovascular system can precipitate angina even increase one’s risk for a fatal heart attack. Repetitive increases in blood pressure can damage the inner lining of the artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis.
  • Stroke. Prolonged or frequent episodes of stress can gradually worsen high blood pressure, affecting the cardiovascular system and the arteries that lead to the brain, thus increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Depressed Immune System. Prolonged exposure to stress can blunt the immune system response, increasing the risk for colds and more serious infections.
  • Weight and Body-Fat Changes. Chronic stress can cause either a loss in appetite and weight loss or an increase in cravings for fat, sugar and salt, which leads to weight gain. A recent study suggested that chronic stress can cause abdominal fat accumulation in otherwise thin women. The researchers attributed this fat accumulation to an increased secretion of the hormone cortisol, which is released during stress – some release more cortisol than others. Central distribution of fat increases one’s risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
  • Insomnia. Chronic stress makes it difficult for people to get a restful night’s sleep, which interferes with the body’s mechanisms for recovering and repairing itself. A lack of sleep can also worsen psychological stress and prevent one from recognizing problems and dealing with them rationally.
  • Migraines. Studies have suggested that migraine attacks occur more frequently when one is under increased levels of stress.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A strong correlation has been associated between stress and IBS.

Not all stress is bad, however, and stressful challenges are necessary to become stronger both physically and mentally. The positive effects of overcoming stress can include:

  • Increased energy and motivation
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Increased drive and productivity
  • Enhanced work performance
  • A feeling of excitement and a sense of purpose and challenge

Use these steps to help manage your stress more effectively: 

  1. Determine what is causing stress in your life. There may be particular situations, people or events that make you feel nervous, anxious or fearful.
  2. Keep a diary to record the events or situations that are stressful for you. Record your physical symptoms and emotions.
  3. Strengthen your support system and communicate with family and friends. Most people who are able to cope well with stress have strong social support networks with family, friends and even pets.
  4. Open up. Learn how to express your thoughts and feelings.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when someone asks you to do something. Learn your limits. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
  6. Learn how to express your feelings appropriately by not insulting or hurting others. Say “I feel angry” instead of “you make me feel angry.” This will help maintain and improve the important relationships in your life.
  7. Simplify your life. This means restructuring your priorities. Evaluate what activities are most important, and get rid of the ones that aren’t. You will feel less worn out and more rested. You’ll also have more free time to spend with family, friends or even to be by yourself.
  8. Recognize that drugs and alcohol are not effective methods to solve problems. If you feel that you are relying on drugs or alcohol to escape from your problems, seek the advice of a mental health counselor or community health service about special programs for stress management.
  9. Improve lifestyle habits. Increasing physical activity and eating healthy can do wonders for your ability to manage stress. Regular physical activity and a healthy diet can improve weight, energy levels, self-confidence, and overall health and well-being, making it much easier for you to handle daily stressors.
  10. Reduce stress at work. Seek out support from your Human Resources department or a sympathetic coworker or manager. Learn how to communicate your needs in a non-confrontational manner, such as giving suggestions on how to improve working conditions to help increase productivity.
  11. Laugh it off. Did you know that laughter is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress? No matter how bad things are, laughing dissolves tension and seems to help brighten the situation. Try not to take things too seriously – a negative mood only adds to your level of stress. Another plus – laughter seems to help boost the immune system, in turn making you less prone to developing colds and other infections.
  12. Take a media break or a news fast. Research has shown that the emotional content of the news can affect mood and aggravate sadness and depression.
  13. Try mind-body exercises such as breath work, meditation, yoga and biofeedback. The Healing Rhythms Biofeedback training program (I am one of the “trainers”) is an interactive way to monitor and relieve unhealthy stress; learn more here.
  14. Check your medications including over the counter medications, many can aggravate anxiety or depression.
  15. Eliminate caffeine and other stimulants from your diet.
  16. Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating oily fish or with supplements.

I Photograph Singapore Like You’ve Never Seen Before

My name is Yik Keat and I’m a photographer based in Singapore. Raised in this modern and futuristic city, I am proud to call here home and it sure is amazing to be surrounded by the vast amount of culture and so many beautiful architectures in such a small place.

These series of images are a collective of what I shot over the past two or three years, enjoy!

2017 Porsche 911 GTS

Porsche has perfected the art of scheduling the launch of new variants of its 911 range to keep something fresh and new in the lineup throughout a model generation. Case in point: This 2017 911 GTS model of the platform launched in its initial 991 form at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show and then updated to 991.2 specs in 2015. One and a half years later, the newest GTS appears—eagerly awaited because it has been one of our favorite models in its previous iterations. It marks the most powerful 911 outside of the monstrously powerful Turbo models and the thinly disguised racer that is the GT3.

Moreover, the GTS has traditionally represented fairly good value—inasmuch as something that crests six figures can, anyway. While the entry-level, 370-hp Carrera comes in at $90,450 and the 420-hp Carrera S commands $104,450, the GTS packs 450 horsepower and is priced at $120,050. Hardly cheap, but the next rung up the ladder is a big leap away: the 540-hp Turbo, at $160,250.

The power of the three Carreras is extracted from the same basic twin-turbocharged flat-six that is mated to a seven-speed manual transmission or the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic called Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or more simply PDK, by the marketing department.

More Punch, Right Now

The additional 30 well-fed horses are easily felt from behind the wheel of this emotion-inspiring 911—and heard, too, since the GTS comes standard with a goodie that needs to be ordered separately on the lesser Carreras: The centrally mounted sport exhaust system, capable of emitting and amplifying an impressive range of engine noises. Porsche says the sprint from zero to 60 mph takes 3.9 seconds with the manual gearbox and just 3.5 seconds with the PDK. Subtract another 0.1 second with the extra-cost all-wheel-drive system, which adds 155 pounds but helps put the torque to the ground with a minimum of wheelspin and corrective action by the traction-control system. Given that we’ve seen the base Carrera with PDK run to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, it’s safe to say Porsche’s estimates are conservative. The rear-wheel-drive GTS with a manual transmission is the fastest Carrera, according to Porsche, topping out at a sweet 194 mph.

The twin-turbo flat-six is so quick to respond that it’s virtually impossible to tell that you’re not flogging a naturally aspirated engine. It’s a high-revving six-cylinder, with maximum power at 6500 rpm, and turbocharging brings maximum torque to a lofty 405 lb-ft. We still love the linearity and turbo-free feelings of the old 3.8-liter flat-six, but it is essentially impossible to find fault with the new powerplant. What’s more, it is rather efficient for something this quick. Fitted with the manual transmission, it gets EPA ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, and the PDK raises the city figure to an even more commendable 20 mpg.

Shift for Yourself—or Don’t

It’s tough to choose between transmissions, both of which are supplied by ZF. The PDK commands a $3720 premium and brings a weight penalty of 44 pounds, two clear downsides to what Porsche believes is the future of gear selection. On the upside, it can shift gears in an instant, and in Sport Plus mode, the speed and ferocity with which it swaps cogs provides a proverbial kick in the posterior. Aided by the effective launch-control system, it’s no wonder the PDK-equipped car outaccelerates the manual version by a wide margin. The seven-speed stick may not be the ultimate example of a Porsche manual gearbox, but the company has taken some measures to improve on it. Its former unfortunate tendency to guide the driver into fourth gear when downshifting from seventh has been alleviated, and the ’box feels altogether crisper than before. If it were our names on the GTS order sheet, we’d go for the manual, even as we’d wish that Porsche would fit the sweeter-shifting six-speed manual it once offered and recently brought out of mothballs for the limited-edition 911 R, an exotic model that immediately sold out.

One key 911 attribute that appeals to the faithful is the distinctive manner in which the car puts its power to the asphalt: with unmatched immediacy and laserlike precision. It may sound like a cliché, but there may be no other car that feels this close to being an extension of the driver’s own body. (If there is another, it’s the Mazda MX-5 Miata.) We are happy to report that the sensation has not diminished, despite the switch to turbocharging.

Porsche’s brake-based torque-vectoring system is standard on the GTS, and it feels more natural and less aggressive than those that some competitors use, such as the Audi R8. It also has a locking rear differential (mechanical with the standard gearbox, electronically controlled with the PDK) and a lower ride height and a wider track than the Carrera S, plus a high-performance braking system lifted straight from the 911 Turbo. Even the rear-wheel-drive versions have the wide body of the Carrera 4. The Sport Chrono package and its launch-control function is standard, and, for the ultimate in lateral dynamics and stability, buyers can spec dynamic anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering.

The GTS encourages you to control its vector with your right foot, but it won’t lash out if you do so in a clumsy manner. For a high-performance sports car, it’s remarkably attitude-free. It’s a great daily driver, with good visibility, a relatively upright seating position, supportive buckets good for long-distance travel, and an easy-to-use cockpit with its controls arranged logically. The sea of buttons on the dash and center console are starting to look a bit dated, and the next generation will surely follow the example of the latest Panamera, with large touch-sensitive screens and a more modern layout.

Many Choices, None Bad

The rear-drive Carrera GTS comes as either a coupe or a convertible. The all-wheel-drive version is also available as a Targa with a retro-themed central roll bar and an almost unbelievable weight penalty: 143 pounds more than the all-wheel-drive coupe and 44 pounds heavier than the cabriolet. It’s the only Targa with a standard black roll bar (GTS buyers can switch back to the brushed-metal look if they prefer, while the black finish will be offered on other Targas), and, as with the other Carrera 4 models, its taillights span the entire width of the car.

As for which is the best GTS, that comes down to a matter of taste. After extensive time behind the wheel of every variant, we can assure you that each one delivers a driving experience among the greatest available anywhere.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Against expectations, Toyota has made a decent business out of the Prius, a car whose picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “frump.” Assuming the market doesn’t collapse by the end of the year, Toyota will sell well over 100,000 vehicles wearing the nameplate in 2016, a figure that is split among three models: the entry-level Prius C; the wagonoid Prius V; and the wavy-whacky new Prius, redesigned just last year by people obviously on psychotropic drugs. Henceforth, beginning with the 2017 model, Toyota is calling last year’s new Prius the Prius liftback. Why the name change? To make room for yet another Prius family member, the Prius Prime, essentially the plug-in version of the Prius liftback that, ahem, also has a hatchback.

So that you’ll keep reading this story, we’ll tell you up front that the Prius Prime has a carbon-fiber hatchback made at Toyota’s Motomachi plant in Japan where the carbon-fiber Lexus LFA supercar came together. Exciting, yes?

The Prime is called the Prime because Toyota figures it’s the furthest the company has taken its hybrid technology in terms of efficiency and performance. Compared with the old plug-in Prius, it’s an incremental but significant step forward for electric-driving range and fuel economy (now 55/53 mpg city/highway, for a total electric-gasoline range of 640 miles), as well as honest-to-goodness driving verve. More on that in a minute.

Twice as Much Battery

Compared with the previous plug-in Prius, the Prime gets double the battery capacity. The new 95-cell, 8.8-kWh battery pack accounts for 265 pounds of the claimed 285-to-365-pound weight gain over the regular Prius as well as a reduction in cargo capacity of roughly 5 or 8 cubic feet, depending on the liftback in question. But it allows up to 25 miles of electric-only driving, 10 more than the previous plug-in and 25 more than the liftback that essentially runs only as a gas-electric hybrid. A smaller, yet higher-powered, onboard charger replenishes the battery more quickly than in the old PHEV, or in 5.5 hours on household 120-volt power or two hours and 10 minutes when fed 240 volts.

Clearly, Toyota is feeling the heat from the rangier Chevrolet Volt, the Chevy’s substantially larger battery pack being able to offer 50 miles of battery-powered driving. But, counters Toyota, with a starting price of $27,965 before any federal or state tax credits, the Prime’s base price is $6130 lower than the Volt’s. Other equipment differences aside (the Prime comes standard with driver assists such as lane-departure warning with steering assist and pedestrian detection with automated braking), that’s a lot of clams for another 25 or so miles of EV driving.

The Prius Prime also wins on EPA efficiency numbers, its city and highway ratings being more than 10 mpg better than the Volt’s and its 133-MPGe figure topping the Volt’s 106. As always with these types of cars, much depends on how you drive it, but the Prime’s advantages over its own predecessor and the Volt come in part from a rethinking of its powertrain strategy.

The 95-hp 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder carries over from the Prius liftback, but the control strategy in the dual-motor transmission is changed from the old plug-in. Formerly, there was a strict division of labor, with one motor driving the wheels while the other handled ratio-changing duties in the continuously variable automatic transmission as well as charging the battery and starting the engine. Toyota’s engineers figured that latter motor had life too easy, so they installed a one-way clutch on it that now allows it to join the other motor in driving the wheels.

The main goal of teaming the motors for forward motion is to expand the envelope in which the Prime will drive in EV mode. Before, if you hit the gas pedal hard enough, the engine would be forced to pitch in as the single motor became overwhelmed. Now, with both motors pulling, the computer can leave the engine to remain as inert ballast at speeds up to 84 mph, at least until the battery depletes.

Manage Your Own Energy Use

Toyota gives the driver some input into these decisions by offering various drive modes. The default EV-only mode (called, simply, EV) runs the car solely on electrons until the battery quits, with little regard for how far you push the accelerator or how fast you’re going below 84 mph. A Hybrid mode keeps the engine running in case you want to save battery range for later, and a new EV Auto mode automatically switches the powertrain between electric and gas-electric operation depending on the power demands by the driver. Most drivers, Toyota figures, will want to start in electric and run on battery power for as long as possible—why else would you buy the plug-in (except maybe that it looks better than the liftback)?—which is why the car defaults to EV mode whenever you start it.

The Prius Prime moves away from the regular Prius visually with a restyled front and rear, supplanting the bizarro back end of the liftback with a sportier treatment that Toyota calls the “dual wave.” Whatever you call it, it’s a cleaner and more harmonious finish, even for a car with wheels so small relative to the body that it looks like a dolphin on roller skates. The Prime’s front end calms down from the Prius liftback’s impersonation of Gene Simmons as The Demon from Kiss, instead getting the sportier quad-LED headlight theme from the Toyota Mirai hydrogen car.

Inside, the news is the giant 11.6-inch, vertically oriented high-resolution touchscreen, not available on the entry Prime Plus but standard in the higher Prime Premium ($29,965) and loaded Prime Advanced ($33,965) trim levels. With swiping and pinching ability, it somewhat resembles an iPad’s ease of use. It’s really just an evolution and upsizing of the infotainment displays in current Toyota/Lexus products, which aren’t the best in the industry, and the processor is nowhere near as fast as today’s tablets. A suite of phone apps lets owners do things such as customize the recharging function to take advantage of nighttime electricity rates, monitor energy consumption, or activate the climate control to warm or cool the car in advance of departure.

Familiar Environs, Better Experience

Owners of the previous Prius will find nothing out of place in the Prime, the centralized and stacked data displays being much fancier but exactly where owners of old Priuses last saw them. The real revelation in the Prime is the steering. When the liftback debuted last year, it had a new multilink rear suspension and a significantly stiffer structure. The Prime benefits from that as well as further suspension tweaking, and it may just have the best steering of any Toyota-branded sedan on the market. It’s organic and natural and an unexpectedly gratifying pleasure. Yes, really.

At a claimed 3375 pounds in its most upscale trim, the Prime is not particularly heavy for a car with electric capability, the carbon-fiber hatch saving about eight pounds alone. And it feels agile and fairly fleet as it moves down the road, digesting curves and undulations with a cool aplomb and a compliant but not undisciplined suspension. It is the first Prius we’ve driven that doesn’t completely drain the joy out of driving, which must bode well for future Toyota products as the brand tries to find its way out of vanilla purgatory.

The one thing Toyota should steal from the Volt is the brake-regen paddle that car features on the back of the steering wheel. In the Volt, it lets drivers activate max regen with their fingertips, allowing near-one-pedal driving as the brakes are rarely needed, the car’s momentum being converted to usable battery power rather than waste heat at the brakes. In the Prime, drivers must slap the transmission selector into B, then back to D if they want to resume normal driving. It’s much simpler in the Volt, and it easily and conveniently makes hypermilers out of anyone.

As with all plug-ins, the economics look dim on paper. To go from base Prius liftback to base Prius Prime costs $2415, or about $97 per mile of electric driving. However, Toyota figures that almost half of all drivers can stay within the 25-mile range based on their normal commutes, and 80 percent can if they are able to recharge at work, which would make the Prime a very cheap and clean—and satisfying—car to operate.

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