Monday, June 29, 2015

Kappa: A Little Zip in Your Summer Step via the Cucumber

Kappa from above.
Cucumbers (kyuuri) are just coming into season. Most gardeners and farmers train them along on trellises to make harvesting easy and a wee bit shady. It also saves arms and legs from the sharp-edged leaves that I recall drew painful red lines on me as I hunted for ripe ones in my Michigan gardens. Invariably, I would miss one only to discover something more akin to an oversized zucchini lolling about in the patch later. Decadence in dark green, I always thought as I chucked it to the chickens or into the compost bin, which was essentially the same thing.

Cucumbers are here, as they are elsewhere in the world, a summer delight. They crunch their way into salads, get slathered with spicy oil and munched with beer, dipped in miso, or turned into a quick pickle perfect any time. Refreshing, cool, delicious.

But the one thing I never imagined they would do, they have done. They have gone out on the town and reappeared swimming in a tall clear glass of vodka. Shocking. Shockingly delicious, that is.

I first met the Kappa in Kichijoji at a little standing bar in their Harmonica-cho, a dense weave of narrow lanes, shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes on the north side of the station. I don't remember why we stopped there, but I do know we were waiting to meet some friends. I also remember seeing the tall clear glass emerge from behind the bar. The thin slices of cucumber veritably shimmered as the ice cubes jostled them, tiny bubbles from the sparkling water tickling up their sides. (Yes, I had already had a couple drinks by the time I saw this.)

Perfectly thin, perfectly delicious.
"What is that?" I asked the patron brilliant enough to order it, a stunningly beautiful woman with straight black hair that hung to her waist and just a tinge of her beard visible under her make-up. She explained that this was a Kappa, and offered me a sip. It was sharp and crisp and utterly perfect. She and the bartender laughed when I immediately ordered one. We were all soon friends.

The name, of course, is something of a mystery. Kappa is a mythical water creature that lurks in ponds and rivers, although some legends say they winter in the mountains. (Wouldn't you?) Their appearance is green and rather frog-like, although that varies from region to region. Mischievous in nature, the kappa can cause a bit of trouble now and again. A perfect name for a deceptively strong drink, if you ask me. By the time our friends arrived, the Kappa had done its work on me, and I encouraged (some might say drunkenly bullied) them into buying their own. Regardless, we had a lovely walk home afterwards, and the Kappa has been a favorite ever since.

Kappa
Four or five thin slices of cucumber or enough to go wall around the glass
Ice, cubes are best
Vodka
Sparkling water

Wall the glass with the cucumber slices and fill the center with ice. Then mix vodka and sparkling water to taste. If you're like me and something of a lightweight, I'd recommend more sparkling water and a dash of lemon juice. I also think a sprig of mint would be nice, but you'll have to see for yourself.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 27th and Sunday, June 28th

Snapped at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne in February, 2015.
Rain, shmain. Grab an umbrella and head on out to one of these lovely markets. Certainly, the Earth Day Market will delight and tempt with its usual variety of goodies, and the Ebisu Market is no slouch, either. Now is the time to grab the last of the ume for whipping into umeboshi (my own two jars are stewing away as I type) or for any of the other fruity delights to be had. Early bird planters, too, will be sporting ingen (green beans) and tomatoes, too, may make their presence known. Don't be shy and take a backpack. See you at the market!

Ebisu Market
Saturday, June 27th and Sunday, June 28th
That's right - four days of marketing bliss at Ebisu this month! Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you! I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Sunday, June 28th
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. This month the market will be a a three-day wonderland of organic and fair trade goodness not to be missed. Come frolic and enjoy!
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
Map

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Snapshot: Ichijiku (Fig) Season Aproacheth


Ichijiku (figs) are a fruit I have never seen fresh until now. Here in Japan, though, fig trees appear on field edges or in front yards seemingly on a whim. Related to the mulberry tree, popular with silk worms, the fig bears a similarly interestingly-shaped leaf and the fruit themselves seem to magically appear on the trunk. I am not a huge fan of the fresh fig, but dry them and I come running.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reprise: Getting Started with Vermicomposting

This article first appeared over at ecowaza.com, a lovely little website where I wrote a regular column for a handful of years. It is the second part in a series on vermicomposting (composting with worms) covering how to get started and using the lovely materials provided.  - JB

Photo courtesy of James Kemp.
Budding vermicomposters can make their own bins or order a kit from a variety of sources. Kits usually include a container, worms, and plenty of instruction and support needed to get comfortable with your new little helpers.

Bins can be made from plastic storage containers where holes have been drilled in the bottom or constructed from scrap wood for a custom-made fit and look. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination, the materials at hand, and the space available. 

Do your research.
James Kemp, importer of Australia's Can-O-Worms composter, says a little reading goes a long way when it comes to vermicomposting. They are, he says, living creatures.

“It's important to read the manual, and there is plenty of advice and info on the internet,” he said. “The failure rate is for beginners is fairly high, though” said Kemp. “People don't follow the instructions or they feed them the wrong food."

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof (Flower Press, 2003) is a charming guide to vermicomposting offering tips on building your own to long-term management and problem-solving. 

Websites like Kemp’s (Japanese only) and Can-O-Worms offer plenty of useful advice and contact information if a vermicomposter runs into trouble. Other sites such as UNL and OneMore can fill readers in on the joys of vermicomposting.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Vermicomposting is relatively easy, but there are a few things to avoid and some best practices, too, to keep worms healthy, happy, and composting.

  • Choose the bins location carefully. Worms don’t like extremeness in temperature, so find a slightly sheltered place on the balcony or in a garage for the bin. “You need to be aware of your environment. Worms don't like to get too hot, so if your worm farm is in direct sunlight all day during summer, then they will almost certainly die” warned Kemp.

  • Don't use insecticides or sprays around your worm bin. Worms are quite sensitive to chemicals, even those commonly used for cockroaches or dani. If you must use these items, then remove the worms and wait until returning them to the environment.

  • Don't use garden soil as bedding for the worms. It may seem logical, but garden soil is an unpredictable medium for the worms. 

  • Don't be afraid of visitors. After you've had your worm bin established, you may notice other creatures besides the redworms, especially if you keep your bin outdoors. Most of these are beneficial because they help breakdown the materials. These helpful creatures include springtails, sowbugs, pill bugs, and millipedes. 



Remember, vermicomposting is a great way to reduce household waste and turn it into something your plants will love. Have fun!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 20th and Sunday, June 21st

Bursting with color at the Portage Farmers Market.
Portage, Wisconsin
Rainy season is here in earnest, so if the sun shines it is best to leap out the door. And what better thing to do upon leaping than head to a farmers market? There is still time to get all the fixings needed for making delectable treats from ume, and the zucchini are still booming, too. Both of them will soon end their reign, so don't hold back on making the most of the delicious opportunities they present. See you at the market!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, June 21st
That's right - four days of marketing bliss at Ebisu this month! Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you! I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, June 20th
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, June 20th and Sunday, June 21st
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!
10am to 5pm

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, June 21st
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market, and I don't say that lightly. A nice little community affair started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl. In summer it turns into a night market, but in fall it will swing back to regular daylight hours. More than worth the trek down to see what's going on!
10am to 3pm
Oiso Port Building

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Essay at Elohi Gadugi Journal


A brilliant sunset over Silver Lake.
Portage, Wisconsin
I occasionally branch out from words on farming and gardening to write about my experience living abroad. Each year my husband and I journey home to the United States from our home in Japan. It is wonderful and arduous all at once. It is physically and emotionally exhausting, but I wouldn't trade the opportunity to meet family and friends face-to-face for anything in the world. You can read the essay here, and I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, June 13th and Sunday, June 14th

A wonderful group of organic growers and producers from Taiwan at the Earth Day Farmers Market.
Can't wait to visit their market!
Summer is upon us and the tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans are here to prove it. Keep your eyes open for other summer favorites - potatoes, basil, and even a few last brave zucchini - to fill your menu for the week. Ume and a few other fruit should be drifting along, too, so don't miss the opportunity to make the most of them. Delicious treats abound!


Market of the Sun
Saturday, June 13th and Sunday, June 14th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest, and this month looks to have a bit of an Italian theme, too. Cheese, anyone?. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map but step out of Kachidoki Station exits A4a and A4b

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!