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Showing posts from 2009

Yuzu Marmalade - Tastebud Joy

Yuzu is a citrus fruit unique to Japan and unique in flavor - stronger than a lemon and with a bit of a punch. About the size of the mekon oranges also in season at the moment, the yuzu is sunny yellow rather than orange. It is used both in its green state as well as its fully ripened yellow primarily as a flavoring for various dishes, especially fish. The Marmalade Experiment Inspired by my first batch of marmalade earlier this year, it seemed like something worth giving a try. The Takashi's were a bit skeptical, but I decided to go for it anyway especially after reading about this successful attempt . (I'm also quite inspired by the yuzushu recipe , too.) And after stopping at a favorite fruit stand where we've bought kiwi and kaki (a.k.a. persimmon) before, those golden globes just seemed irresistible. Throwing caution almost entirely to the wind I bought two bags. I cut up the fruit and removed the seeds of probably 14 or so yuzu. I didn't remove the pith out of

Tokyo Garden Update - Winter Crops Sprouting

One of the best parts about today (other than speaking with friends and family back home celebrating Christmas) was peeking into the row covers and seeing little tiny sprouts looking back! We planted just under 360 seeds on December 13th in freshly tilled soil. This time of year calls for leafy green vegetables that can withstand the chilly nights (dipping a tad bit below freezing on occasion) and short hours of sunlight. (It's dark dark about 5pm, and doesn't get light until about 7am.) I'd had a few moments of stomach-dropping doubt when I didn't see any sprouts the past few visits. And while the little guys are difficult to see in the photo at left the resulting sigh of relief and shared smile with the Takashi's as we peeked in made it well worth the wait. Here's what we planted: Pak Choi - one of the many tasty Asian greens that are perfect in stir fry or salad. Komatsuna - A tasty Japanese leafy green named after Tokyo's Kamatsu River it has a nutt

The Joy of Dirty Hands

When I was a kid I hated gardening. My mother asked me to help her in the garden, and I'm pretty certain I whined and was such a miserable companion that she finally found great relief in letting me just stay indoors to read or watch TV. It was too hot. It was boring. It was dirty. And tomato hornworms were just too gross for words. Gardening is now something I find I can't live without. Our move to Tokyo in March of this year was only feasible in my mind because I had a chance to have a garden. (That first one fell through, but then another and even better opportunity presented itself .) I didn't even have a garden of my own until we moved into a farmhouse in Michigan more than five years ago. There, along an old fence, I dug out the sod in a strip about two or three feet wide and about ten feet long and planted my first tomatoes, beans, kale, swiss chard, basil, parsley, and beets. It wasn't long before nasturtiums and johnny-jump-ups, and a couple bush squash plan

Daikon Season

Well, I didn't get up quite early enough this morning for the daikon harvest, but I made it in time for the washing! The daikon seeds went into the ground in September - two per spot - and we thinned the seedlings (a process called mabiki) in late September, early October. (The young leaves were great in salad and miso.) The daikon harvest has been underway for a couple weeks at least. We see them everywhere now - at the supermarket, on the farm stands, in bicycle baskets on their way to dinner - with their cheerful green tops waving. When they are ready for harvest they are about three to six inches in diameter, and often the root measures about twelve to eighteen inches. A good chunk of the white root stands above ground with the tap root going straight down at least that much again. The washing process is fairly simple. A little preening of the leaves and stems by Shee-chan, and then I inserted the daikon into a washer. The contraption reminds me of a car wash - two spinning

Researching the Squash

As reported earlier , our pumpkin plants didn't make it this summer. Whether or not it was the extremely hot and humid Tokyo summer or late planting wasn't immediately clear. However, while reading an article from Organic Gardening about Heirloom Pumpkins , the answer seems to be emerging. Variety Amy Goodman , author and an heirloom enthusiast/expert, explains in her article that there are varieties of squash better suited to a tropical environment. Cucurbits moschata (think butternut) specializes in growing in hot tropical areas. (The light bulb is blazing over my head.) A little research on Seed Savers Exchange , Wikipedia, Google, and whatever other resources I can harness while without an English library revealed to me that this could be the answer to my question. The following is a list of Japanese heirlooms (with one exception) that I hope to find this spring and give a shot. Futsu A unique Japanese heirloom squash that I've not yet seen here. I learned about it

Sweet Potato Harvest

This Spring I planted sweet potatoes for the first time. I'd certainly eaten them, and given some thought to growing them, but space in my garden often felt like it was at a premium. And past experience taught me that the potato can be a master of disguise resulting in a surprise second year harvest. The Planting When the Takashi's mentioned that an adjacent field was to be planted in sweet potatoes, I veritably begged to be able to help. We'd discussed our mutual fondness for them after I'd made some sweet potato stew for Shee-chan when she was feeling under the weather, as well as the differences between the American and Japanese sweet potatoes. (Japanese sweet potatoes have the same purple skin but are yellow on the inside. They also tend to turn brown rather quickly after slicing up, and the consistently is a bit more starchy.) One fine morning in May found me with gloves, hoe, hat, and Takashi-san at the field. He had already tilled, but the sweet potato beds s

Tokyo Garden

Hard as it may be to believe I've been lucky enough to have a garden here in Tokyo. Shortly after starting to work at a local organic farm I was offered gardening space. It's not huge, but it's lovely and I've been so incredibly happy to be able to have it. I've only written a bit about the garden now and again, but now that the winter vegetables are nearly all in I thought I would share some of the photo highlights. We grew bok choi (pictured above), beets, a number of herbs, edible and non-edible flowers, long beans, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, three kinds of kale, radishes, spicy peppers, what turned out to be ornamental strawberries, swiss chard, American pumpkin, and long onions. Some worked out better than others, of course. The American Pumpkin (pictured at left) didn't make it. Perhaps the Tokyo summer with its high heat and humidity proved too much or it was a case of powdery mildew. Either way, despite its fantastic good looks - vines that stretche

Ramen Village in Asahikawa Delights

Sixth in a series about our adventures in Hokkaido this summer. Ramen is one of Japan's favorite dishes. A simple concept - noodles in broth - nearly every prefecture and area serves a signature version, and each shop will feature a variation on this theme as well. Within about two blocks of our Tokyo apartment are at least three ramen shops, and each does the dish a little differently. One serves up a steaming bowl of noodles and fatty pork with a hint of green onion in a creamy broth. Another offers noodles with fatty pork in a clear broth with a strip of konbu and a nice selection of condiments - pickled daikon, dried garlic, a shaker of mixed spicy peppers, and a red paste that will warms you up from head to toe. Another, recently discovered noodle shop a couple blocks north of us serves it up with the usual noodles and pork, but throws in some seasonal vegetables, too. After coming down out of the mountains of Daisetzusan , we spent some time exploring Asahikawa and a r

Daisetsuzan National Park - A Brief Note

Fifth in a series about a recent trip to Hokkaido ! There were many reasons to head north this summer to Hokkaido. The heat and humidity of Tokyo drove us out as did the lure of the beauty of this northern island. Our friend, Ryan , had told us of the many wonders to be found there and suggested we come up for a camping trip. It took less than a second to agree to go. We spent eight days backcountry camping and hiking in Daisetsuzan National Park. Japan's first and largest national park, Daisetsuzan contains a wide variety of landscapes, flora, and fauna. While we didn't see any bears, we took in many of the other delights of the park. Following is a sampling of our photos along with some interesting links. Great links about Daisetsuzan National Park Ryan has been wandering and photographing the park for more than five years now, and his library of images is awe-inspiring . He led us on a series of hikes that showed us some of the many facets of this incredible place. The

Snack Discovery - Nanbu Senbei

Fourth in a series about our recent adventure north to Hokkaido ! Hachinohe proved a veritable gold mine for us. Not only did we find fresh fruits and vegetables and cooler temperatures, but we found a new favorite snack - senbei. Now, unbeknownst to us we've been eating plenty of senbei all along - rice crackers just made for snacking and sipping tea - in various forms and often with long culinary histories. However, we stopped in a little store while strolling about waiting for our next train, and I grabbed a bag of an unknown looking food. Warning: This is a risky habit that usually works out well, but not every time. We recently discovered a sweet-and-sour form of dried seaweed that just isn't for us. This time, though, we hit it right. The senbei we found are specific to the Aomori area and are called nanbu senbei . Traditionally served as part of a dish called senbu jiru - cracker broth - they are made from wheat flour and baked in a round mold. (More commonly, se

A Peach of a Train Station

Third in a series about our recent trip up noth to visit the island of Hokkaido and our food adventures along the way! We left Tendo early the next morning to begin the next long string of local trains that would get us to Aomori and the night express train to Sapporo . Pivotal in getting us to our friend, Ryan , in time for our planned departure to Daisetsuzan National Park , we were a little nervous about this train. We happened to be traveling during obon , a period when Japanese people return to their hometowns to visit family and friends, and pray at the graves of their ancestors. It was not possible to reserve a seat on the train so it was a question of being first in line to be sure to get a seat. One of the tricky parts about travel of any kind is eating healthy. In our case, whatever time we had at assorted stations was used to ensure we found the right train and got on it before it left. Missing a train drastically resets the entire schedule of travel for the day, and c

Pickled in Tendo

Second in a series about our recent trip to Hokkaido and some of the food discoveries along the way! As I mentioned in a previous post about this first meal , Masae also served an assortment of homemade pickles. Okra, eggplant, and cucumber pickles she'd made the night before graced the table, and were perfect for a summer's evening meal. Also known as tsukemono , these pickles can range from simple overnight varieties to those left in jars for long periods of time. Pickles offer a chance to cleanse the pallette between types of sushi or dishes in a meal. We ate in what I call "family style" - fishing out this or that directly from the serving bowl - and bringing it back to the rice bowl or small accompanying plate. If the pickle, tofu or tomato made it to my rice bowl (versus flopping onto the table or another serving bowl) it added a nice bit of flavor or worked well in combination withh something else I snagged earlier. Masae's Pickled Eggplant 1. Slice w

Dashi (Seven Vegetable Relish)

Recently, we took a series of local (read "slow") trains north to Hokkaido . August is the height of travel season in Japan, and we found most trains, ferries, and planes sold out or out of our price range. Luckily, Japan Rail (JR) offers a rail pass that for a flat fee allows travelers to puzzle together a series of local trains to their desired destination. We broke our trip into three days, and spent our first night in Tendo with a Couchsurfing family. We enjoyed our evening with them immensely, and of course, the food was amazing. Dinner consisted of cubes of deep-fried tofu (dredged first in rice flour and sesame seeds) with a series of pickled vegetables - eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes - along with rice and dashi (seven vegetable relish). We drank glass after glass of mugicha , and finished off the meal with sweet, sweet watermelon long chilled in the refrigerator. It was a quinticessential summer meal similar in tenor to those shared with my mother in the

In Defense of Food - Reaction, Discussion and Off to the Kitchen and Garden!

Welcome to the August Book Club Post! I'm lucky enough to host this month's discussion of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto . Check out other titles the group has read, see what's coming up next, and join in! I have to say that I think In Defense of Food is the best book I've read by Michael Pollan. Here he accomplishes what he sets out to do - offer up an eating plan backed up by common sense, history, and science - with great writing. I haven't read Second Nature or A Place of My Own yet, but of the food books, this one is, well, the bomb-diggity. Thought-provoking, disturbing, depressing, but also inspiring, In Defense of Food made me realize how much I had bought into the concept of nutritionism. It also made me grateful for my little Tokyo garden, canning, and my mother for sharing my grandmother's recipes and family traditions. It also made me hungry for kale, but that's not hard to do. Pollan also made me think

A New Kind of Container Garden

I spotted the words gorilla gardening in a recent email from Grist.org , and followed the link to find this most awesome trailer about a truck garden in Brooklyn . What's new about a truck garden? Well, this one struck my fancy as it is, literally, a garden in a truck. It wends its way around Brooklyn to its CSA customers delivering vegetables about as fresh-picked as they can come. One of the best uses yet for one of those big old things. More on The Truck Farm Visit Wicked Delicate for more films on the Truck Farm and to learn more about what Curt and Ian (I'm not really on a first name basis with them, of course.) are brewing up. FYI, these are the folks who brought you King Corn . Check out this post at Inhabitat for a ton of good links to Truck Farm and other nifty notions in the Big Apple. Then head over to YouTube to watch the Truck Farm series ! (Image courtesy of Curt and Ian at Wicked Delicate.)

One Idea for Next Year's Garden

A friend shared this link about rice paddy art . My little adventure planting rice with One Life Japan resulted in something beautiful, but not quite like this...Check out the link for even more amazing images.

Tokyo Farmer's Market in the Sun

Apparently, a little sun can make a world of difference. I ventured down to the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park again last weekend to see what the market might be like dry. My first visit occurred in absolutely pouring rain , and I felt like I didn't really get a fair impression of the market. There were a fair number of vendors then, and we still managed to spend a few happy hours eating and shopping. I again spent a few happy hours eating and shopping, but in a brighter and busier spot. A considerably larger crowd along with at least double the number of vendors made for a bustling time. Totokawa was on hand selling their tasty array of jams and honeys, and this time I also talked with Kitagawaen , an organic tea grower from Shizouka . His blend of green tea and brown rice is a new favorite. I also met a group of folks from Mashiko, a small rural town quite famous for its pottery , about two and a half hours north of Tokyo by car. This little booth attracted a fair amount of

Inspiring New Books

Books in English are sometimes in short supply here in Tokyo, or at least a bit difficult to track down, and so I've got a running list of books that sound intriguing, useful, fun, and enlightening. Since I also know that as a booklover my list will only continue to grow (much like the pumpkin, pictured at left and even bigger now, now taking over my Tokyo garden) it's time to jot a few down. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, 2009 Carpenter echoed many of my own thoughts and feelings about urban farming during this interview with Grist and this interview over at the kitchn . I loved living in the country, but she's dead-on about it's "dirty little secret" of driving everywhere. I love living in the city, and I absolutely love every moment I get to spend on the Takashi Farm harvesting tomatoes and getting by mosquitoes in the bean patch. This combination of city and country is ideal. And, paraphrasing from Simply Recipe s, if y

Food Awareness Education in Japan

One morning this past week at the farm we packaged up some nice bundles of tomatoes, eggplants, and beans for a local butcher shop. It turns out that the owner wanted to connect the employees with a local grower of organic vegetables, and offer them a small gift for the season of Ochugen . It also turns out that this is not such an unusual idea. Another Japanese company is doing something similar and on a larger scale . This time focusing on rice, the company outright purchased the rice for distribution to its employees. The company is also coordinating tours and workdays on the farm for employees. How much fun is that?

Sun Tea

During my time at Frog Holler I learned how to make sun tea. For last year's HollerFest , Cathy made experimental batches of the stuff using a variety of herbs from around the farm in varying ratios until she came up with the combination that seemed to please every palette. (If you go this year, I'm betting Holler Tea will be found yet again. This is only one excellent reason to attend this awesome musical festival, of course.) Watching it brew in big glass carboys, I decided I could do the same thing with herbs in my garden. I tried my own combinations, and found none to be too bad except for maybe the parsley tea. (It seemed logical. It tastes good in everything else.) Anyway, here in Tokyo the garden is chock full of good herbs. Now that the rainy season is officially over and summer is here in full force (we've changed our farm schedule to start around 6:30am or 7am in an effort to beat the heat) I've got the first batch brewing. The farmers have not tried it bef

More on Hydrangeas

As we walk to the nearest train station we usually cut down a small, narrow backstreet that runs roughly parallel to the main road. A wide variety of single family homes, apartments, and condos line both sides. A handful of the single family homes are older, one-story structures built in a traditional style. The accompanying yards are a delight to the eye - hydrangea, hollyhock, fruit trees, and an assortment of unidentified flowers and plants - and presumably fed the household at one time or another. It's remarkable to see how much greenery is packed into a very small growing space. One of these older homes always has something in bloom or fruit that catches my eye. In the spring it was an orange tree, hydrangea during the rainy season, with the last and most interesting of those finishing its blooms just now. (See pictures below.) Tiers of potted plants line the walk to the door, and a small porch holds pot after pot of succulents and cactus. I occasionally see an older woman o

Beauty in Labor

Work at the farm these days is a hot and sweaty endeavor that often includes mosquitoes. The rain brings some temporary relief, but it requires rubber boots and makes it tricky to move the cart of vegetables down the rows. We harvest from fields prepared and planted this spring, and already the cabbage and broccoli I helped put in the ground are gone and the space cleared for the next round. Hence, t his episode of Speaking of Faith , featuring Vigen Guroian resonated with me because it captured the particular joy (and melancholy) of watching living things grow, come and go. There is a joy and pleasure in such labor that makes even the cabbage worm's lacey handiwork something awe-inspiring. "In spring, I cultivate the perennial bed with the magenta petals and sweet citrus fragrance of the rugosa rose in mind. In excitement, I wait also for the green bouquet of the broccoli plant and the calm, clean scent of the cucumber. "This was not always so. In the beginning, in

Imports and Exports

When I was a kid my mom would slice up some Spam, fry it up, and serve it piping hot to the table. My brothers and I did hot hesitate to gobble it up, nor chomp it down at family reunions in cold salads with egg and mayonnaise. (I'm from Wisconsin - home of the deep friend cheese curd and other classic high-fat dishes - where dishes like this are commonplace.) Imagine my surprise when I found Spam in Korea , and then I read this post on The Atlantic Food Channel about Okinawaan food . To be clear, Spam is not the primary ingredient in Okinawaan food, and not in Japanese food. It is certainly not as ubiquitous as it was in the Midwestern food of my childhood, but it's presence is still somewhat shocking. Peanut-flavored tofu, sure. Bitter melon, you bet. Spam...what? The massive American base on Okinawa along with a bevy of foreigners from everywhere else means that a variety of foods and food bits have made their way into pots and onto tables across the country with a Japanes

Growing Power

Our cousin, Tim , sent along a link to the New York Times article about Will Allen of Milwaukee's Growing Power Farm , one of the coolest things I've heard about yet. It almost (almost, only!) makes me want to come back home and move to Milwaukee to work with him. (It sounds like I would have to take a place in line, but it also sounds like it would be well worth the wait.) Tom Philpott at Grist gives a nice summary of the article, and suggests quite rightly that we all get out and garden. (Which I will do once today's rain lets up...if ever.)

TheSeason's First Pesto

In our little Tokyo garden, we've planted a bundle of basil. It surrounds the tomato plants as well as the eggplants in an effort to deter those that want to snack on those vegetables before I get to them. Needless to say, all this basil is growing like mad, so I used this recipe to make the first round. I add some lemon juice and use walnuts instead of pine nuts. And, my confession is that I haven't used cheese in my pesto for years. It does taste wonderful, but it's expensive. Plus, I freeze the pesto, (in ice cube trays for nice dollops of summer flavor for rice or pasta in the winter months) and it seems better without the cheese.

Gardens Everywhere

A striking thing about both Japan and Korea is that almost no patch of ground is left untilled or untouched. Every nook and cranny contains a plant or flower or herb tended by some hand in hopes of enjoying a harvest or bloom. We saw the same terraced beds in Korea that we see everywhere in Japan, along with small farms and even the occasional guardrail bed of peppers or sweet potatoes. A number of the plots contained little huts with low tables and tools. I imagined they serve as storage as well as a place to retreat from the laserlike sun of the Korean summer. I'm still surprised at my own sense of surprise at these things. Using land for food (or even flowers, to some degree) is more sensible than using it for inedible and water-hogging grass . Here's a simple and concise history of agriculture in Korea , a nice little piece on farming and early childhood education , an older but interesting piece on organic farming in Korea , and the next book I'd like to add to my