Saturday, July 25, 2009

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 attention. Selling vegetables and breads (the sesame loaf had the tang of sourdough with the hearty flavor of black sesame seeds) the group of two farmers and a baker enjoyed the assistance of the mayor. Their efforts to share information about their town and its nifty sounding activities were compelling, to say the least. Especially if I get to have more of that bread!

More to peruse if you can't make it to the market:



Mashiko, its long tradition of pottery and agriculture is possibly a new favorite topic of mine. Festivals, like the upcoming Earth Art Festa, occur annually to bring people in to enjoy the rural setting as well as shop. This portfolio of historic photographs includes a bundle of a Mashiko potter, his studio, and farm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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 Recipes, if you like Will Allen and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle then this would probably be a good choice for you, too.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell, 2009
If it wasn't for The New York Times Book Review I would probably miss out on a ton of great books. The same quite possibly holds true for this one. Shell, a corredspondent for The Atlantic, examines the culture of and our addiction to inexpensive goods. For a long time now my shopping credo is to avoid big box stores whenever possible, and shop the smaller and most likely more expensive local place. Sure, I pay more, but the service and quality tend to be better, and I like to think that by keeping my dollars/yen in my local community that I'm doing that community a service. Shell confirms this idea and it looks like she gives me some good information to continue making my case to others. I'm looking forward to this one. (There's a great, albeit rather long, roundtable discussion of Shell's book, too, that is also quite thought-provoking.)

The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan, 2009
Reviewed along with a bundle of other great books, this one made my list because it just sounds like so much fun. It's not exactly new, but it got reviewed because it's out in paperback now. I would still just love to read it, and carry on with my little fantasty farming schemes. Madigan, avid forager as well as homesteader, covers everything from creating the garden space - including container gardens - to puting up preserves. (I'm deeply disapointed to have missed the free give-away, but such is life.) This interview with Madigan, Kleindienst, and Hemenway, offers even more inspiration!




Sunday, July 19, 2009

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?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

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 before, but I think it will be right up their alley.

My batch uses fennel, mint, and a wee bit of lemon balm. I simply pluck an assortment of stems of each, remove the leaves and jam them into a pitcher, fill said pitcher with water, and set it in the sun. Wait a couple days, strain out the leaves, chill, and serve. Make notes on what seems to work (or not) and start again. This recipe at Organic Gardening has exact measurements and calls for tea bags, neither of which I think are critical for success in this case.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

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 out watering, but I haven't gotten up the gumption to say more than hello.


Hydrangea, as I mentioned earlier, are a new love of mine. A woodland shrub native to Japan, hydrangea here are some of the most amazing and spectacular flowers I've ever seen. (And let me just say there are no shortage of amazing and spectacular flowers in Japan!) Even as they fade, the blooms remain beautiful. May I age so gracefully.


This recent article from Fine Gardening offered some enlightening information about hydrangeas, although I DO NOT advocate use of artificial fertlizers. Please ignore that section of the article. The rest, though, offers an outline of the types, bloom color, pruning, and winter protection.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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, this 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 my first garden in Richmond, Virginia, I farmed for food on the table. But in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Eldersburg and Reisterstown, Maryland, and last, here in Culpeper, the garden has finally reformed my disposition toward it. It has entirely transfigured my vision of life. …

" … For the sake of beauty, I gladly leave the ruffled red cabbage to grow long beyond its time for harvest. I let the mustard reach high with bright yellow bouquets. I cultivate carefully the asparagus row not just for the taste of its buttery spears but also for the verdant fern foliage that shoots up after the spring cutting. I let volunteer sunflower, cosmos, and cleome seedlings grow where they choose. And I sneak orange nasturtiums into the hills of sweet-potato vines. … "
- V. Guroian, Speaking of Faith


Saturday, July 11, 2009

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 Japanese twist. Bread - originally brought to Japan by the Portugese - and pastries are dreamy here, and often also feature red beans, fish, or green tea in some form or another. Pizza showcases corn, seafood, and mayonnaise. Curries can be found almost anywhere, and have just the right amount of zip and flavor to satisfy even the most sensitive taste bud. High-priced bags of arugula can be bought at fancy groceries alongside similarly expensive brilliant green shiso leaves and sushi.

So, maybe Spam isn't such a shocker. And I confess, I found it as tasty in Korea as I did when my Mom made it for dinner or I ate those salads. Ok, and I still like those salads. I'm from a long-line of church-potluck ladies and hearty farm folk that drink bad coffee with every meal. I'm genetically predisposed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

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.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

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.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

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 bedside table!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gui or Chicken Palace Delight

Our second evening in Korea found us at what our cousin Grace dubbed the Chicken Palace. A small, unassuming restaurant on a busy corner in Yeosu, the Chicken Palace offered a variety of grilled dishes or gui.

The usual bevy of banchan arrived, including a lovely cold vinegared seaweed and greens, as well as the kimchi, slimy but tasty pickled greens, bean sprouts, vinegared daikon cubes, red bean paste, and fish. Our server then brought out a large cast iron platter full of raw chicken in a sweet and hot barbecue-like sauce, and raw vegetables - mushroom, potato, cabbage, onions, chillis - along with pinky finger sized rice noodles, which she placed on a burner in the middle of our table. She turned on the gas, and things began to bubble merrily. Using scissors and tongs that came as part of the utensils for our table, we began cutting everything into bite size pieces that we let fall back into the bubbling pot. Giving the mix the occasional stir and throwing in a handful of the raw garlic cloves that came in a bowl of leafy greens things started to smell irresistible.


Once we determined the chicken was done (or that we were hungry enough to risk any kind of food borne illness), we turned off the gas and began eating. Here's an outline of the process:
- Lay one lettuce or sesame leaf in left hand.
- Place chicken piece(s) on leaf and add kimchi or other roasted veggies as you wish.
- Roll up leaf like a mini green burrito.
- Eat.

So, this was just amazing. (I know I keep saying that, but it's true.) The cool leaf with the hot chicken and veggies with the extra spice and flavor of the kimchi blew my mind.

And just when we thought we could eat no more a bowl of rice with grated veggies - carrots, peppers, greens - arrived with our server. She divided the remaining meat into three parts, and thoroughly scraped our pan. Turning on the gas again, she plopped the entire contents of the bowl on one of the meat groups and gave it a good mixing. Flattening the rice-meat mixture out on the sizzling pan, she left us to finish up. One more stir and flattening, and we stuffed ourselves silly with hot rice on leaves.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kimbap

Streetfood abounds in Korea, and one of our favorite treats was kimbap. Similar to the nori roll and onigiri in Japan, kimbap offers a veritable treasure trove of treats in seafood wrapped rice. Egg, spam as mentioned earlier, pickled daikon (known in Korea as mu), onion greens, crab meat or other seafood delights, and perhaps a bit of seaweed. This video of a market vendor making roll after mouthwatering roll shows what a simple dish this is as well as how skilled one must be to get it right.


video

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Outdoor Market in Yeosu


We spent a fair amount of time exploring the outdoor markets in Yeosu. Vendors sold fruits (including the small and bright chamen melons pictured at left); vegetables - small round zucchini, eggplants, and the most beautiful beans ever; kimchi - a million varieties it seemed; clothing - fancy blouses and skirts to working pants and nifty hats; kimbap and other prepared foods; fish - fresh, living, dried, and drying; seaweed - dried, fresh, sheets, and clumps; meats - whole, heads, parts, and innards; hardware - car parts to electronic bits; parasols too lovely to be called umbrellas; as well as the occasional health and beauty aid under awnings and along the edges of streets.