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Showing posts from June, 2010

Umeboshi Stewing Away

Rainy season (tsuyu) in Japan coincides with ume (plum) harvest and preservation. Umeshu is just one of the options for these green lovelies and umeboshi (pickled plums) is another. There is no other flavor like umeboshi - the tart tang of the plums with the cool flavor of the red shiso leaves - and it has come to be one of my favorites. It seemed only logical to try my hand at making them this year. Ingredients 3 kilograms ripe plums (not green, but rather pink and/or yellow) 600 grams coarse salt (ama-shio or ara-shio) 300 grams of red shiso leaves Equipment 8 liter bin (jar) like the one I used for my umeshu 3 plastic bags capable of holding 1500 grams of water securely Cheesecloth or light towel Rubber band Big bowl for soaking the ume Sharp stick for removing the stems Medium-sized bowl for working the salt into the shiso A handful of rubberbands that will fit around the mouth of the jar Process I soaked my ume overnight again, and removed the stems just as

Why Aphids

Ok, I'm mildly obsessed these days with aphids. Whether I'm in the garden or out on the balcony , abura mushi (Japanese for aphid) are everywhere. Trying to do battle organically and sensibly is my current challenge, and I thought I'd share some of what I've learned so far about why they find my plants so delectable and what can be done about it. Aphid Attractions I'm still researching this, but what I've learned thus far is that they are attracted to the color yellow, which means those giant zucchini blossoms must seem ideal. It also explains why nasturtiums are listed as a trap crop. They are also encouraged by high amounts of nitrogen in the soil. High levels of nitrogen encourage a fair amount of new growth, which is wear aphids often best like to feed. Despite their tiny size, they need a great deal of the heady brew offered by new growth where the greatest amount of amino acids are present. I worked a fair amount of composted chicken manure and old c

A Scooter Full of Vegetables

This past weekend we visited a friend's place near Ichinomiya in Chiba. About an hour south of Tokyo we were near enough to the ocean to smell the salt air, and rural enough to be surrounded (almost literally) by rice fields. As we prepared to head out for a day of surfing and beach-combing, we heard a motorbike in the driveway and a voice calling out. Leaving our breakfast on the table, we went out to the driveway to find Miyamoto-san parking her bike, talking a mile and a minute, and chuckling all the while. Our host reported that whenever she sees the car, she stops knowing the family often can't resist her fresh-picked wares. This morning the front and back baskets of her motorbike showcased early tomatoes, potatoes, and big bags of beautiful rice. Cruising all the way over from her farm on the other side of the station (a good 15 minute ride, at least) Miyamoto-san peddles her vegetables around to the summer homes in the area. When her grandmother died, she moved to the

Tiny Yuzu Soaking Up the Sun

I couldn't resist photographing these little guys the other day. My relationship with yuzu started with a chance discussion at the farm that went straight into marmalade . Then it was ramen , and this Spring the blossoms caught my eye and the attention of any number of bees. Now, the little green globes that will be spots of bright warm sunshine come January are in the works.

Zucchini Get a Breath of Fresh Air

The aphid population on my zucchini seems to have dropped off a bit. The double-whammy (aluminum foil and Neem) seems to be helping, although I'll be keeping a close watch on the situation as the remaining harvest time goes along. (My tomatoes, some very precious Brandywines and Black Zebras, are also showing signs of stress from an invasion so I'm mildly concerned about them, too.) As we surveyed the scene the other day, the farmers pointed out that I should remove the older leaves of the plants. In the wet, hot, and humid weather that is the rainy season in Tokyo, the mass of leaves created a still, warm, and dark place where aphids (or the diseases they can carry) could thrive. Trimming away old or ill-looking leaves opens the center of the plant up to light and air, which also strengthens the impact of the extra-light-inducing aluminum foil. The extra space makes it easier to apply Neem oil again, harvest, and beneficial insects can cruise in easily at will

Aphid Snacks for the Praying Mantis

My aphid obsession runs from my zucchini at the farm to both balcony gardens and back again. Abura mushi (oily bugs), as they are called in Japanese, are a common pest for Tokyo gardeners and farmers. The hot and humid conditions of summer make an ideal environment for them, and for the organic gardener and farmer it's paramount to cultivate good growing practices. Companion planting to ward off pests and attract beneficials becomes integral to success, along with building good soil , trimming and staking of plants, as well as creativity. The other day while watering on the back balcony I noticed an infestation of aphids beginning on one of my nasturtiums. After an initial scowl of disgust followed by some squishing, I recalled my little praying mantis over on the pepper plants . (Often used as a trap crop, nasturtiums are also a favorite of ours in salads and as an attractor for beneficials. It is, technically, no surprise to see the little vampires at work.) Wondering how to

Green Beans Go the Way of Chrysanthemum Greens

The green beans are starting to roll in, and the farmers graced me with a huge bundle recently. Their advice? Try whipping them up in the same way as shungiku . So, that night I did just that, and the resulting dish disappeared in seconds flat. Quite possibly a new favorite (and pathetically easy) way to eat green beans. (Although, Maan's green beans undoubtedly remain my other favorite.) Green Beans ala Takashi Farm 1 bunch of green beans 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons sugar Cut the beans into bite size pieces and plop in water that's come to a good rolling boil for two minutes and thirty seconds. (Any longer and you've got mushy beans, which frankly, is a turn-off.) Drain, mix with the remaining ingredients, chill, gobble. My plan for next time is to perhaps add some pressed garlic, ginger, or chillis. My mouth is watering even now!

Umeshu: First Batch Underway

While February and March are plum blossom time, this time of year sees supermarket and fruit store shelves full of the resulting fruit. Last year I only looked at the heaps of green and gold ume, and wondered exactly what they were. By the time I got my answer the season was over, and the next fruit in line began filling the shelves. Since then I've got a slightly better handle on what's in season when and what to do with it, and my first-ever batch of umeshu (pronounced oo-may-shoe) is underway. Ume (pronounced oo-may) Back in Michigan my penchant for fruit led to shelves full of jams and jars of fruit in sauce as well as a freezer full for oatmeal, baking, or just little treats during the winter months. While there is some jam-making in Japan, one of the most favorite uses for ume is umeshu or plum wine. I'd usually left such activities to my friends over at Ambry Farms , but this year I decided my time had come. Umeshu (pronounced oo-may-shoe) is quite possibly one

Biwa Season Opener

Like any good farmstead, the one where I help out is full of fruit trees. Not just blueberries (although I am quite grateful the bushes line the path to and from my little garden space) that console me in these dark days of aphids on my zucchini , but mikan , yuzu , and biwa. Mikan season is essentially over, and the next round of yuzu are only tiny, tiny green balls taking it slow on these hot days and absorbing the sunshine for winter harvest. Now, it's biwa's turn to shine. An odd looking fruit, the biwa (known outside of Japan as the loquat) has a cool subtle flavor, and is lovely to eat standing in the shade. Word has it that it makes a lovely jam, liqueur (along the lines of umeshu), and that the leaves make a tasty and healthy tea . These will simply be dessert.

Aphids in the Garden

My garden zucchini are not as lucky as my balcony vegetables . I've not seen a praying mantis in my garden, although there is certainly a feast to be had there. Little black aphids have made themselves at home in the patch, and the plants are beginning to show some signs of wear. Ants, aphid partners in crime if you will , are present and signal that there is enough honeydew present for them to come out to harvest. The farmers zucchini have recovered nicely from their bought with these little buggers, and I confess to hoping mine would also weather the storm. Yesterday though, they looked quite miserable. Some stems and leaves are beginning to turn yellow, and there's some blossom drop and leaf curl, too. Unlike America where gardeners steal out at night to slip zucchini into neighbor's mailboxes, here it is a short-season crop. By mid-summer the plants bear a striking resemblance to people as they wither and wilt in the heat and humidity Tokyo dishes out. Something of a

Blueberries on the way!

That sweet little patch of budding bushes is turning into fat blueberries even as I type. The bushes are in full leaf, of course, and as we've worked in the nearby fields planting, harvesting, pruning, and staking, the blueberries working away each day, too. We've got a few still in the freezer from last year, and I'm hoping to harvest enough for at least one batch of jam . There's a U-Pick place just up the bike path near the nashi orchard , so just maybe my berry dreams can come true!

Balcony Wildlife

Saturday morning while watering the plants on the balcony, I spotted a nymph praying mantis on one of my pepper plants. Called kamakiri in Japan (meaning scythe), it is enough revered for its strength, tenacity, and fight that it warranted a motif on a warrior's helmet . This praying mantis is quite possibly my new best friend. My pepper plants had been plagued by aphids (like my zucchinis in the garden), and I was preparing to do battle with insecticidal soap and tinfoil. The praying mantis is a happier solution overall, and certainly better than the one I contrived last year . (In Michigan, I'd thankfully had loads and even one in the hoophouse .) My usual aphid routine had been to squish, rinse with water, and repeat; however, Saturday there were none to be found and this little fellow staring back at me. (You'll have to squint at the photo but his pointy little head is just visible on the top leaf.) My plan now is to encourage him to stay, and make himself at home. The

Brown's Field: A Sampling of Organic Life in Chiba

On a recent excursion to Chiba with greenz , an organization I write for here in Japan , we visited a little place called Brown's Field . A compendium of things - cafe, bakery, farm, and spa to name just a few - Brown's Field offers a little something for everyone. For us, it was a good cup of coffee with a tasty afternoon snack. We'd been on the go since morning touring the Nakadaki Art Village - an intentional community of farmers, surfers, artists, and doers - and Brown's Field offered welcome respite. We were eager to check out the farm and cafe for ourselves as they catered our most fantastic-lunch of macrobiotic foods. (Some of the photos here come from that meal.) Started just over ten years ago by Deco Nakajima, a renowned macrobiotic chef , and her husband, Everett Brown, a photojournalist, Brown's Field offers plenty of food for thought (literally and figuratively) by giving visitors and the surrounding community a chance to explore wa

Mulberries In Season

While walking along a rural road in Chiba (an agricultural area just south of Tokyo as full of rice fields and farms as this city is of sidewalks and train tracks) we discovered much to our delight that the mulberry trees were in full fruit. An already delightful afternoon stroll turned even better (and a wee bit purple around the fingertips) as we joined this little snail in an afternoon snack.

The Comploo: A Gardener's Dream

I adore compost . It's my personal cure-all for whatever ails in my garden. The bucket on the counter turns into all that my plants need to grow well to feed my household. Vegetable and fruit castoffs return to the bucket to return to the bin and then to the garden again. Tea bags, yard waste, garden leavings, and kitchen scraps all go in and come out as plant-scrumptious humus. (The kind eaten indirectly rather than the other garlic-laden delight .) One of my greatest challenges here in Japan is gardening without it. I'm accustomed to turning a pile as well as digging into it when I need some of that lovely black gold to put in a pot or add to a bed. I've got permission to build one, and I'm in the process of choosing a site. Meanwhile, I bury it in spots around the garden as I can and hope for the best. That said, Bakoko's little creation - The Comploo - is something near to a dream come true for me. Taking advantage of the heat produced during t

Slow Business Event Serves Up Area Flavors

Just north of our apartment on the west side of Tokyo is a beautiful old Japanese farmhouse or kominka. It's long low profile sits back from the road behind a burnt wood fence, a smattering of trees - Japanese maples, zelkovas, and even a cherry or two - with a small kitchen garden just outside the front door. Built by early settlers here (similar to the farmers I work with) it is currently rented to a very community-minded family. On weekdays, the house is open to and used by senior groups for various activities, and on weekends small events or concerts fill the courtyard with happy sounds and feet. It seems to have become a little pocket of community here in the burbs. We first found it last fall after being handed a flyer while at the Earth Day Market . It advertised a small harvest festival promising live music, good food, and fun. That's all we needed to mark our calendars and head on over. We found a treasure chest of fascinating growers, producers, and cra

Satoimo in a Cup or The Tambo Gets a New Friend

While on our walk in Yanaka we stopped to say hello to a cat. We'd chosen a street at random to walk down, and a friendly cat emerged from a doorway. Hikari, the cat, shared the front stoop with a shallow bowl containing a bit of water and what looked like satoimo (taro root). Hikari's owner (innkeeper and stained glass artist) confirmed my hunch. When I asked why they were in water, he explained he was sprouting them. Moments later, he handed me one carefully wrapped in plastic with instructions on how to sprout it myself. And so the window farm grows. Since then, I've kept it on my windowsill with my mini-tambo (rice field) where it's been happily growing ever since. Satoimo is a regular feature in a number of Japanese dishes like houtou udon , and we've grown come to enjoy it in our ad-hoc versions . It can be rather slimy, but if it's not cooked too long it's more than palatable. It's quite a healthy food, and is even rumored to have anti-agi

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro

Wild and Domesticated Vegetables

Last weekend while out exploring we ran across two very different groups selling wonderful but also very different kinds of vegetables. ( Yasai Otaku apparently have an innate ability to find vegetables in a 20 kilometer radius at all times.) While the domesticated variety are beloved here - eggplants, sweet potatoes , and squash to name but a few - there are a wilder sort that capture the hearts and taste buds of the Japanese each spring. Finding both on this little excursion was quite the treat! Near Koenji Station we randomly chose to walk down one of the many small lanes full of shops, restaurants, and curiosities. One storefront on a corner caught my eye for its display of great looking vegetables - carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes, to name a few - and what looked like a steady stream of customers. While I eyeballed the kabu one friend asked after the beautiful bottles of carrot juice displayed on a back shelf, and another cased out the fresh brown eggs on offer. Ap

Tambo Moves to Bigger Pot

I've been tracking the progress of my little tambo (rice field) from purchase through seed-sprouting to potting up in a little plastic cup . Inspired almost as much as I was by my rice planting trip last year with One Life Japan , I even managed to write a haiku about it for the Blogathon . Recently, the tambo moved to its next stage. Roots visibly filled the cup (check out the photo below!) and it consumed water almost as fast as I poured it in. After Shee-chan and I transplanted hers just before planting the sweet potatoes (giving me a much needed demonstration and translation) I was ready. First, I filled the larger pot with a pre-measured bag of dirt. (The kit comes with absolutely everything pre-prepared except for the water.) To this I added water until the dirt was absolutely saturated and the water stood about two or three centimeters above the soil line. This, of course, mimics the rice field when it's ready for planting. The

Glimpsing Japan in the Streets of Yanaka

Written originally as part of the 2010 Blogathon, this post first appeared on Dana Dugan's blog, Chick with a View . Urban hiking in Tokyo (a.k.a. sight-seeing) is one of the delights of living in this megalopolis. We've cruised about the city by bicycle and loved it, but a great benefit of roaming on foot is that smaller details become apparent. A few weeks ago we made our way over to Yanaka for a day's trek, and found ourselves lost in a maze of old lanes filled with the kind of tiny details that make for a spectacular adventure. Once an edge of old Tokyo now nearly lost in the urban mesh of train lines and high rises, Yanaka is a hidden gem where old Japan can still be caught in a sight, sound or a taste. Getting off the Yamanote Line at Nishi-Nippori via the south exit we turned to the left and began a steep ascent on a small road just behind the station. On our right a stone wall loomed as we huffed and puffed our way up this narrow track. A small handful of houses b