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Showing posts from July, 2010

Tokyo Blueberry Jam

The first batch of farm blueberry jam is finally done. All the jars gave out resounding pops as they sealed, and now simply await a lovely piece of toast. I used the recipe on the back of the box of pectin, but I'm hoping my next round will use this tasty concoction from Food in Jars . It sounds utterly magnificent, and I'd have a use for the lavender in the garden . I'm also wondering if I could use yuzu in place of lemon to round out the local flavor. Basic Blueberry Jam Recipe 4 cups crushed blueberries 4 cups sugar 1 box of pectin Wash and destem the blueberries, and then crush them one cup at a time. Stir in the pectin packet while bringing the mixture to a good rolling boil. (A rolling boil is one that doesn't let up even when being stirred. Mind you, the stirrer gets a periodic painful splash.) Once the rolling boil is going stir in all of the sugar all at once, and keep stirring. Boil and stir like this for one minute. Remove from heat, and dol

Cucumber Delight

It's been way too hot to cook and salads suffer from a lack of garden greens. Our new favorite dish of green beans is fast and easy, and thankfully the tomatoes are at last making it to the table to add a fancy dash of color and taste. Cucumbers are in full swing as well, and seem to be nearly taking over just about every vegetable stand in the area . I usually serve them straight up or with miso paste for dipping. Well, thanks to Kitchen Garden Japan and this nifty little recipe we've just added another dish to our standard summer fare. (Kitchen Garden recommends serving them with beer, so we followed suit.) Tweaked a bit to match what was on hand plus some creativeness - paprika, sesame seeds, and a dash of soy sauce - we finished a big bowl in no time. I feel cooler already.

American Heirloom Tomatoes in Tokyo

We harvested these lovelies this morning from the greenhouse. Started from Project Grow seeds, we had no idea what to expect. Heirlooms, like my Brandwines , tend to have great names and good flavor. These are no exception. The larger of the two (pictured above) are called Snow White, and have a soft, sweet taste. They're about the size of ping pong ball. The other variety - Lemon Drop - is much smaller and always makes me think of a gooseberry when I look at it. The flavor, though, is pleasantly smooth.

First Brandywines Harvested in Tokyo

I confess to being on pins and needles about my tomatoes. It's been a bit of a rough year in the garden so far, which means plenty of lessons learned . It also means some heartbreak. Some crops didn't pan out and others simply never made it to the pan. Bugs , a little bit of disease, a little bad timing, and weeds that nearly took me down with them have been a few of my teachers this year. The tomatoes - four Brandywines and four Black Zebras - are American heirlooms that I'm growing for the first time in my Tokyo garden . I'd grown Brandwines in Michigan and dearly loved them. ( Frog Holler Organic Farm did turn me on to a couple early ripening heirlooms, but Brandywines remained near and dear.) Growing these tomatoes and anticipating the joy of sharing a taste of home with friends here gives me more pleasure than I can describe. Seeing the plants under stress and attacked by critters literally wakes me up at night. Did I do something wrong? Did I forget to do some

Inspired to Recycle

Nearly as ubiquitous as the vending machines they usually stand adjacent to, this adorable trio of recycle bins proved irresistible. Mottainai !

Green Curtain Examples Around the City

Well, now that I've planted my own green curtain I'm seeing them absolutely everywhere! Here are a few examples from a recent afternoon bike ride. Now that summer is officially here, folks will be glad for all this greenery! The first picture shows a massive green curtain covering the south wall of a large office building on the west side of Tokyo. As the day moves along this side of the building surely bears the brunt of the afternoon sun. Just next to it as well is a busy roadway that offers no relief from the heat. The vines scramble up simple green netting as well as the metal shuttering on the walls. They grow from large pots evenly spaced along the base of the wall, and each one appears to have it's own water source. (See detail photo below.) The other two green curtains pictured below are simple home curtains. The thicker of the two already has a very nice sized goya on it, and the window behind is well shaded. The thinner one might be as much for the fruit as

New Community Garden Photos

Scattered amongst the farms and vegetable stands in our neck of Tokyo there are, thankfully, a handful of community gardens. Bustling places, the plots measure roughly three meters by three meters, and gardeners undoubtedly make the most of the space allotted to them. Last year, we noticed a farm literally just paces south of the train tracks partitioned in half. (The photo at left of a passing train was taken standing about three-quarters of the way to the end of the garden space.) Fearing the worst (another high rise or series of prefab homes) we waited with baited breath. Much to our pleasure, this most fantastic community garden was born! We've watched its progress over the course of the past few months - plowing, marking, planting, and now tending - with great pleasure. Last Sunday we ventured in for a look around, and here's a bit of what we found. A personal favorite because I dearly love its cold, crisp taste in summer is this watermelon tee-pee. The best part? The

Baby Chestnuts on the Branch

There is a nice little chestnut orchard on the farm, and luckily it sits just north of my garden . As the seasons roll along I get to watch the trees flower, set fruit, and then watch the green fuzzy balls increase in size. By late August or early September, they will have almost doubled in size and turned a lovely brown color. We'll gather them up carefully, peel off the spiky coat to reveal smooth brown nuts inside. The farmers taught me how to cook them, and we savored them in just about dish we could last fall. A little different from its taller and more storied cousin , these chestnut trees tend to live only about nine or ten years. Their fruit is just as delicious, although easier to harvest. Right now, I'll simply savor the shade they offer on hot summer afternoons of work.

Squash Trellis - A New Favorite

As a self-confessed vegetable geek who helps at an organic farm in Tokyo and has a garden , I still get an irresistible urge periodically to head out to the local vegetable stands to see what's on offer. Inevitably a good deal, I usually come away with a little Japanese practice, a recipe, and sometimes a new vegetable. The other day I came away with a new idea. Reminiscent of the kiwi carport , this squash trellis is my new favorite find. (Ok, it's not really a new idea, but it's the biggest trellis of its kind that I've ever seen.) Full green leaves fluttered along strong vines sporting not just the usual showy squash blossom but lovely, lovely squash in various stages of growth. Hanging at about head height they did seem like a bit of a hazard, but still stunningly beautiful. Surprisingly, there were no supports for the squash as I thought there might be, although I'm planning to head back again to see how it progresses. Metal poles with sturdy netting ru

Rhubarb Harvest: Wind-Tumbled in Tokyo

Heavy winds over the past day or so wreaked only the tiniest bit of havoc. The green curtain held its own, and only a stalk or two of popcorn gave in to its gusty shoves. One surprise victim, though, was the rhubarb . A few leaves of one of the largest plants broke off, and I couldn't bear to see them go to waste. I know I'm not supposed to harvest the first year, but it seemed criminal to not make the most of the situation. So, the massive stalks and leaves got cut off, and joined bunches of basil, swiss chard, and kale all riding home in my bike basket to be processed. The basil will, of course, become pesto frozen in ice cube trays for easy meals. The greens will be blanched and frozen for use as an unconventional addition to winter meals of houtou udon or oden . The rhubarb's destiny though, was not clear. While rhubarb may have originated in China and Mongolia , I have yet to find a local recipe for it. The little picture on the plant tag show

A Field of Pots

Tokyo is full of gardens large and small made up of vegetables, ornamentals, tiny trees, and perennial flowers. It's been a pleasure to find each and every one, and I marvel at the creativity and ingenuity that fashions them. Next to the kiwi carport though, was a garden that was simply stunning. Eggplants, squash, and tomatoes were just a few of the crops (it's the only word that really suits the volume here) grew in tidy rows in the courtyard each one blooming and fruiting. What's so amazing about that? Each of these plants sat in a container. Big pots neatly arranged with trellised or stabilized plants filled the cemented over space. One set (see photo above) acted as a sort of green curtain for the downstairs windows, while the trellised squash sheltered smaller seedlings. Just behind the eggplants in a back corner (again, see photo above) and covered with floating row cover were four rows of long, large pots. Without trespassing, it was

Last of the Hydrangea for the Year

Last year I fell in love with hydrangeas . I admit that before coming to Japan I thought they were ridiculous plants. In America they just seemed like another high maintenance ornamental with big blooms. I saw little that was redeeming. Perhaps it is their ubiquity here (nearly every home has at least one) and the fact that they're a native plant. (I was astonished to see them growing high on a cliff ledge during our visit last summer to Hokkaido's Daisetzuan National Park .) Their colors range from pink to mauve to blue to purple to white with densely clustered blooms as well as airy clusters of flowers that look like they orbit a galaxy of other tiny blooms. And now, the blooms are coming to an end. Most of the bushes in the area are heavy with fading poms whose edges are turning brown and curling in more each day. Tucked it seems in every corner, I've enjoyed again their sparks of light along shady paths and peeking over fences. Until next year, Ajisai.

Kaki on the Way!

Last year was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on kaki, a.k.a. persimmon . A strange, thick-skinned orange fruit, the kaki comes in two kinds. A short fat stubby kind as well as a longer kind usually dried and later soaked in sake or eaten in tasty desserts . Part of the vast variety of fruit trees on the farm ( biwa , yuzu , and mikan to name just a few), the two kaki trees stand out in the fields where the crops grow. Both are about 20 feet tall, and provide not only wonderful fruit but welcome shade between chores.

How to Construct a Green Curtain

The weather in Tokyo seems to be getter hotter by the minute. Tsuyu (the rainy season) is set to finish shortly, and we're preparing for the hot sunny days ahead. Unlike the energizing bright cool winter months, the summer sun paired with high humidity is wilting. Hoping to reduce our desire to run the air conditioner and inspired by a multitude of neighbors with lovely vines full of cool green leaves, we thought we'd grow a green curtain of our own! Here is how we did it - from thought-process to equipment to construction - and, as usual, a few caveats. This "recipe" can easily be tweaked to suit any situation, but will hopefully be a good starting point for cooling summer days. The Logic Nets, vines, and pots abound at the moment in the city, and little tendrils of goya (Okinawan bitter melon), fusen (a flowering vine), morning glories, and even cucumbers wend their way upward. These often fruitful screens do double duty. Their shade prevents sunligh

Umesboshi Update: Reducing the Weight

Stewing away happily in our apartment these past couple weeks, the umeshu , umeboshi , and hachimitsu all seem to be doing well. The umeboshi are fully submerged in their own ruby red brine, and it's time to reduce the weight on them by half. The recipes I've been consulting recommend this step once they're under about two centimeters of fluid, and I thought I'd share a photo of what they look like at the moment. I can find no definitive answer on why the weight should be reduced. My hunch is, based on the tiniest of allusions in a variety of articles and recipes, that the fruit becomes increasingly fragile as the pickling process continues. Reducing the weight by half increases the chance of fully intact plums. Regardless, the plums should remain submerged. This prevents them from being exposed to air, which keeps a yeast mold or film from growing. Sometime in the next week and half the rainy season should end, and that's when I'll start looking for three co

Baby Squash as Big as and Cute as Buttons

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! Pictured here is a tiny, tiny Shishigatani, and the Chirimen are just as small and cute. It's been a tricky growing season so far - aphids everywhere - and I'm hoping things go better than they did last year for the American pumpkins . The vines look quite healthy so far, and are taking over everything as is their wont. I'm hoping to have plenty to share come fall!

Kiwi Carport Turns Driveway into Mini-Orchard

Completely covered with kiwi vines, this carport is clearly the envy of the neighborhood. We spotted it while walking to a nearby park, and it took all we had to not settle in the shade for a nice fruity snack. Most orchards in our area trellis trees and vines in this manner, which makes for easy pruning and harvesting. Using the same concept on a smaller scale over the driveway is utterly brilliant, although not unusual at all for Japan . The two to three well-established vines transform otherwise dead space into a mini-orchard, and takes the concept of a green curtain to a new level for homeowners.

Motor Scooter Veggie Momma Video Up!

The story about the woman selling her vegetables via scooter was too good to just leave for one post and one photograph. Here's a video that really captures the whole experience - from her amazing cackle to the heft of that 18 kilograms of rice!

Tokyo Garden Update

Despite an aphid problem on my zucchini , the garden is going great guns. We're in the midst of Tsuyu (rainy season) and so everything is growing exponentially. The lavender, in it's second year, is a magnet for pollinators and beneficials these days. (Top photo)I confess I find it hard to resist simply brushing past it myself just to release a bit of that smell. When I left for Chiba on Friday, the popcorn was perhaps to my waist. Today when I took these photos it's past my shoulders. The squash are taking over and are even sneaking tendrils into the covered row of kale and chard. I'm hopeful this crop of Japanese varieties fare better than the American pumpkins that broke our hearts last season. The tomatoes - burly Brandwines and possibly wonderful Black Zebras - seem to be doing pretty well. I'm using my new pruning skills on them in an effort to create a tidier plant. The kale and swiss chard are hap

Ume Hachimitsu Sour: The Final Installment of the Ume Chronicles

While researching recipes and information about making my own umeshu and umeboshi , I stumbled across any number of sites that recommended making Ume Hachimitsu. A non-alcoholic drink using ume, vinegar, and honey it sounded like a nice refresher for these already steamy days. (My Japanese tutor also served up a glass during one of our recent meetings, and that pretty much sealed the deal.) The basic recipe is quite straight-forward, and I whipped it up in no time. There is, as with all good things, a waiting period, but by the time it's ready the weather will be even warmer. A tall cool glass will be the perfect complement to a steamy Tokyo summer day! Ingredients 1 kilogram ume 1 kilogram honey 1 liter vinegar Equipment A 4 liter bin or jar A bowl big enough to soak the ume Sharp stick or shishkebob skewer Process Soak the plums overnight, drain, dry, and remove the stems. (Read up on the why's and wherefore's of this part over at the umeshu post .) Sterilize the ja