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Showing posts from August, 2010

Vegetable Otaku at Koenji's Awadori Festival

Sunday evening we biked to Koenji to catch the Awadori Dance Festival . Reported to be Tokyo's third largest festival (behind the Sumida River Fireworks Festival and the Asakusa Samba Carnival ), the streets of this little area filled to the brim with viewers, dancers, and musicians alike. The air literally vibrated with drumbeats and the chants of the dancers. Spectators fanned themselves almost perfectly with the beat, and cheered the 188 troupes on as they made their way along the route. And to serve them, of course, food stalls selling grilled meat, whole fish on a stick, beer, hot dogs, etc., were in abundance. It seemed every shop whether a hair dresser, a clothing store, or actual izakaya had a grill with an bucket of iced beverages on their stoop. And every stall had customers munching, drinking, or pondering their purchase while the drums beat on through the streets. My favorite snack find of the evening? As a self-confessed yasai otaku it could only be t

Potted Kale: Refugee from the Heat

This spring I grew a bundle of kale plants on our window sill and planted them in the garden. Various bits of nature (aphids, cabbage worms, and my own learning curve) conspired to bring about their early demise. These things also taught me in concert that kale might be better as a winter crop, and so I'm plotting to plant some with the mizuna, komatsuna, and other winter greens I'll put in once this heat wave breaks. That said, a seedling or two never made it to the garden. I ran out of room there, and had two that still needed a home. Essentially nonexistent here except for the ornamental variety, I couldn't bear the thought of throwing these precious seedlings away. So, I potted them up. One went in with my morning glory vines, and the other got a pot of its own. The seedling at the base of the morning glory vines did alright until the heat started in earnest. Not even regular watering paired with the smattering of shade provided by the vines could keep it going. Ho

Furano's Jam Farm and Grandma Lambert was Right

Ok, it's not really a jam farm, per say, but it's one of the things I will most remember Kyohsai Farm for as time goes along. And the slightly sick feeling from trying almost all 38 different kinds of jam they have on offer. As a jammer I really had no choice but to eat my way around the shop. My favorite spouse bravely shared in this endeavor, and we sampled everything from the standard strawberry and raspberry to crazy vegetable jams like potato, carrot and tomato. My favorite? Beet, of course! Second favorite? Ginger honey. The farm itself started in 1974 with a move from Tokyo , and the Jam Kitchen and Ice Cream Terrace opened in 1986, and based on the amount of jostling there was for position at the samples I'd say it's a resounding success. According to their poster the fruit and vegetables used are organically grown, which makes them extra tasty. (Unfortunately for me, I couldn't find any of the fields where they are grown.) It is possible

Vegetable Bike Touring in Higashikawa, Hokkaido

After hiking in Daistetsuzan National Park we spent some time with the Weymiller's at Square One . Their beautiful straw bale home is located in Green Village, an eco-suburb of Higashikawa, with sweeping views over rice fields heavy with grain to the mountains of Daisetsuzan. Part of our daily routine was to hop on the mamachari's (bicycles) and hit the highways and by-ways. Before it meets the mountains the land is quite flat, and the roads follow a fairly basic grid pattern between farms and tiny clustered communities. Meandering about on these took us past onion - tamanegi as well as negi (round, flat onions and the long green onions)- farms as well as fields of soy beans, squash, potatoes, rice, and hay. As I suspected (and fervently hoped) some farms sold their wares directly to the public . The stalls ranged from a simple roadside tent to a sturdy little hut. Sometimes the farmer was there to chat about the vegetables, and sometimes (

Tokyo Nashi Orchard Fruit Ready for Munching

Despite the intense heat that is August in Tokyo, it seems like there is loads happening on the gardening and growing front. I've not finished writing about our trip to Hokkaido camping and cruising local foods there, but it seems all around me here something needs to be planted, harvested, or readied for the next round of growing . Again, I'm learning that vegetables wait for no one ! And the same seems to be true of fruit. The nearby nashi (Japanese pear) orchard that I photographed in blossom this spring has set an abundance of fruit. I can almost taste those fat orbs now with their crisp apple-like flesh and subtly sweet flavor that refreshes like no other. I'm hoping to experiment with some nashi jam or butter this year to see what happens. Perhaps I'll even mix it with some of my balcony peppers for a sweet-hot something or other....Oh, the possibilities!

Hot Harvest from the Balcony Garden

The balcony harvest up to now has mostly been a couple goya from the green curtain , and a few sprigs of parsley, basil, and bergamont . The tsuru murasaki is also doing surprisingly well in it's container (thanks to Cafe Hatake !), and we've been enjoying that in salads with the herbs, too. Adding a bit of color and spice (quite literally) to this bevy of treats are the two togarashi (hot pepper) plants. (You'll remember them as home to a praying mantis that munched on my aphids .) I came home from our trip to Hokkaido to find these lovelies waiting for me, and as we prepare to head out for a biking trip (our first!) a handful of others are ripening nicely. I set them to dry for a week or so, and then pop them in a jar I keep in our kitchen. On a whim I'll throw them in our houtou udon , oden , or other dishes for a bit of spice and fun. If the tomato plants are still standing at the farm when I return, I'll try them in a bit of salsa, too! (Recipe recommendati

Tambo Update

It's been some time since I've written about my little tambo . My last post about it covered it's move to a bigger pot on the window sill . Since then it's grown by absolute leaps and bounds. Over vacation I moved it to the farm to join Shee-chan's tambo for safe-keeping. When I left it was simply a big pot of grass sitting in a bucket of water. Now, it's a big pot of grass with actual rice grains!

Squash Crop Update

While the popcorn harvest dries in the kitchen I've been out working in the garden to tidy things up and get ready for winter crops . And as I mentioned it's been a bit of a difficult year for me. Aphids jumped all over my zucchini and kole crops, so there wasn't much to reap there. The garlic harvest was also rather lackluster for any number of possible reasons, and for some time I've been more than a little concerned about the squash. Yellowing leaves along with blossom and fruit drop had me worried that yet another crop was about to simply contribute to the compost heap . The popcorn has lifted my spirits, and much to my pleasure at least six squash - some Chirimen and some Shishigatani - are nestled under the leaves and growing steadily. I took a few photos the other day while weeding (nothing like a vacation for the weeds to move right in!) and like any proud parent I'm showing them off. Now, fingers are crossed that they make

Lasagna Bed in Place

Right after constructing the compost bin on Sunday I also put together my first lasagna bed in the Tokyo garden . This past year I felt things in the garden were a bit lackluster. I know I keep saying that, but something is nagging at me about the whole set-up. My hunch is that I'm not quite tending to my soil the way I should. We farm and grow here year round. Summer vegetables give way to winter vegetables give way to spring to summer again. It's a lovely thing to have all those winter greens to eat, but I feel my soil isn't getting a chance to rejuvenate properly. In Michigan I'd top the beds up with a good dose of horse manure (I've been saying what I'm really missing these days is a horse's ass...), straw, chicken coop leavings, a bit more straw, and head inside for a hot cup of tea and homemade bread from our friends at Ambry Farms . Since the soil is getting worked so heavily and my supply of straw and manure is limited, I've decided to take t

Compost Bin in Place

We finally built a compost bin. It's not a fancy affair by any means, but I think it will nicely do the job. Made of chicken wire and a few poles it sits in the back corner of the garden space . I filled it almost immediately with the tomato plants (a mishap during our Hokkaido vacation meant they didn't get picked and so the plants got the signal to stop producing fruits - nothing a good cry couldn't help with), chopped up corn stalks , squash vine trimmings, and a few random weeds. I topped it all off with some bits from our last couple meals - banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, and some squash innards - with a good watering to get things rolling. Come Spring I imagine I'll have a nice little bundle of hummus (not the kind eaten with tabouleh and pita , unfortunately) to start spreading around. (Apologies for the quality of the photo. Taken a little before noon the heat and light were a bit intense, as you can tell by the look on my face.)

The Popcorn Harvest

Vegetables wait for no one. This is a lesson I learn every year, every season, and every crop. The vegetable does not care if I have a blog post or article to write, daily household chores to do, an appointment to keep, a phone call home to make, or in my most recent lesson - a flight to Hokkaido to catch to visit friends and hike for a week . Working with the weather, the soil, and their own biological clock, they do what they must most single- mindedly . At home in Michigan my popcorn crops stay on the stalk until perhaps late September or October. There they dry in the long summer days with an occasional dousing by storms and showers. I also watered quite religiously there while here I barely water at all. Our hose reached the garden and a rain barrel made daily watering a breeze. Here, the spigot is on the other side of the farm, and I must circumnavigate the eggplant field with its sometimes floppy sorghum border, blueberry bushes, the tomato and bean fields as well as a doub

Daisetsuzan Vista

Since I've offered up two posts on the little landscapes and everyday gardens of Daisetsuzan , I thought I ought to share a bit of the larger landscapes we walked through, too. Three of our six days there wrapped us in fog and rain, so we savored our three sunny ones. Those wet days undoubtedly had a beauty of their own, but my camera wasn't interested in capturing much of it. Like the birds, dragonflies, butterflies and just about everything else we sprang into action when the clouds finally lifted and the sun came out. We covered as much ground as we could while drying out, and tried to make up for lost camera time. Here are a few favorites that don't do the park justice by any means, but perhaps offer an essence of what we discovered. (For infinitely better photos and great information on hiking there check out our friend Ryan's website. You'll be donning hiking shoes in minutes flat!)

Daisetsuzan's Everyday Gardens

As I mentioned earlier , while I love the sweeping vistas Daisetsuzan affords it's the little things that capture my heart the most. Clustered together in a hole in a rock this moss and tiny evergreen simply made me laugh out loud with joy. Again and again I saw plants growing in what appeared to be the most barren of lunar landscapes or in the tiniest of spaces. They reminded me of the everyday gardens I see here in Tokyo : little spots of life and color where it might be least expected and where it brings the greatest pleasure.

Daisetsuzan Large and Small

Note: I've been on vacation for the past two weeks in Hokkaido, Japan. Back home now in Tokyo, I'll be writing up some of our adventures there in and about Square One with the Weymiller's , as well as sharing some of our time spent in Daisetsuzan National Park. Oh, to be back near those mountains again! Last summer we took our first trip to Hokkaido and Daisetsuzan National Park . Three weeks exploring, meeting new people , and eating great food drew us back like a magnet. Not to mention the beauty of the park made my first real back-country camping experience an unforgettable joy. This year our friend Ryan, an experienced guide whose photographs bring us back here when we are down south, recommended we venture to the southern part of the park. With mountain huts about a day's hike apart a tent would not be necessary, and we could settle in to really explore the area. Long hikes through varied terrain and vegetation in all kinds of

Sip, Pucker, Release: Serving up the Ume Hachimitsu

I find it impossible to resist seasonal fruit and interesting sounding recipes. Batches of blueberry jam - one recipe which resulted in a spread that tastes just like my mother's blueberry pie - as well as pesto and tomato sauce are just a few recent examples. Even though in many ways it's not necessary to do these things, I find great satisfaction of filling our shelves and freezer with homemade goodness. So, near the end of ume season I spotted a recipe for Ume Hachimitsu . A non-alcoholic version of umeshu made with equal parts ume, vinegar, and honey it sounded delightful and interesting. And, since I was setting the umeboshi to dry I thought I'd better do the same for the ume hachimitsu plums, too. Still green as they were not graced with the company of red shiso leaves and still a bit hard as they didn't have salt massaging them for weeks on end, the hachimitsu plums resemble little green brains. (It's not an attractive metaphor, but it is accurate.) I&#

Compost Tea

A little more than half-way through the season (give or take) the balcony plants could use a bit of a snack. When I potted them up this spring I set them in a mix of compost, potting soil, and composted-dried cow manure. (And as I mentioned for the green curtain , if I had to do it over again I would add a nice dose of calcium for added strength.) They've grown along merrily enough, but to keep them feeling flush with green and hearty in the face of the summer heat and wind I whipped up a batch of compost tea. A favorite garden beverage it's easy to make. My recipe, as always, is a bit fast and loose. I take a large container, fill it with a few inches of compost, fill it with water to the near brim, and leave it to steep like sun tea . In Michigan, I used compost straight from the bin for that season, but in Tokyo I simply threw some from the bag in a jar, added a bit of leftover cow manure, and filled it with water. No cover so it could breathe and bubble to i

Side Effects of Umeboshi

After fishing the umeboshi and shiso leaves out of their container just over a liter of brine was left behind. The umetsu or ume vinegar is a lovely red color, and promises to make some tasty pickled daikon as the season goes. I also think it would be a nifty addition to our salads in place of the vinegar we use now. I shared a small bottle with my sushi-sensei (along with some Brandywines !) in thanks for sharing his recipe. To my surprise, he and some friends poured it into a glass and took tiny sips. Puckering their lips and shaking their heads in what I eventually realized was approval, they pronounced it delicious. I'm looking forward to hearing how he used it. Umeboshi Drying Update The umeboshi are nearly done drying . Our apartment smells a bit like a pickled plum, but I confess to taking great delight in that aroma. I can hardly keep from turning the little plums, and stop by their baskets on a regular basis (it's less than six feet from where I sit typing which m

Nifty Mulching Idea Spotted

Closer to the tracks even than the new community garden we recently visited, this little garden caught my attention for its mulching technique. Weeds are a problem in every garden (even edibles like purslane can get out of hand) and how to contend with them is a question with infinite answers. One of my favorite answers, of course, is mulch. I've experimented a bit with living mulches in containers as well as my garden, as well as using straw or leaves. Most recently, I've tried out black plastic mulch with good results but mixed feelings. It certainly keeps down the weeds and controls erosion, but I am sometimes concerned, specifically in the case of my garlic , that it does too good of a job retaining moisture. (There was more to my garlic than the mulch, but I'm trying to think through each angle. More on that later.) Not to mention as well that plastic is plastic, and so its manufacture and disposal are less than ideal in my book. Enter this garden. Directly belo

Umeboshi Set to Dry

I put the umeboshi and the accompanying shiso leaves out to dry today at long last. They turned a beautiful pink color after sitting in their ruby red brine. The outside feels lighter and dryer since I set them out this morning, and I'm curious to see how they continue to change as they progress. I simply fished them out of the jar by hand as I wasn't sure how delicate they were, and then placed them on their baskets. I only did up one kilogram of ume, and the baskets are jam-packed with these little wrinkled fellows. Not all of the shiso leaves would fit, so they have to wait until I can get to the store to pick up another. I don't imagine that the leaves will require quite as much time as the heavier, denser plums, but I could be wrong. We shall see. Now, on to the hachimitsu !