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Showing posts from 2011

A Few of My Favorite Moments

Erika Dreifus recently tweeted this blog post from Lisa Romeo that varied slightly from the usual year-end reflection concept. Rather than thinking solely about New Year's resolutions, the author suggests focusing for a moment on what was accomplished. The idea struck a chord with me as 2011 has been a busy one with extra teaching responsibilities and an increased effort on writing while still attempting to farm, garden, visit farmer's markets in Tokyo and beyond while studying Japanese and trying out new recipes while perfecting some old ones. It's all been good fun, but it's also no surprise that our winter Hokkaido vacation finds me leaning towards the nap as a favored activity. Daizu Revolution and Takashi Watanabe Interview I first met Takashi Watanabe in January at an eco+waza event at Earth Day Market headquarters in Tokyo. Intrigued by his story and the birth of Tozaiba , a non-profit organization bringing people together in fallow fields to grow he

Winter Thoughts: Reprise

We are in Hokkaido again satisfying our taste for winter. Three summer visits - two camping and hiking in Daisetsuzan and one very homemade bike tour - left us curious to see what those same landscapes might look like covered with snow. One day after our first cross-country ski at Asahidake, the island's tallest peak, we remain dazzled by the magic of the landscape. While it might be odd for a farmer-gardener type such as myself to adore this season of bitter cold and frozen landscapes, I most certainly do. Here's a 2008 post (pre-Japan and very early blogging days, indeed) setting out a few reasons why I feel this way. Winter is easily my favorite season. A friend asked me recently as we set out on a cross-country ski adventure why that is the case. Was it because I'm originally from Wisconsin? I theorized that it is perhaps because my birthday is in Winter. (It seems logical that any season in which one receives presents could well be a favorite.) I like the sta

Mitaka Vegetable Stand and the Urban Farmscape

Mikiko and Satoru  Maybe it was the bright white of the daikon or the fat haksai (Chinese cabbage) loitering on the table that first caught my eye, but the result was the same as usual: we stopped for a closer look. Out on one of our urban hikes earlier this week in our Tokyo neighborhood, we found a new vegetable venture. The Mitaka Vegetable Store, opened just recently by Satoru and Mikiko, does something so simple it borders on the profound. In a day and age when it is easy to find tomatoes from Okinawa, apples from Yamanashi, or potatoes from Hokkaido in the local supermarket, these two showcase produce from the nearby urban farmscape. Carrots, komatsuna, and small red daikon join the aforementioned vegetables   to make a small but splendid display of winter produce. Sourced from conventional as well as organic farms (including the organic family farm C-Cafe partners with for its monthly organic buffet ), the store sells Mitaka vegetables to Mitaka citizens. "Mitaka

The Joy of Dirty Hands: Reprise

It feels like I'm rooting around in the attic these days, sorting through old photographs and trinkets for fun and nostalgia. The end of the year is almost always a time for reflection, and I seem to be hearkening back to our first days in Japan at the moment. (Early writing again, so bear with me.)  I'm also thinking hard about farming , gardening , food, and writing , and so re-reading posts like the one below (first appeared on this blog on December 19, 2009 ) and Farmwork Thoughts seems appropriate. Perhaps I'm taking inventory, reassessing, or just plain checking in with myself. Hope you enjoy it, and let me know what you think. -JLB Photo Note: This photo was taken in March, 2011 while I was on crutches and a few weeks after the earthquake . The garden was the only place I found peace in those days, so it seems a good fit here.  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

Farmwork Thoughts: Reprise

This post first appeared in April, 2009 , a little more than a month after we arrived in Japan and I started at the farm . While showing a friend around Tokyo's Earth Day Market recently, our conversation turned on the relevance of such markets (it's all organic and fair trade as well as predominantly local) and farmers and why I believe in them so much. And then I remembered this post where I first started tracing some of the thoughts and resulting steps that brought me to where I am now. It's a bit long and a bit rough (early writing, you know), but it still conveys what I feel nearly three years later. Photo Note: Taken at the farm last year during a workday project sorting togarashi (Japanese hot peppers) for distribution to area restaurants and shops.  As I work along at a local organic farm planting epic numbers of vegetables - 5,000 cabbage one week and 1,000 broccoli the next - or spreading what feels like endless amounts of

A Few More Gift Ideas

As I mentioned earlier, I love giving presents . What's more, I love giving presents that are handmade. Yes, it's more work and yes, it requires a bit of pre-planning (where I often fall a bit short), but a handmade gift often possesses something a bit extra. As I stir the marmalade , knit the socks, or even assemble a tasty package of teas and treats, I'm thinking of the person destined to receive it and all that I think is best about them. Plus, all that bustling means I have a wonderful excuse to eat holiday cookies ! Homemade Gifts – A gift made by hand, whether a pair of socks (mended will do, too) , a plate of cookies , or a jar of marmalade, is one of the best ways to capture the spirit of the season. They do require a bit of planning, but once done are as satisfying to give as they are to receive. Homemade marmalades are easier than you think, and perfect for all that citrus decorating the trees just now. Pickles are quite simple, too, as are homem

Tokyo's Farmers Markets: December 17th and 18th

At last, cold weather. Let that bite in the air put a spring in your step as you head out the door to one of the many farmer's markets dotting the city. The markets are a great source of gifts for those near or far as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables. I should also mention there is no shortage of food carts showcasing yummy treats to warm you up from the inside out. Really, there's no good reason not to go, especially as the Night Market will be swinging it! Keep in mind, too, that later in the month as we near the New Year Holiday these markets most likely won't be running. Grab that daikon while you can! (And that's not a euphemism.) (Photo Note: Kouko Suzuki of Guru-Guru Farms near Sendai took a moment from talking with her many customers to pose for a photo. Their stand was particularly busy as it was their first visit to the market since the March disaster. It was my pleasure to talk with her, admire her vegetables, and bring home some of their yummy orga

A Few Gift Ideas

I do love giving presents. My favorite spouse watches our stock of jams , marmalades , pickles , and shus like a hawk to make sure there is enough left in the larder for us to enjoy as I tend to lift jars out on the spur of the moment for sharing. And this time of year, of course, finds me pilfering our stock left and right. It is a double pleasure to see our shelf space open for future jars of goodness and later see the delight on the faces of those receiving the gift. So, in that spirit I'm going to share a few ideas for gifts that I would love to receive. Green Curtain Kit – Give the gift of summer shade with a homemade green curtain kit. Easy to assemble – one pretty pot, some seeds, and a bit of netting – all packed up in a pretty furoshiki , the kit is sure to please. Choose morning glories for their heart shaped leaves and brilliant blue blossoms or the classic goya for a curtain that supplies the main ingredient for scrumptious chample . Cucumbers, gourds, watermelon (a

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: December 10th and 11th

By the time this goes up we should have had our first sloshy snow in Tokyo , and I should still be smiling with the thought of tromping about in it until my toes hurt and my gloves dripped with melt water. Let that be the inspiration you need, too, to get up and out to a farmer's market or food related event around town. There's heaps going on, and let's remember: food makes a most excellent gift! Pickles , marmalade , jam , or just a big bag of rice are welcome presents this time of year (always, really) so don't be shy. Farmer's markets are one of the best places to find super yummy, locally made gifts that will not disappoint! (Photo Note: Today's picture again comes from Matsushima, a small coastal town just north of Sendai, where I met this lovely woman and her fantastic assortment of vegetables. As usual, I ended up with two daikon in my backpack at the end of our chat. Who needs a gym?) Gyre Market Saturday, December 10 and Sunday, December 11 A gem o

Toziba's Daizu Revolution

This past August I had the good fortune to interview Takashi Watanabe, founder of Toziba , an innovative non-profit that is one of the most sock-rocking food-farm-community organizations out there. We first met at an Eco+Waza event in January where I was deeply impressed by his story and the motivation for founding Toziba. ( I do write for Eco+Waza's website and magazine, by the way.) Munching on early edamame from the farm , I recalled meeting him and decided he'd be an interesting person to interview. And, so, with the help of a good friend translating we sat down at the Earth Day Market and talked about soybeans ( daizu ), the importance of heirlooms, and the effects of March's triple disaster on food and how people in Japan are thinking about food . You can read the full article over at Real Time Farms , another sock-rocking food-farm-community organization, for the full scoop.

Tokyo's December Farmer's Markets

I've said it before and I'll say it ad nauseum : Winter is Tokyo's season of bounty. My refrigerator drawer overflows with the fantastic greens , root vegetables, and fruit available now at my nearby vegetable stands . We're cleaning up fields (peppers and eggplant most recently) and I'm back at canning again. I'm almost afraid to go to a farmer's market as I know I'll not be able to resist the kaki , apples, yuzu , or the next heirloom daikon or kabu I see. I like to think of it as vegetable therapy, but mostly it's just plain fun. I can't recommend it enough. (Plus, pickles or marmalade make an excellent gift!) Grab a shopping bag and hit the road! (Photo: Taken on a recent trip to Matsushima, a beautiful coastal town just north of Sendai, these little guys were too adorable to not photograph. Seriously, who can resist rubber duckies and kaki? The town, by the way, suffered comparatively little damage from the tsunami despite be

Eggplant Pickles: Summer's Official End

It feels absurd to write that title near the end of November and just after friends and family in America celebrated Thanksgiving. But there is a grain of truth of in it as the eggplant field still remains at the farm, home to the summer vegetable of Japan. Since arriving in Japan in the 8th century, it's made itself right at home. The exact road it traveled I don't know, but this is a country that loves it with a fervent passion. The first eggplant of the summer is met with a joy that merits a holiday of its own, and the last of this deep-hued favorite is similarly mourned. Even though it is not my favorite vegetable and summer is nowhere near my favorite season, I well understand the sadness that comes with the end of the season. I am sorry to see one of the grandest of our fields and crops come to a close. The low slant of light this time of year always engenders a certain nostalgic feeling in me, not in the least I'm sure, because it makes everything around m

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: November 26th and 27th

December approaches and the winter bounty continues. Head on out to one of these most excellent markets to see what the season has to offer. And don't hesitate to share a recipe or two, too. I'm always on the look-out for something new to make! Gyre Market Saturday, November 26 and Sunday, November 27 A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y. 11am to 5pm Map Earth Day Market Sunday, November 27 I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. 10am to 4pm, Rain or shine! Map UN University Market Every Saturday and Sunday in November A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan

Chestnut Liqueur ala Tokyo

I am an imperfectionist. At times I refer to it as laziness, i.e. not removing the pith from the yuzu when making yuzushu , and while other times I imply a certain creativity. Really, it's a blatant disregard for direction. Even as I read a recipe I wonder if a step is really necessary or if a particular ingredient could be switched with something I have or can easily find in Japan. Even so, despite faithfully-made shopping lists, I change my mind in a flash as I catch sight of another potentially scrumptious addition, and the original formula carefully concocted by professionals and those much more experienced than I is lost. Such is the case with my first ever batch of chestnut liqueur . Spotted on Twitter the concept sounded like a perfect fit with my year of shus. How could I not add this one to my little family of blueberry , rhubarb , plum , and two varieties of ume shus? It was no surprise then that one late October afternoon found me parking my bike in front of a

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: November 19th and 20th

Quite a few more markets than last weekend, including the most excellent UN University Night Market. Lots of good stuff to be had as always at all of them, so make a list for the week and make your way. It's a great chance to practice Japanese, learn new recipes, and get a peek into Japan's evolving food scene. Ebisu Market Sunday, November 20 11am to 5pm A nice sized market held on the terrace just in front of Ebisu Garden Place that will always be special to me for introducing me to dried natto and tea seedpods . Map C-Cafe Organic Brunch Sunday, November 20 Another hidden gem, but this time over in Mitaka and of some of the best local organic eats around. Wear your elastic-waist pants and make the trek! 11:30am to 2pm Access UN University Market Every Saturday and Sunday in November A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, the curry I had during my last visit from one of the

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: November 12th and 13th

Only a small handful of markets this weekend, but that only means it will be easier to decide where to go! As temperatures drop, dishes like oden , houtou udon , or sweet potato stew sound more scrumptious than ever, and the best part is that all the ingredients are in season at this very moment. Why, it might even be time for a fresh batch of kimchi , too! UN University Market Every Saturday and Sunday in November 10am to 4pm Map Roppongi Market Every Saturday in October A recent first visit to this market was good fun, and the covered roof means its perfect for damp days, too. 10am to 2pm Map Kinshicho Market Every Saturday and Sunday in October 11am to 5pm Map Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list! Taken at the Roppongi Farmer's Market in October, these apples got me dreaming of all the tasty ones I sampled during our trip to England. And got me thinking about my yuzu-apple-ginger marmalade , too. You can probably hear my stomach growling fro

Himomo Sprouts New Life

The brilliant himomo or ornamental peach tree , a much admired spring bloomer, showed signs of new life recently. Blown down by Typhoon Roke in late September, the farmers left a somewhat tall stump standing in hopes new sprouts would grow. These little leaves are the first signs of new growth, and since taking this photo two weeks ago a handful more dot the trunk. A quick count of the rings showed the tree was a mere ten-years-old when the storm arrived, which means with any luck we'll work again in her shade again soon.