Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tulip Poplar Seed Pods

While out walking the byways of Michigan, I'd spotted these same blooms high up in a tree. I couldn't get close enough by any means for a better look, and I couldn't imagine what tree possessed such lovely blooms in February. Later while on a walk in Cleveland, I saw them again and was able to get a better look.

Turns out it's a tulip poplar, a tree native to these Midwest parts, that grows tall and lovely. It's leaves are of a distinct shape (like a tulip, in fact) and it's blooms (again reminiscent of the tulip) arrive in late spring. These are the seed pods decorating the branches most spectacularly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Landscape of My Heart

It's difficult for me to resist the clear, crisp beauty of winter, and despite the possibility of sounding like a broken record I say I love it. It also sounds a wee bit overly dramatic when I say it's the landscape of my heart, but it is true. While I love hiking the mountains of Hokkaido and the foothills of Tokyo with their tea fields and citrus orchards, these trees and hills, grasses and blooms are in my soul. There's no other way to say it, and when I'm home and walking among them I'm happiest. And when it's warm enough to pull out the camera I do so. Here are a few more pictures of a few favorites spotted on one of my long walks.

Goldenrod is another favorite of mine both for it's cheerful yellow fall flowers and it's fuzzy winter seed heads. Providing a much needed snack for birds and mice that linger through these chilly months it (along with the bergamont seed heads pictured with this post) it gives a bit of structure and texture to the winter landscape.

Asters are another fall favorite that leaves behind some adorable fuzzies for the winter months. While I don't get to see the white, purple, or lavender blooms in person, these are a lovely alternative.

Sumac is another graceful beauty that I have come to love. It's bright red pods are rumored to make a mean lemonade, and the color they afford the winter landscape is refreshing.

Me on one of my walks! There's none of my usual fuzzy-headedness as everything is bundled under hats and scarves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hokkaido Adventures: A Visit to Daisetsuzan National Park

Good friends are working out the details of a visit, and they're asking after Hokkaido. I couldn't resist tempting them a bit with one of the posts I wrote. This one about vegetable bike-touring (a new term I hope will be 2011's word of the year), and this one is about some of tiny gardens I found there. There are more to be found with a search of "Hokkaido" in the box to the right. This post first appeared on greenz in September, 2010.

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Despite the cool shade afforded by my green curtain and the bountiful blooms of a variety of sidewalk gardens, this locavore roamed north in early August to escape some of Tokyo’s heat. The plan? Head to Hokkaido to spend some time with friends, do a wee bit of bike touring to sample local produce, and spend a week hiking and backcountry camping in Daisetsuzan National Park.

Walking through nature is perhaps one of the best ways to engage with it, andDaisetsuzan is a great place to start putting one foot in front of the other. As Japan’s first and largest national park, it is home to Hokkaido’s highest peak – Asahidake – as well as a literal range of other mountains with wetlands, active volcanic areas, glaciers, and stunning wildflowers dotted between.

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Yamagoya or mountain huts dot the trails at time intervals ranging from six to ten hours with campsites falling between. Ranging from Biei-Fuji’s simple one story structure to Kuro-Dake Ishi Muro with its bicycle-powered composting toilet (could rival The Comploo for coolness says the gardener in me!), the huts offer shelter from the elements and a cozy base for meandering on the nearby trails. Usually free and unmanned, the huts rely on hiker etiquette for tidiness and behavior with terrific success. We’ve not been disappointed yet.

Last year we tromped about the northern part of the park, and the incredible variety of landscapes, flora and fauna there drew us back like a magnet. This year the southern half of the park beckoned. With mountain huts about six hours (give or take) apart a tent would not be necessary, and day hikes to explore the area would be more than feasible.

Boots, Backpack, and a Good Map

Our previous experience hiking in the park prepared us somewhat for this latest adventure. The trails can be challenging at times. Sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy, and sometimes not entirely clear the going can be slow. A good map is a must, as well as a compass. (During one of our longer hikes heavy fog settled in and there was a moment of trepidation before spotting the next marker.) A hiking stick is a welcome companion on both upward and downward slopes.

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While we didn’t carry a tent we did bring along a tarp and space blankets for emergency protection in case we got stuck out in unpredictable mountain weather. Hats and long-sleeves provided sun protection as well as extra layers for chilly evenings. Rain gear, gloves, and camp shoes (after hiking all day your feet WILL mutiny at the idea of re-entering your boots) are some of our other required items. (Here’s the list we use as a base for all of our trips.)

Food and Garbage

Pack in whatever you plan to eat as well as a filter for water. (Echinococcus from the red fox is prevalent in the park’s beautiful waters, and it’s not worth contracting for any reason.) While a couple mountain huts do sell some food, there are no convenience stores to be found. We bring along a small stove, instant coffee (everything tastes better outdoors), and a bevy of snacks. Hiking at altitude is hard work, so plan on eating and drinking a fair amount.

Plan also on packing out garbage, too. Almost better than sorting your garbage, packing out trash offers unforgettable lessons in packaging, waste, and reuse. While it’s lovely to feel the weight of the pack lessen with each meal, it’s also impressive to see how much rubbish is created by a single person in a few days. It’s a big park, but there’s no room for your leftovers in any shape or form.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Winter Walk

One of my favorite things to do is go for a walk. Whether it's in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, or here at home, there is no better way to see the landscape. Since landing in Wisconsin earlier this month, I've walked nearly every day until injuring my Achilles. (Good footwear, as always, is pivotal to overall health.) Winter is my favorite season, and so I take any chance I can get to get out and about in that cold crisp air I dearly love. Here are a few photos of some old friends I met along the way while walking to Ambry Farms.

Oriental bittersweet on an old fence line. There is a native Michigan version, but it's tricky to tell the difference. Their orange pods are a sweet little dash of color in the landscape.

Ever since my mom used the seedpod outers to make mice as part of a Halloween decoration when I was in the third grade, it has been one of my favorites. I spotted some on the drive home from the airport, and shouted with delight. There's just something about them that looks like home to me.

Oaks are, to me, the signature tree of my Midwest. Many still hold their brown leaves in the gusting winds, but many of those same leaves scuttle across the drifted snow, too. I'd forgotten their signature shape and the different textures of white and red oak bark, and how large they really are. This beautiful beast surrounded by its progeny is one of many I met along the roadside that day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Few Additions for the Tokyo Bookshelf

One of the pleasures of being home in America for a month (other than getting to see friends and family in person and being able to tromp through the landscapes I love in my favorite season with a handful of the aforementioned in tow) is being able to read. Newspapers, books, and magazines are all at my fingertips along with whatever the bookstore and public library show on their shelves. It is a delight.

It is also a chance to pick the brains of my canning and gardening friends and relatives to see what they recommend, and then rush out to examine it for myself and possibly purchase. Here are a few recommended finds.

Ball Complete Book of Home Canning and Preserving by Judy Kingry and Lauren Devine. 2006
Tons of great looking recipes and some good basic canning information, too. I've been working on building my own recipes of late as well as tweaking those of others, and I wanted a little more information on how to do so safely. Our good friends at Ambry Farms suggested this one as an expanded reference, and if the jalapeno jelly we sampled that same afternoon is any indication this book should be a great addition to my Tokyo bookshelf.

Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2008
My sister-in-law, an avid canner and gardener with a talent for flavor combinations I can only dream of possessing, recommended this as another great resource for building recipes. What the book offers that she liked (and that I've been looking for, too) is an explanation of the science behind the food preservation techniques that deepened her own understanding of how to create safe and tasty jars of goodness throughout the season.

Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. 2009
Permaculture - the practice of mimicking natural systems to create sustainable landscapes - is something I want to learn more about. In Michigan I incorporated native plants and other perennials into my garden as a means to attract beneficial insects, and build a community of plants and animals to support the garden's ecosystem. In Tokyo, I've slowly been doing the same thing, but it was while reading The Alternative Kitchen Garden for review that I decided I wanted to pursue the idea more in depth. Gaia's Garden is recommended as something of a classic in the area, and I'm hoping to get my hot little paws on it sooner rather than later. (Disclosure: I'm on the list of reviewers for Chelsea Green, the publisher of this book.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

French Twist on Vegetables for Tokyo Locavore

We're still hopping about at home with family and friends, so here's another post from Greenz, another blog where my writing appears, about some interesting food happenings in Tokyo. Delphine's February class is most likely just finishing up at this moment (international date line and all), but there's still time to sign up for March or to check out her CSA offerings that now include fruit! And here's a more recent article I wrote about Delphine, too!)

This post first appeared at Greenz on August 31, 2010.

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A small group of people focus intently on one woman stirring a mixture of flour and water. At first glance she appears to be speaking to the bowl of front of her as she gives instruction on making pasta by hand, but her devotees hang on every word and motion. These locavores in training are getting a dose of DIY: the art of French cooking with Japanese vegetables.

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Delphine Cheng began offering these hands-on learning experiences earlier this year to not only showcase the tasty organic produce offered by her CSA - Le Panier de Piu - but to bring people together to share her joy of cooking. Perfect for the beginner or the experienced cook, the classes combine French techniques with Japanese vegetables to produce some tantalizing delights. (My mouth still waters at the memory of finely chopped shiso leaves in cream drizzled over steamed spaghetti squash.)

Perhaps most importantly Delphine also teaches students how to use what's at hand and in season to advantage. The July class centered around zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. The September classes will feature some of the summer vegetables again - eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes - as well as some of the early fall harvest - komatsuna and leeks. All the vegetables are organic and are sourced from the farm she partners with in Ibaraki-ken or other local growers. The remaining ingredients are organic whenever possible, which lets students know about organic grocers in Tokyo, too.

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Watching Delphine trouble-shoot challenging moments in the kitchen was undoubtedly invaluable, too. Our initial pasta dough turned out a bit too wet for the machine. As she kneaded in additional flour Delphine commented with reassuring nonchalance, "Of course, you could eat it..." her words fading into the dough in front of her. Feeling the final product and seeing the noodles smoothly emerge gave us a tactile as well as a visual understanding of workable dough we won't soon forget.

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The shared adventure of cooking turned strangers into culinary friends when it came time for the group meal at the end. (Quite simply, one cannot slice eggplant together without forging some kind of bond.) Sipping a specially selected organic French wine as we savored new tastes of seasonal favorites our conversation turned on farming, travel, family traditions, and a few favorite recipes of our own. As we dried the last dish, snapped the last group photo, and put our aprons away, we left with satisfied appetites and a few new friends to boot.

Ready to don an apron and get cooking?
Visit Delphine's website to learn how to get your hands on those scrumptious organic vegetables from Ibaraki. While there check out the class information and sign up for the next one. Remember, only eight participants per class so get busy!

Classes last about two to three hours and teach recipes for an appetizer, a main course, and dessert with a side dish or two thrown in for good measure. Class size is limited to eight ensuring everyone gets an opportunity to dice, slice, steam, and wash. Instruction is given in French, English, and Japanese with a bilingual summary including full recipes and tips in full emailed within a day.

Joan Lambert Bailey writes about her food, farming, and gardening adventures at Popcorn Homestead and Everyday Gardens. Check out her other nifty greenz posts, too!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tokyo's Earth Day Market: Where Local, Fair Trade, and Organic Meet

While I'm winging my way around America for a month of snow-filled fun with friends, my mother's meatloaf and homemade blueberry pie, and a little quality cat time, I'm reposting an entry or two from another blog. This post first appeared at greenz.jp on September 24th, 2010, and ought to thoroughly entice folks to head down to the February Earth Day Market on Sunday, February 20th!)

A great way to literally get a taste of Japan (other than a cooking class, of course) is to visit a farmer's market. Whether in the evening or a beautiful sunny morning, there's no better way to get a feel for the seasons. And the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park offers a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.

Started with six vendors in 2006, the Earth Day Market was intended as a place to use Earth Day Money and to help organic farmers find buyers. Today there are 50-60 regular sellers that include growers, producers, and tasty food purveyors with another 60 or so rotating in seasonally. Tables groan with produce, tea, jams, breads, and handicrafts mostly from the Kanto region, but with some also from Shizouka, Nagano, Yamagata, Iwata, and even Kobe.

Customers also find a greater selection of organic and fair trade produce and products here than almost anywhere else. Recently, Hiroshi Tomiyama, manager of the market and one of its original founders, conducted an informal census of products over the course of a year. In June, when the growing season is running nearly at its peak, he found 180 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans on offer. Even during slow times of the year, 103 different varieties can be found to satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.

True to their first objectives, Tomiyama-san and the Earth Day Market organizers maintain that the ability to offer this kind of diversity requires supporting new organic growers. Nearly all are family-run operations that workon a small scale with many farmers literally in their first year. Some are transitioning from other jobs to farming, and all are in need of customers. Most of the farmers who come to the market have been in the trade for less than ten years.

"The first years of farming can be very unstable. By coming here the farmer can begin establishing a customer base that will help them become successful," said Tomiyama-san. Supporting organic farming means supporting the diverse wildlife on and surrounding those farms as well as helping ensure a secure food future for us all.

And establish they do. Customers arrive eager to purchase organic and fair-trade products that can be difficult to find elsewhere. Talking to the farmer is a chance to learn how a favorite vegetable or fruit is grown, and often results in a visit to the farm to help for a day. The resulting relationship deepens the customer's appreciation for the work required to bring food to the table or put tea in the cup, and gives a farmer the kind of support that helps get them through long days in the field.

Currently, the Earth Day Market happens only once a month, although smaller markets also take place periodically around the city. A handful of vendors at Minato Mirai or Shinonome Canal create a more intimate market experience for residents of those areas, and offers them a fresh taste of the season, as well.

"Right now it's an event, but to make it part of daily life it needs to happen more often," said Tomiyama-san.

Looking for a great way to top off a visit to the Rockabilly Dancers? head on over to this months market under the elms, and taste September (or February!) for yourself.

Sunday, February 20th
10am to 4om (Rain or shine!)