Friday, July 29, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's markets: July 30 and 31st

The last weekend in July is as chock full of fruit and vegetables as the first, so head on out to get some of the season's hottest picks: tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and even some garlic!

Saturday, July 30th
10am to 2pm

Sunday, July 31st
10am to 4pm

Saturday, July 30th and Sunday, July 31st
10am to 4pm

Saturday, July 30th and Sunday, July 31st
11am to 5pm

Photo: Chiba-san from Cosmo Farm hosts an array organic vegetables at Kinshicho Farmers Market.

Where's your favorite place to find fresh vegetables and fruit? Give me a shout and we'll spread the word!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Atlas on a Bicycle: Fuji Fives Lakes Bike Touring Experiment

Our spontaneous trip last weekend to the Fuji Five Lakes area proved simply amazing. We had a great time bike-touring for the first-time, and are excited about upcoming plans to visit Hokkaido. This recent trip was a bit of a reprise of another we took early last spring, and was an experiment to see what it would be like to carry our world on our bikes while riding a bicycle. While a few adjustments need to be made, we think we may have a handle on a system that works for us.

More details on the trip later, but I did want to share the photo here of a new friend I made while picnicking in Kawaguchiko. At the end of our ride we flopped on the grass by the lake to enjoy some sweet corn we'd bought from a roadside stand near Lake Saiko. We'd bought some the day before on our way to Lake Motsuko and loved it enough to stop again on the return. Apparently, this little fellow in the photo with me loves sweet corn, too. While I chomped away on one end, he took little sips from the other. A match made in heaven!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Beets Over at Attainable Sustainable

Even though I can't grow beets very easily here in Tokyo, I still love them and plant seeds in hope each season. And this guest post over at Attainable Sustainable tells a bit of the story of where some of the passion for this purple vegetable originated.

Note: Internet problems at home mean posts are a bit less frequent at the moment. While we enjoy a certain lack of technology, we're also learning how much we depend on it!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Reading, July 24th

There was an absolute bevy of good reading I stumbled across this week, and so here are a few highlights.

While searching for a beet photo I ran over to Frog Holler Farm's Frog Log and found this article remembering founder Ken King, one of the best people I've been lucky enough to know.

I also ran across this fascinating entry at Dragonwood's blog (good friends growing just up the road from Frog Holler, in fact) about soaking and pre-sprouting seeds.

As we plan a trip to England, I'm perusing different places to visit that a grower-market-goer like me would like to see. A Tweet from Get Growing UK pointed me in the direction of Growing Communities, a London organization bent on sorting out a sustainable food system. Their Saturday morning market at St. Paul's looks like it may make it onto the list of things to do!

Get Growing also mentioned Project Dirt, a website that looks like a clearinghouse of information of things happening that ought to give me somewhere food and garden related to drag my beloved family and friends to, and Capital Growth, an organization focused on creating more than 2,000 growing spaces for London by the end of 2012. (They are the same group mentioned in an article about bees in last week's Sunday Reading.) And last but not least in the recommendations from Get Growing was OrganicLea, a growing (literally and figuratively) worker's cooperative in the Lea Valley just outside London, that also looks and sounds amazing.

And finally, before I overwhelm folks with more reading and sites to visit, I'll end with this video via the Practicing Writer of Robert Caro discussing a sense of place. Place for me is a grounding force in my writing, thinking, and living, so it resonated with me on a number of levels. It is long, so perhaps plan to be undisturbed for a moment or two to watch.

For those wanting something a little shorter but that as effectively evokes a sense of place, here's a lovely poem about cornfields and birdsong by Christina Rossetti.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: July 23rd and July 24th

The typhoon blew in some cooler weather making it a perfect opportunity to head down to a farmer's market. In season just now are edamame, tomatoes galore, potatoes by the dozen, eggplant, and perhaps a few last green beans. As for fruit look for peaches and those lovely red and yellow cherries, too! And do a little shopping for me. We're off to Kawaguchiko for a bit of biking and Mount Fuji spotting!

Saturday, July 23rd and Sunday, July 24th
11am to 5pm

Saturday, July 23rd
10am to 2pm

Saturday, July 23rd and Sunday, July 24th
10am to 4pm

Saturday, July 23rd and Sunday, July 24th
11am to 5pm
A little side note: I visited this one last weekend and have a write-up in the works. Very nice little market with a good selection, and right in the heart of Tokyo to boot!

Know of a market or cool vegetable vendor in your neck of the woods? Give me a shout and we'll spread the word!

Picture: Pak-san and Yamazaki-san, organic growers at Daimu Farm in Chiba, at last weekend's Kinshicho Market. Groovy tomatoes and loads of potatoes - yum!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Popcorn Harvest Begins

Yesterday while putting down the last of the tatami and doing a general tidy of the Brandywines, I noticed some of the popcorn looked to be ready for harvest. Sure enough, a closer inspection of one of the smaller varieties I planted this year - Tom Thumb - showed it was indeed ready to be set to dry. Dried husks and a plant looking about as done with the heat as me were the signals I needed to take a peek.

These little guys measure perhaps four or five centimeters total and come from plants that perhaps reach just over my knees. A cute little variety that might just be perfect for container growing if one loves popcorn but has only a balcony or veranda, the fat kernels from Tom Thumb provide good flavor, too. Laid out with the akashiso at the moment they should be dry in a couple weeks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Side Effects of Umeboshi: Furikake

While this year's batch of umeboshi are dried and stored, I'm still working away at the shiso leaves. What I didn't know last year was that the red shiso (aka shiso in Japanese a.k.a. perilla) leaves that stew along with the ume (Japanese plums) also have a use. I knew the vinegar leavings made excellent quick pickles (daikon for sure and at the moment I'm experimenting with a few thin slices of zucchini since now is not daikon's time), but the leaves were a mystery. I kept them for a bit, but then added them to the compost heap with feelings of regret. It didn't seem logical that this great salted edible should have no purpose, but I couldn't find information any where.

What I learned upon visiting a farmer's market and talking with a vendor there selling ume jam and umeboshi (made by his mother and all organic) is that the leaves are indeed kept. Dried and then crushed they become furikake. Furikake, a garnish sprinkled on rice, comes in a wide variety of shapes and flavors, but an umeshiso one seems pretty common given what I see on supermarket shelves.

Setting the leaves to dry is not necessarily difficult but it is mildly tedious. The leaves, of course, are wilted and wet. This makes them a little difficult to unfold and spread on the zaru (round basket) for drying. Invariably some tear or remain in clumps. As I've mentioned before I'm a bit lazy, so I let the really difficult ones remain clumpy. I'm going to eat them anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

The first round I left to dry as long as the plums, which was about four days. A heat wave blasted the city during that time, which helped the process along rather nicely. It's cooler today, but the second round seems to be coming along just as nicely. Once I'm satisfied with their level of 'crispiness' I'll hand shred the leaves, cut up the stems and put them in an airtight jar. For now I'm keeping it in the refrigerator since a bout with food poisoning last year still has me paranoid. I imagine as dried and salty as they are they would be just fine in an airtight jar on the counter, too.

The flavor, by the way, is amazing. Tart, salty, and a little sweet with that zing that only shiso has I am pathetically happy with this experiment. So happy, in fact, that I may do a double batch next year!

Got a cool experiment in the kitchen that went well? Let's hear it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Reading, July 17th

Charges were dropped against the woman growing vegetables in her front yard in Michigan, but it sounds like there are some pretty deep set ideas about what constitutes a proper front lawn. Freedom of speech, apparently, doesn't extend to the front yard or to your favorite vegetable. The only thing I might say against her is that she needs some mulch in those beds. Oak Park's city planners could perhaps use a visit from Fritz Haeg and Michael Pollan, Will Allen, Michelle Obama, or Novella Carpenter about the good a little bit of gardening can do. Growing your own food shouldn't just be for country folk.

An interesting video about Japan's efforts to find alternative ways to keep cool this summer in light of calls for conservation that includes green curtains.

This short but sweet little piece on bee-keeping versus finding ways to support research and producers is rather thought-provoking. Bees are pivotal, but not everyone may feel the need or desire to have their own hive. Just as important is to support local producers with hives as well as local growers. If the land is in production (especially organic!) then chances are good the bees have somewhere to go. Supporting local parks or wildways large or small is also pivotal for bee populations. Keeping their habitat diverse and in existence gives them the fighting chance they need to live and continue pollinating our tomatoes, beans, eggplants, etc.

Japan for Sustainability tracks the energy shift happening around the country in reaction to the March 11th earthquake, while growers in Fukushima and other prefectures continue to suffer the perception that their food is tainted. Volunteers are still needed up North for any number of chores, too.

And to balance out nuclear reactors, unthinking civic leaders, and thoughts on declining bee populations, here's Emily Dickinson and a daisy or two.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

SUN Grocery: Students of the Vegetable

As part of a continuing series of useful 'reprints' now being updated, this post features a student-led local grocery. I stumbled across them in Shinjuku on the way to class one day, and happily did a bit of shopping and chatting. This post first appeared at Greenz on October 22, 2010.

As a locavore, it is a real pleasure to see vegetables appearing all around this metropolis we call home. A number of large farmers markets, a night market, and even a farmer-coop shop are signs of a growing local food movement. Yet, in my wildest local food dreams I never thought I'd see a stand selling fresh produce on a busy intersection in Shinjuku.

A promotional event for SUN, a student-run grocery, the table showcased seasonal favorites such as chestnuts, mushrooms, nashi (Japanese pear), and squash along with fresh eggs, kaki (persimmon) and satoimo. Sourced from farms and orchards as close as Chiba and as far away as Nagano and Yamagata, the group seeks to encourage people not only with small growers but with the concept of a local grocer.

Started in 2010 by Nakamori Tsuyoshi and a group of fellow students at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, SUN aims to link farmers to communities and community members to each other through food. Sharing recipes, informing shoppers about the farmers and how the fruit or vegetable in their hand was grown is all part of a day's work, according to their blog.

SUN's students, from a variety of universities and all interested in agriculture, also hope their grocery full of fresh, local foods will energize the local economy as well as lend much needed support to Japan's agricultural sector. Organizing an assortment of activities to bring people together they are slowly forging those connections for the future.

Watching Nakamori and Oride Yu, another student from the group, work the table as a steady train of people came and went it looked like they were old hands. Bantering easily with customers as they restocked produce or helped balance a carton of eggs atop a bag of rice, the two put visitors instantly at ease. Connecting people with farmers and each other seemed so simple, and suddenly perfectly normal in this most urban of urban places.

Looking for some local produce?

Head on over to SUN Grocery in Iriya and be part of a growing vegetable community while picking up the goods for that next meal.

9:30am - 7pm Monday through Friday and Sunday.
Closed on Saturdays.
Five minute walk from Hibiya Station.

First Saturday of each month in front of Shinjuku's Noni Cafe. (Where I first found them!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: July 16th and 17th

Hot times are sure to be had this weekend in Tokyo, and not the least of the coolest events to partake in are this month's farmer's markets. Take your pick of markets large and small on Saturday and Sunday with even a groovy night market thrown in for fun! See you there!

Sunday, July 17th
11am to 5pm

Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th
11am to 5pm

Saturday, July 16th
8pm to Who Knows?

Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th
10am to 4pm

Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th
11am to 5pm

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tatami Mat Mulch Not Just for Weeds

Time to be honest. When I put down the goza (old tatami mats) mulch in June I only had enough to cover half of the garden. A row and a half sat paved only with my good intentions to return to the tatami master for more. And to see the metaphor all the way through, those paths are now also paved with a boatload of weeds. Where there is tatami mat mulch the ground is clear of greenery, relatively cool and damp.(Not a speck of anything grows underneath.) Wherever the mulch isn't is dry, hard, and full of spirited weeds that don't easily succumb to pulling or even a good rousting with my little hand-held hoe.

My task now that the rainy season is over and temperatures are steadily climbing is to clear the paths of as many weeds as possible and put down more mats. We leave for our annual trip to Hokkaido in a few weeks, and one of my many garden goals before we go is to have them all firmly in place before we go. The weeds that greeted me last year were shameful, and I won't face them again. Mostly, I won't ask the farmers to have to look at them again. They are incredibly tidy, perhaps to a fault, and I am not, perhaps also to a fault.

As holders of an urban farm, though, I think there are slightly different expectations of appearance in place. Hundreds of people literally pass by the farm each day on their way to and from work or school, and each of them looks over to see what is happening. We douse these same pedestrians with the dust of chicken manure, dried seaweed, and eggshells when preparing a field; charm them with sunflowers in the summer; treat them to one of spring's most spectacular bloomers; and let their eyes feast on the varying shades of green of our winter crops. We host community festivals, greet each visitor like an honored guest, and send them all away with vegetables, fresh picked kaki or biwa, or a few flowers.

The result is that this family farm holds a firm place in the hearts of many. Older folks wandering by stop to chat, buy vegetables, or admire whatever crop holds court at the moment. Families stop to admire the sunflowers or simply soak in a long open view of living space. And one young man all of three, Chisai Noka-san, insists on visiting us each morning on his way to school. We show him baby zucchini, feel the rough leaves of the cucumber, and climb around on the little tractor until his mother says it's time to go.

And so, it seems that the least this little piggy of a farmer-wanna-be can do is sweat under a hot sun to finish laying the last of the tatami mat mulch. And maybe weed the sunflowers a little, too.

Note: I'm cheating a wee bit with the photo at the top. I realized as I went to post this that I didn't have a good updated photo of the mats we put down in June. So, I chose a picture of my scarlet runner bean blossom's being visited by one of my local party-goers with the mats in the background. It seemed more interesting in some ways. I promise a better photo of the mats soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Butterfly Party in the Lavender

There's a party in my garden, and the hot spot of choice these days is the lavender bush in the west wall bed. In full bloom, the butterflies - the white kind that look like fluttering stars and produce cabbage worms galore - literally flock to the bush. It is nearly as white as it is purple these days.

Any pollinator favorites in your garden?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Green Curtain: There's Still Time

Summer's hot days are officially upon us, and that means not only that it's time to set the umeboshi to dry but to make sure fixing's for shade are in place. Calls for setsuden or conservation abound this summer, which is no small challenge given the searing heat and sun that is the norm. Already temperatures are leaping high along with the humidity, and all around us people are coming up with a fix or two to stay cool.

My post about making your own green curtain is up at Eco+waza's website, and should help folks get started. And, if growing a curtain isn't an option, never fear. Here are a few more ideas!

  • Bamboo shades, that cherry blossom viewing party sheet, or even a blue tarp can all make good impromptu awnings as the sun swings around.
  • Closing up windows and curtains during the day (not air tight, mind you, but rather close) keeps the heat and light out, too. Like many of our neighbors, we then open things up at night to catch a breeze and views of the moon getting ever fatter. And we get to chat with them a bit, too, as we take a walk to enjoy the night air, and perhaps get a cool treat from the grocery up the street.
  • Head out. We find venturing off to our new public library (complete with cafe) is a very nice alternative, and Tokyo brims with parks, bike paths, and heaps of cafes with a bit of air conditioning and socializing. Supporting a local business while attempting to keep cool seems quite reasonable, if you ask me.
  • Sipping a tall glass of umeshu on the rocks (or umehachimitsu if it's a school night!) is a lovely way to cool off, too.

Have your own ideas for cooling off in the summer sans air conditioning? Let's hear it. These days we can use all the suggestions we can get!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Garlic Harvest

My first crop of garlic in Japan failed. A late planting paired with plastic mulch resulted in small or non-existent bulbs. It was a good lesson about the new climate I found myself in, though, and definitely not the last. Squash, kale, and beets have since then patiently suffered through my experiments in growing here, and slowly all of us (me and the aforementioned vegetables) are learning what we need in order to thrive here in Tokyo.

Seed Garlic
This time I started with seed garlic purchased at the Earth Day Market last fall. All organic and picture perfect with good flavor (we ate the other head), it seemed like good stock for growing, too. Last year I only put in seed garlic purchased at a big box store south of us about thirty minutes by bike, and part of me was concerned that possible poor quality there contributed to failure in the field. I did have some of this on hand again this year, and so a few cloves of it went into the ground for comparison.

Garlic Bed
While I would not say garlic is fussy, it does need a bit of space to call it's own. Like tulips, onions, and daffodils, garlic loiters in the garden for months without much activity; however, once the soil and the weather begin to warm it makes itself known. The lasagna bed I put in late last summer seemed a perfect spot - out of the way with good drainage and rich soil - that wouldn't get in the way of winter or summer crops that cycle through much faster. I topped everything off with a few bags of leaves pilfered late at night from a nearby bicycle path. (Volunteer crews come through regularly to clean up the leaves, trim, and generally tidy, leaving behind gorgeous bags of leaves destined for the city compost piles unless a gardener pedals past.)

A number of vendors at the May Earth Day Market had "new garlic" for sale. I was a bit surprised to see it there on the tables as mine didn't look at all prepared to come out of the ground. I bought some, of course, and asked Kobayashi Farms when they planted it. September, a full month before mine went in the ground, was their answer and I left thinking that was the end of the story. I would simply harvest later.

Well, as the days wore on and the rain poured down day after day, I realized that perhaps I was missing a detail or two. Garlic's papery bulbs like good drainage in fertile soil. The plastic mulch of the first year kept weeds down, but didn't let water evaporate fast enough and that crop nearly drowned. A natural mulch (leaves, straw, or grass) helps regulate soil temperature and allows the right amount of moisture to remain while still keeping weeds down. (I'm still coming to terms with black plastic mulch, to be honest, but it does have it's merits.)

This year's crop seemed much happier in the lasagna bed, and until the rainy season arrived I fully expected it was content to ride out it's normal life cycle there. With the steady downpours and daily incremental increases in heat and humidity, though, the garlic along with the kale, swiss chard, and broccoli bolted in a kind of panic. Without even so much as a fare-thee-well, it quickly faded. The window of opportunity presented by two days of brilliantly hot, sunny weather seemed like an obvious choice for beginning the harvest and setting the bulbs to dry.

The bulbs so far look good. (A few remain in the ground for a gardening friend to dig. She's never seen garlic growing before much less harvested it, and so we're meeting soon to take up the last ones.) I've set them to dry in a shady spot by our front door, which makes our front balcony look more like the entry to a farmhouse. The largest and most perfect looking will be kept back for planting this fall, and the others will get added to pesto or our daily salads or cold soups.

Future Plans
My gardening friend and I are plotting that the whole first bed closest to the west wall will be garlic this fall. It will mean some hauling of leaves, compost, and manure (hopefully from a blueberry-chicken place just up the road!), but it will be fun. I'm also thinking about using the remnants of the tatami mats to line the bed a bit. And it will be a great way to build up the soil in the garden. It seems like the least I can do for the farmers in return for their trust in me all this time.

Got any garlic growing tips? Or a favorite recipe? I'd be glad to hear any and all!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Reading, July 10th

A bit all over the map as usual, here's a few picks from this week's reading.

Strawberries Guardian: A Good Mulch is a very succinct and nice piece about the values of mulch, particularly as they pertain to strawberries. As the temperatures rise here in Tokyo and only half of my rows are lined with tatami mats, mulch is definitely on my mind, too.

Ye Olde Kitchen Garden has been flying about on Twitter and other social media sites, but it's still worth mentioning. The perspective on how our tastes in food change and why is enough alone to merit a read.

This story of a Michigan woman being severely penalized for growing vegetables in her front yard is sobering. Being penalized in a state suffering from a recession well before the rest of the country started down that path is absurd.

Marion Nestle, one of the founding members of America's currently food movement, wrote this piece about how to shape food policy one forkful at a time. Many thanks to Nourishing Words for tweeting this one.

And if food policy's got you down, don't despair. Try making garlic wine or black raspberry shrub. A bit reminiscent of umehachimitsu, this one sounds divine. It's part of a week long series on homemade drinks that's well worth perusing like everything else at Food in Jars.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gyre Farmer's Market: More Than Fashionably Fresh

This post (now updated) first appeared at Greenz on November 18th, 2010 as I wandered about the city in search of fresh fruit and vegetables. A small market, Gyre finds itself calling one of the city's most fashionable areas home.

Omotesando is, admittedly, not the first place one thinks of when shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables. Designer bags, watches, or glimpsing the latest fashion in action? Yes. Cauliflower, kaki, carrots and potatoes? Maybe not. Yet, fashionable locavores can find the season's top sellers of the edible and fresh variety rather easily.

The Gyre Market - the seed, if you will, of the considerably larger UN University Market - is tiny and enticing. Opened just three years ago and recently remodeled, the shop keeps with its surrounds by being mildly boutique-y. Plain wooden "box" shelving gives a rustic feel reminiscent of the kinds of fruit and vegetable stores disappearing from the produce landscape. Track lighting literally spotlights the carefully arranged sampling of bounty sourced from organic and conventional growers all over Japan while shoppers tap their toes to the trendy beats of the day's music selection.

On this visit, the season was clearly in full swing. Eye-catching kaki (persimmon) quite rightly fronted the display in all their orange brilliance, while sweet potatoes and tall thin gobo (burdock root) sported dusky maroon and brown jackets, respectively. Winter squash in varying shades of green reminiscent of long summer days sat next to golden onions, and tawny potatoes as verdant winter greens lingered nearby. Brazen white cauliflower and kabu (a Japanese turnip) filled the upper shelves, while red and gold apples sat sweetly (literally and figuratively) next to the kaki.

Much to the pleasure of my green-thumbed gardening and farming self there were also a variety of seedlings. Ornamentals as well as edibles, these were as tempting for a DIY-er like me as the fruit and vegetables. (Perhaps more so as they won't disappear in a flash with my lunch.)

Busy arranging the display and talking with customers, Katayama san of Shukubutsu Freak (Plant Freak), offered tiny cactus, richly colored swiss chard and beets, purple karashina, oregano, parsley, chives, along with flowers and spring bulbs. Although not an organic grower, she does sell bags of homemade potting soil that looked wonderfully plant-a-licious.

Getting There

The Gyre Market, like Shinonome, is small, but worth a trip. Positioned between the Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park and the UN University Market in Aoyama, it could be a nice warm-up for some good food shopping.

Saturday, July 9th and Sunday, July 10th
Saturday, July 23rd and Sunday, July 24th
11am to 5pm
Gyre Building Basement
*Below Bulgari and next to Snoopy Land.

Nearest Stations: Harajuku and Omotesando

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: July 9th and 10th

As temperatures rise so, apparently, do the number of farmer's markets around town. Pack a shopping bag and hit the road to find great vegetables, fruit, and more to stock your pantry for the week and perhaps even find a culinary gift or two to boot. And without further ado, here's a round-up of Tokyo's July farmer's markets for your weekend planning!

10am to 2pm
Every Saturday this month, and if Google translate tells me the truth, there should be sheep and goats there, too! Shearing demonstrations at 11am and at 3pm. Just when you want to think about being warmer.

Sunday, July 10th
9am to 2pm
No sheep shearing at this one, but there will be art workshops for kids and plenty of great seasonal organic treats. A little out of the way, but well worth the journey.

10am to 4pm
Every Saturday and Sunday without fail, this market offers up a fantastic selection of seasonal goodies from near and far in Japan.

11am to 5pm
Another every Saturday and Sunday market that promises to be good. I'm hoping to get over there this weekend to check it out for myself.

Know of a farmer's market not listed here? Whether it's in Tokyo, Osaka, or Hida Takayama, I'd love to know about it and give it a shout out. (I am a vegetable geek, after all.) Drop me a note and I'll happily add it to my list.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Blooming Bergamont

One of the things I marvel at is the fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, an immigrant in a foreign country. Previously in America, I stood on the other side of that equation, and so my stance on such issues has always been as a person speaking within their own country. Even though both sides of my family came from Europe more than three generations ago, I feel a great affinity in some ways for those who chose to make similar journeys now. I can't but look at the faces of new immigrants from various parts of the world and think of my own ancestors and wonder at what drives a person to start life over in a strange land.

My story, though, is a little different. We didn't come to Japan to escape political turmoil, war, or persecution. We didn't even necessarily come here to create a better life for ourselves. We came because a friend mentioned there were openings at his university and we suspected we were in a rut. (Or a mid-life crisis, depending on how you want to look at it.) Either way, we packed up cats, chickens, and an entire house and boarded a plane with no small amount of trepidation and a great deal of excitement. Three years later we find ourselves enthralled with our experiences here.

One of the great joys of my time here in Japan is working at a nearby organic farm where I also happen to have a garden. There I can grow both American and Japanese vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are incorporated into our daily meals and shared with friends. Like the gardeners in The Earth Knows My Name, I find familiar flavors and friends in my Tokyo garden. I grow kale because we love it and it reminds me with each leaf of Frog Holler Farm and our friends there. I grow cosmos because pollinators like their frilly leaves for hanging out in, and it reminds me of my mother's garden. And I grow bergamont because I like the flowers (a native plant in my Midwest), it attracts pollinators like mad, and because it reminds me of meals shared with our friends Sybil and Maan.

Sybil and Maan's table is large and welcoming, and the food extraordinary. Maan's tabouleh and hummus are so good that I find it difficult to find either of these dishes satisfactory when we eat out. Like Pat, I have spent many an evening with them telling stories, laughing long after the fire has gone out, and, of course, eating. They are again some of my best and favorite memories, and so when I see my bergamont I think of them and feel at home in some small way. And then I make Maan's potato salad, and I might as well be seated at the picnic table by their back door watching the sky change colors through the oak trees and listening to the frogs start their evening chorus.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Keeping the Buzz Going after the Sake is Gone

One of the great surprises upon landing in Japan was the fact that public drinking (within reason, of course) is completely legal. I've seen women in kimonos sipping a cold beer on the train, and salarymen walking in a group down the street each holding some form of grown-up pop. There are, I'm sure, arguments for and against allowing such a thing, but here it seems to work. There are strict rules about drinking and driving as well as drinking and bicycling, which helps maintain a sort of balance. But this post isn't about Japan's alcohol consumption habits. Well, not directly, anyway.

The other thing we discovered as a result is the sake cup. Since public consumption isn't illegal and because sake is so popular, one can purchase individual servings in either "drink box" form (complete with straw) or in the small glass container pictured here. The sake inside isn't of the highest quality, but it's still smoother than any I ever drank in America. And it seems, in the spirit of mottainai, the cups can be reused later as vases.

Usually I've seen full cups left as offerings in cemeteries and there is where I first saw one used as vase. I thought it quite logical and therefore not necessarily extraordinary, but the sake cup company apparently did. As shown in the photograph above the back of the label shows a photo of assorted cups transformed to vases. Sometimes at a bus stop, sometimes just on a wall, or in this case next to a cute little dragon, each holds a single flower and looks like such a happy thing. Mottainai, indeed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pat's Pesto Toast

My friend Pat lives on a sweet little lake where I imagine these days she's playing with her two grandchildren on the shore and contemplating what book to read next. Or what quilting pattern to begin. Or what sweater to knit. She's one of those types - good at everything she sets her hand to - and utterly charming to boot. I'm lucky to count her as a friend.

And she's a great cook. I can't deny that one reason I lost 17 kilograms upon moving to Japan is that I wasn't sitting at Pat's table happily devouring the delicacies she placed in front of me. (To be clear, I'm not complaining. Pat's food and company are among the best I know, and I'm always glad to feast at her house.) She tries new recipes without hesitation, and then tweaks them to suit her cupboard holdings, taste preferences, and interests. I miss those long evenings spent sampling her latest concoction while telling stories, playing cards, and always laughing long and hard.

So, of course when we went home in February her house is one where we stopped and stayed. And, of course, her house is where nearly fifty of our nearest and dearest friends and family joined us for an evening of carousing, game playing, and eating heaps of tasty treats including pesto toast. Pat's husband possesses a bit of a green thumb and along the west side of their home he grows bundles of tomatoes that Pat turns into tomato pie (killer savory pie that has my mouth watering even as I think about it), salads, sauces, and soups. The toast is something of an homage to the summer harvest, and a fantastic appetizer. (I think I ate at least three.) It had me craving my garden even as I soaked up the pleasures of my favorite season.

Pat's Pesto Toast
1 loaf of French or Italian bread
Mozzarella cheese

Slice the bread and broil it on both sides until golden brown. (Pat says this reduces the chance of sogginess.) Slice tomatoes and mozzarella. Slather on pesto as you like. Top with a slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella. Broil again just long enough for the cheese to get gooey. Serve and eat. Or just eat it standing right there at the stove. It's that good.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Something Blue: Balcony Blueberry Harvest

It only seemed appropriate on this Fourth of July to celebrate a little something blue. Since the demise of the blueberry patch at the farm earlier this spring in favor of more vegetable growing space (a land divide between siblings resulted in a slight change of layout) I decided we needed to have our own source. While this single potted plant will never match the output (at least three rounds of jam last year along with six freezer containers full) and beauty of those sixteen bushes, it will offer up a handful or two each season.

Blueberries remind me of picking expeditions at home, my mother's pies, and sneaking a berry or two out of the freezer when she wasn't looking. That said, now I'm thinking I need another bush or two for our balcony garden. The yuzu tree could use a little more company, perhaps.

Got a favorite edible growing in containers? Do tell. I'm looking for a few ideas for our two balconies, so please share your thoughts!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Reading, July 3rd

This week's compendium is all over the map (and includes a map!) of food, gardening, farming, radioactivity, and reflections on city living. It's all so connected - my ability to farm, garden, and subsequently harvest in an urban area in a country in a nuclear crisis - that the resulting avenues to explore are infinite. Here's a sampling of this week's literary wanderings.

An interesting food map traces the paths of coffee, black pepper, and tomatoes, and the end of the short post poses a provoking question for locavores: What if people in 1500's Italy had rejected tomatoes as not being traditional or local enough?

A lovely read about New York's quiet little corners that made me think of some of the places I love best in Tokyo is followed by this one from the same author about the 'music' of the city. As I listen to my neighbor sweeping in front of his house at 6:30am, I can relate to the author's point.

A new blog I found this week via Twitter, Oats, offers up some beautiful photographs, tasty recipes, and some good writing. If I had an oven, I'd be making that rhubarb crisp right now...well, maybe not right now as it's already brewing up to a warm day, but you get the idea.

While not related to gardening or farming directly, this post touches on something near to my heart at the moment: Fukushima's refugees. So many of them are farmers, and the news from the exclusion zone remains bleak. It is irrelevant that the text is in French. The photos speak volumes.

This brief update about radiation in the food supply is helpful and practical for folks living in Japan is nicely balanced by this one about making garlic wine. I'm giving some thought to adding it to this year's collection of shu's (rhubarb and ume only at the moment) in the laundry area.

Photo: A striking bouquet of daisies (or are they cleverly disguised mums?) for sale at the Ichinomiya Shrine last weekend.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Size Doesn't Matter: Shinonome's Earth Day Market More Than Satisfies

This post first appeared at Greenz on October 25, 2010,and I've added a few links here and there to recipes or updated information. The Shinonome Market is being held again on Saturday, July 9th, and is just one of the many markets happening this month. This ought to whet the appetites of market goers but good!

The Earth Day Market in Yoyogi Park is one of the monthly food events not to be missed if one is a fan of local, organic food. Fresh vegetables, amazing baked goods, tasty jams, miso, rice, and so much than one good sentence can hold can be found there. Yet, there are times when a vegetable adventure is also in order. This time we grabbed our shopping list and headed out to Shinonome's little Earth Day Market. Snuggled at the base of an amazing conglomeration of looming apartment buildings between the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Big Sight, the tiny market did not disappoint.

Ducking under the signature blue and white banner we found six vendors (usually there are ten but inclement weather lowered numbers a bit) offering all a shopping locavore might want - seasonal fruits and vegetables, rice, miso, and jams - for at least a week's eating. (Or less, depending on one's appetite.) Winter squash, herbs like shiso and lemon grass shared table space with green yuzu, honey, homemade umeboshi, miso, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum greens), and a bundle of others.

Perhaps my favorite discovery - other than a recipe for yuzukosho combining green yuzu and hot peppers - were natsume. These tiny oblong fruit with the taste and texture of apples are the fruit of the camphor tree. Utterly delightful, I have no idea what to do with them except chomp on them (watch for seeds!) and savor the flavor of one of the more unique fruits I've met yet.

Tucked in my bag at the end of the day were a handful of Shizennouen's shungiku along with half a dozen eggs from Miyamotoyama Farm, some green yuzu and a small bundle of lemon grass. I managed somehow or another to resist Totokawa's brilliant jams, but I'm regretting it a bit now. The peach still calls to me and the October market in Yoyogi may be a destination yet!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tokyo's July Farmer's Markets

It's not official, but it feels like summer has arrived in full force. And Tokyo's farmer's markets seem to be meeting it head on with a cornucopia of opportunities for great seasonal produce!

Every Saturday in July
On July 9th it looks like the growers will be joined by a handful of sheep and goats and there will be a shearing demonstration. Now, there's something you don't see every day in Tokyo, I must admit.
10am to 2pm

Sunday, July 3rd and Sunday, July 17th
11am to 5pm
Like the Kichijoji market, this is another nice market in one of Tokyo's fun spots. There's no shortage of good food and fun at the market, and it's compounded by the good food and fun in the neighborhood.

Shinonome Canal Court
Sunday, July 10th
9am to 2pm
A charming off-shoot of the larger Earth Day Market, Shinonome is out of the way and tiny, but still lovely. An effort to bring organic produce to a different part of the city (it's over by Tokyo Big Site), this month a series of art workshops for kids, too. (More information on this one coming up soon!)

Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th
11am to 5pm
A very nice little market in one of Tokyo's nicest little areas, the Kichijoji market still manages to have a very nice selection of seasonal produce reasonably priced. All right on the way to Inokashira Park, no less, which is a perfect spot to enjoy some shade on a hot afternoon.

Sunday, July 31st
10am to 4pm
Definitely one of the best things going in Tokyo in terms of farmer's markets, the Earth Day Market is all organic and fair trade and loads of fun. If the heat's not too unbearable, one could even hoof it over to the UN University Market for a double market shot!

Every Saturday and Sunday in July
10am to 4pm
Folks should note that the third Saturday of each month is the night market - whoo-hee! - starting about 8pm. Hot times in the city, literally and figuratively!

Every Saturday and Sunday in July
11am to 5pm
A new one for me, I'm hoping to visit this month to see what's happening. More vegetable adventures!

Know of a market or nifty produce vendor in your neck of the woods? Give me the scoop and we'll help spread the word!