Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Biking to Hamanaka














After the grilled oysters in Akeshi and a little exploring around the area, we unfolded the bikes and loaded them up to began the ride to Hamanaka. We weren't entirely sure how long the nearly 40 km ride would take, but we were eager to see more of the amazing coastline. Our previous vacations and weekend trips usually focus on mountains or urban hiking, so this adventure along the coast was new territory.














Our road (covered with broken seashells that presented a unique biking hazard) took us past fishing villages large and small, and while there were some hills this leg wasn't too bad. The scenery, when visible, was extraordinary. The coast here is full of steep cliffs and rocky outcrops carved by the sea, and we marveled at the tiny villages with their huge konbu drying fields (large spaces made of gray stones that we first took for parking lots) that we passed. It seemed as though high tide surely must come right to the doorstep.














A cloudy day perfect for biking, our way alternately ventured past the ocean and through forest. We stopped to admire the blooming cliff-top meadow of Akeshi's Ayami Prefectural Park with it's horses and stunning ocean views that faded in and out of view. It felt like the clouds came and settled on us as we walked, and sure enough shortly after we started biking again the rain began.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mitaka's Organic Food Gem: C-Cafe's Sunday Organic Lunch

If you're not headed out to a farmer's market this weekend, another great option for Tokyo-ites is C-Cafe in Mitaka. The third Sunday of each month they host an outstanding organic buffet (tabe-hodai or all-you-you-can-eat) for a mere 1,000 yen. Featuring vegetables from a local organic farm, it's hard to beat for flavor, health, and fun. And while it is a bit out of the way, Keta-san's curry is enough reward for the effort you'll expend.

Check out my article over at Eco+Waza describing it, and then mark your calendar for the September buffet! You'll be glad you did.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: August 27th and August 28th

The last weekend in August finds many of the regular markets still underway and sporting transitional fare. Squash are just coming on the scene while tomatoes exit. Eggplants aren't quite the center stage players they were a bit ago, although we'll be seeing them until November's chill winds arrive to redirect the action. Check out Roppongi's handbell choir and hula dance group, and venture off to the others, too, to see what's underway!

Every Saturday (except for the 13th!)
10am to 2pm
This Saturday, August 27th will feature a handbell choir as well as a hula dance troupe. Vegetables aside, that combination alone makes it worth the journey.

Every Saturday and Sunday
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
10am to 4pm

Know of any other markets? Give me a shout!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Akeshi Oyster Grilling














This year's Hokkaido adventure took us from Kushiro's byways and sashimi to Akeshi. A bit further along the coast, this port town is most famous for oysters and some stunning coastal scenery. Our campsite (this time regular not urban) was near the base of one of the best viewpoints in the area, and we soaked in one of our first long views of the magnificent shoreline.

Thanks to some fellow campers we also got a taste of some of those oysters. We arrived in wind and rain to set up our tent and contemplate dinner. In a not at all unusual turn of events, once the folks making dinner in a nearby picnic shelter spotted us they invited us to join them. We gratefully accepted and brought along our meager offerings of instant noodles and cup sake.

Japan likes to grill, and will take any opportunity to cook over open flame. It is another of the great surprises we've had since coming here. Everything from chicken to beef to vegetables to internal organs (horimon) to seafood is fair game. This time Akeshi's famous oysters and a few scallops were on the menu.














Preparation was simple and straightforward: place oyster on hot grill. Turn periodically. Try to avoid the spit of liquid that fired out periodically. Crack open and serve piping hot on the half shell. Scallops underwent a similar process. Grilled on the half shell, we simply waited until the scallops bubbled and browned a bit before serving. Took the chill edge off that rainy evening in no time!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Pickled Vegetables

As I mentioned in the previous post about Kushiro's Washo Ichiban, we found a vendor selling an extraordinary variety of pickled vegetables but wouldn't allow photos. Such is life. If there is anything we love it's a good pickle, and so we scooped up a samples of whole garlic cloves pickled in red shiso, dried daikon pickled in a sweet brine with a bit of togarashi, and round green eggplants with a taste that defies description except for yummy. (I confess we ate all the garlic before remembering to take a photo. It was that good.)






We wanted more - sakezuke, at least one of the wide selection of kimchi's, cucumber in miso, mushrooms in some kind of lovely brine - but bicycle touring means limited space even for delightful food bits. I suppose it's good to leave some parts of the pickle frontier untasted for the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Washo Ichiban Sashimi Feast

Hokkaido is known for many things, but the first thing many Japanese people will mention right after they say how beautiful the island is is the seafood. They lean forward a bit and say with great passion: "The seafood is very good, very fresh." And as one of the world's leading consumers of fish as well as fishing, the Japanese should know.











Since this year's visit focused on the eastern coast of the island, we decided it was time to finally sample some of the island's famed fare. A friend recommended visiting Washo Ichiban not far from Kushiro's port. Here a visitor could wander aisles of any number of sashimi vendors to eyeball and choose whatever piece of fish looked the most delectable. A diner might sample the day away trying fish not found in other parts of the country, or in our case never seen before in our little part of the Midwest.








We remained relatively tame with samples of salmon, tuna, squash (a vegetable geek even when surrounded by fish), sanma (in season at the moment), and aji. Other diners all around us, though, were not so shy and we saw bowls heaped with squid, crab (also in season at the moment), octopus, and other fish I've never met joyously devoured in short order.

This little indoor fish market also offered up other famous Hokkaido delicacies: a zillion different varieties of seaweed, cheese, fruit, fish jerky, and pickled fish. One stall sold perhaps some of the most amazing pickles I've ever had, but unfortunately photos weren't allowed. They were delicious, though, with our camp lunch the next day!



Washo Ichiban
10am - 6pm Daily
Buy a bowl of rice as big or little as you wish, and start wandering the aisles.
Steps from Kushiro Station.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Kushiro Farm Stand

After our train ride adventure, we landed in Kushiro: a small port town on Hokkaido's east side famous for seafood and it's proximity to the magnificent wetlands. We unfolded the bikes and started roaming through town. Along the way we found this little farm complete with work horse.










Little, actually, is not quite the right adjective. Covering roughly two city blocks the farm is a series of greenhouses holding tomatoes, sweetcorn, eggplant, and cucumbers. Outdoor beds held more sweetcorn and zucchini, and some sported freshly tilled soil waiting for the next round of planting.












The mother and son team we chatted with that day were selling lovely bunches of asters, deep green bundles of spinach, cucumbers, still-dirty carrots, and a nice variety of tomatoes. We picked up some of all except for the flowers (not practical on a bike tour), and bit into a Momotaro Gold Tomato - a new medium-sized orange-gold variety - on the spot. While we ate, we learned the farm had been going for nearly seventy years, a relatively young age for Japan, but not unusual for this somewhat late land acquisition. Loaded up with vegetables for the rest of the day, we pedaled off!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Trackside Gardens














Let me start by saying it's very difficult to take a good photo from a moving train. Some of these are blurry, but I'm sharing them because I loved seeing these little gardens as we rolled through cities, towns, villages, and hamlets. I was particularly struck by the fact that, as always, no space goes unused.













Right next to the tracks often were gardens full of scarlet runner beans, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, shiso, and heaps of cosmos, sunflowers, and petunias to name only a few. I was reminded a bit of the colorful patchwork of tiny backyard gardens I saw in London years ago from the train. These gardens, though, occurred in even the remotest of areas where it would seem there should be plenty of space elsewhere.














For more regular updates on our recent Hokkaido adventure, check out my Twitter page.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: Train Station Soba














We started our trip by folding up the bikes and hopping on a series of local trains to take to Kushiro in Eastern Hokkaido to visit the Shitsugen or wetlands that are home to the Red-Crowned Crane or Sarurunkamui. At one of the stations we had a few moments to step out and stretch our legs, and to sample some local soba.

Most stations offer some kind of bento - ekiben - and are often famous for a particular type (Shinjuku purportedly makes a mean fried chicken), but we usually have an onigiri or two on hand. The smell wafting out the window of the little soba shop at this station, though, proved too much. We gave in and shared a bowl of sansai (mountain or wild vegetable) added to a steaming broth and good thick soba noodles. Served up fresh and steaming in a blink of an eye in a styrofoam bowl (the only bummer about the dish, really) it is incredibly cheap (350 yen), ridiculously delicious, and tremendously satisfying.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tokyo's Farmer's Markets: August 20th and August 21st

Heaps of markets this August weekend means heaps of vegetables and fruits. Note the events at the Roppongi Market, a slightly different weekend for the Earth Day Market, and the UN University Night Market is this weekend, too. Plenty of opportunity to stock up on summer favorites as the season for many is coming to a close!

Every Saturday (except for the 13th!)
10am to 2pm
This Saturday, August 20th will be Cooking for the First Time workshops for whipper snappers.

Every Saturday and Sunday
11am to 5pm

Saturday, August 20th and Sunday, August 21st
11am to 5pm

Sunday, August 21st
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
10am to 4pm
A short visit last month showed heaps of new vendors!

Saturday, August 20th
-until 8pm
Rock out with good music and your favorite vegetables and fruit until all of 8pm.

Photo: Toziba's hand-woven dishcloths give even the dirtiest dish a good cleansing. Check them out this weekend at the Earth Day Market!

Know of any other markets? Give me a shout!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hokkaido Expedition: After Square One














Posts have been sparse these past days since leaving Square One to begin bike touring in Eastern Hokkaido. Our expedition is rather make-shift in all regards: folding bikes with added on baskets, urban and regular camping, local train only travel via juhachi kippu, Couchsurfing, Rider Houses, and, of course, plenty of visits to local gardens, national parks, farmers, and out-of-the-way food places. Internet and cell phone connections are sparse, so I've been trying to Tweet as much as I can, and taking copious notes and photos along the way. It's been amazingly beautiful and interesting, and I'm in slightly better shape now to boot. What more could a girl ask of vacation?

(Although, I would be happy to omit the two recent earthquakes near where we are staying. That's an adventure I'm not interested at the moment.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tokyo Farmer's Markets: August 13th and 14th

Tokyo gets a bit quiet in August as people head back to their hometowns for Obon celebrations. Some Tokyoites say it's the best time to be here as the city gets a little quieter, and the trains less crowded. What it also means is that there's less of a fight over that last lovely red tomato at the August farmer's markets!

Saturday, August 13th and Sunday, August 14th*
*Careful on this one. The calendar says both days but the text at the top only lists one. Perhaps plan to head over the hill to Shibuya (a very pleasant walk) and the UN University Market, too.

Every Saturday (except for the 13th!)
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
11am to 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
10am to 4pm

Know of any other markets? Give me a shout!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sumomo Shu: Another Jar 'Plum' Full of Winter Warmth

Like all the rhubarb and blueberry shus underway for the year, this one is an experiment in fruit. I'd ventured down to the July Earth Day Market with a good friend to interview Takashi Watanabe from Toziba about his Daizu Revolution, and was pleasantly surprised to see so much fruit on offer in addition to the usual round of vegetables. (A quick side note: Don't forget to check out the markets for August and notice a few schedule changes due to the Obon holidays.)

Peaches (mom0 in Japanese), prunes (a dusky hued plum), and plums (sumomo) sat fat and sassy in their crates just waiting to be scooped up. Last year they would have inspired visions of jam in my head, but this year my brain is turning to shu. (No intended double meaning intended there.) Energy concerns, summer's ridiculously high temperatures, and a lack of time as the semester ended with writing deadlines and packing for Hokkaido to be done, shu seemed a logical choice.

Sumomo or Prunus triflora, are a species of plum found in Asia and usually smaller than their American cousins. A little research tells me the half-ripe plums are usually turned into shu, which would be in keeping with what I know about ume, too. The ones I purchased at the market were quite fat, more in keeping with the American varieties I know, and terrifically sweet and ripe. In American Gardening (1891, A.T. De La Marre Printing and Publishing), there is a hint about making a vinegar as well, which sounds intriguing. For now, I'm sticking with simple shu.

Sumomo Shu
1 kilogram sumomo (plums)
700 grams rock sugar*
1.8 liters white liquor

Soak the plums for a few hours in order to soften the stems for removal. Meanwhile, give the jar (a four liter one in my case) a good scrub and dousing with a freshly boiled kettle of water. Dip each plum in the liquor as a sort of quick disinfectant, and place in the jar immediately. Plop in the sugar and pour on the liquor. Cap and tuck away until winter. Try to remember to give it a good shake every so often to help ensure mixing of the ingredients, and to check out how things are progressing.

A Few Thoughts and a Question
In hindsight, I do wish I'd tossed in a few star anise and a cinnamon stick or two. My hunch is that these would make a lovely flavor with the plums. Ever tried something like that? I'd love to hear more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Green Beans ala Square One














One of the pleasures of being in Hokkaido is the food. While seafood and ramen are high on the culinary list of most visitors, I'm more about the fresh fruit and vegetables. Muskmelon are in season at the moment, and watermelon are lurking nearby, too, although my daily rounds of nearby vegetable stands have yet to yield either of those. (I need to get out there a little bit earlier, I think, but my excuse is that I am on vacation.)

What I am finding heaps of are tomatoes, pima (sweet green peppers), cucumbers, zucchini of all types, greens, and green beans. Green beans finished up a few weeks ago at our farm, and so it's a pleasure to be able to plop a bag or two in my bike basket once again. Yet, staying at someone else's house means my usual set of ingredients are not on hand, and so a little improvisation was required. Here are the results.

Green Beans ala Square One
1 bunch of green beans (about 200-300 grams)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 1/2 Tablespoon minced garlic

Wash and trim the ends off the beans while bringing a pan of water to boil. Plop in the beans once a good rolling boil occurs, and cook them for about four minutes. Drain (save that water for the beginnings of a tasty soup base!), plop in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly and eat. Can also be chilled, if you can wait that long.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tokyo's August Farmer's Markets

Forecasts are calling for a cooler August, which means the season's bounty might stretch out a bit longer. Tomatoes and eggplants will carry on strong, although the former may begin to disappear by the month's end. Squash and garlic should still be around to turn the mind to cooler season's and tasty dishes like houtou udon. Before turning on the stove though to whip up a batch, give that watermelon or sweet corn a second look. They'll be gone before you know it!

Every Saturday (except for the 13th!)
10am to 2pm
It looks like Saturday, August 20th will be Cooking for the First Time workshops for whipper snappers, and August 27th will feature a handbell choir as well as a hula dance troupe. Vegetables aside, that combination alone makes it worth the journey.

Saturday, August 6th
No time listed, but between 11am and 3pm sounds like a safe bet to me!

Sunday, August 7th
11am to 5pm
Only one this month due to the scheduled Obon Holidays, so load up your shopping bag while you can!

Saturday, August 13th and Sunday, August 14th*
*Careful on this one. The calendar says both days but the text at the top only lists one. Perhaps plan to head over the hill to Shibuya (a very pleasant walk) and the UN University Market, too.

Every Saturday and Sunday
11am to 5pm
A great little market to visit! My write-up should be appearing in the ether soon to fill folks in on what's there, what I got to try, and what I'd love to go back to sample.

Saturday, August 20th and Sunday, August 21st
11am to 5pm
Small but packed with punch this market is sure to satisfy, although you may have to fight the crowds making their way to Inokashira Park.

Sunday, August 21st
10am to 4pm
All organic and fair trade all the time. One of the happiest places I know of in Tokyo, too!

Every Saturday and Sunday
10am to 4pm
A short visit last month showed heaps of new vendors!

Saturday, August 20th
-until 8pm
Rock out with good music and your favorite vegetables and fruit until all of 8pm.

Know of any other markets? Give me a shout!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Latest Installment in the Shu Chronicles: Blueberry














A local farm literally only a few blocks away sells blueberries by the tubful. There's also a U-Pick option, which sounds lovely but doesn't work with my schedule. Their business is a bit up this year as most people who would normally travel to Gunma, Ibaraki or other prefectures a bit north of Tokyo for a fruit vacation aren't because of concerns about radiation. Fruit growers, like tea farmers and so many others, have been hard hit by the Daiichi Power Plant crisis resulting from the March 11th Earthquake.

My motivation is vaguely similar at best. The blueberry patch at the farm lost out to dreams of expansion, and so I bought a small bush for the balcony. Clearly, though, that wasn't going to get me enough for jam any time soon, so I kept a watchful eye on the farm up the way. (They also have chickens, so I'm working on a relationship so I can beg some manure in the future.)

The berries are expensive (about 600 yen for 250 grams or upwards of $7.00), so I decided to freeze some and make blueberry shu out of the rest. I'd need a goodly number of berries for jam, and while I love the flavor I've also got to heed current calls for conservation. While the energy would be well-used, I can't quite justify it. Plus, it looks like we'll be needing to conserve into the winter months and it occurred to me that a pretty little glass of blueberry shu might warm me up as much as my long underwear.

Blueberry Shu
500 grams of blueberries
1.4 liters white alcohol
250 grams of rock sugar

I essentially followed the same recipe I used for the ume, yuzu, and rhubarb shus. Wash the jar, plop in the ingredients, screw on the lid, and wait. Our laundry area, a.k.a. the 'shu closet', is getting a bit crowded these days, but I can't resist a good experiment!

Note on the photos: The top photo is looking down into the jar. The smell was fantastic! The bottom photo is a side view of the jar to see how things are progressing after about ten days.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday's Sunday Reading, July 31st

This week's round-up is slow in coming, but arrives nonetheless with the usual dose of mild wit, and one affirmative "Amen!"

And the "Amen!" goes to Richard Mabey's book Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants in which the reviewer writes: "Mabey reminds us with wry and subtle humor of weeds' usefulness: they stabilize soil, curb water loss, provide shelter for other plants and repair landscapes shattered by landslides, flood, fire, development and artillery." While I might mulch against them, I don't abhor them entirely, either. Some are pretty and attract pollinators, some are edible, and some simply must be admired for their tenacity.

Adrian Higgins offers an overview of the thinking behind the laws of lawns and the recent spate of news stories about gardeners penalized for growing food on their front lawns.

Straw bale finds a home with some councils in the UK as they look for energy efficient options for their public housing builds, which gave me great pleasure. Impressed ever since talking with the Weymiller's about why they built Square One, I've got a soft spot for straw bale.

This grant series sponsored by Awesome Food looks like it will be chock full of opportunity and ideas for ways to improve America's food system.

And finally, this TEDxTokyo Talk from Junko Edahiro of Japan for Sustainability (JFS) on the changes she has witnessed in Japan's sustainability movement and specific examples of people and their work.