Friday, December 28, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: December 29th and 30th

Family vegetable shopping at the Nippori Market
As the year winds down, so do the farmers markets. This weekend only a very few regulars are open, but with a good selection of items for gifts, for holiday food preparation, and for the usual eating. Don't forget the added bonus of the Roppongi Farmers Market is the Refugees International Japan table! Good crafty stuff there with yummy vegetables and fruit only a few steps away. Sounds like heaven to me!

Saturday, December 29th
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 vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday until December 29th
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Saturday, December 29th
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mom's Rice Pudding in Tokyo

Mom's rice pudding a holiday breakfast feast!
Even as a child, I loved rice. My mother served it in a handful of ways and to every one's astonishment I gobbled it up as quickly as I could. The taste, the texture, the look all seemed perfect to me. But then, I'm not really a fussy eater. Most internal organs are not on my favorites list, but I'll find something scrumptious about almost anything else.

One year my mother served what she called rice pudding at Christmas. A big casserole dish with raisins, rice, cinnamon, sugar, and milk sat steaming on the table. I thought I'd gone to heaven. My brothers took their polite bites and turned up their noses, which pleased me to no end. More for me! She's served it ever since knowing full well that at least one of her brood will scrape the bowl clean.

Since moving to Tokyo, though, Christmas is mildly challenging. I have no oven in which to make the cookies I adore, and hours of phone calls don't quite make up for the delightful holiday bustle of our Michigan extended family. And, of course, there is no snow.

There is, however, rice.

Just after opening our presents on Christmas morning and just before starting the long round of phone calls home, I popped the ingredients for my version of Mom's recipe in the rice cooker. Tasted like home.

Mom's Christmas Rice Pudding ala Tokyo
1 cup, rice (white or brown or a mix)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup walnuts, broken up some
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups milk (soy milk might also work quite nicely here)

Soak and rinse the rice. Pop it into the rice cooker, and check to make sure the milk matches the little line for water on the inside. (I added a tiny bit more to make up for the additional materials. If making on the stove, use the same amount of milk as you would water.) Chuck in the rest of the ingredients. Cook for the usual amount of time. Serve with milk or straight-up. Yum.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!


Presents are wrapped and in the closet (the tree is too small), and I'm looking up recipes for egg nog. Santa may well be on his way, and the star that signaled the start of it all twinkles in the crisp night air. Merry Christams and Happy Holidays, All!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: December 22nd and 23rd

Gouda Masaki with his cool mochi from Aomori-ken at the December Ebisu Farmers Market.
He's joined by students and staff of NOPPO, a company that connects university students and farmers.
(I'll be interviewing them early in 2013. Stay tuned!)

As the holidays near the markets are getting a bit scarce, but don't let that deter you from heading out the door to find some of the best gifts ever. Vendors are ramping up their scrumptious offerings in preparation for New Year's celebrations, Christmas gift giving, and parties. (I take any opportunity available to buy and eat, personally, so thankfully we like hiking and biking.) It's worth going to any of these markets for this particularly festive moment.

Nippori Farmer's Market
Sunday, December 22nd, 23rd, and 24th
10am to 5pm
A great long-weekend extravaganza at this wonderful little market where Tohoku farmers sport their best, there's live entertainment, and heaps of fun despite inclement weather. I haven't asked, of course, but I suspect the Emperor would dig celebrating his birthday here, too. No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
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 vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday except for December 29th
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Daikon and Carrot Pickles

Carrot and daikon awaiting transformation.

My schedule seems to have slowed just enough to make time for making pickles or I've managed to forget something I'm supposed to be doing and have filled the resulting void with pickles and canning. Regardless, it's a lovely time. It could be, too, that I'm slightly homesick and canning is my balm. As I fill jars with sweet marmalade or these spicy pickles I think of my family and friends back home that set me on this path filled with colorful jars and flavorful food. They remain my inspiration.

As does the harvest currently beginning at the farm. While greens like komatsuna are starting to roll in so are the daikon. We're growing two varieties this year - the usual torpedo-sized mammoths that lounge like rock stars in my bike basket and a short fat variety that snuggles in like a cat on the lap. Both are delicious and crunchy and bright and snappy, but the short fatties are ready now. I came home with two the other day, and so decided to try a recipe I'd long had my eye on over at Food in Jars. (Her new book, by the way, looks like a doozy.)

Of course, I tweaked it to fit my cupboard and taste buds and general laziness about finding exactly the right ingredients. And because I'm sometimes slightly inattentive...that's another story. They were a hit at a recent party, and I suspect that as they steep in their brine they'll only get better. I'll be trying them again, too, with more colorful daikon just to see what happens. Someone better send me some jars.....

Lovely carrot slice
Tokyo Carrot and Daikon Pickles
2 small, tubby daikon or half of one big one
3 fat carrots

Brine:
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander powder
500 ml water
500 ml cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 anise stars, whole (I just used what was in the entire package.)
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger

Hand slice the carrots and daikon. I could use the arm strength, and ever since reading a review of Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork I have taken the food processor off my list. Set aside. Mix up the brine and bring it to a boil. Taste as you go to match your taste buds. Add the sliced vegetables, give them a good stir and mix, and remove from the heat. Fill prepared jars, wipe the rims, screw on the lids, and process for a good ten minutes. Makes roughly six pints.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Remembering


Life in Tokyo and Japan is literally and figuratively far away from my home country, the United States, but there are times when the finger of current events reaches me. This past year there have been many such moments: a recall election in my home state, a presidential election that show-cased some of our best and worst, new legislation in the state next dearest to me, and a handful of family crises.

The latest, though, cuts me to the quick and I find myself so deeply saddened by it that my eyes fill with tears even as I type. A family crisis earlier this year did the same, sending me into a states of grief and sadness, anger, and finally resolution. Pen met paper in multiple ways. A new course was set, one I could live with.

While no one in Newtown is my relative or even friend, it feels the same. I can't help but weep and grieve with this tragedy. I know the anger (mostly disgust at my culture's inexplicable fixation on guns and violence as the only solution to any given problem) will come, and then the resolution. For now, though, I'm pausing my usual stories to simply remember those families one and all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: December 15th and 16th

Steaming cups of amezake abound!
As always this middle weekend of the month is abuzz with markets. Hankering after yuzu for shu or marmalade or for the bath? Now's your chance. Not to mention all the lovely citrus to be found  in general as the season really starts to kick it. The usual winter greens and root crops are on hand in all their verdant loveliness, too. See you there!


Sunday, December 16th
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.
Saturday, December 15th
A new market I spotted while riding the train on a Saturday morning into the city center. That circle of red awnings in front of the Za-Koenji Public Theatre could only mean one thing! Sure enough, I found a small group of area growers and producers, and the bounty surely continues!
11am - 5pm
Map

Saturday, December 15th
A unique event in the heart of the city that a vegetable loving geek like me wouldn't miss for the world. What better way to get the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to sustain an evening of karaoke and izakaya hopping?
5pm - 8pm

Kichijoji Market
Saturday, December 15th and Sunday, December 16th
A terrific two days of seasonal vegetables, fruits, homemade treats, and even some fun activities for those whipper-snappers!
10am to 5pm
Map

Sunday, December 16th
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!

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
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 vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday except for December 29th
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mottainai: Candied Yuzu Peel

Yuzu peels sugared and drying

'Tis the season for yuzu, and once again I'm venturing into the world of marmalade and shu; however, this year I'm trying something a bit different. Inspired by a homemade brew our local sake shop master made of yuzu and nihon shu (sake), I did a version of my usual plopping of fruit in a jar with rock sugar and alcohol. A bit rushed, I neglected to closely review my own instructions. I did not cut the fruit as I should have, so the past three weeks whole sunny yuzu soaked away in our shu closet. Based on a sample of a previous brew resurrected the the back of said closet where, peels and all, it languished for six months of more (very bitter), I opted to be slightly more prompt.
Yuzu's flavor is a delightful balance of bitter and sour that is gently tamed by the sugar that joins it in a jar of marmalade or jug of yuzu shu. The sake master warned that including the peel at all would make it too bitter, and if that's true it's too late for this batch. Mildly fearful, I removed the nearly whole fruits (I'd trimmed off the stemmy bits before the first plopping.), cut them in half, peeled, and re-plopped the fruit into the jug. My husband says they now look like little alien brains. Ah, well.

Yuzu Nihon shu peel and flesh
Left with a bowl of sake infused yuzu peel too beautiful even for the compost bin, I decided to make candied peel. Sweet, bitter and gently gooey it seemed a perfect use for my lovely leftovers and a fun experiment.  It might even make a nice gift.








Candied Nihon Shu'd Yuzu Peel
15 or so yuzu, washed
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup peel water
Sugar for dredging

Cut and peel the fruit. Save the fruit for later. Cut the peels into thinnish strips; most recipes recommend 1/4 inch. Bring a pan of water to a boil and when it's good and rolling toss in the peels. Boil for 15 minutes and then drain. (Save at least half a cup and set aside.) Do this twice more if using fresh fruit. (See my caveats below.) Heat the sugar and both waters and bring to a simmer. Stir to make sure the sugar thoroughly dissolves, and then let simmer covered for 10 minutes. Plop in the yuzu peel, put the lid back on, and set the timer for 45 minutes. Check periodically to make sure it's not burning, of course, and to satisfy curiosity. Drain and save the syrup for later. Dredge the peel in the sugar and lay out on a rack to dry. Wait two days (with some sampling for scientific purposes, of course) and then pack up in an airtight container.

Yuzu peels post-boil and awaiting sugar!
Usual round of caveats
If you use straight-up yuzu from a local farmer or a favorite farmers market, then you'll have to do things a bit differently. My yuzu had soaked for some three weeks in sake, so I deemed that they only needed one boil. Most recipes recommend at least two or three to diminish the bitterness and thoroughly blanch them.

My innards went right back into the jug for more soaking, but this may not be an option for everyone. Some folks suggest juicing and then substituting that juice for the water in the final syrup. I'll also throw out the idea  of saving some peel back, grabbing a bit of ginger and perhaps an apple or two and making marmalade. I also know there are some rockin' yuzu pickle recipes out there, but I'm still waiting to get one from my Japanese teacher. Once I get it and give it a shot, I'll surely write about it here.

The initial peel boiling water looked too nice to pitch, too, so I used some of it to make my syrup. I still have a fair amount of it to use in some way I don't know of yet. Again, once I do I imagine I'll write about it here. Maybe in the bath?

The resulting syrup is simply amazing. It would, as one blogger suggested, make an awesome cocktail base, a frosting adding, or a nice mixer in a cup of hot water. It's also quite nice, ahem, with a spoon.

Dredging the peel is easy, although I tried to work fast to make sure the peel retained enough moisture for the sugar to properly adhere. Some pieces I only sugared on one side and some I didn't sugar at all  just to see what might happen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Japan Farmers Markets Gift Recommendations in Metropolis Magazine

Adorable strawberry cats at Kichijoji's Farmers Market
In case you didn't notice, I'm a big advocate of farmers markets and shopping locally. I'm also a fan of a good pickle, a nice jar of jam, and food in general. And don't even get me started on assorted craft items. We could be here for hours.

So, it should be no surprise that I managed to worm my way into Metropolis Magazine, a Tokyo publication for the hip and happening about all things  happening and hip in our fair city, with a blurb on farmers markets. While I'd like them to give over an entire issue to markets and the wonderful people and items to be found there, I'm more than glad at the moment to have crafted their most recent The Goods column. Check it out along with the markets listed (plus a few more) for some terrific shopping, new ideas, and just general fun!

Small aside: I might also mention that Refugees International Japan, an organization I support, has a table of goodies for sale at the Roppongi Market. Do head over and see what they've got and do a little extra good.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tokyo Farmers Markets: December 8th and 9th

Miyamotoyama Farm at Tokyo's Earth Day Market
Cold winds and clear skies swing us toward the New Year, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this stunning weather to hit the farmers markets. As the end of the month nears, farmers and brewers and jammers and weavers and canners alike begin turning their attention to family and friends and celebrating the coming year. Markets close down to give time to those gatherings, so don't wait a moment to go on out and pick up gifts that will more than satisfy those on your list. (I might also suggest hauling home a foodly treasure or two for yourself, too.) Seriously, anyone can go to a department store. Bust out of that usual holiday grind and get your shopping done in festive sunshine!


Saturday,  December 8th and Sunday, December 9th
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

Nippori Farmer's Market
Sunday, December 9th
10am to 5pm
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. My first visit was wonderful despite cold temperatures and a smattering of rain. Plus, Tohoku growers are on hand sharing their best-of-the-best, so come on out to be part of the recovery and get something good to eat.
No map, but just head out the east exit and look for the green awnings!

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
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 vendors was plate-licking good. (I refrained, but only just.)
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday in December (one of the few exceptions this month!)
A first visit to this market was well worth the trek for the number of organic growers and getting to meet a Tokyo farmer from just down the tracks in Kokobunji!
10am to 2pm

Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another nice market not far from the sumo stadium in Ryogoku it's worth casing out for the neighborhood as well as the vendors.
11am to 5pm
Map

Yurakucho Farmer's Market
Every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd
Another great market somewhere in size between Kichijoji and the United Nation's University Farmer's Market, it often features from a particular growing region as well as heaps of farmers and producers from nearby Chiba and Saitama, too.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of the station and cross the courtyard toward Tokyo Kouku Keitan. Look for the fun under the overhang!

Know of a market? Give me a shout and we'll add it to the list!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Komatsuna: A Lovely Japanese Green

Komatsuna nearly ready to harvest!
When I first arrived in Japan nearly four years ago, I had no idea what I might discover in terms of vegetables. I suspected I would find a fascinating variety of old and new, and so I did. Broccoli and cabbage, old friends from way back, greeted me on a first foray to the grocery store and at the first neighborhood market I stumbled upon, as did potatoes and onions. But there were plenty of odd looking things  - roots, greens, mushrooms and more - that I didn't recognize at all. In our Michigan life we ate buckets of salads and piles of kale. I saw some leafy things, but had no idea what they were. I bought and chopped, oblivious to names and recipes and traditions. All were delicious, but I felt a bit rude not knowing what to call them.

Thankfully, I started helping at the farm where the farmers began teaching me not just about urban farming in Tokyo, but about the vegetables we grew. Komatsuna, a leafy green we grow in the winter months in Tokyo, was one of my first new friends, and remains a favorite. Originally developed in Edo (Tokyo's former name), komatsuna was formally named when a visiting shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (the very same one famous for planting maples and cherries in our fair city), stopped for a meal at a temple. Loving this new vegetable nearly as much as I do, he asked its name. The story goes that the monk answered that it had no name; it was just a green they grew and ate regularly. Like any shogun worth his salt, Yoshimune immediately righted the situation. Taking the name of the nearby river, Komatsu, and adding 'na' at the end, which means 'leaf' he bapitized it with the moniker it still goes by today.

Rightly so, Joy Larkcom in her ever useful tome, Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook, refers to komatsuna and its compatriots as candidates for  '...the 'most underrated vegetable' award." She goes on to say that "They are among the hardiest and most productive winter vegetables I have come across, their flavour a happy compromise between the blandness of cabbage and the sharpness of most Oriental mustards. They are also very easy to grow."  

While I take some umbrage with 'the blandness of cabbage', I otherwise agree wholeheartedly. Brasisica rapa var. perviridis, komatsuna's Latin name, is possibly Japan's most beloved member of the mustard family. It's lovely roundish emerald green leaves sit atop perfectly juicy stems. Usually the whole plant is harvested, snipped off just above the roots. We eat raw in salads - stem and all - or leave it roughly chopped in the bottom of a soup bowl. Whatever steaming brew is on the menu for the evening cooks it just enough to make it even more verdant and flavorful while still maintaining some of its characteristic crunch. As a member of the mustard family it has a wee bit of a flavor punch, but nothing extreme.

At the farm we do multiple sowings of this winter favorite - a row or two every other day - under row covers and in the greenhouses. It's a major ingredient in the I've-eaten-too-much-over-the-holidays concoction called Nanakusagayu as well as other winter dishes. Late plantings are left to flower and can be turned into a version of a well-known spring dish, nanohana, or simply pickled. Surely this originated out of a desire to save seed for the following years as well as provide a green to tide folks over until summer crops arrived. When those last leaves are harvested and the plants composted in late spring, I weep a little inside. It really is that good.