Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Floating Head at Fushimi Inari

Richard lost his head at Fushimi Inari shrine.
Last year we took my mother-in-law to one of the places all three of us love best in the world: the Fushimi Inari shrine between Kyoto and Nara. The winding paths lined with innumerable tori gates, the quiet as you climb through the cemetery to watch the sun set and the mysterious feeling as you descend in the dark make it one of the simplest yet most unique experiences to be had in Japan. Plus, there's an excellent eel restaurant right near the entrance to the shrine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mottainai: Brandied Chestnut Butter

A spiky bundle of scrumptiousness.
It must be nearly two years ago now that I made a batch of chestnut brandy. There is a lovely kuri (chestnut) grove at the farm, and the farmers always give me a nice bundle to make kurigohan (chestnut rice) or whatever else suits my fancy. Since arriving here I've been on a homemade alcohol kick. It started with umeshu and I began experimenting from there. We now have a shu closet full of homemade brews that we are trying to drink our way through before having to move early next year. (If you'd like to help with that, let me know.) It was only natural to try something with the kuri.

So, the bits of chestnut have been steeping since then, and I decided it was time to turn them into something else. (Mottainai and all that, you know.) So, I found this recipe at Food in Jars for chestnut butter, tweaked it, and made my own Tokyo version. The result is rather pleasant on toast, if I do say so myself.

Brandied Chestnut Butter
500 grams brandy-soaked chestnuts (2.5 - 3 cups of chestnut bits)
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 1.5 cups of water (careful!)
Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a bowl or food processor and whip until smooth. Add water as needed, but be careful not to add too much or the mixture will turn out runny. I used a wand mixer and it did a great job, but probably took a bit more time than a food processor. Spoon into jars, remove air bubbles to the best of your ability, and refrigerate. Serve on toast, with cheese, or just on the spoon. It's all quite nice!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sweet Potato Harvest: Reprise

It's almost impossible to believe that nearly five years have passed since I set foot on the  family farm here in Tokyo. My time there has easily been the best part of my life in Japan. The Arai's have become some combination of family and friend to me. As we ponder our next move, I can hardly bear the thought of not having C-chan and Takashi-san as part of my daily life. So, as I type this with tears in my eyes, I'm going to share again one of my favorite farm happenings: the sweet potato harvest. It's early writing, so bear with me to the recipe near the end. It's one of my favorites and worth the wait! - JB

Two kinds of sweet potatoes, both delicious.

This Spring I planted sweet potatoes for the first time. I'd certainly eaten them, and given some thought to growing them, but space in my garden often felt like it was at a premium. And past experience taught me that the potato can be a master of disguise resulting in a surprise second year harvest.

The Planting
When the Takashi's mentioned that an adjacent field was to be planted in sweet potatoes, I veritably begged to be able to help. We'd discussed our mutual fondness for them after I'd made some sweet potato stew for Shee-chan when she was feeling under the weather, as well as the differences between the American and Japanese sweet potatoes. (Japanese sweet potatoes have the same purple skin but are yellow on the inside. They also tend to turn brown rather quickly after slicing up, and the consistently is a bit more starchy.)

One fine morning in May found me with gloves, hoe, hat, and Takashi-san at the field. He had already tilled, but the sweet potato beds still needed a bit of preparation. Using stakes and ropes we created straight lines along which I hilled the soil into a long mound where I later planted the slips. Takashi-san worked on another part of the farm returning periodically to check my progress and admonish me to work a bit slower to save my back. Ten rows later I was done and ready for lunch.

The slips came bundled in newspaper, and we moved along the rows sticking them in the ground at intervals of about a foot and a half. Well, not really "sticking" but rather laying the slip (a sweet potato leaf and stem with a tiny root bud at the bottom) on the soil and then simply covering it up. Once the sprinkler system was up and running smoothly the days work was done.

The field was watered in the early mornings and late evenings as needed. (Last year the Takashi's watered by hand, and decided that was the last time for that.) I asked about applying any compost or dung, but the Takashi's said the sweet potato only required regular watering. It made me think what a boon this vegetable must be in some ways. It required some work to get in the ground and some watering, but no additional compost or fertilizer. Just let it grow and a good harvest was nearly assured.

Over the summer I would look over and see the vines stretching about the field soaking up sun and rain. Weeds grew alongside the plants, and in time the vines weren't even visible. I worried occasionally that the sweet potatoes weren't there any more - lost to the weeds or some unknown calamity that the Takashi's were too kind to tell me about - but then I remembered how clever and determined the potato can be and let it go.


The Harvest
Last Saturday we harvested some of the biggest, most beautiful sweet potatoes I've ever seen. Well, I didn't harvest them at all, but rather a group of preschool children and their parents did. Decked out in rubber boots with trowels in gloved hands children ranging in age from a few months (in one case strapped to a father's chest in a baby carrier) to about five with parents lined up along the rows.

The look on the faces of children and adults alike as HUGE purple sweet potatoes emerged from rich black soil was utterly priceless. Pure pleasure reigned supreme as potato after potato was added to piles all over the field. Kids dug for them like buried treasure and ran around holding them aloft. Kids ate dirt (and cried a little when finding it wasn't quite as tasty as anticipated), rolled in dirt, walked in dirt, and generally got dirty. It was great, and our faces hurt from so much smiling.

The Eating
We came away with a bundle of the beauties ourselves, and have been eating and sharing them since. Stew, steamed, baked in a neighbor's oven, and in dessert (bought at the grocery), the sweet potato is on every table and part of nearly every course at the moment. I've included my version of this original recipe I found on Epicurious years ago. It's a sure crowd-pleaser, and it tastes good the moment it's made. The orange juice base makes it good for warding off colds, too.

Joan's Sweet Potato Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups (or one whole medium to large onion) chopped a bit coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger (without is ok, too, but it is a lovely addition)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2-3 medium to largeish peeled sweet potatoes, cubed
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 cups of orange juice
1 15 ounce can of black beans (2 is good, too) rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in the soup pan, throw in the onion, and cook covered until the onion is well-cooked and soft. I find the longer I cook it (without burning it) the better. Throw in the garlic, ginger, and cumin, and cover again. Toss in the cubed sweet potatoes, stir, and add the orange juice. I tend to add orange juice until the mixture is covered and the sweet potato bits are swimming a little. Then I throw in the beans, and let it simmer along until the sweet potatoes are done.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, October 26th and Sunday, October 27th

Adorable eggplant from Kamakura at the Yurakucho Farmers Market.
The word for this week is typhoon, and super typhoon at that. Before heading out to see what seasonal bounty can be scooped up for turning into something amazing (like the golden sweet potatoes Fujita-san gave me at the Nippori Farmers Market last weekend) check the market websites. I will do my best to update here, but I may be on the road with my sister-in-law also plotting how to avoid getting soaked.

Meanwhile, if the weather is decent, do head out to one of these fantastic markets. The Earth Day Market is where you can find Minowa Farms and their amazing rice along with komenuka (rice bran) for pickling or composting. You can also find pottery, homemade onigiri and mochi, and heaps of the best vegetables in town. The Ebisu Market is worth a trip, too, as they host a small handful of Tokyo farmers and always have a lovely selection of delectables, decoratives, and practicals. And then the others - Yurakucho, the UNU Market, and Roppongi - rock it on a regular basis. Enjoy the harvest!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, October 27th
Making up for missing last month apparently, the Ebisu Market is rocking it four (yes, four!) times this month. Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) Don't miss it!
11am to 5pm
Map

Sunday, October 27th
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
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Soba Seedlings

Soba seedlings near Inawashiroko, Fukushima Prefecture.
This summer we stayed with a farmer friend at her home in Aizu Wakamatsu and camped near Inawashiroko, too. One evening while toodling about the lake area we found soba fields interspersed with rice fields. It turns out that farmers plant soba after the rice harvest to get one more edible crop in before the snow flies. Clever. And delicious.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Farmers Market Tour with the Mexican Japan Society

Robin and Diana. Don't you just want to hang out with them at a farmers market?!?
Photo courtesy of Robin and Diana.
Two new arrivals to Tokyo, Diana and Robin, are pretty excited about the good green stuff going on all around them here. So much so that they have joined up with the Mexico-Japan society to create cross-cultural environmentally friendly series of events rooted in Diana's home country of Mexico and Robin's farm beginnings in Australia to share the pleasure in their findings with others. I think good things are in store for all of us!

And, I'm not saying that just because their first event features a farmers market tour with yours truly at the Earth Day Farmers Market on Sunday, November 17th. Mark your calendars, bring a bit of spending money, a backpack (Trust me. You'll be glad you did.), and an appetite. The market promises, as always, to be brimming with the seasons best grown in a manner healthy for the earth and the eater.

What's going to happen
We'll meet shortly before the market opens at 10am on the bridge that leads to Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I'll introduce myself, the market, and you all will introduce yourselves. Then we're off to meet the growers and producers, sample some seasonal scrumptousness and shop. I'll be loitering about to answer questions or help ask them, and then we'll unofficially gather for lunch. Doesn't that sound great?!?

Details
Sunday, November 17th
Earth Day Farmers Market Tour
10am to 12pm
(No charge, but be prepared to shop!)
RSVP by Sunday, November 10th
RSVP and/or send questions to Robin and Diana

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th

Serious seasonal shopping at the Yurakacho Farmers Market.
Fall temperatures blew in with that last typhoon, and we're thoroughly enjoying it. (I'm typing wearing a fleecy robe. Oh, the joy!) Cooler temperatures signal the closing of summer, and that means winter vegetables on the horizon. While we wait for those cool, rich greens try a bit of sweet potato, pumpkin, kaki (persimmon), and snarf up the last of the nashi (Japanese pear), too. Savor the first rice of the season (mine from Minowa Farms just arrived!) and begin dusting off recipes for houtou udon or nabe. And don't forget to try some of the lovely manju at the Nippori Market to tide your tastebuds over until you can really get down to cooking! See you at the market!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, October 20th
Making up for missing last month apparently, the Ebisu Market is rocking it four (yes, four!) times this month. (See October's full schedule for the other dates.) Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) Don't miss it!
11am to 5pm
Map

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th
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!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, October 19th
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

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, October 12th and Sunday, October 13th

Dried fruit vendor rocking it at the inaugural Market of the Sun.

As the typhoons wind down and the temperatures gradually sink it's time to bask in the glory of fall bounty: squash, chestnuts, togarashi (Japanese hot peppers), and some of the season's first rice. Sidle up to a table at one of these lovely markets and see what you can find to whip up a fall friendly dish or two. Apples, nashi (Japanese pears), and kaki (persimmons) are all rolling in as are pomegranates. Enjoy!

Market of the Sun
Saturday, October 12th and Sunday, October 13th
Tokyo's newest market is only steps away from Tsukiji and bills itself as the city's largest with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods as well as soaps, jewelry and heaps of food vendors. Feels a bit like the UN University Market but in a much smaller space.
10am - 5pm

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday Snapshot: Giant Kokeshi Dolls in Sugamo

Illuminated kokeshi outside Koganji Temple in Sugamo.

Friends of friends were visiting this past August and I volunteered to tour them about one day. We ended up in Sugamo, a.k.a. Grandma's Harajuku. Renowned for its old ladies wear, red underwear (red makes you healthy and energetic), and slightly salty daifuku mochi, we spotted this lovely trio near the entrance to Koganji Temple.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Market Review: Tokyo's Market of the Sun

Vendors bustling at the Market of the Sun.
Last month a new farmers market popped up in Tokyo. The Market of the Sun opened on Saturday, September 14th to a nearly full house of vendors and an incredible number of customers despite unseemly heat. Claiming to be the city's largest market with roughly 100 vendors, the market tucks itself nicely at the foot of a residential building just outside Kachidoki station in Tsukishima Second Children's Park. Visitors can find everything from fruits and vegetables to soap, jewelry, tea, honey, jam, and seedlings. 

According to Akiko Yamagata, Market of the Sun manager, the monthly event is sponsored by Mitsuii Real Estate Residential Corporation as something interesting for their residents to do and as an attractive option for those drawn to the area by the upcoming 2020 Olympics.  "We wanted consumers to be able to meet farmers face to face and let farmers promote their wares directly," she said. Held the second Saturday and Sunday of each month, Yamagata said there are hopes it will occur more often in the new year. 

Edible Gardens clever little gardens in a paper bag. 
Connections with other farmers markets and organic associations helped Yamagata gather her vendors who come from all over the country. Farmers as well as Tokyo shop owners sell their wares, so be sure to ask the seller for their story. (Alas, no Tokyo farmers are represented although Hokkaido and Kyushu were represented. Of the farmers on hand, about 10-15 of them are organic.) Grower or shop owner, it's bound to be a good one. I bought a lovely citrus from a mostly organic fruit and vegetable seller who candlelights as a jazz pianist. How cool is that?

Market of the Sun it certainly was in September.
This month promises to be cooler...maybe.
Yamakura Organic Tomatoes from Hida Takayama were on hand that day doing a brisk trade in organic heirloom tomatoes. Tipped off by Lionel Dersot who had arrived earlier before the heat really settled in, I wandered over to grab an assorted bag of colorful lovelies. Yamakura grows over 40 varieties of tomatoes and based on the taste they do a great job. (They can also be found at the UN University Farmers Market.)

A mere sampling of Yamakura's awesome tomatoes.
The only sad part of the whole affair was that the non-profit organizations (NPOs) were tucked in a back corner where traffic significantly dropped off. A shame, really, as the activities for kids and families looked impressive and fun. All in all, though, I plan to go again to check it out. Perhaps see you there!

Planning to go? Good!
Market of the Sun
Second Saturday and Sunday of the month
10am - 5pm
Nearest Station: Kachidoki, Exit 4a, 4b


Friday, October 4, 2013

October Farmers Markets in Tokyo

Hida-Takayama heirloom tomato farmer at Sun Marche.
(Review coming soon!)
Fall is a welcome friend just now with its cooler temperatures, delicious fruits and vegetables, and early sunsets. The markets around town should be brimming with the last of the tomatoes, a colorful bundle of winter squash, nashi, kaki (persimmons), and some of the seasons first rice. Eggplants will continue strong and vibrant in their aubergine coats and togarashi (Japanese hot peppers) will be set to dry. Winter greens like komatsuna, shungiku, and karashina are just going in the ground now, although some farmers may have early harvests to share. Go on out to a market and see what's on the table!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, October 6th, 20th, and 27th
Making up for missing last month apparently, the Ebisu Market is rocking it four (yes, four!) times this month. Don't miss the opportunity to head to a nifty part of the city where on these sweet Sundays you'll find farmers and producers galore. (One even comes from Okutama with a lovely array of vegetables and a vegetable-based spread that will knock your socks off.) Don't miss it!
11am to 5pm
Map
No information. I have not received confirmation that this market is still running, so I'm not listing information for it. The market website and Facebook page remain out of date. It was a lovely little thing, and if you're in that neck of the woods go on over. If you spot the market, let me know.
A gem of a market hidden away in one of Tokyo's high-end shopping districts offering seasonal favorites in a way that feels homey yet rather boutique-y.
11am to 5pm
Map

Sunday, October 27th
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!

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th
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!

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, October 19th
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, October 12th
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

Every Saturday and Sunday
A massive weekend affair that is great fun and features a variety of fruits and vegetables and prepared products from all over Japan. Plus, there's a most excellent selection of food trucks offering everything from salad to zingy curry to roast chicken to falafel!
10am to 4pm

Every Saturday
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
Every Saturday and Sunday
Smaller than the UNU Market, Yurakacho features a particular region of Japan each week along with an excellent selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growers from nearby Chiba, Kamakura, and Saitama are also on hand to help fill the larder.
11am to 5pm
Directions: Turn left out of Yurakacho 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!