Monday, March 31, 2014

Nanohana no Kurashie: A Recipe for Spring in Japan

This post first appeared over at ecotwaza (back when the address was greenjapan.com) back in April, 2012. The recipe, though, is an absolute classic and worth rolling out once again. (Please do note the point about wasabi at the end, though.) So, while we continue to unpack and settle into our new apartment, I'll leave you to read, make a shopping list, and then enjoy! - jb

Komatsuna gone to seed, a.k.a. nanohana.
Nanohana-
With the moon in the east
And the sun in the west.
  • Yosa Buson, 1716-1783
One of spring's first greens (or winter's last, depending on how you look at it) nanohana 菜の花 are as cheerful as they are delicious with their bright green leaves and yellow flowers. It's easy to imagine the signature bright blooms glowing in the mix of first and last light that inspired Buson, a contemporary of Basho's and a famous poet in his own right, to pen the above haiku. Nanohana, usually the stems and leaves of rape seed Brassica napus, remains a favorite spring vegetable.

Arriving earlier than sakura (cherry blossoms) and lasting a bit longer, these energetic bloomers can be found growing in orderly rows in public parks as well as lining the embankment next to the Yamanote Line. These days, too, community gardens and local farms will prominently feature this spring delicacy. Tightly bunched at the supermarket or loosely bagged at a nearby chokubaijo (direct sale stand) or farmer's market, they are a delightful addition to the table. (BioFarm, an organic farm and restaurant in Chiba, grows a fantastic variety from komatsuna, pak choi, and haksai (chinese cabbage) that shoppers at the Earth Day Market can peruse to find their favorite flavors. Be sure to go early, though, for the best selection!)

Mouth-wateringly spring.
Our local izakaya served up a beautiful plate of them the other night, and the mistress there shared her recipe for this spicy spring dish. Nanohana certainly makes the wait for summer vegetables a little easier!

Nanohana no Kurashie*
1 bunch nanohana (Any variety is fine. It will include stems, leaves and a few flowers either blooming or just about to bloom.)
1 ½ Tbsp. Soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Dashi
Bonito flakes, to taste (optional)
½ Tsp. Karashie mustard**

  1. Fill a pan with water and bring it to a good rolling boil. Make sure the lid is on so it goes a bit faster.
  2. Pop the nanohana into the boiling water and replace the cover. Boil for about 4 minutes or until the stems are soft but still have a bit of crunch to them.
  3. Drain and rinse the nanohana in cold water for several seconds. This quick cooling stops the cooking process and helps retain some of the nutrition as well as crunch. (Remember, too, to save that cooking water for making soup or rice later on!)
  4. Gently squeeze out excess water and then cut the nanohana into two-inch (four-centimeter) length pieces.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together the dashi, soy sauce, and mustard thoroughly.
  6. Add the nanohana and give it a good stir to fully spread out the flavor of the sauce.
  7. Chill in the refrigerator or serve immediately.

*Not so keen on spice? Simply eliminate the mustard and enjoy the brilliant taste of Ohitashi, another classic spring dish!

**I used the kind that comes in the tube, but it should also be possible to use dry mustard. You'll have to report back if you try the other variety. I also don't recommend substituting wasabi. It's terrible.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 29th and Sunday, March 30th

Hello, sansai!

The sun gets up a little earlier every day and sneaks off to bed a little later, too. Spring is upon us and soon summer will follow suit. Gather up those wonderful winter greens while they still grace the market tables and start planning how to make the most of the early vegetables on their way. Sansai (mountain vegetables) may start appearing, too, which is another whole world of fun as lovely in its way as the sakura (cherry blossoms). See you at the market!

Sunday, March 30th
I could go wax on forever about how great this market is and how important it is for the future of Japanese farming and global food security. Instead, I'll just insist that folks go and see for themselves what great things the market and these innovative growers are doing. This month the market will be a bit of its wonderful normalness. (December and January saw special events galore!) If something exciting comes up, though, I promise to alert folks. Planning is in the works, so who knows what Fairtrade excitement might be in the air?
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!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Daikon is Daikon: A Growing Philosophy of Translation

Lovely daikon, a lovely winter root vegetable.

As we are in the throes of moving, I'm running some oldies but goodies. This post first appeared at Intralingo, a website dedicated to all things translation and run by the fantastic Lisa Carter, in 2011. I also met Lisa via the Blogathon, and I'm so glad I did. She's an amazing writer not to mention a terrific person. It was her encouragement that got me to put down in words some of the thoughts I'd had about language, translation and food. Enjoy!

Japanese people often ask me how to say daikon – usually appearing as a large white torpedo-shaped radish – in English, and my answer is simply 'daikon'. Really, there is no other name for one of the most unique and ubiquitous Japanese vegetables present in dishes throughout the year in myriad forms. Grated with soba noodles, thinly sliced for tsukemono (Japanese pickles), or cut into thick pieces for nabe or oden, the plant is savored from seedling to maturity. While not the most nutritious of vegetables, the daikon's versatility over the centuries has made it an indispensable part of Japanese cuisine. Just as a croissant is not a crescent roll, daikon is not just a big radish. It is daikon.

One of my challenges as a writer living in Japan is to translate Japanese words and names for things into English. The longer I live here the more difficult it it becomes to see the English words or to find a good translation. The Japanese word sounds so perfect to me now that I see no point in finding a substitute that can only conveys a shade of the concept, the flower, the dish, the vegetable or fruit. Yet, part of that challenge is to convey to my readers what this foreign term symbolizes. My desire is to share what I see and discover, and make this new and sometimes strange object or idea accessible and approachable. And as a writer with a slowly growing proficiency in the Japanese language, all I have at my disposal to do so is my intimate knowledge of a set of letters sitting at the opposite end of the language spectrum: English.

Sharing the Japanese word for something then becomes pivotal to my work even if the item has a well-known English counterpart. Language, like food, is a means to explore culture and place at a deeper level. Persimmons, for example, are soon to be in season. They signal autumn's gold and blue days, cooler temperatures, along with the planting of daikon and komatsuna and other winter crops. Hung in great strings to dry under eaves and sweeten into hoshigaki(dried persimmon) is a centuries old tradition that creates a sweet to be savored all winter long. As these images, feelings, and flavors move through my mind 'persimmon' becomes a clunky word that fails to offer even a glimpse of the warm orange glow of this hard fruit's skin. The Japanese word – kaki (pronounced ka-key) – though, conveys all of those things and more.

Another hurdle then is to convey the correct pronunciation. Romanji, an English version of Japanese developed to assist speakers of other languages unable to read the other alphabets, is a great help, but runs with its own set of rules. For example, 'ki' is always pronounced 'key', and 're' is always pronounced 'ray'. Put an 'n' sound on the end as in 'ramen' and the sound changes slightly. Place an 'u' after one of the syllabaries (Japanese 'letters' stand for paired consonant and vowel sounds), and the vowel sound becomes slightly longer. A word such as riyoushi (ree-oh-shi) meaning fisherman without the 'u' becomes riyoshi (ree-o-shi) meaning barber.

It is this 'alphabet' I use when writing the names of things on my blog or in articles, but I still often find myself listing a pronunciation guide of my own making (as I did above) to help readers. It could be argued that sound is irrelevant to a reader, but I see it as key to communication and understanding. If my reader heads to a farmer's market in Tokyo or Osaka or even an Asian grocery in search of a particular food item but can't pronounce it, then I've, in part, defeated my own purpose. Immigrants may well know the common English term, but it is the word in their own language that rings true. Its use can, if even for a moment, establish a positive connection between two strangers. It will, perhaps again only for just a moment, ground them both in that other place and culture.

The practice of renaming is nothing new. Istanbul was once Constantinople, and Ellis Island's immigration officials changed surnames in an instant in order to make them more understandable and accessible for citizens of the new country. While the new name or word may be more convenient or helpful (other immigrants changed their names in an effort to assimilate to their new land), something is lost in the translation. Wasabina, aleafy green with the bite of wasabi (a sort of Japanese horseradish), is often called Japanese mustard greens. An accurate description, but the new name conveys little of the taste of its homeland. Similarly, the Japanese name for the uniquely flavored umeboshi (pronounced oo-may-bo-shee) or pickled plum, somehow captures a hint of the salty tartness of one of Japan's more unique food items.

Words magically convey us to new places for new experiences and new vantage points. Asking a reader to grapple with a foreign word while sharing a recipe, idea or experience places them next to me in the field or at the market stall. While my work doesn't share great works of literature, I do try to show readers traditions and ways that while different in material or habit are similar in sentiment. Sharing the fruits of the season, cooking together, or preserving the harvest are very human activities. Broadening horizons via the plate, glass, or seed is perhaps one of my goals and developing an effective means of translation is integral to that.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 22nd and Sunday, March 23rd

How about some Kamakura heirloom vegetables pickled and ready to eat?
Find them at the Yurakucho Farmers Market every weekend!

Nearly spring now, but not quite. Sakura (cherry) blossoms have arrived and we're all deep in the throes of hanami (blossom viewing). Don't forget to head to one of these great farmers markets to find all you need and then some for the best hanami party ever!

UN University Market
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!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mottainai: An Anthology of Recipes

Carrot tops are edible, too! Mottainai!
Mottainai is a Japanese word expressing regret for the loss of respect for the inherent value of something. It reminds the listener that waste is a sign of disrespect, that the worth of the item in question is being disregarded. It is this same idea that inspires people to turn old jeans into quilts or insulation for homes, to turn old tires into planters, to fashion a beautiful window out of old glass bottles.

For me, the result is often a new recipe. For example, one year at the farm an absolute boatload of nasu (eggplant) were left after cleaning up the field at the end of the season. I made pickles. Another year the carrot mabiki (thinnings) got turned into soup. So, when the shu bottle runs dry I'm left with a very nice bundle of fruit that begs for another opportunity. The result is jam.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

Candied yuzu peel - Yuzu is far too precious to waste in any form, and so after making my first bottle of yuzu nihonshu (yuzu sake), I ended up with lots of peel. Candy seemed an obvious answer. We used the syrup leftover from that process on our oatmeal for weeks. So wonderful!

Brandied chestnut butter - A batch of brandied chestnuts resulted in nearly a kilo of well-soaked chestnut meat. Too strong to eat by themselves, it seemed a shame to simply pitch them. An experimental batch of chestnut butter resulted in some very happy friends and some scrumptious toast.

Umehachimitsu and umeshu jam - This is seriously one of the best jams I've ever made other than the yuzu marmalade. Made using the leftover plums from these two beverages, the result is a green jam that is sweet, sour, pungent, and wonderful. I've even frozen the fruit to be jammed at a later date. Works like a charm.

Sakekasujiru - Ok, I didn't make the sake, but our local sake shop sells the kasu in winter, and I can never pass up a new ingredient. The soup was incredible, to say the least, and the homemade amazake was divine. Certainly, sakekasu can be found at the supermarket, but I recommend heading over to your local sake shop. The owner will be friendly, knowledgeable, and probably provide you with some excellent recipes, too. Not to mention he or she will help you find your new favorite sake(s)!

Homemade furikake - One lovely leftover from the umeboshi (pickled plum) making process are the shiso leaves. Steeped in the umeboshi brine, the leaves add a bit of salt and sour to their distinctive taste. Gently spread to dry at the same time as the plums, they crumble up beautifully to make a pretty and tasty rice sprinkle.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 15th and Sunday, March 16th

Don't miss the most-delicious Aizu Wakamatsu vegetables at the Nippori Market!

Welcome to the most hopping weekend of farmers markets in Tokyo! This middle weekend puts a world of good food at your fingertips. Peruse the calendar, sort out a train route, grab a backpack and get ready for some foodly adventures. Winter greens, winter root crops, sansai, and a bounty of other delights all await! What are you waiting for? See you there!

Ebisu Market
Sunday, March 16th
Ebisu will be in full form this month with its two usual markets. 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.) It's worth noting, too, that Do One Good, an animal NPO will be on hand with some of the cutest dogs ever waiting to go home with you!
11am to 5pm
Map

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, March 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

Nippori Farmer's Market
Saturday, March 15th and Sunday, March 16th
Another great market in the city found with a little help from friends, this one is sure to not disappoint. A small but lively market, particularly on Saturday, it is well worth the trip. 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!
10am to 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

Roppongi Market**Grand Re-opening!
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!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reprise: Mottainai and Garbage in Japan

This post first appeared here in March, 2010. We'd been in Japan only a short time when I learned about mottainai. It's a word that gets tossed around on a regular basis, and once embraced it cannot be un-embraced. The opportunity to make the most of whatever is at hand presents itself again and again. Especially now that we are moving, I can see opportunities to repurpose and reuse everywhere. For me, it primarily sparked a small series of recipes, which I'll provide a complete list of next week. It's been good fun, and I'm grateful for the creative things it has inspired. Who knows what other mottainai adventures there are to be had?  - JB

recent article about students at Wisconsin working on simplifying the garbage system at a cafeteria just made me smile. Tokyo residents have been doing this since 2005, and the Japanese even have a word for the philosophy behind this - Mottainai - that expresses regret at the loss of respect for the inherent value of something. There's also a campaign by the same name that has made this expression part of daily life.

I have to say, too, that after one year of living here and sorting our garbage this way it really isn't so bad. Each day a different kind of garbage is picked up (plastics - three kinds - on Monday; burnables - compostable food bits, mostly - on Tuesday and Friday; non-burnables - clothes, batteries, etc. - on Wednesday; and paper on Thursday). We made a few mistakes at the beginning and found our bags with the bright yellow stickers on them telling us (and our neighbors) of our error, but now we've got the hang of it.

Sorting our garbage and recycling in this way made me realize how much we took for granted the idea that we should be able to simply toss out whatever we want without a second thought. During those first days of garbage struggle and complaining, a good friend wondered why I thought it should be so easy to get rid of my garbage? It wasn't easy to make the product (from absolute start to finish) although it was presumably easy to buy and use. I needed to see it through. Mottainai.


Garbage sorting stations are everywhere in Japan. Train stations, airports, hostels, hotels, and convenience stores all have them, and they dot the campus - inside as well as outside buildings - near where we live. (The photo was taken during a recent bus trip at a highway rest stop, and the picture at left was taken at the university.) It's not difficult to sort and only takes a minute or two at best. And while the system isn't perfect by any means it does give me pause when shopping. (I've switched to a yogurt that comes in waxed cardboard versus plastic, for example.) It's also gotten us to begin carrying our own chopsticks on trips, and not minding the lack of paper towels in public restrooms. (Like Japanese people, we carry a washcloth with us now to dry our hands.)

It's really not difficult (even school kids are doing it) and if it reduces waste, then why not?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tokyo Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 8th and Sunday, March 9th


Before the sakura blossoms comes nanohana...
This weekend starts gently rocking the farmers market scene with the Market of the Sun, the newest kid on the local produce block, jumping into the regular scene. Head on down to find a wide variety of breads available for all kinds of scrumptious fun along with the usual round of fresh fruits and vegetables. Stock up on all you'll need for hanami (cherry blossom) viewing or just to keep cozy on these still cool nights. See you at the market!

Market of the Sun
Saturday, March 8th and Sunday, March 9th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest. A short walk from Tsukiji Market and its wonderful surrounds, it's worth a stop for a selection of foodly and crafty items that rivals that at the UNU Market.
10am to 4pm
No map but step out of Kachidoki Station exits A4a and A4b

UN University Market
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

Currently on hold until about March 15th when repairs to the Karajan Square should be finished. Word has it there will be a market brouhaha to remember! Stay tuned for updates.

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!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Reprise: To market, to market

Planting garlic at Frog Holler.
I've no photos from the Ann Arbor farmer's market, so this will have to do!
As we pack up this chapter of our lives, I'm feeling a bit sentimental. Usually we go home in February to see friends and family, but this year we stayed put to have time to wrap things up. My farming life is changing once again, and so I ventured back in time to one of the places that truly inspired me and taught me a great deal about the everyday workings of this growing life. I'll always be grateful. Written in 2008 just before we came to Japan, this is a bit of a window into that time and what I was up to. It was such good fun! - JB

While it was still fresh in my memory, I wanted to recount a usual trip in to the Farmer's Market as a vendor. It's been a great summer, and market is easily one of my favorite parts. While I did tire at times of people asking for plastic bags to go in their canvas bags or wincing at a fair price for an organic potato, I still loved it and am a little sad I won't be going next week. It's an amazing experience and so much fun.

I get picked up a little bit after 5am in the rumblely truck, and we make our way in to the city. The soft glow from the dashboard gives a bit of light to our faces as we make our way from dirt to pavement, and then carefully calculate the turns so as not to spill things from the shelves in the back. Conversation is challenging at that time of the morning, and floats along streams of the ridiculous, mundane, or onto any random story that comes to mind. Anything to keep the driver and passengers awake enough to function when we finally arrive at the market.

Tall yard lights illuminate barns and buildings, and the occasional yellow of a lamp fills a farmhouse window. Old people who cannot sleep and young people who rise to do whatever chores need doing move in the light. We finally greet another vehicle when we hit pavement, but often only one or two. The closer we get to the Interstate, the brightness heightens signifying commerce – gas stations, billboards, parking lots – and the few homes that are visible are dark. The Interstate is busy with other morning travelers. Once we near the city, darkness becomes a soft roof supported by streetlights and stoplights. The mostly empty streets are visible.

As we turn onto the market street, the pavement fills with cars, large and small trucks, and people moving quickly and purposefully. The cobblestone street is narrow here and vehicles and people line both sides. The stalls are lit and the bustle of vendors setting things out and preparing for the customers that will hopefully find their wares and prices irresistible. We move slowly as we circle the block.

Each week backing the truck in presents a nuanced challenge. The puzzle of vehicles – trucks, station wagons, vans, and sometimes garbage and recycling bins left outside too far from the building by the restaurants inside the small shopping center the market rests against on one side - varies in difficulty. I leap out to help guide the driver all the way back to the corner, moving bins and helping position the truck for easy unloading and loading and to not block a footpath. After what feels like forever and always with my heart in my mouth, the ignition is switched off and unloading begins.

Boxes of lettuce, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, salad mix, three kinds of kale, collards, celery, peppers sweet and hot, potatoes, winter or summer squash, yellow and green beans, cucumbers, carrots, four different kinds of basil, two kinds of parsley, sorrel, arugula, dill, cilantro, sometimes mint, strawberries in June, corn in August and September, heirloom tomatoes from late June through early October, and average tomatoes, and Swiss chard. Oh, and garlic, leeks, onions green and storage. And cabbage – green, red, and Chinese. Bok choi, too.

Then come the tables, and the milk crates for making a main table, the side table when we need it, and the stocking table in back. Bags paper and plastic, and the scale. Two signs – one that hangs and one that sits behind against the tree – to signal our presence and our practices, and finally us. Pint and quart containers are filled with potatoes – red and white, tomatoes regular not heirloom, beans, summer squash, and carrots. Greens go on the far end with their bunched stems to the customer for easy picking – curly, dinosaur, then Russian kale, Swiss chard and then collards - followed by beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery – plant or root, if we have it. Then quarts of beans nearly overflowing but not quite, line up and are stacked to tempt with their bounty, pints and quarts of potatoes red and white, large and small, followed by summer squash and cucumbers in season. The peppers jumble together here, too, with their greens, reds, and yellows, while the habeneros, cayennes red and purple, seranos, jalapenos, and tiny Thai burn quietly in a quart for 25 cents each. The watermelon sit heavily in back sending forward only one or two representatives.

Multiple varieties of lettuce heap onto the table and drip down the sides. Buttercup, oak leaf red and oak leaf green, rose lipped green ruffles, and romaines all ready for the taking. The herbs go next to them, sometimes identified with signs, and sometimes without. (Each Saturday Italian parsley has an identity crisis as many people assume it is cilantro, and then set it down again when they hear it is not.) The fish bowl of salad mix signals the freshly snipped tubs are still full, and then the garlic hugs the corner of the table. Heirloom tomatoes, stem end down, array themselves – Striped Germans, Brandywines, Roses, Purple Cherokees, Black Crim, Green Zebras, Amish Pastes, Voloklovs – to tempt and delight the curious and the connoisseur. (These are all but a bittersweet memory now.)

And then we wait. In the lull we greet those in the stall next to us, talk with other growers, and run to the restroom. We drink the last, cooling dregs of coffee or tea. In summer, the sky is already lightening, but now the darkness hangs over until nearly 8am.

As the light increases, so does the flow of people. Early morning shoppers are more intent, quiet, and tend to be a bit older. Later shoppers float along to find a good price and see what the market offers, but our regulars simply arrive and move along the table filling their bags. New buyers come when they see something interesting like celery or celery root, and they suddenly must have it. Beets enjoyed a burst of fame this summer after good press in the New York Times, and we still struggle to keep the table stocked with them. Carrots, too, fly off the table, and curly kale almost never returns to the farm. Garlic, onions, leeks, and broccoli are never seen again along with the beans and strawberries.

Our speed also increases as the morning moves along, until we do nothing but stock the table, tally numbers, fill bags, and make change. We hear how someone cooks something (like celery root, my latest mystery vegetable) or discuss how to cook something they have never seen before but are still drawn to purchase. But mostly we are steady movement, flowing from table to table, task to task, and somehow never much running into each other or knocking down boxes.

The light increases and the air warms. The sea of people flows around us with apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, watermelon, flowers in bouquets or pots, coffee, pastries, eggs, and meat. They leave the stream to stop and look, ask for something to be identified and about prices. Some wince in what appears to be near physical pain, others voice their disgust at the cost. Others feel no qualms in telling us about their dissatisfaction with the appearance of a vegetables natural growth pattern – the bulging of a tomato so full of sun and rain that it’s skin can hardly contain it or the embrace of a carrot so vigorous in growth that it wrapped around itself – that I wonder what it is they hope for. Others laugh out loud at the potato that looks like a face and marvel at the brilliance of colors in the stalks of Swiss chard. Many return to say they never tasted a lettuce so wonderful or made such fine pesto. Many buy multiples to freeze or can so that the sweet taste of summer is carried to dinner on a cold winter evening.

Our stock dwindles and so one table and then two disappear. The last lettuce sits lonely and limp with a few stray parsley, and pints of potatoes and a small herd of peppers. Bits of the salad mix – stray violas, now flat radicchio, a last curling bit of endive – are scattered about the ground. The truck is again full, but this time of mostly empty boxes and tubs, unless the tomatoes are in full swing. Then the flats of tomatoes seem endless, and return to the shelves if they ever even left initially. Women with heavy accents come to barter. The food we grow moves on to be eaten and enrich the lives of those who purchase it. Ultimately, one of our goals is achieved.

Sleep scratches the edges of our eyes as we sweep up and begin the drive home. Conversation about the market, food, the day, and anything that springs to mind again fills the cab. Hot sunlight pours in to roast us and help sleep try to find an advantage. Turns are not always so carefully made and the spill of boxes is often audible. The tomatoes remain, mercifully, fixed in place and safe.

City streets turn to Interstate to state highway to country roads paved and then dirt. Finally, in a cloud of diesel and waking exhaustion, I spill out the door to the end of the driveway where it all began. Despite the late afternoon hour, I feel as though I just left and the day is just beginning.