Monday, March 28, 2016

Blanching Greens: Easy Preserving for Those Without a Pressure Canner



Hello, greens. 
In preparation for the tomato bed, I needed to clear away the norabo. This Okutama leafy green goes by the name Kikuna out here, but my Tokyo farmers always called it norabo. It is cold tolerant and is reminiscent of kale in flavor and texture. Over the years it has become a staple in our household, so I gratefully accepted some seeds when they offered.

The four plants I started last spring went to seed in a glory of yellow flowers that turned to crisp brown pods that seemed to burst even when glanced at. I let them be, perhaps foolishly, but busied myself with other parts of the garden. I soon noticed small norabo seedlings sprouting everywhere, and let them come. They arrived in summer's heat, so I watered and nurtured them along and delayed topping up that section of the bed even though it would be more convenient. They'd worked so hard, I thought. They deserved a chance. And, to be honest, I wanted to eat them.

Come fall, they were big leaved and could be harvested almost daily. We ate them in soups, salads, and gave away the extra. It was glorious. However, spring is here again, and I really need to prepare for the season. It was time to say goodbye. I cut the leaves free of their stems and left the not so nice ones behind to compost in place. The rest went into bags that I hauled home with plans to blanche them.

Blanching is a means of quickly cooking, usually a green, that preserves much of the original flavor, texture, and nutrients. I use it to prepare my greens for freezing, which is my only option of preserving as I don't have a pressure canner or dehydrator. It turns them a brilliant shade of green and makes for a handy stash of deliciousness in the freezer for the future.

Keep that water for soup or the next round of blanching.
How to Blanche
1. Wash the greens. Give them a good plunge and drain.
2. Bring water to boil in a large pot.
3. Plop in the greens (be careful!) and immediately set the timer in this case to 1:10.
4. Remove from heat and drain, but be sure to catch the nutrient-rich water in a pot. You can reuse it for a second batch or for a soup later on. It will also freeze nicely.
5. Plunge the boiled and drained greens into cold water to stop the cooking process.
6. Drain again.
7. Pack into portion-size freezer bags and freeze for later.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Rice Cooker Gingerbread: Makes Everyday Taste Like Christmas


Steaming slices of gingerbread with a cute ceramic cat.
In my grandmothers kitchen there was an old-fashioned wooden cupboard that took up an entire wall and blocked a window. On the left side large doors opened onto shelves of dishes and underneath was a big drawer for the flour bin, tupperware containers, and her baking utensils. Up above on the right smaller doors opened onto a shelf where the candy jar was kept, and I perfected opening it without making a sound in order to sneak more of a favorite sweet.

I also perfected opening a lower drawer where my grandmother always kept a tupperware container of cookies. There were many different varieties for she loved to bake and had a hungry troop of grandchildren, their parents, and a multitude of friends who would come through her kitchen for coffee and a good chat.

My favorite were the ginger snaps. While I would sneak them from the drawer in the kitchen, it should also be known that I was not above sneaking into the basement (a not easy task as this required lifting a heavy trapdoor or going around outside to an outside door) and stealing one or, ahem, three, from the freezer.

My mother, on the hand, makes a killer gingerbread. Always served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream (is there any other kind?) the sharp sweet tang of the molasses and sugar with the ever so gently melting ice cream is enough to make me weep while I type.

Thank heavens, I say, for my rice cooker.

Cookies are out of the question as I do not have an oven, but when a bottle of molasses bequeathed me by a friend moving back to the United States set my mind wondering and mouth watering. If it worked for bread, why not gingerbread? It's got bread in the name, right? I soon sat down with an old copy of the Joy of Cooking (circa 1962) and began looking for recipes. Most looked a bit too wet for the rice cooker, but I decided to experiment. The results thus far have been quite tasty. Here's my adaptation of their Quick Sweet Whole-Wheat Bread, what they describe as "a "homely" coarse sweet bread." I'd call it yummy.

The whole loaf and nothing but the loaf.
Well, ok. There's a cute ceramic cat back there, too.
Rice Cooker Gingerbread
Stir together dry ingredients:
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (I used 1 1/2 whole-wheat and 1 regular)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I used a bit more.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix together the wettish ingredients:
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 sesame oil (I used roughly half sesame and half olive oils, but I use more olive next time.)

Add the wettish ingredients to the dry ingredients alternating with:
2/3 cup yogurt
*Raisins and nuts would also go nicely here, I think.

Mix well.

Lightly grease the rice cooker bowl and pour in the batter. Bake for a full cycle plus one more of the half-hearted ones the machine gives at this point before flipping over to bake for another half-hearted one. Turn out on a cutting board to cool or just cut into it straightaway like we did for a warm slice of joy.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 19th and Sunday, March 20th

Carrots rocking it in the sunshine at Kitanaka Marche.
Easily one of the most farmers-markety weekends around, eaters can have their pick of where to roam for the best seasonal eats. I love them all, so I'm not much help, although I will say Nippori is in a nifty part of town while Koenji is small and cute and near plenty of good craft beer, too. Check them out for yourself and see what you can find. Let me know what you think!

Ebisu Market

Every Sunday in March
Ebisu Market management are going all-out this month and hosting a market every Sunday. They've been recruiting more staff and hunting up vendors, so head on out to be part of the action. A recent visit showed this always lovely market remains charming as ever with an excellent selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, scrumptious looking snacks, and crafty items. I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, March 19th
A new market I spotted while riding the train a few years ago on a Saturday morning into the city center is still going strong. 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 19th and Sunday, March 20th
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

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, March 19th and Sunday, March 20th
A brand new market opening this month in Yokohama that looks quite promising. Their Facebook page says the Market of the Sun folks decided to start it up, so it could be good. I'll be visiting to check it out!
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, March 20th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market, and I don't say that lightly. A nice little community affair started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl. In summer it turns into a night market, but in fall it will swing back to regular daylight hours. More than worth the trek down to see what's going on!
10am to 3pm
Oiso Port Building

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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, March 17, 2016

Thursday Snapshot: A Little Knit Roast Chicken

Knit me a chicken!
Possible the cutest roast chicken ever was spotted at the January Kitanaka Farmers Market in Yokohama. "My wife made it," said the food truck owner who specialized in...roast chicken. We plan to eat there next time.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bamboo Walls for the Garden

Me, my garden wall, and a bamboo log.
Just before leaving for Nepal we finished a final chunk of the outside wall on my community garden space. I don't wish to till my soil, so I'm using a somewhat homemade method of lasagna gardening. I layer on garden waste - harvested cabbage leftovers, plants at the end of the season, weeds, and trimmings from the surrounding paths - with leaves, composted cow manure, more leaves, and top it all off with rice straw. The occasional round of coffee grounds also makes it in, but the number is negligible.

My goal is to make use of what I have on hand or can find not so far away for free. Bamboo is one thing that appears in abundance. Bamboo would have been found on traditional Japanese homesteads as a source of food as well as a handy building material. It also would have been turned into charcoal, which in turn would have been turned into a kind of insecticide, a home deodorizer, and a soil additive.

These days, though, bamboo runs a bit wild where it still exists. Many of these traditional stands have been cleared to make way for new homes, bigger farm fields, or simply let go. They quickly become impassable masses that have a charm and beauty of their own, but they can also crowd out other species.

Me and a split log. Isn't it beautiful?!?
We usually split it at least once more to make the pieces for the wall.
We salvage ours from the nearby mountains where crews pass through at least once a season to cut and control marauding bands of bamboo that threaten to overtake the natural forrest. We then split the logs and fashion them into a natural wall for my garden beds. These are held in place by smaller stakes of bamboo that we tie together to hold things securely.

The system isn't perfect. There are gaps between the pieces sometimes, and it doesn't always ride evenly over the surface of the soil. However, all of this pales in comparison to the fact that the fence is a natural material that critters can skitter along happily or even make their nest upon if they wish. (I'm not a fan of plastic these last few years despite its ready availability and cheap price. I think that whole concept a load of non-compostable manure.) It also looks quite nice and is even cheaper than the plastic.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tokyo and Yokohama Regional Farmers Markets: Saturday, March 12th and Sunday, March 13th

Kimura-san, a farmer from Aizu Wakamatsu, at the Nippori Farmers Market.
She makes a mean pickle, too.
The fifth anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and disasters is sobering to consider. Five years ago today I experienced something I never hope to again and watched in helpless horror as countless people lost lives and livelihoods. The last five years have seen some positive changes, but there is still plenty of work to be done. My heart is undoubtedly with the people of Tohoku, who are among the best I have had the honor to meet in my lifetime. Many of them can be found at the markets, still working away and bringing the best they have to you and yours. Please go and support them.

Ebisu Market

Every Sunday in March
Ebisu Market management are going all-out this month and hosting a market every Sunday. They've been recruiting more staff and hunting up vendors, so head on out to be part of the action. A recent visit showed this always lovely market remains charming as ever with an excellent selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, scrumptious looking snacks, and crafty items. I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Market of the Sun
Saturday, March 12th and Sunday, March 13th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest, and this month looks to be all about the grape. 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

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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, March 10, 2016

Thursday Snapshot: Mottainai Daikon



Daikon leftovers mulching away.
A clever use for the daikon bits that don't make it onto the table is turning them into a mulch. During a recent urban hike we spotted this cluster of daikon offering themselves up to the powers that be in the soil and the air to make some sweet blossoms and fruit for the coming season.

Cozy up, said the fruit tree to the daikon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Convenience Store Coffee Article Up at Metropolis!

A hot cup of coffee at Sunkus.
When we arrived here five years ago, coffee was hard to find. Sure, I could go to some big name chain, but it was somewhat scarce and expensive. For this American, that incites a certain level of panic. Flash forward a handful of years, and Japan begins of all things to offer coffee from convenience stores. It isn't great, but it certainly isn't bad, either. Ground fresh right after you push the button, it certainly hits the spot. I may start to believe in Santa Claus again...

Read my article over at Metropolis to see what I think of the major offerings, and then chime in with your own opinion. It will certainly be a fun little adventure!

Friday, March 4, 2016

March Farmers Markets in the Tokyo and Yokohama Regions

Kitanaka Marche and a lovely selection of mirin from Chiba.
Plum blossoms are fading and already the sakura (cherry blossoms) are looking suspiciously tubby. I am off to Nepal for a few weeks for marketing fun there, but I suspect that hanami (cherry blossom viewing) goers will find plenty of good stuff to share on the party sheets at these lovely markets. 

Ebisu Market
Every Sunday in March
Ebisu Market management are going all-out this month and hosting a market every Sunday. They've been recruiting more staff and hunting up vendors, so head on out to be part of the action. A recent visit showed this always lovely market remains charming as ever with an excellent selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, scrumptious looking snacks, and crafty items. I'd also recommend a trip to Afuri Ramen when you're done for some of the best yuzu tsukemen in town.
11am to 5pm
Map

Market of the Sun
Saturday, March 12th and Sunday, March 13th
The newest of Tokyo's farmers markets at two years old, Market of the Sun professes to be one of the largest, and this month looks to be all about the grape. 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

Koenji Farmer's Market
Saturday, March 19th
A new market I spotted while riding the train a few years ago on a Saturday morning into the city center is still going strong. 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 19th and Sunday, March 20th
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

Yokohama Kitanaka Marche
Saturday, March 19th and Sunday, March 20th
A brand new market opening this month in Yokohama that looks quite promising. Their Facebook page says the Market of the Sun folks decided to start it up, so it could be good. I'll be visiting to check it out!
10am to 4pm
Bashamichi Station, Exit 2

Oiso Farmers Market
Sunday, March 20th
This little gem of a community shindig is one of the best things going outside of the Earth Day Market, and I don't say that lightly. A nice little community affair started a handful of years ago, it blossomed into a full-on monthly festival that just happens to feature Shonan area produce in its fresh, seasonal form as well as pickled, dried, and prepared-hot-in-a-bowl. In summer it turns into a night market, but in fall it will swing back to regular daylight hours. More than worth the trek down to see what's going on!
10am to 3pm
Oiso Port Building

Sunday, March 27th
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. Come find some good food and fun and enjoy!
10am to 4pm, Rain or shine!
Map

Kamakura Farmers Market
Every day
A small local affair featuring Kamakura heirloom fruits and vegetables raised in yet another former capital city, the Kamakura Market is a small but wonderful venue. Head in early to get the best selection and pick up a loaf of Paradise Alley's charcoal infused bread while you're there.
7am until sold out
Map

Futamatagawa Farmers Market - Yokohama
Every Friday
A charming little weekly market tucked conveniently just outside the turnstile at Futamatagawa Station in Yokohama where a nice selection of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables await. Joining them are baked goods, rice, miso, and all the other fixings one might need for the week or just a good snack. Plenty of Kanagawa goodies, too, so be sure to ask!
10am to 6pm
Look for the tables when you step out the gate!

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
Back up and running after a refurbishment of the market space, the Roppongi Farmers Market is as booming and bountiful as ever. Don't miss this chance to meet a grower from Tokyo's very own Kokobunji and sample seasonal bounty.
10am to 4pm (Usually. Do check their website for schedule fluctuations.)
Map

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, March 3, 2016

Thursday Snapshot: Orchard Vines Against the Sky

Grape vines against the blue.
Our urban hiking often takes us past a surprising number of small agricultural spaces. These range from a community garden spot in Ebisu to a driveway cum eggplant farm near the Tamagawajousui. On a recent day, though, the sun was out and farmers worked away pruning their trees and vines in preparation for the new season. This tangle of grape vines against the blue caught my eye and, luckily, my camera managed to catch it, too.