Food: growing, cooking, eating

Garden May 2010

I’ve started a garden! I was feeling reluctant to take charge of the space behind our house- it meant taking one more thing away from ba-chan, but finally decided to lay claim to the space before it was too late to plant summer veggies.

Potted flowers

Jiro’s mom doesn’t willingly relinquish any responsibility, so there is always a struggle when we assume an additional chore that she is no longer able to manage. First it was meal preparation, then washing dishes, doing laundry, and housecleaning. Now I’m growing the vegetables. She still folds laundry, pulls weeds, and replaces flowers in the vases, but wishes she could do a lot more. I think she is relieved that things are getting done, but feels embarrassment and frustration about her own inability to take care of herself and her living space. I’ve learned to just step in and not ask.

I started the garden in early spring after I discovered columbine, lupine, and anemones starts at the local home center. I don’t think they will survive the summer, but right now they remind me of home and I’ve planted several varieties of sunflowers, calendula, marigolds, and lavender to fill in as the summer progresses. It’s pretty common for people to have flower planters in front of their houses, so I have several pots of annuals in front of both our house and ba-chan’s.

Flower of the konnyaku plant-sprouted in the tsuwabuki bed. Now I know why it is called "devil's tongue" in English

I’ve also got cilantro that’s ready  to use in cooking already and the basil is looking good. I put in an asparagus plant and a couple of artichokes and two blueberry starts. We’ll see how they survive the heat and humidity. I have a bed of satoimo (taro potatoes) and another of myoga, a perennial ginger-like plant. The remaining space is filled with summer vegetables- tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and summer squash. There are 4 citrus trees at the rear of the garden so there is plenty of shade to rest in back there. Unfortunately the mosquitos also like to hang out in the shade.

Keeping on top of the weeds is practically a full-time job- weeds really thrive in this humidity. One project this week is to clear out some long rush to use as mulch. The only problem is that mamushi (venomous pit viper) are often spotted in the place where the rush grows. High boots and a gas powered weed whacker should be enough protection.

Shungiku flowers

Now that I have more time, I am spending more time preparing meals and trying new recipes, using ingredients that I am not familiar with. My Japanese is now good enough to read recipes so I use a Japanese online recipe site, Cookpad and also find recipes on Japanese blogs. I also have several Japanese cookbooks and occasionally buy a cooking magazine. Of course, I always check justhungry. I also bought a  great bilingual cookbook 英訳つき 和食の事典 (大型本) Traditional Japanese Recipe Book with English Translation, with recipes for typical homestyle meals. I first checked it out of the library and then decided to buy it because the instructions are clearly wirtten and there are lots of tips about how to prep the ingredients. I’ve used it to prepare a konnyaku dish, kiriboshi daikon, and a couple other simple dishes. I really like the seasoning proportions- the flavors are subtle but quite delicious. I’ve found that for any Japanese dish there are many variations with significantly different tastes depending on the region. Older cookbooks often just list ingredients with no measurements, so when I find a recipe I like, I hold on to it.

Shungiku petal salad

Japanese people talk about food a lot, I’d say that about 65% of all conversation is about food, eating, restaurants, or local delicacies eaten while traveling. There are a zillion cooking shows and the news always features stories about local produce, fish, and recipes. There seems to be a lot of vicarious interest in farming techniques. I have grown to appreciate eating according to the season, and using fish, vegetables and fruit that are locally available. Right now I can find local onions, garlic, cabbage, lettuce, shiitake, potatoes, citrus fruit, biwa(loquat), aji (horse mackerel), and scallops. I’ve been experimenting with local buckwheat flour and recently bought a cookbook for recipes using rice flour.

Shiokoji Gyoza

I made a chiffon cake and a poundcake using only buckwheat flour(そば粉). Both were good, but we especially liked the poundcake so I made it a few times, recently substituting summer-mikan zest and juice for the amanatto. If you want the English translation for the recipes, let me know and I’ll post those eventually. I’ve had to get used to reading recipes that list most ingredients by weight rather than volume and have to make adjustments when I use American recipes that call for a cup of anything because the Japanese cup is 200 cc and the US is 250 cc, not to mention the F to C conversion. Thank goodness for my desktop converter tool.

I also made daikon kimchi from the last daikon in the garden and dried persimmon leaves for a nice sweet tea. One of my favorite easy dishes is a salad using flowers from the shungiku- a type of edible chysanthemum that is grown for its greens. I plucked all the petals, blanched them and dressed them with a ponzu sauce. Needless to say, I’ve fallen into the Japanese food obsession.

Niji no Misaki Matsuri- teepees at the Japanese "Rainbow Gathering"

Since the beginning of May I’ve been helping out a bit at the koji shop. They had a booth  at a large department store in Fukuoka over the Golden Week holiday. They were featured on a local news program and their one-week stock was completely depleted in a few hours. So they asked me to help with bottling and labeling- by hand! They said that they made the most money ever in their 300 year history. Asari-san has also asked me to be her assistant for some of the cooking classes she teaches. Last week we went to northern Oita prefecture and made shiokoji gyoza (pot stickers), salad dressing with koji, and smoothies. Basically I am getting free cooking lessons in exchange for passing out measuring cups and food scales. We’ve got several more classes over the next few months. I think it would be fun to eventually run a few classes in the US.

A few weeks ago we went to the 虹の岬祭り Niji no Misaki Matsuri- Japanese “Rainbow Gathering” which was held on a small island off the coast here. It was in a beautiful setting and we had a good time, eating good food and listening to lots of music. I loved seeing dogs running off leash and lots of smiles. Definitely a different vibe than the norm here, and it was a good reminder of the diversity in Japan that isn’t always so evident. We just went for the day- I think for the “whole experience”, you’d have to camp out for a couple days. I don’t like crowds much, so it was a good day trip for us.

English classes are coming together- I’ve rented a nice space next to a bakery, will run an ad in the paper, and gradually build up a full day of classes. I’ve decided to teach adult classes-maybe adding kid classes after I get back from my trip to the US.

Lots of garden work and weed whacking to do before the rainy season starts.

One thought on “Food: growing, cooking, eating

  1. dad May 31, 2010 / 10:26 pm

    I can’t wait to sample some of the fruits of your new-found culinary skills—it seems to me that te more sophisiticated recipes involve more seasonings. Anyway, our/your kitchen is lusting.

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