asazuke

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Farmlog December 2011 31 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:15 am
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With party bookings at Raffles and the like, we only got out to the farm twice last December. Details:

11th~12th

  • On Sunday the sun is warm enough in Nagoya, though there’s a cold wind blowing the clouds up.As we head north the clouds get thicker, the temperature drops and it really feels like winter. We finally arrive at the house, though, to be greeted by a beautiful golden sunset. It’s still cold so we crank up the oil fan heater and sit in the kotatsu.
  • The deer (I suppose) have finally smashed down the nets that were round the chilli plants and eaten every last wilted leaf and half-rotten pepper. Not an Awful Warning for next year I hope.
  • Get the Christmas cards written.
  • Composting’s a bit of a chore in winter. The stuff doesn’t rot properly and stays smelly and disgusting, and your fingers freeze washing out the plastic buckets.
  • So many jobs still to do:
    -dig the chilli field
    -clip the tea bushes
    -prune the maples and other trees around the place that are getting out of control
    -clean up the riverbank and roadside
    -…etc
  • Min. temp. 3°C max. 14°C

18th~19th

  • The winter suddenly kicked in on Friday with a nasty cold wind and a scattering of sleet, and Sunday is a grey winter day.
  • No police on speed trap duty these days – too cold?
  • The second supermarket is full of “mikans”, which are now in season. Eating mikans in the kotatsu is a traditional winter pastime, especially at New Year. They’re quite cheap too.
  • We get a free pack of miso for our collected receipts or something. Miso might be exotic where you live but here fermented bean paste is an everyday ingredient like cottage cheese or peanut butter.
  • Suntory Beer’s latest advertising slogan: “Let’s eat… at home.” No! NO!! What are they thinking of? Boosting their take-hme sales of cheap “happoshu” while putting out of business all the restaurants and bars they used to depend on! The truth is, Japanese, especially the young, don’t go out as much as they used to, and when they do they don’t spend money. That said, what business do Suntory have encouraging people to stay at home? Bah!
  • We have “slush pot” (mizore nabe) for dinner – it gets its name from the mountain of grated “daikon” radish thet goes in the pot, and it’s very good. Along with that, “hoba-miso” which is found only in this area, Gifu. You put a big “ho” leaf on a charcoal burner and top it with a mixture of miso, chopped green onion, other vegetables or minced meat and a little sake and cook it till it’s bubbling and a little burnt underneath. The salty bits you pick off with your chopsticks go very well with rice. “Hoba-zushi” is another regional thing – sushi rice and fish – often salmon – are wrapped in the same “ho” leaves when the rice is still hot, and presed under a weight for a while. The leaves give the sushi a subtle fragrance, and help to preserve it apparently.
  • A great bath, warms you up to the bones. It must be something to do with our well water. Rice cooked out here tastes better too.
  • Kim Jong Il’s death is the main radio news on Monday.
  • Digging the chilli field – the soil is heavy and I’ll probably have aching muscles tomorrow.
  • Nearly forgot to let the water out of the system before leaving. You have to do that through the winter so it doesn’t freeze up while we’re away during the week.
  • Min temp -3°C max 8°C
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Web Fishing 16 March, 2012

Filed under: food & drink,random — johnraff @ 2:25 pm
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Maybe where you live they’ve been doing this for years, but when I heard it on the radio a couple of days ago it seemed like a neat idea. To help get the Tohoku fishing industry going again, someone thought of taking webcams out on the boats. You can watch the fish actually being caught, put in your order via the internet right then and have them delivered the next day! Talk about instant gratification. Anyway I can imagine some of the more turned-on sushi shops really going for this.

 

Farmlog November 2011 31 January, 2012

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 1:53 pm
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Please bear with me as I try and get up to date here. I suppose these records are as much for my own future reference as anything else really. December 2011 will follow soon.

6th~7th

  • It’s amazingly warm and humid for November, but looking like rain.
  • No speedcops out in this bad weather.
  • Ikemoto san’s floor needs the sawdust and general debris cleaning off before putting down the futon, but the vacuum cleaner leaves marks. The wax, or whatever it was, is still not completely dry. How long will it take?
  • A big caterpillar on the “nozenkazura” tree. The leaves are yellow and dropping off so there can’t be too much to eat up there.
  • T picks more and more persimmons – 300 this week! We’ve got this big book on traditional medicinal plants, and apparently the green frills at the base of the fruit are good for something – high blood pressure? You ferment them for five days, strain off the juice, put it in a bottle and bury it up to its neck in the ground for several months.
  • Pick the last chillies before the frost hits. Out in the field with just the background music playing in my head. It’s 60s stuff – Cilla Black’s “Anyone who had a heart” then Shocking Blue’s “Venus” finally a bit more recent with Steely Dan’s song about grapefruit wine. “No static at all”??
  • Min. temp. 7°C max. 19°C

20th~21st

  • Last week we stayed in Town, and it’s got quite chilly in the last two weeks, but sunny on Sunday.
  • In Kimble we buy some dishes, look at the incredibly cheap second hand furniture and pick up a free DVD of the film “Lost in Translation”.
  • The supermarket is running out of “Mugi to Hoppu Black”.
  • Is the Beaujolais Nouveau boom finally petering out? They used to fly it in so the Japanese could enjoy their easternmost position to be among the first people in the world to drink the new brew – at a price of ¥1800 a bottle or more. It’s not really worth that price, but now they’ve started using lightweight plastic bottles and we got one for ¥880. It turned out to be not so bad – immature, rough, funky… but enjoyable, from a producer I hadn’t heard of. (which isn’t saying that much)
  • The frost is late, and the chilli plants are still alive.
  • Monday brings a cold wind, fast-moving clouds and a bit of sun.
  • Pick a few last chillies. There are lots of those hot “Ishigakis” left, still alive though starting to look a bit sad. The frost will kill them soon, maybe tonight.
  • Lots of birds around, but all sensible creatures are bedding down for the Winter.  (or dead)
  • As we leave the house, the temperature’s down to 6°C, which is quite cold after the Japanese Summer and Autumn.
  • On the road home two dogs in front of us – no, monkeys! They soon get out of the way.
  • Min temp 3°C max 17°C

27th~28th

  • Autumn has come to Nagoya too, though at 16 it’s a bit warmer and very pleasant. The gingko trees on the sunny side of the street have turned bright yellow. Out in the country they can grow quite big and look very impressive.
  • “Vacant” and “To Let” signs on buildings everywhere.
  • A huge semi-nude poster advertising jeans (all she’s wearing) by a bridge on the road out. After a year or two it’s faded a bit but still sort of distracting.
  • A long queue outside McDonalds, like last week.They’re giving away free hamburgers or something.
  • The first strawberries of the season in the supermarket. To me, strawberries are a late Spring/early Summer thing but here they’re an essential of “Christmas Cake”, which for some reason is a strawberry sponge cake with whipped cream, not the rich dark fruit cake with icing and marzipan that I know.
  • By the time we get to the house it’s down to 5°C and cold. The pump that refills the oil heater’s tank is broken – an insect got in and built a nest. Manage to fill the tank somehow.
  • Yes, last week’s frost got the chilli plants. Season over.
  • A gloomy cold Monday and it’s hard to get  out of the kotatsu after breakfast. It turns out to be warmer outside.
  • min temp -1.5°C, max 10°C
 

2012! 4 January, 2012

Filed under: countryside,customs,food & drink — johnraff @ 7:15 pm
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Happy New Year everyone! There are still some things I wanted to post about in 2011, along with the farm records for November and December, but since it’s now 2011 let’s start off more or less in real time…

T’s nephew and his wife now live here in Nagoya; their new baby is still too small to make the shinkansen journey to Tokyo so T’s sister came here, along with her daughter. Not a bad family gathering, considering we have no kids of our own, and a table to match, with contributions from all concerned. New Year here is just like Christmas in that respect, though the traditional fare is a bit exotic for us Westerners maybe. Personally, a roasted bird with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding would be quite OK, but we had “kazunoko” (salted herring roe), “kamaboko” (fish cake) and “kobumaki” (seaweed rolls). The kobumaki’s not bad, but I can pass on the kazunoko and kamaboko to be honest. There wasn’t any “mochi” (pounded glutinous rice cakes, another New year favourite) but things get better after that: delicious tuna sashimi, and the super-rich “toro” as well, “ikura” salmon roe, tender grilled yellowtail, prawns simmered in a light stock, crab and mushrooms steamed in citrus peel, some Japanese style vegetables, thai style octopus salad, roast beef with horseradish, deep fried water chestnuts with parmesan cheese…  Wow, but when there was a bit of space on the table some sushi appeared, followed by something T made: “anago” eel, snapper, ginko nuts and lily roots covered with a foam of grated young turnips and egg white and steamed for 20 minutes or so. Excellent.

The next day after a slow breakfast we headed out to the country, loaded up with leftovers to see us through a couple of days. Yes, it’s pretty cold. Fire up the oil fan heater for a few hours and eventually the floor and walls are no longer ice-cold to the touch. On the third I got a certain amount of work done, disposing of compostable rubbish and pruning a maple tree just in front of the house which had grown much too big. Knowing nothing about it except to do it in the Winter I sawed off a number of big branches, and spent the next couple of hours burning them down to a little pile of ash. Now I’ve just done a google search and found out that maples don’t like having their branches cut too much… I hope it survives.

On the 4th T woke me up at 9:00. It had started snowing quite steadily and if we didn’t get out soon we might get stuck there, or at least have to put on the tyre chains, which is a horrible job. Quick breakfast, hurried packing and on the road by 10:30. It’s a cold 0°C in the hills, but back in tropical Nagoya a much more tolerable 7°C or so. Safe! (But back to work tomorrow.)

In the country, last week,
Min temp -6°C max 6°C

 

Persimmons 25 November, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,seasons — johnraff @ 2:03 pm
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Maybe this fruit’s not too well known outside the Far East – it’s about the size of a small apple, bright red-orange and a bit crunchy. (I’m not that crazy about them personally.) There are two kinds: sweet and bitter. The bitter ones are incredibly astringent (tannin) and quite inedible. It feels as if your mouth is being turned inside out. However, if you dry them they miraculously become sweet! The result is something like dried dates or figs. The tree behind our country house is the bitter variety but this year there’s been a huge crop (they produce heavily on alternate years) and Taeko’s been hanging up some of them to make dried persimmons, out on our Nagoya veranda where the washing usually goes. Last time she did that she was eating them every day (they are a bit too sweet for me) and put on 10Kg, so this time she’s giving most of them away to friends and relatives.

 

Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:50 am
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7th~8th

  • A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
  • But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
  • This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
  • It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
  • I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
  • On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
  • Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
  • A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

13th~15th

  • We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
  • A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
  • Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
  • The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
  • Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
  • Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
  • The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
  • Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
  • Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
  • On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
  • The insect voices are slightly different every day.
  • T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
  • A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
  • Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

21st~22nd

  • Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
  • The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
  • That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
  • Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
  • Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
  • Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C

28th~29th

  • We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
  • The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
  • The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
  • Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
  • A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
  • T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
  • Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
  • Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
 

Myoga 9 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:56 pm
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This is funny stuff. Myoga is a kind of wild ginger that grows freely around the house with no help from us at all; although it dies down in the winter it’s quite frost resistant and always comes back up. There’s no thick root to speak of though, in spite of being in the ginger family. What is used sometimes in Japanese food are the flowers, or flower buds. These are small and pink, and appear from the ground around August. You should pick them while they’re still buds, before the small yellow flowers start to emerge, which means searching around under the plants in the sticky heat, fighting off leeches and mosquitos, trying to find the buds when they’ve just shown above the ground and are still firm.

Once they’re picked you can slice them and put them in miso soup, add them to pickled eggplant or even put them in fried rice. Myoga has a very special fragrance which is hard to describe – sort of floral and bitter at the same time. It’s quite possible not to like it at first, and too much is definitely on the astringent side, but it’s one of the tastes of summer. Interestingly, there’s a “wild ginger flower” used in Southeast Asian cooking too, called bunga kantan in Malay. I was surprised to find one day in Singapore that it tasted almost exactly like myoga, although it’s bigger and longer, and the flower that comes from the bud looks quite different. There they sprinkle it on salads or put it in fish curries. It goes especially well with sour flavours like tamarind.

At Raffles we were delighted to have this authentic ingredient at hand, and use the myoga leaves to wrap our steamed “otak otak” spicy fish paste, sometimes make a cucumber and myoga salad and also put it in “myoga chicken” which is on our blackboard right now. This is an adaptation of a Penang dish called “ayam tumis” which also contains lemon grass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shrimp paste and tamarind. I’ve boosted up the myoga content so you can really taste it, and I think it’s pretty good. It looks just like a curry, and you eat it the same way, with rice, but there’s no spice in there which would be found in normal “curry powder”: if you don’t call it a “curry” though, people won’t order it…

 

 
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