August 2007 Archives

Autumn Approaches

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A week ago, Tod heard the first crickets of the season down along the water near Kachidoki. Now they are singing their happy, cooling song every night in our neighborhood.

During the day the cicadas are still making a ruckus but with the temperature finally below 30, I don't think they'll be shrieking much longer.

Welcome, autumn!

Alishan Market Day

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You may have seen in my Flickr stream a lot of photos of Morsbags and friends who come together to make them.

Well on Saturday, we're going to start giving them away. I have a suitcase stuffed full of about 100 handmade fabric shopping bags and we're heading out to Koma, Saitama to participate in the Alishan Market Day. This is out first big bag giveaway.

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We and 30 other eco/organic/vegetarian friendly groups and shops are forming a "Blue Sky Market" with items from homemade bread, organic vegetables, fair trade goods and lots more.

There will be live music performances, workshops, local nature tours, 15% discounts at Alishan's fabulous Tengu Foods store and excellent veggie food in their cafe. Alishan's Japanese page has details, but here's a summary of the schedule in English for you:

Alishan Market Day
Saturday, September 1
10:30 - 16:30
Alishan Organic Center, Koma, Saitama (directions)

Workshops & Events
10:30 - 11:30 Make your Own Natural Toothpaste (500yen)
11:30 -13:00 Mountain Hike (free)
11:30 - 13:00 River Hike (free)
12:00 - 13:00 Handmade Ideas to Change the World (free)
12:00 - Organic Cotton Fashion Show
13:30 - 14:30 Japanese and International Eco-recipes (300 yen)
15:00 - Organic Cotton Fashion Show
15:00 - 16:00 Food Banking in Japan (free)

For more details or to reserve a space in the workshops or hikes, mail Ai Morikawa

Butternut Squash with "Sausage" Stuffing

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Flavorful Italian-type sausage is difficult to come by in Tokyo, so I learned to make my own with ground meat and the right seasonings. Now I've learned to substitute faux meat for regular meat to make a low-fat vegan version.

I use this odd stuff called Pino Konnyaku or "Vegetarian Meat" that's a mixture of okara (soybean fiber) and konnyaku (jelly-like starch) and grinds up to a texture similar to cooked ground beef.

This recipe can be adapted easily for meat eaters by substituting real meat sausage (and breadcrumbs or rice as filler).

Butternut Squash with "Sausage" Stuffing
serves 4

1 butternut squash
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup edamame
1 1/2 cups of "vegetarian meat"
seasonings: fennel seed, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, sage, thyme celery seed, salt, pepper, MSG

Mix the meat with the seasoning and allow to marinate for several hours. You should do this to your own taste - I like lots of fennel and a fair amount of cayenne with the other seasonings creating a flavorful background. MSG helps the flavors to blend. Do yours as as you like.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Roast on an oiled surface in a 180C oven for about 25 minutes, or until the squash can be easily pierced with a knife. Coool to room temperature. Remove seeds; scrape a channel for the filling, setting aside the scraped bits for the filling mixture.

Chop the onion & garlic finely, saute in oil. Add the seasoned "meat" and cook until slightly browned. Mix in the squash and edamame. Season to taste with salt and pepper and/or a splash of soy sauce.

Spoon the filing into the squash shells and bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, or until the top of the mixture is lightly browned. Serve with rice and salad.

Note: if you are using meat sausage, brown it and drain the oil before adding to the filling mixture. You may want to use rice or breadcrumbs as a filler, since 1.5 cups of cooked sausage is a lot!

Camp Saba

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I think my favorite meal at camp was the lunch Tod & I cooked together. We bought two whole salted mackerels (shiosaba) at the fishmongers', wrapped them in foil, and cooked them over a gas stove "fire" to share with all of our camping companions.

Camp Saba
serves 12

2 50cm salted mackerels, gutted & scaled
3 small zucchini
2 onions
2 tomatoes
oil
black pepper

Cut the head, tails, and fins off the fish, split each into two lengthwise. Leave the bones in, they are a lot easier to take out after cooking.

Cut the vegetables into bite size pieces but not too small as they will be steaming with the fish for a while.

Lay a piece of fish on a large piece of foil. Top with 1/4 of the vegetables; drizzle with oil & season with pepper. Wrap the fish tightly in the foil, using extra pieces to patch as necessary. Repeat for the remaining three fish pieces.

Place the foil packets on a grill surface over a flame or other heat source. We used a portable gas ring but a charcoal grill or campfire would be equally effective, as would an oven if you're not camping. Cook until you can smell fish and see steam escaping from the cracks in the foil armor, then carefully open a packet (beware of steam) and test for doneness. The fish should be juicy and soft but opaque all the way through. The vegetables will be cooked and fragrant.

After peeling back the foil, find the two fishes with bones, push the veg out of the way, and carefully peel the bones out of the fillet and discard. Serve the fish and vegetables with rice, a salad, and a view of the ocean (optional).

Self-perceptions on Sado

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Got back last night from a five-day camping vacation - our (nearly) annual journey to Sado, Niigata for the Kodo Earth Celebration. I brought my sketching things and while we were there, I worked on a little art swap with the theme of self-perception. The three sketches I completed are also camping-related.

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Self-perception: easily burned

We drove overnight to Sado and arrived in the early morning. I forgot to slather on sunscreen before we made camp at 10 am, and ended up with an annoying sunburn. I especially despise the little white ring where my hair band was wrapped around my wrist.

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Self-perception: provider of tasty food

Our camp kitchen was excellent again this year. We cooked breakfast and lunch for as many as 11 people over the weekend. Luke brought curry for the first day and later in the trip we had lentil soup, banana pancakes, and a full English breakfast. My favorite meal was the grilled saba with vegetables that Tod & I made for lunch on Sunday. A number of us are vegetarian/veg-aquarian, so our meals were quite vegetable-laden and healthy.

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Self-perception: lopsided

I hadn't drawn a self-portrait in a while, so as I waited for the coffee water to boil one morning before anyone else got up, I grabbed my little mirror and did a quick sketch. Maybe I'm not quite a lopsided as this drawing indicates, but I am not entirely symmetrical in real life. I also look tired, which I was.

Camp was fun; the music festival was great, and we are all looking forward to next year's camping extravaganza.

Veg*n Eateries in Central Tokyo, part 2

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It's too hot too cook in the thick of summer, so I am thankful for the variety of vegetarian, vegan and vegetable-friendly restaurants in central Tokyo. Here are a few more from our explorations.

It's Vegetable/Linlin Saikan, Kinshicho (Kinshi 4-1-9)
If you crave Chinese food this is the place, a classic under-the-tracks Chinese dive but every dish is meatless and they do wonders with faux meats. Su-buta (sweet and sour pork) is their signature dish and we enjoyed a konnyaku-tofu squid and soy-based pepper beef. When we ordered, the waiter asked what we can't eat - we said dairy and received a soymilk cream sauce instead of regular milk with our vegetable nimono. Everyone who works there is vegan and Taiwanese; the chef has been vegan for 25 years. This is definitely a place we'll return to frequently - especially as there is a bus that goes practically door-to-door from our place to theirs.

Half Sweets, Shinjuku (Shinjuku 5-11-5 Park City Isetan 1)
This cafe is located in a beauty & spa complex, making it pretty much exclusive to women (though there were men dining there when I had lunch). They have a raw menu and an organic menu with salads, combination plates and lots of fruity desserts. I had the Raw Foods Lunch (1200 yen) which was interesting and tasty but not so exciting that I wanted more. Half Sweets is a fine casual option for healthy dining in Shinjuku but I don't think I'd specifically head there except as a curiosity with friends.

Saladice, Otemachi (Otemachi 1-7-2 Sankei Bldg B1F)
Saladice specialises in salads and is excellent for take away lunches. It's not specifically vegan but you can build your own salad from a wide variety of ingredients including various beans, tofu and nuts as well as seasonal vegetables and a base of either lettuce or spinach. A stomach-busting salad will set you back about 1200 yen. There are outlets in Hibiya and Hamamatsucho, too. I really with this chain would grow!

Cafe 8, Nakmeguro (Aobadai 3-17-7)
I have not been here in person yet, but I've enjoyed their catering and I own their cookbooks (Vege Book, & Vege Book 2). They do a delicious fusion of Japanese and Western recipes featuring "Vege Standards" like tofu mayo and tofu cream. Their tempe meatloaf is one of the few ways I can enjoy tempe.

Urban Heat Wave

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If I close my eyes and smile nicely, maybe summer will go away?

Poor Japan is stuck under a weather system that is bringing us lots of sunshine and high temperatures. The last few days have brought record highs (in the upper 90s) to places around the country. Tokyo's had ten days over 33C/91F with no relief in the forecast until next week.

Peach & Piman Fruity Drink

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Tod showed me the peaches (yum) then held up a green pepper, "What do you think?" He said I looked dubious, but I was just imagining the combination, along with the ginger that we'd already agreed on. "Yeah, go ahead," I granted.

Wow! The green pepper is a fresh top note, then you taste the sweetness of hte peach, bit not it's flavor so much, then the ginger brings it home. I couldn't even tell there was rum in the drink until I started to type up this recipe...

Peach and Piman Fruity Drink
serves 2 generously

2 overripe peaches, cut into chunks
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 piman (small green bell pepper), seeds & pith removed
130 ml white rum
ice to fill the blender (~3 cups)

Put everything in the blender and whirl until smooth and drink-like. Pour into glasses with more ice as desired.

Convertible Dress

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Spinning!

I made a one-seam dress today. It took ten minutes to cut out and 3 minutes to stitch - that has to be the fastest piece of clothing ever sewn. But...after its made, it takes hours of playing with it to test all the wrapping & draping styles. And twirling in the circle skirt takes time, too. Best to make this dress when you have some free time.

The sewing instructions are from Rostichery. Some of the wrapping ideas I've been playing with are courtesy of a video by Monif C (click the "Convertible Dress Instructional Video" link). who makes these dresses in plus sizes. This is a relative of the Infinite Dress, but much less expensive.

Morning Golfer

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Every morning shortly before his shift begins, our building's maintenance man takes a pair of golf clubs to the little patch of lawn below our balcony and practices his golf swings. Often I'm watering my plants while he's down there, but we have never acknowledged one another. I feel like I've peeked into his secret life beyond the building's trash cans and dust.

Nouka no Daidokoro (Farmer's Kitchen)

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In Kunitachi, not far from the station, there's a gigantic daikon emerging from the 3rd story of an otherwise nondescript building. This is how you will recognise Nouka no Daidokoro, a restaurant that specialises in fresh produce.

There's a living, growing garden in the middle of the dining area but most of their vegetables come from farmers around the city.

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An ice covered table is the all-you-can eat salad bar. It's not the sort of salad bar where you peer at the offering through a sneeze guard and where you pile your plate with lettuce, pale tomatoes and fight for the last black olive before settling on a few scoops of mayo-laden salads. Everything on this salad bar is freshly prepped by a salad chef who is on hand to tell you about it, with every ingreditent at the peak of its seasonal deliciousness and completely raw. I'd never eaten raw corn before - it was sweet and crunchy! I also tried baby cucumbers (sour!), and eggplant-black peppers. And oh, the tomatoes!

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The menu changes every month, depending on what's coming from the local farms. August is so abundant that it was difficult to tell what was the focus of the menu. There was a flight of fresh juices, "summer vegetable steak," udon made with different vegetables for seasoning and color, rice salad with cucumber dressing, and a strange and delicious yuzu-scented sweetened gourd dessert. I suspect in January it might be a little easier to know what's in season and with a monthly change of menu, it seems like 12 visits a year would be reasonable just to discover the joys of changing seasons.

While it's not a vegetarian restaurant, Nouka no Daidokoro do have a "100% Vegetable" set menu and many of the ala carte items are vegetarian and some seem to be vegan. One small nit to pick - it would be helpful if the menu specified which items were meatless and/or vegan.

That's not going to stop me from going out to Kunitachi for dinner. It's 45 minutes from Tokyo station on the Chuo Rapid, or just over half an hour from Shinjuku. That's too far for lunch, but not unreasonable for dinner.

Random Trip Report

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Using the invented rules I described in the previous post, we ended up a Chuo Express bound for 青梅
(Ome) leaving from track 9 at 13:51. Looking at the route map, we saw we'd be getting off at Tachikawa and transferring to the Nambu line. When we got on the Nambu line train, we scanned the route map for stations with 'koen" but there were none, so looked again for a station with a "water feature" in its name. Second stop: 矢川 (Yagawa). That was our destination.

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Yagawa is a suburb of a suburb of Tokyo. Like most places in Japan, though, it has its points of interest. We left the station and headed for our water feature, the Ya River, with a plan to stop at the Kunitachi Kyodo Bunka-kan and a forest park that were marked on the map at the station.

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Within ten minutes we'd stepped into the country side. Fields and farmhouses lined the narrow roads. At some of the houses, we saw "veganimals" made from cucumbers, eggplants and chopsticks. I think they were part of a summer o-bon offering, but I don't know for certain.

The local museum was beautifully designed and full of local archaeological treasures and a history of the Kunitachi area. We had a great time in the library, leafing through books on flora, fauna and urban sightseeing. Libraries are always extremely entertaining.

Our next point of interest was the forest walk, which was refreshingly shady in the scorching afternoon heat. But we were soon through it an finally had our first sighting of the mighty Yagawa:

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It wasn't much of a river, or even a creek. It was a stream. But I guess 川 can mean stream as well as river, so it wasn't a trick to fool visitors. We got a little lost on the way to the next station, but a helpful man set us straight and suggested we pay our respects at the Yaho Tenmangu shrine.

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A flock of chickens greeted us very loudly as we approached the stairs. People came by to feed them while we took photos. They were perhaps my favorite part of the day - completely unexpected and so incongruous.

We walked from Yaho station up the perfectly straight Daigaku Dori to Kunitachi station, and along the way bought a steamer pot, popped into a tobacconist to inhale deeply, found fresh beets on sale, ate at an amazing restaurant (I'll tell you all about it tomorrow) and decided that Kunitachi, a college town established in the Taisho era, was a place we'd visit again.

But we'd never have come here if we hadn't traveled following our random rules.

Tod took a lot of photos.

Recipe for a Perfect Daytrip

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Next time you wake up with the "I want to go somewhere today" feeling but don't have a specific place in mind, try this: make up some arbitrary rules(*) and go where they lead you. For example.

Start at the nearest major train station: Tokyo, Shinjuku, or Ikebukuro are ideal. Seed your trip by choosing some (but not all) of the following factors:

Fare (max/min)
Time to travel (max/min)
Terminal name on the train (specify a kana/kanji/letter that must be in it, or a number of kana/kanji/letters)
Destination station name
Track number (or range of numbers)
Train type (i.e. local, express)
Number of stations to travel
Number of transfers to make
Direction
Departure time
Train line/livery color

All the information must be knowable either when you start (i.e. maximum fare will be 800 yen) or as you travel (get off at the first station that starts with "ka"). You couldn't say, for example, "We'll get off the train at a station with a tudor facade," because you won't be able to see the facade until you get off the train.

We went out today starting at Tokyo station with the following conditions:

  1. Terminal name has be two kanji
  2. Track number is odd
  3. Express train
  4. Departure must be "next available"
  5. One transfer taken at the second possible transfer outside of the Yamanote Line
  6. Transfer direction must be towards the longer leg of the second line
  7. Destination station will be:
    1. station with koen (park) in the name or
    2. station with a water feature in the name (river, lake, beach, etc) or
    3. the seventh stop from the transfer station
  8. Travel time no more than 100 minutes

That might sound a little confusing, and there are definitely combinations of rules that work better together than others. But this worked for us today; we ended up somewhere interesting that we'd never have selected on purpose.

I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Lemon Cucumber Pickles

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Pickle press in action

These are a refreshingly light side dish and go very well with the Lentil Tagine previously posted. Start the pickles about an hour before you plan to eat and they will be ready for you to serve. These don't keep well, so enjoy them all at once.

Lemon Cucumber Pickles
serves 2

2 Japanese cucumbers, or 1 American cuke
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 lemon
1 tsp olive oil

Cut the cucumbers into 1 cm rounds or quarter the American cucumber and cut into 1 cm slices. Sprinkle the cukes with salt, allow to sit until they start to weep. Press gently and pour off any dark liquid. Squeeze lemon over the cucumbers, drizzle with olive oil and press (in a pickle press or under a plate weighted with a can of soup) for 30-60 minutes.

Lentil & Vegetable Tagine

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Tagine on the table

A tagine is a kind of terracotta cooking pot with a conical lid, and also the food cooked in it - a stew. Normally a tagne has soft, falling off the bone meat and vegetables, but this version is meatless. It cooks at low heat for a long time. I don't have a tagine pot, but I use my cast iron pot or Japanese ceramic nabe and they both work fine. The Moroccan spice mix can be made ahead and stored.

Moroccan Spice Mix
makes about 4 tsp

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cumin

Lentil and Vegetable Tagine
serves 4-6

2 cups yellow lentils, soaked for an hour
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Moroccan spice mix (or up to 2 tsp for more intense seasoning)
2 dried apricots, cut fine
4 cups water (adjust as needed during cooking)
1 carrot, large diced
3 cups eggplant, zucchini, etc., large diced
1 cup green beans, broad beans, asparagus, etc, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 cup mushrooms, large diced
6 plum tomatoes, halved or quartered

In a tagine or heavy casserole, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until lightly browned. Add the drained lentils, spice mix, apricots, and 4 cups of water. Cover and simmer until lentils are about 1/2 cooked. Yellow lentils take about 25 minutes to this point; red or brown lentils will take a little less time. Check the package and schedule accordingly. You may need to adjust the amount of water, too, so keep an eye on it.

Add in the carrots, cover the pot and cook for ten minutes. Add the remaining vegetables except the tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables and lentils are both done. Mix in the tomatoes and serve.

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