Cultivated Days | In equal measure
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In equal measure

We set out down the narrow country road, the sun bright and warm, the air crisp and clear. The many layers of wool and down that buffer the cold plenty when sprinting between house and studio suddenly felt inadequate. “It’s still cold,” I said. “That’s spring,” she said. “It tricks you.”

On February 4th we entered the first days of spring according to Japan’s ancient lunisolar calendar. But in these early weeks we must still rely on the anticipation of spring to warm us while outside cold winds continue to blow. Here in Kyushu, where spring admittedly does come earlier than in most of Japan, there are some concrete signs emerging. The daffodils and plum trees are blooming and on our walk we found several fat fukinoto. Even the occasional balmy afternoon calls me to slide open the big glass door to let in some fresh air. But then just as quickly I shut it again and light a fire in the hearth to dissipate the chill of night.

A couple of weeks ago on a trip to Tokyo I had diner at one of my all time favorite places, Tempura Iwai. Iwai-san is an earnest and dedicated chef who commands an arresting cypress counter in his own small Ginza restaurant. The main course of tempura is always punctuated with well considered fresh dishes of seasonal ingredients. My annual visit is generally in June so to experience a meal in a different season was deliciously educational. Early on he served a lovely small dish of nanohana and nama-nori that took my breath away. Nama-nori is near and dear to me, one of Sanpuku Nori’s specialty products, imagined by Kawahara-san who a few years ago graciously guided me through a many months long education on nori of the Ariake Sea in Saga for an article in the Art of Eating. I have since enjoyed nama-nori many times at home but always in small portions, served straight with a light dressing. To see it in this new arrangement, entwined with nanohana, was brilliant.

Though we can find nanohana at the markets through much of late winter, in this early spring season we start to find packages of it dotted with yellow blossoms. Nanohana grows wild all around here, in and between dormant rice fields and along the roads’ edges. They’ve already bloomed in many a protected sunny spot bringing the first burst of color to an awakening landscape.

Nama-nori ties us to the taste of winter, when the cold waters and bright sun raise the best nori while nanohana is a harbinger of spring. When brought together, this inspired dish eloquently expresses the current in-between season when we feel in equal measure winter passing but not-yet-gone and spring on its way but not-yet-arrived.

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9 Comments
  • Alana V.
    Posted at 13:08h, 16 February

    Reading this just after coming in from shoveling waist-deep drifts of snow, I became entranced with equal measure of spring (yellow blooms!!) and winter in Japan. The season for equal measure for us will need to wait, but it feels fine to read of your enchantment. Thank you, as always! Now for breakfast and watching the hungry birds at the feeder and maybe even getting into the office, when the roads are clear. But maybe not!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:59h, 20 February

      Alana, How I would love to frolic, if only for a day or two, in freshly fallen snow. We are lucky indeed here to have such a late winter and early spring… Hugs!

  • Mora
    Posted at 14:22h, 16 February

    What a lovely prelude to spring in Portland, OR. I must rely on past memories to enjoy the nonohana you speak of. While we anticipate and enjoy the seasonal changes, I was also reminded of the seasonal changes that take place in our bodies when nourished by new growth from the fields and the oceans. It is a joy to anticipate new growth at this time of year.. Surely with the rain we are experiencing lately, there is much new growth to be found while on a walk in the woods.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:58h, 20 February

      Mora, It’s raining here today, a warm, humid spring rain that is sure to encourage the next spring crop, tsukushi, to peep up… Bitter greens do awaken the spring body, don’t they…

  • Laura
    Posted at 21:18h, 16 February

    Awaiting spring here – it still seems far off as, like Alana, we are adrift in snow! But determined to find find my fukinotos in the garden this year before they get too big!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:57h, 20 February

      Laura, Those little fukinoto grow up fast! Hope you can catch them before the deer find them…

  • Yuriko Hashimoto
    Posted at 17:15h, 17 February

     Always your poetic essay and quiet and beautiful pictures soothe my heart in the chaos by the so-callepd president.
    Yours are my vitamin of my heart.Thank you very much Prairie.

    I will be Japan on March and April.
    Maybe Nanohana will bloom in my mothers backyard.
    But I wonder I would be find Namanori at Tukiji or somewhere.
    It might be already over the best season for namanori.
    Unfortunately I had never ate the fresh namanori. I wish to eat it someday.

    In NY,now I am thinking to make that lovely small dish with broccoli rabe and dry nori soaked in little bit japanese sake instead of nanohana and namanori.
    It sounds joked idea?

    By the way, I am very looking forward to go to the Hanako’s solo exvision on March 4th at Kashiwa.

    PS. Your article about Kuzu was awesome too!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:56h, 20 February

      Hashimoto-san, Thank you for the comment! 嬉しいです!I think your NY version of this dish sounds wonderful. Let me know how it turns out~

  • Yuriko.H
    Posted at 07:22h, 22 February

    I cooked it tonight.

    The taste combined with broccoli rabe and nori was pretty good,
    but it was very difficult to dissolve dry nori in cold Japanese sake.

    Next time I will try to put dry nori in warm sake and dashi(broth).
    I hope nori may melt well.
    And that nori sauce probably make a variety steamed vegetables delicious.

    It is always a challenge to make Japanese cuisine with ingredients in the USA,
    but I want to approach the ideal taste while trial and error.

    I am always inspired with your beautiful Japanese food article.