Cultivated Days | Never enough
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Never enough

Fukinoto-2

The days are dawning milder and frequent showers douse the landscape causing the golden red hues of tall grasses covering the hillside to glow with subtle intensity. When the drops cease, an illuminated mist settles into the pockets between cedars in the grove. Spring is on its way and there is a call to action in the air.

It’s a reflective season. In spring we glimpse a resurrection. In the face of so much potential comes the chance to review and revise those exalted resolutions we made in the dark of winter.

Fukinoto-3

For as long as I can remember there has been a choir in my head singing the refrain never enough. It has led to a lifetime of striving, of reaching beyond what feels possible. And to be honest, recently beset by a critical fatigue, I’m weary of wanting more, of wanting better. Good enough would be a welcome break from the hounding cry of not quite there, not quite there yet, that reverberates in the hollows of my mind. If it’s a self-imposed pressure, why is it so hard to shake?

And yet it is that insatiate hunger that led the daughter of carpenters out of the dairy farmed New England countryside and that now finds her hunting wild butterbur in western Japan. And I suppose I ought to credit that nagging voice, the one that says there must be more, there must be a broader, richer, fuller experience, for so many of the opportunities I’ve wandered into. Like wild butterbur pasta on my plate four times this week.

Fukinoto-5

It’s a bit late for butterbur, or what we call fukinoto. But we are still harvesting a secondary variety that grows looser, the head of blossoms snuggled in a mantle of soft, soft leaves. Even at a mature stage, large and blooming, it has a lot of potential in the kitchen.

Last week H went off to collect fukinoto on a drizzly afternoon. Blanched, roughly chopped and mixed with olive oil and walnuts, she offered us a lovely pasta dish to finish out dinner that day. But we got to talking. Wouldn’t the bitter bite of fukinoto benefit from the dulcet embrace of a bit of parmesan? And we considered the texture. How about chopped finer? Or perhaps blended into a paste à la pesto? And what of the color, I wondered. Fukinoto swiftly oxidizes to a dirty brown. How could we preserve the bright green, the green of hope, the green of spring, the green of new beginnings?

Fukinoto-4

That hunger settled in. I wanted to try my hand at the adjustments we had considered. So I went for it, blanching the fukinoto and blending them up exactly as I would a pesto (omitting garlic). The results were less than stellar, a spectacularly dull shade and dry. I ruminated further, grabbed a lemon from the tree, altered my approach and tried again the next day to much better effect.

Today Kuniko and I gathered another armful of fukinoto. I scanned the patch. Most were gone by, large and blooming, pale green tinged with yellow. It was only my intent to gather the last remaining small, tender buds to batter and deep fry for dinner tonight. Kuniko started plucking them up one by one. “No, no, they’re still good,” she said, wading into a thicket of tangled branches. “Use the best ones for tempura and then we’ll simmer the rest with soy and make tsukudani.” She picked every last one. Never enough.

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Some thoughts on butterbur pasta:

Roughly chop some walnuts and grate some parmesan.

Prepare ¼ cup of lemon juice.

Blanch the fukinoto and shock in ice water.

Swiftly wring out as much water as possible with your hands, wring again wrapped in a paper towel, then mix with the lemon juice.

Roughly chop by hand, mix to distribute the lemon juice, then wring out excess lemon juice by hand.

Mix chopped fukinoto with plenty of good olive oil.

Boil pasta, drain and coat with good olive oil. Add chopped walnuts, parmesan, a pinch of salt and mix. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the fukinoto and mix.

Arrange in a pasta bowl and top with more fukinoto.

Enjoy!

Fukinoto-1

12 Comments
  • Gopal
    Posted at 12:30h, 24 February

    What a lovely respite to read during my lunch break , here in an operating room in Tampa. I was there with you picking, searching, yearning and tasting the spring treasures. Thank you for taking me with you.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 20:06h, 24 February

      Gopal, I’m holding in mind an image of a world map with a large triangle connecting three points. A point for our chance meeting when you and D drove down our driveway last summer in Maine, a point for you there in Tampa now and one for me here in Japan. I often need to be reminded of the blessings of technology and you’ve done that for me today. How wonderful to be tethered in this way, sharing experiences across thousands of miles!

  • Mora
    Posted at 13:52h, 24 February

    I love the soft greens and the structure of the butterbur in your photos. Sturdy yet soft, soft as you wrote. What tugged at my heart was the foraging you did with Kuniko. I’ve been a woodland wanderer since my childhood days in northern New Jersey, always on the hunt for something, from wild grapes to orange salamanders hiding under rocks. Wandering and searching is in my blood and has led to so many wonderful discoveries over my many years. And it was that wandering and searching online that led me to Cultivated Days several years ago. Oh, such wonders to continue to be discovered. Thank you for your time and effort during this period of critical fatigue. It is truly appreciated!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 20:01h, 24 February

      What lovely words to read, Mora, thank you. I too remember those orange salamanders that would swarm the dirt roads of New England after a soaking rain. Wandering and searching bring many delights and making your acquaintance ranks high on that list!

  • gluttonforlife
    Posted at 16:00h, 24 February

    I know that yearning and searching of which you speak and it is exhausting. It’s only an outsiders view, but I must insist to you that you are enough, just as you are. It’s so hard for me to imagine, from beneath blankets of snow, that my butterburs will ever emerge. Spring is most definitely not at hand here, so this post is a tantalizing reminder of what lies in store…

    • Prairie
      Posted at 19:55h, 24 February

      Thank you for your uplifting words, Laura. Though we haven’t spent much time together, I know in my heart of hearts that you are a soul sister in the yearning and searching department. It’s evident in the poetry and beauty of GFL.

  • Sparrow
    Posted at 08:13h, 02 March

    Loved the article, P…

    And I have an answer for you about where that voice — “Never enough!” — came from. Mr. B of course!

  • Steve
    Posted at 18:08h, 03 March

    I have to tell you this post resonated with me all day on Sunday when I read it. The “never enough” drive is something that I’ve had. Sometimes I think it’s something I fight with–especially lately–more than appreciate. If only enough could be good enough.

    I always enjoy reading your beautifully worded posts about things I’ve never seen or experienced. I ran to Whole Foods hoping I might be lucky enough to find a little bundle of the pale buds among the other greens. But, no, I’ll just have to dream.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 00:27h, 04 March

      Oh, I can so relate Steve. Though there is much to credit to such a drive, it’s also a bit of a demon too. If only we could switch it on and off. As for the butterbur, I’ve never seen it in a large market. Do you have a farmer’s market, CSA, or forager connection? Those might be a better bet to ask around. It will be a while still before it’s to be found in New England!

  • Wonkang
    Posted at 20:36h, 05 March

    Thank you for this fresh, happy smile and hello from Butterbud. 🙂

    All the beautiful things and goodness you bring, cultivating the seed of peace, joy, abundance and love for life and people.

    You are wonderful!
    Thank you for being you!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 02:44h, 16 March

      Thank you! Your words are always a ray of sunshine~

      • Wonkang
        Posted at 19:59h, 16 March

        A peaceful, happy day to you~ 🙂
        With best wishes and deep gratitude