There is perhaps nothing more simple and divine at the Japanese table than a pristine bowl of snow white shinmai, new rice, to close an autumn meal. Like the wafer at mass, newly harvested rice speaks to the Japanese soul of the divine, of things both eternal and ephemeral.
Drawing back a clump of desiccated fronds, I find an emerald trumpet of delicate leaves cradling a cluster of quilted button like buds. I raise the dirty, wet stem to my nose and drink in the earthy, pungent aroma of spring breaking from winter. This is fukinoto.
I remember a decade back, when I still knew relatively little about Japanese cuisine, I asked Kuniko to describe a cha-kaiseki meal that precedes tea in the tea ceremony. She outlined the general styles of dishes. She described the first small portion of rice and miso soup served alongside mukozuke, a small arrangement of raw […]
In Japan Autumn begins in August with a hot, slow slide away from summer. The heat no longer builds but lingers like an oven that’s just been turned off. The cacophonous cry of cicadas crescendoes to a peak. The constant drone of their frenzied roar is as oppressive and aggressive as the suffocating sun. It […]
Goya’s green is as thick and dark and endless as the suffocating green of summer. The bitter melon is fat like a overgrown zucchini with knurled skin and bitter flesh. I haven’t always loved goya, but when I met Tsutomu Sasaki, who grows exquisite goya, I was so taken by their beauty and the pride […]
I scoop a pile of tea leaves the shape and color of delicate evergreen needles into a glass katakuchi and cover them in ice. Only the rich and clear flavor of ice-drawn green tea can pierce the heat and humidity of high summer. My beloved tools of tea infuse the act of steeping with a […]
The ume have been salted and pressed and sit marinating in their own juice when the heavy rains began. It is the season of tsuyu, the plum rains named for their timing that coincides with ume work. Cold air from the north and warm air from the south lock horns and bring a string of […]
I had only just learned to make umeboshi the year before. Working by Kuniko’s side I scribbled notes on a piece of paper, recording amounts, ratios, timing, and sequence. After so many years, what spark was it that spurred me to finally set myself to this task a mere four months before a stroke would […]
Walking into Kuniko’s pantry is like entering a laboratory. Under the bright glare of florescent lights shelves rise from floor to ceiling all around. They moan under the weight of bins and boxes and jars of every size containing edible specimens preserved in variously colored brines. There are a things in there that in my […]
Midway between the spring equinox and the following solstice, summer begins. From a small patio beside Kuniko’s garage I can survey the orchard. Daidai blossoms broadcast a sweet fragrance into the air. The ground between the citrus and plums has grown unruly, a minefield of azami, thorny wild thistle with spiky lavender blooms. Wisteria and […]
The burgeoning green hillsides are draped in wild wisteria. The vines cascade from the forest canopy like lavender veils. People flock to see their more regal relatives trained on trellises in parks and public spaces. There you can hear the riotous buzzing of a thousand bees who swarm the violet blossoms dangling like so many […]
At the fist bite of cold in late fall, when all other flowers abandon us, the dear Camellia blooms and ushers us through a long winter. But with the dawn of summer on the horizon, the geese fly north and the Camellia bids us farewell. Gaping blossoms fall whole and heavy straight to the ground […]
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