The days are growing longer and two doves coo in the evening air as I make my way down to gather a few fragrant fronds from our sansho tree. I fell in love with sansho on my first day in Japan, long before I knew I would come to call this place home. For years I have been dreaming of a little sansho orchard. Back in the kitchen I slap them between two palms to release the fragrance before laying them atop a steamed chawanmushi egg custard alongside preserved sakura buds.
As long as we’ve kept track of time, the day on which we reset the calendar has been celebrated as an occasion for reflection, for mental, physical, and spiritual renewal. Hemp fibers twisted into rope figures adorn the entryways to purify and protect the home. Inside decorations made of rice and boughs and bamboo, each with a meaning tied to agricultural rituals that pray for providence and abundance, are set out for display.
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.
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.
Loquats are the sweet pleasure of June June is a month of sweet pleasures. After the hustle of staying warm all winter long, and the sprint through spring, we slow down at the start of June, if not in body, at least in mind. This season feels sweetly languorous with light that lasts so long […]
I would like nothing more than to cook all day After so many years living in this same rural corner of Kyushu, I still stumble upon sights I’ve never seen before. A wrong turn on a drive to a nearby town took me down a narrow country lane. Camel colored fields stretched into the distance […]
As long as there is rice and Japanese pickles I stand on the veranda outside Kuniko’s kitchen looking across the treetops towards the facing hillside. The viridescence of spring is deepening into a concentrated and uniform shade. Kuniko hovers in the doorway. The green is thickening, she says. Soon it will grow heavy, as opaque […]
Chawanmushi with kinome and preserved sakura buds Summer has felt slow to arrive, but that’s just my impatience speaking. Finally the first warm night of the year arrived on the eve of May. I opened the window to listen the humming crickets and felt the nighttime air on my skin void of chill for […]
Himono air dried Horse mackerel There has been no mandate here but we have decided to implement stay-at-home measures. On the one hand so much has changed. Travel programs and exhibitions are cancelled for the foreseeable future as well as our annual migration to Maine. And on the other hand very little has changed. Cooking, […]
Preserving cherry blossoms for garnish The sakura will bloom again next year. With these words the mayor of Tokyo urged people not to congregate in cherry blossom revelry under trees in parks over this past weekend. It was part of a plea to the residents of her city to stay home and avoid all non-essential […]
Our favorite Tokyo chef returns to Karatsu My father-in-law Takashi has very specific and very good taste in food. He is what his family members call urusai when it comes to flavor, a word that can mean noisy or fussy. He isn’t fussy in the – I don’t like this or that kind of food […]
Foraging in Japan continues with tsukushi (horsetail) Foraging in Japan has been a highlight of living here and foraging in Japan. I find it no less exciting for the annual repetition. In fact it’s thrilling, this stretch from February to May, following the micro seasons of sansai, wild mountain edibles, from fukinoto (butterbur buds) […]
Spring fukinoto foraging returns! Spring fukinoto season came so early this year. The new year had barely dawned and we were already harvesting. Now they are already on their way out and today we ate freshly foraged fukinoto for what is likely the last time. After a weekend that felt like a preview to […]
Learning to Cook from the Best Cook of All This month marks a dozen years since I came to Japan. A full cycle of the Chinese zodiac has passed and a new decade begins. I’m inclined to consider it an auspicious moment and a good time for reflection. I still remember those first months vividly, […]
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