Sweet & Sour
So the big wheel keeps on turning. The days are getting shorter, the evenings and mornings cooler, and this morning saw condensation on the windows for the first time. This tells us three things; The first fall frosts are not far off; mosquito season is almost over; and it’s time to start picking citrus.
In the orchard, we’ve many kinds of citrus trees; tangerines, hassaku and Seville oranges, citrons, grapefruits, kumquats and lemons, and it’s in the cold months that these trees bear their fruit.
This citrus season is a mix of sweet and sour and a very welcome food source for us, for winter vegetables are by and large bland on the palate. The season starts at the end of October, with the hayawase (early born) variety of tangerine, and ends mid-March with the final picking of kumquats. Picking with the kids is a lot of fun, a fruitful learning experience, and a lot less fraught with no mosquitoes buzzing around.
Citrus have been grown in this (Yamaguchi) Prefecture for centuries. Not only has it been a historical source of pride for the locals, but, when you consider that until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 (in which the samurai of Yamaguchi played a pivotal role in overthrowing the Shogunate and reinstating the Emperor) 90% of the population of Japan were peasants, living a very hand-to-mouth, hardscrabble existence. What a boon the citrus season must have been to them.
So the big wheel keeps on turning, and time moves on. The Sweet and sour citrus season is upon us again.
Banzai! Or Something like that.
World’s Best BBQ Chicken
Kitchengardenjapan - and I make no bones, apologies or caveats about this – makes the world’s best barbecued chicken. It’s a monster hit whenever we get out the griddle, it’s ever-so easy to make, and it’s yours, free, free FREE! can you but make it to the end of this post. Ganbatte, ‘cos there’s ramble coming up…
Oh look, here it is!
You have to love a country that declares public holidays for both the spring and autumn equinoxes. It’s kinda groovy, kinda hippy-ish, kinda sickle-ically druidic (see what I did there?). More groovy yet is that they are but two of 15 public holidays spread throughout the year, (about double the number of the UK). And then they wonder why the Japanese economy is in tatters. Too much time off, obviously.*
It gets better still. The autumnal equinox, coming as it does towards the end of September, always delivers fine weather – not too hot, (just above 30), perfect for the beach. And the beaches are always, always deserted.
In Japan, the swimming season is officially prescribed. Before the season officially opens and after it has officially finished, it’s inofficially proscribed, and only the most adventurous, devil-may-care, fooflhardy rebels without clues, nay foolhardy dare to enter the waters.**
So yesterday, true to form, we of course went and planted our parasol and claimed a beach; Akase beach, a two-kilometre desert-island disc of golden sand, as our own. There was not another soul in sight, of course.
And we frolicked and swam, caught crabs and seaweed, and drank and toasted our very, Very Splendid isolation. Here’s some pictures, have a look:
And cooked, of course, cooked the world’s best – and easiest – BBQ chicken. Congratulations, you’ve made it this far, here, at long last, is the recipe. It’s for something I call:
Cumin Drunk Chicken
You will need:
- 2 boneless chicken breasts or thighs
- Tablespoon of sake
- Shiokoushou (finely ground salt and pepper)
- Cumin seed.
- At least 12 hours before the BBQ, chop chicken into bite-size pieces. Throw them in a small plastic bag.
- Add sake, cumin, salt and pepper to the bag. Massage the bag
- Leave in fridge overnight
- For ease of cooking, before barbequing, thread the pieces onto skewers
- Grill over a medium heat, turning occasionally
That’s all there is to it. It can even be done at home in a frying pan, but cooking over charcoal and eating outdoors does undoubtedly make it more delicious.
Now the recipe is out there, go on try it, we dare you.
Or are you…
** Attack Of The Killer Jellyfish is the most oft-quoted reason
Life in the Japanese countryside is a life spent marking time. The most noticeable, and celebrated, (and commercialized – there are bus tours for the passionate) markers are the blooming of the cherry blossoms in spring, and the changing colours of autumn. But there are literally dozens more, most of them small, for those with an eye on The March of Time.
Kitchengardenjapan’s two favourites are so thus. Small showings, unpretentious but oh-so significant.
February sees hukinotou, wild butterbur sprouting on the orchard floor. A sight to rejoice at, and a delicacy to eat, hukinotou signifies the ending of winter, the start of spring, and warmer days to come. A great shake for a Planter.
The second sight for sore eyes are the blooming of higanbana in the hedgerows and on the paths between rice paddies. Inedible, but eaten nevertheless when the rice crop failed, these beautiful flowers signal the end of another sticky summer and the beginning of Japan’s most clement season. Skies are blue and cloudless; dragonflies perform, and a post-summer serenity settles. Mosquito numbers wane (hurrah!); Even incidental typhoons, hurrying through, end in cyan calm. In the countryside, for the rice growers, it’s a time to get the subsidized (thus doubly) golden harvest in; for us, it’s a time to wind down, save seeds and plot about planting trees. It’s the best time of the year to be in Japan, without a shadow of a doubt. And today, mooching about, I saw the first of the year. Higanbara, Marked.
For those readers considering coming to Japan, mark late September down in your diary. For those of us living here, otsukare! Let the calm times roll…
Kitchengardenjapan, dancing happily.
More on hukinotou: http://kitchengardenjapan.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-f-words/
So after three glorious weeks of “SKIing” (Spending the Kids’ Inheritance) around the Great British Isles and Europe, it’s out of the flying pan and into the sticky inferno that is late-August Japan. Oh, F…iddlesticks!
A summer return to Japan is never the best idea, for as soon as the airport doors slide open, the lurking humidity clobbers you welcome. It mauls you like a bear on heat*. What takes a lot of acclimatizing to become acclimatized to jumps on you like a (foreign), furry mugger in the night. It doesn’t help that this summer is apparently the hottest since records began.
So with the heat cranked up, it behoves kitchengardenjapan to flick two fingers to the thermometer to and sweatily type up a quick recipe that is born of summer and hot coals – a necessary BBQ favourite.
Necessary for two reasons. The first is that Japan is perhaps the best place on earth for BBQing: From the earliest blossoms in spring till the last leaf falls in autumn, the season barely pauses for the inconvenience of winter before the griddles come out again and inviting Nirvanas of smoke twirl up again in park branches, beaches and in backyards.
The second reason - and this is with absolutely no disrespect to mine most esteemed hosts – is that the Japanese cannot, for their lives - barbeque well. Sorry, Japan, you fail. You’re good at a lot of things, but BBQing does not make the list.
The meat doesn’t help. Too often cut too thin, chopsticks dance, fingers lead a merry, singed dance and the fortune forked out lands on one’s paper plate like a murdered cat off a hot tin roof.
But wait, for that’s the good bit: It gets even worse when it comes to the vegetables.
The vegetables? Oh, Woe! Woe! Thrice Woe! Pluck out yer eyes (for they’re good in miso soup and full of collagen) and despair, for ’tis a black, black tale.
Eggplant? Throw it on. Burn it. Onions? Throw ‘em on. Burn ‘em. Peppers? Throw on. Burn. Cabbage? Bang! Pumpkin? Boom! Just Throw It On! Don’t mind! Just fiddle with it, give it a char, dunk it in tare (sauce) to destroy any taste, serve with relish and glow in the satisfaction of eatin’ ‘ealthy.
It’s weird. Here we live in a nation fastidiously in love with elegant food yet every time the coals come out, one is treated to a culinary travesty of Puccini proportions. Stop it, Japan! Stop it NOW! Stop cremating your vegetables!
Here’s how: I call them Fiddlesticks.
You will need
- Skewers (long ones)
- Vegetables (anything really, but mini-tomatoes, zucchini**, mushrooms, onion, peppers all work well)
- Bacon (thick cut, smoked if you can get it***)
- Olive oil (infused with basil or other herb goodness)
- Coarse salt. The more foul-mouthed the better.
- Slice and dice veg (with the mini-toms an exception)
- Slide three mixed veg on the skewer
- Slide on a folded 1-inch long piece of bacon – double up if using thin slices
- 3 to 1, 3 to 1 as far as the skewer will let you
- Brush or douse with oil
- Sprinkle salt, just a little
- BBQ. Stay close, turn often.
The result is a piece-by-piece, pick-and-mix, bite-by-bite sensation, bonded by the saltiness and meatiness of the bacon. This is good. This is very good. Listen, Japan, do us all a favour. Put away your chopsticks, stop yer fiddling. THIS is the way your summer vegetables want to go****.
* Just to let you know, the bear thing is a bit of artistic licence: I’ve never knowingly, at least, been mauled by a randy bear. I have though, had my leg (short pants ‘n’ all), rogered by a French poodle. Oh, how my parents laughed.
** Tough to find in supermarkets and fields but for sale in most JA outlets
*** Good luck with that.
**** For okra, a whole different kettle of fish, search for the subtly entitled entry The Best Okra Recipe In The World, Of All Time, Ever, which is the best okra recipe in the world, of all time, ever.
If, like me, you are a product of Grim Climes, then you, like me, would be giddy at the prospect of harvesting grapes.
Grapes, I says, grapes. Food for Emperors, Gods and hopefully, me.
I planted a couple of vines a couple of years back and have trained them up the arbor, the final intention being to lounge in a shady hammock and languidly have them fed to me by ravaging beauties in revealing togas. And the first decent harvest is almost upon us.
For the best chance of success, the grapes are now netted away, hopefully out of sight and out of reach of birds, and come September we shall dine. So any ravaging beauties with revealing togas out there are encouraged to apply immediately, with pictures, to kitchengardenjapan. In fact, the more, the merrier.
Go on. You know you want to.
Heh, heh, heh,
Taking The Plunge
It’s summer. And summer means bow-waves and beer, and snorkelling and sazae - sea snails, eaten either raw (smash the shells with a hammer and slice ‘em up) or grilled, with a little bit of soy sauce in the top.
I cannot, in all consciousness, recommend them as a food source. They’re vile creatures, an as-plain-on-the-nose-of-your-face fact that my wife and kids, along with the vast majority of this archipelago fail to realise. Shudder. The faint-hearted of you may want to turn away now:
I can only assume there must be something in the water.
The main reason for this post however, is not to talk about food foibles but really to confess. You see, the grand irony of this grand blog – kitchengardenjapan – is that the domain name is actually misleading: We do not actually own a kitchen garden. Ah. Sorry ’bout that. www.jumpinthecargodoabitandcomebackjapan just lacked the required, nay the desired sexiness. So sue me for misrepresentation.
We have land of course; an orchard, a slab of mountain and a big ol’ field. But they’re a ten minute drive (or a thirty minute I’m-gonna-die-in-this-heat bike ride) away, but not a kitchen garden, unless you count a few herbs and cucumbers.
That is, until now. Because we’ve finally taken the plunge and gone and put a deposit down on a (used, of course) 5LDK house - and land. 426 square meters all told, complete with lawn, established fruit trees (Satsuma oranges, apple, kumquat and chestnut), sheds, a hothouse that gives strawberries in winter, and – wait for it – a kitchen garden, with a well (as well, for good measure).
On the downside, it’ll be a while before we can move in, the present owners waiting for their downsized pad to be built. And of course, nothing is ever over until the weight-challenged lass sings, but it seems (touch wood) that the lie, the shame, the burdensome albatross, the dark, dark wrong at the very core of kitchengardenjapan shall soon (touch wood again) be righted.
Here’s some pictures.
And trust me on the sazae.