Monday, June 22, 2009
The importance of rice to the Japanese diet cannot be over stated. Rice has had a long, rich history in Japan, and even as times and trends change, rice will continue to play a part in Japanese culture and cuisine. It’s really the backbone of everyday life.
Since its introduction to Japan more than 2000 years ago, it has become the staple grain of this island nation. It grows well in Japan’s climate, and the annual rituals of sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting follow the seasons. Many homes in rural Japan have their own rice paddy.
When I stayed with Chef, Deco Nakajima and husband Everett Brown – at Brownsfield, an organic rice farm and health retreat – I helped bring in the rice harvest over the course of the fall, and over several paddies. Brownsfield grows enough rice to feed their family of 5 plus 5 interns for the whole year. That’s a bit more than 1000 pounds!
But, before you can harvest the rice there are structures to be built. Fence units made of bamboo need to be erected. Long 30 foot poles are harvested from the forest, the ends hollowed out so that one can handily fit into another. Support poles are fashioned, 2 together to create upside down v shape. The resulting fence will hold the bundles of rice, hanging to dry.
In fact, on my arrival at Brownsfield I was immediately sent into the forest with a hand scythe to go fetch some bamboo. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but didn’t want to seem like a wimp, either. Off I went, and figured it out pretty quick. You want to work fast and efficiently in those woods since they are infested with mosquitoes!
Some folks wear rubber boots to venture into the paddy, but Everett subscribes to the barefoot method. Prepare to get very muddy! At first it’s a little creepy but after a while the cool mud is quite refreshing. Usually you work in pairs, with one person cutting off the sheathes of rice and another taking 2 bundles and tying them together with lengths of dried grasses. Big buzz of pride, once mastered!
Harvesting is a time for celebration, and usually a festive meal ensues, often pot luck. Once everybody gets hosed off! And while Deco and her crew are famous for their fabulous macrobiotic dishes, no meal is complete without a simple bowl of nutty organic brown rice, and a bowl of soothing Miso Soup. Intern Yuma, who was my farm boss and subsequently became my protégé in the kitchen (in breadmaking!) taught me this simple version that you can whip up on the spot in time for breakfast.
Miso Soup – Feeds 10
2.5 L water
1 yellow onion peeled and cut in 8 wedges
1 large carrot, scrubbed, cut in large dice
1 piece seaweed (kombu is good)
2 or 3 dried shitake mushrooms
2 – 3 large T of miso (can use white, yellow or red)
Optional garnishes: sliced green onions, enoki mushrooms, slivered red raddish.
In a large pot put all ingredients (except miso) on and bring to a boil. Turn heat to med and let simmer about 20 minutes. Scoop out mushrooms, remove and discard stems, cut cap in slivers and return to pot. Use a bit of the stock to moisten your miso, and return to pot. Let it warm through and garnish as you wish.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
First post! Mixed in with my own musings and stories, I'm going to post articles from others about alternative travel. I spent a month in this lovely Yucatan home caring for the owners 5 rescued dogs... on the beach!
Here's an article from Ian White who lives in Australia and why house sitting is a cool alternative to traditional travel... read on.
It's true, people need to escape the burdens of daily life for awhile--from things like mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, painting, gardening, remodeling, home repairs, pet care, checking the mail, and paying their bills. Even a break from nosy neighbors is reason enough to get away for a while.
But weeds don't pull themselves. Bills don't pay themselves.Most pets won't feed themselves. Yet, the grass keeps growing beneath their feet. Ironically, people become tied to their homes by the same responsibilities that they are trying to escape. And, since the families that play together, stay together; people are not likely to leave a sibling or spouse at home to keep up on these tasks. It's a really discouraging circle.
For homeowners, the solution seems clear: find somebody to stay at their house, and take care of everything while they're gone.The challenge, however, is finding somebody they can trust. Friends? Perhaps. But most people feel uncomfortable asking their friends to shoulder such a tremendous burden. Relatives? Possibly, but many homeowners don't like the thought of leaving their homes in the care of their crazy cousin, Eddie. Or worse.
What homeowners need are honest people to occupy their homes. People who desire a change of scenery, for example, or save for homes of their own. People who wish to be closer to their own families; writers seeking peace, quiet, and inspiration. And they definitely need people who understand their specific requirements, and someone they can trust. Enter www.housecarers.com, an online search and screen database for house sitters and homeowners to share information. The introduction of Housecarers.com allows people to leave their troubles behind. Literally.
At Housecarers.com, a unique search utility allows users to screen thousands of registered house sitters according to age, location, occupation, and just about any other requirements that they select. From short to long term, and from yard to garden, people can find a perfect match, including a house sitter who will manage all lawn and garden needs, pet care (no boarding fees), mail collection, bill payment, utilities, and any other issues that may arise.
And the service is very easy to use. For instance, when a homeowner registers with the system (a free service), they will be notified by e-mail any time a new house sitter matching their criteria signs up with the program. House sitters, in turn, are motivated to register because of the fast and reliable way in which they can find free accommodations in exchange for housesitting.
According to Jim Hale, who used Housecarers to find a house sitter, the system works remarkably well. Says Hale, "I looked on the Internet, found the HouseCarers web site, and registered our information. Within a couple of days, we had many responses -- some as far away as New Zealand! We got in touch with a couple in their 50s, and they turned out to be some of the nicest people we've ever met! The whole thing worked out very well -- they stayed with us a few days before our trip, they did a great jobof watching over our house and our pets, and they even emailed usevery day to let us know everything was ok! The amazing thing is that we didn't have to spend a penny to have these great people take care of things!"