Murder, pickles

June 16, 2011

So, to pick up where we left off,

This would be my first animal slaughter. The old rooster had been replaced by a bigger, more exuberant fighting cock, and he was tagged to go. His comb was bloody and he was noticeably more docile, to use the old expression “like he had the piss taken out of him.” Masa-san, the resident know-it-all, seemed indifferent to the killing and even poked a bit of fun at my wincing hesitation. Gen was off pretending to work  but peeking around now and then, also taking some joy in my freshman approach. The chicken was tied up just outside the kitchen, and Masa held his head and wings back. “Make sure you cut through the main artery.”

The blood poured out and there was a series of a few shakes; he went limp.

This also happened to be one of the days where we had one of the middle school students around to help, to learn a career as a farmer. She eagerly cut through the rest of the neck and through the bone, guided by Masa-san. A boiling dip, plucking and gutting, and that night we had a good portion of meat to go with the endless rice and vegetables. Pass the umeboshi, please.

Some other food highlights this week: Tim’s lemon gyoza, Anna’s pea falafel, that one soup with wild boar bacon (a Masa creation, I think), Anna’s ichigo daifuku (a strawberry covered in sweet bean paste covered in mochi), Hanako’s green curry, and so many CABBAGE SALADS, yum. Oh, and then there was the ume rice with deep fried kouya dofu.

Somehow this turned into fermentation week, too. Starting with homemade natto. Natto is a funky soybean ferment that has a nutty taste, kind of like tempeh but slimier. We tried making it three ways; by using sto

Ok, I won’t go into the various ways that we made Natto. Because Tim has fed me a cup of rum. Here are pictures!

So, this is one natto batch inoculated with store-bought wrapped in rice straw. Another one was just wrapped in rice straw, which is said to have all the right bacteria to start the process the traditional way.

This is the end result of all three batches, all of which worked. Add some mustard and shoyu and hold on.

And on to more fermentation.

I have started a batch of nuka, a way of pickling vegetables using rice bran as a medium. Instead of tediously describing the process, here is a picture of the recipe (see also: rum, lazy)

And here is what it looks like in the crock:

Then there was the homebrewed soda-pop, which I learned to make from some friends back home. Lacto-fermented strawberry ginger soda:

The soda was so wildly popular (especially with little Mio-chan) that we started brewing up fresh batches with whatever was around, as to be seen here:

From left to right: Fennel soda, green shiso soda, some-kind-of-mint soda, red shiso (a common US invasive) soda, and sansho soda. Sansho are these tiny little citrusy berries that, when eaten, explore an entirely new area of taste, somewhere between sour and numb. They’re one of the weirdest things my mouth has tasted.

Also, the ubiquitous pickled new ginger root. It turns pink after a few days of soaking in the brine

And to conclude this nerd-fest of the wonders of mycelia and bacterium, here is Anna’s epic wall of preservation. Savor it.
Ah, yum.

We’re been splitting time between the fields and working on the new volunteer house, which has since been scrapped as the foundation was rotten. The kasugai house has gotten a bit crowded, with 12 people living in a small hundred-year-old traditional rural house. And somehow it’s still entirely comfortable. Plesant, even. It’s like some kind of bizarre summer camp. These people are awesome.

Today (it’s now a new day after last night, so I’m not liquored up anymore) I met another local farmer, Nori (that may be how it’s spelled…which I think translates to glue?) and his wife, Tama. He’s been growing on a small scale for sixteen years in a place called Sumiyama (which translates to “to live in the mountains”), planting, weeding, and harvesing BY HIMSELF. His wife is a full time grad student on course toward her PhD, studying the effects of uranium mining on certain indigenous peoples of New Mexico, and they both also raise three kids. His CSA veggie boxes are sold all around, and recently have found a market in Tokyo, where good, non-radiated food is in increasing demand.

Let me just say right off the bat that these two are amazing. Nori and I planted a bit of corn, tied up some tomatoes, and did a few other chores around his farm. We spent some time down by the rice paddies and he talked me through the planting, tending and harvesting procedures. Now, I’m terribly sorry if this is not exciting to most of you who sometimes read my writing, but for me this was invaluable. He grows organically, a movement which does not seem to have as much of a cult following as here in the US, and a technique deviating from all the stiff old farmers in the area growing with herbicides and petroleum-derived fertilizer. He does fertelize however, using leftover school luncheswith an added enzyme help the nutrients become available for the rice.

He plants later than the conventional farmers because “rice comes from a tropical climate… it likes to be warm,” and due to good management (proper spacing, a moderate amount of seedlings, healthy soil) his plants were just as tall as the ones in the neighboring fields. Sometimes he sings Tracy Chapman songs. We traded stories, about travelling, school, and history; and talked about Australopithecus afarensis, common ancestry, and cultural identity. We talked rock and roll and Kurosawa, Chief Black Elk and Taoism, and the possibilities of weeding with carp.

We took breaks for tea and lunch, when I had a chance to talk with Tama. She had lived for a couple of years in Albuquerque, going to school on a Fulbright scholarship, and working at the local homeless shelter. She had been involved in anti-nuclear protests, and has been deeply unsettled by the 3/11 earthquake and resulting nuclear disaster. She described to me her research; about the uranium mining in New Mexico and a few surrounding states and it’s devastating health impact on the Navajo in the area. She was quick to censure Japan’s slow and half-hearted reaction to the current nuclear crisis, and critical of their long-time embrace of nuclear energy as a whole.

I could go on at length about these two, about the wealth on conversation in one day, about the fact that they are living a relatively hard life because they believe so much in what they do, about their easy friendship, but I’ll leave with this inspirational quote from Henry Miller they had holding up their kids’ homework on the fridge.

Oh, and least I forget.

This week’s OHH quiz:

What the hell kind of bug bit  my foot, and should I be concerned?

The winner will receive a lucky teapot!


5 Responses to “Murder, pickles”

  1. Molly Akers said

    I really like reading your post about your activities, I think it is great that you have gotten to travel, see and experience so much in your life. My mother was into organic gardening way before your time and she truly enjoyed nature and all that it provided, has been a long time since we have seen you and I hope when you return we may get a visit in somewhere, may want to have that foot seen about ….Molly

  2. cdp said

    Bring back some recipes for me. Murder, pickles, whatever. I will get straight to the point… I have a book suggestion! Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (sp?) is the best damn book I’ve read all year. Read it. If you’re short on English reading material out there, send me your address and Ana and I would be honored to take up a collection to send you a care package.

    pax, hermano.


    • andrew said


      Hyogo Prefecture, Sasayama, Kasugae 285-2, Japan.

      I just finished a book Hannah Pearce gave me called “How Proust Can Change Your Life” about the philosophical merits of being bedridden, fragile, and surrounded by a vapid aristocracy. I could use a new book. I have a copy of “Eaarth” by Bill McKibben that you should enjoy. Mail me one, I’ll mail you one back.


  3. rachelrobot said

    Your foot!!!!! I don’t know what kind of bug bit it, but if it starts getting worse, it might fall off. I’m kidding. Can you have someone look at it? I can’t wait to hear about all of these adventures in person. Love you.

  4. It was probably something like this.

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