Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

On Dec. 16, I wrote about my buckwheat harvest and how I planned to make "Toshi Koshi Soba" for New Years Eve.
So we did it! We made "Go-Wari Soba." Which means that it is half buckwheat and half wheat flour (the gluten holds it together).
If you want to try it, you need:

150g Buckwheat flour
150g Wheat flour
129g water between 20-25 degrees C.

Start with 150g each buckwheat flour and wheat flour.
Measure the water into two cups- 90g in one, 39 in the other. 
Sift the flours together
Now you have 300g of flour ready to go
My helpers drizzle 90g of water while stirring with chopsticks.
Then mix it with your fingers to make it grainy.
Add the 39g of water a little at a time as you continue to mix it.
When the grains get bigger, stop adding water and make a ball.
Kneading the dough 100 times
Cover the dough and let it rest while you flour your rolling surface and get out the rolling pin.
In Japan, most serious foodies have a soba kit, with a big rolling pin and board.
I am not a foodie, I'm an eater. I use my table and a regular sized pin.
Press the dough flat with your palms.

Begin rolling the dough out. You are aiming for a rectangle.
After two or three times, roll the dough onto the rolling pin, and rotate it 90 degrees.
Then unroll it again, and continue. This should give you a relatively square piece.

When it is about 1mm thick, flour 1/2 of the sheet, and fold it in half.
It helps if you roll the sheet onto the rolling pin one last time before you fold it,
otherwise it will stretch and stick to your table surface.

Fold it in half again, (now it is four layers thick) and put it on a cutting board.
Use another cutting board as a ruler and cut the noodles about 1mm thick.
If you cut, and bump the ruler with the side of your knife, you can get a good rhythm going.

The noodles, cut and ready to boil.
Put a BIG kettle on the stove and get it boiling. 

Now you need to make the soup. I didn't take pictures of it, but it is so easy.

6 cups of dashi-broth (made from dried bonito flakes, or "Katsuobushi". Look in an Asian Grocery. Most people use prepared granular bullion)
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp of mirin
1 tsp of sugar
1 skinless chicken breast cut in bite sized pieces.
Dump it all in a pot and boil it until the chicken is done.

By  now the big kettle should be boiling. 

You will need a large bowl, with a smaller colander inside it, and a steady stream of cold water into the bowl.
Divide the noodles in four (I like to put them into the four bowls that we will use to eat with), and get ready, because this part moves fast.
1. Drop 1/4 the noodles into the boiling water, and stir it a few times to make sure the noodles don't stick to each other.
2. When the noodles float to the top and the boiling resumes, count to 15, scoop the noodles out, and put them into the colander. Rinse them lightly, drain, and transfer them to the bowl you will eat out of. (try one noodle to see if it is done to your preference, you can then adjust the time)
3. Repeat steps one and two for the other 3 bowls.
4. Ladle some of the soup into the bowls over the noodles, maybe sprinkle some green onions and tenkasu on top, and dig in. After finishing the noodles, put a ladle of the water used to boil the noodles into your bowl and drink it dry. 

A bit thick and thin, but delicious!
(We didn't have any green onion)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Radiation Test- Passed!

I went to city hall with a liter of water from our well, and we passed the test!
Clean Water

Less than 30 Bq/kg of Cs-137, Cs-134, I-131, and K-40 were present in our well water. 
Whew, that is a load off our minds. 
Sometime after the New Year our friend will come and measure around the house and gardens with a handheld geiger counter. Then I will feel even safer (I hope).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dried Persimmon Taste Test

Hoshi-Gaki or Dried Persimmon
 The Persimmons I dried this year are nearing completion- So on Saturday, the kids and I decided to have a nice little snack and some genmai-cha (green tea with toasted brown rice). It was a very Japanese morning snack. Quite lovely. The persimmon had a leathery skin- kind of like a fruit leather, but the inside was very sticky and sweet. It tasted a lot like a rather juicy date. And the contrast with the bitter green tea.... fabulous!

I think this will be a Saturday tradition as long as they hold out.
That is a healthy snack.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Red Zinger = Brilliant Yellow Fertilizer

I think most of my readers know I use diluted urine as fertilizer. Well recently I have been drinking enormous amounts of Celestial Seasoning's Red Zinger tea. I love that stuff. Well, I don't know if it is just me, but Holy Moley that is some brilliant yellow! Looks like I have been drinking highlighter pen ink!

If you really want to see what color it is, I am almost ashamed to admit I actually took a picture of it before diluting it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Operation Inoshishi: Permaculture Wild Boars

Random Boar Damage- this was a nicely sculpted slope.
While doing some year-end cleaning of the bedroom, I came across Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemmingway again. I do love that book- it really got me interested in Permaculture when I read it 7 years ago. Anyway, I browsed through it and re-read the passage about the "quail tractor" he made by moving a bird feeder around to where he wanted to plant the next year. The quail would come to the feeder, and scratch and peck under the feeder to get the loose grains. By doing so they also fertilized and ate most of the weed seeds, leaving a nice bare area to plant flowers or some vegetables in.
I have decided that since the wild boars are coming to my garden anyway, I can try and get some use out of them. They come in and root around randomly- Maybe I can pursuade them to work a specific area?

This will be my new paddy next year
Phase 1. I dug six 30cm deep holes (one foot) with a posthole digger- about one meter apart. The area is going to be next year's rice paddy- I need to get all the roots and stuff out of the way, but it is a beast trying to dig them out.

Phase 2. I took the kitchen food scraps out and put them into the holes, and scattered just a little around them.
Ummm.... slops... Come and get 'em!

The idea is that the boars will smell the delicious scraps, not be able to reach them, and then root around to dig them out of their fairly deep holes. I have no idea if this will work, but if you can't beat them, use them I say.

Which brings us to Phase 3. If they do decide to help out, after I get enough use out of them, I will have my friend trap them. Steal my sweet potatoes, taro, carrots, and fall potatoes- I'll show you! Muhahahahaha!!! (Besides, with the fewer hunters since the nuclear accident, we need to thin out their numbers. The populations more than double each year without thinning....)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Liebster Award!

A few days ago, my blog friend Dan RM gave me a Liebster award and some wonderful PR on his blog, Circle of the Sun. I was very happy!
If you don't know what a Liebster award is (I know I didn't until a few days ago), here is a little copy-paste from a past recipient:

The Liebster is awarded to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. ‘Liebster’ is a German word meaning dear, sweet, kind, nice, good, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. What a gift to be awarded with such kindness! Now for the rules:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all – have fun!

So I want to say a big "Thank you!" to Dan, and nominate my five picks. (I really wanted to nominate Walden Effect, but I am sure that any blog that well written will have way more than 200 subscribers.) In no particular order:

1. El Diario de Kurikindi. A Japanese woman living with her family in Ecuador- The permaculture-natural agriculture learning center Kurikindi. The blog is in Japanese, but recently online translators are getting better and better. From Solar dryers to humanure toilets (Ah, a fellow humanure composter!)

2. Woodhenge Self Reliance Campus. If you ever need to build something from scrap- or make a working submersible pump out of two boxes of spaghetti, an altoids tin, and four pieces of juicy-fruit gum (just kidding, you need a bit more than that) this is the place to come. This guy can do anything.

3. Keith C. Blackmore. A good friend and great indie writer. Kids books, fantasy, and what can I say- Zombie horror stories- I love them! The character he introduced in his short story collection "Cauldron Gristle" is now the feature of a new book- "Mountain Man." I love indie authors and their affordable books.

4. Baba Capra. Lots of humor and recipes from an opinionated but obviously wonderful person.

5. The Year Of Mud. Ziggy built a house out of dirt on an ecovillage in Missouri. Tons of information about building with cob, reciprocal roofs, and general natural building of all kinds. I love this place. Especially the step by step building of the cob house- with all the learning curve mistakes documented as well. If you ever dreamed of living in a hobbit house- this blog can help you build it.

There you have it- my five picks. Check them out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Buckwheat Harvest 2011

This year, I grew some buckwheat in the garden. I think it was a success. I ended up with one kilo of unhulled buckwheat. Not too shabby.
Buckwheat sheaves drying in early November
Growing buckwheat is quite easy. After planting it on August 15, I only weeded once, and thinned the stand at the same time. After that, it just grew (with a few waterings of diluted urine of course). And man, did it grow! After the weeding, it went to canopy in just a few days and shaded out most of what was below it. Then came the long flowering period, with lots and lots of bees. And by October 30, it was ready to harvest (But I was busy for a few days and finally got to it on November 2.)

To harvest the buckwheat, you just need a hand sickle and some long straw, or string.
1. Grab a handful of stalks near the base, and cut them with the sickle. Quite a few of them will break off, buckwheat stems are very brittle.
2. When you have a generous handful, take a few long straws and wrap them around the base twice, twist them two or three times, and tuck it under the band.
3. When you finish binding, stack the sheaves stems down along a fence, or drape them over the top rail.
4. After a week to ten days, they should be dry enough to thresh.

For the buckwheat I grew here, I threshed it by hand. It is not so hard- just grab a bundle and cut/untie the band. Then close your gloved fist around a few stalks at the base and pull it through your fist. The seeds will pop off onto the tarp you have of course laid on your threshing floor. Continue for longer than you thought it would take, and you have a bundle of buckwheat stems, and a lot of seeds and trash on the tarp. If you have a few sunny days coming up, dry the buckwheat and chaff for a few days, but you can winnow them right away if needed.

You need moving air to winnow effectively. If there is no wind, you can use a fan. I placed a cardboard box in the middle of the tarp, just below my fan. Then I slowly sprinkled handfuls of seeds and chaff. The trash mostly blew away, and I had a box full of fairly clean seed. So I did it again, and again.
Finally, I had one kilogram of buckwheat. I have a plan to make a hopefully more effective winnower from some cardboard boxes- look forward to that project next year.

I finally spread the seeds thinly in a shallow cardboard tray and have them drying indoors. I stir them occasionally. The plan is to make soba noodles for the traditional "Toshi Koshi Soba" on Dec. 31. The tradition comes from how busy the Japanese housewives are making "Osechi" (a special New Years boxed lunch) for the extended family at year end. The housewives prefer to make something easy and quick on New Year's Eve. It is bad luck to not eat all the noodles, so don't make too many.

The buckwheat patch is now resting until spring (I forgot to order cover crop seeds). What do you think I should put in there next? We went from: weedy pasture-potatoes-buckwheat-fallow- ????

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Season's First Hard Frost

Well, it is official. After one or two very light patchy frosts, a hard frost has descended upon us. All the paulownia leaves fell off the tree to make a carpet of enormous leaves below it. Yesterday it still had a full crown of green, this morning I watched the leaves drop off seemingly by light pressure as the sun's rays hit it.

-4 C ! (-4x9=-36/5=-7.2+32=24.8 F)
The carpet of pawlownia leaves
The Nasturtiums are maybe down for the count this time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Persimmon Season

Well, it is the tail end of the persimmon drying season. A friend had some drying under the eaves of his house. Since this year my trees had about 5 fruit, he gave me a shopping bag full. Some were apple hard, others were just bags of pulp.
I peeled the hard ones and hung them to dry, and I scooped out the pulp and pureed it for the soft ones.
So I will be making persimmon bread again today.
Man, I love persimmons!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Late November Broccoli

Found this beauty in the garden the day before Thanksgiving, and didn't get around to posting it. 
I love Broccoli!
Actually, I am amazed the wild boars didn't eat it. They seem to know everything else that I like...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kabosu and Sudachi and Uses

A mikan (satsuma) as big as a large orange...
I love citrus. Maybe more than the average person. I have 14 satsuma trees, a yuzu, a kabosu, a sudachi, and three kumquats. I just can't get enough! Of course, the satsuma are all pretty young, and have yet to come into bearing. There was one on the tree this year. I watched as the solitary fruit got bigger and bigger- it was the size of a navel orange! Then the goats escaped.... Papa was not happy that day....

But where was I? Oh yeah, my kabosu and sudachi trees were planted a year earlier than the satsumas, so they have come into bearing. And boy, did they ever!

Sudachi closeup
My sudachi was covered in fruit. I have been picking and using it since September, and there are still fruits on it. Most of the use is pretty simple- making sudachi-ade, squeezing it into soda water, or making margaritas. We used some on some fish too. Wonderful stuff, this sudachi. Usually they are used when still green, but the cooler fall weather turned them orange. Still taste the same.

The other tree that is bearing as well is the kabosu. A kabosu is larger than a sudachi, and tastes more like a lemon I think. It has a nice, thick peel that you can use for zest, or you can boil it down with some sugar to make candied kabosu. That was so good. My simple take on the recipe? Quarter the fruit, peel and all. Cut 5mm slices. Weigh it. Add that weight of sugar and the fruit into a pot with 100ml of water. Boil it down until it is ambrosia.

Kabosu also work well in soda water or any cocktail that would use a lemon or lime. Like the sudachi, they are traditionally used green.

What do you think? Any ideas on how to use up this bounty?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Solar Parabolic Cooker Part 1: The Makening

(yes, I know "makening" isn't a word. But I couldn't resist)

I have always been fascinated by solar energy. So one day I was browsing around Solar's website, and when I took a look at my scrap pile, I realized that I had enough to make a very nice solar parabolic cooker.

The plan I chose was the 12 sided Parvati cooker because I love parabolic dishes.
I converted the measurements into metric and doubled all of them. Then I cut out the template from some cardboard.
After weighing the pros and cons of cardboard, I decided to build the cooker out of foil covered 1.2mm veneer plywood, of which I had a nice stash of. You could probably salvage some cheap veneer siding from houses that are going to be demolished. You don't need to go and buy it.
So, I traced the shapes onto the plywood and cut them out with a utility knife. Since I was using plywood which won't bend so well, I cut out each segment. It took a few passes, but it was a clean cut.
After cutting out all the pieces, I had 12 each of the large, medium, and small.
I thinned out some regular woodglue with water and brushed it onto the pieces and covered them with aluminum foil.
The outer panels ready for foil

Joining the middle panels with black fabric tape
After they dried for a few days, I began to piece them together with fabric tape.

The curve took shape as I joined them together.
After joining, the first part of the parabola took shape
Then I attached the largest pieces one at a time. When the final piece was completed, it was much sturdier.
Last, I cut a disk of plywood the size of the base, covered the center with foil, and glued it to the bottom. Now it was quite sturdy.

And then I waited for sun. And waited, and am still waiting. Stay tuned for part 2- "The Testening" and part 3, "The Cookening."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fixing The Maul

The head came off the maul the other day. Thought I should fix it.

I cut down the top of the handle about 3cm. Then I used a plane to shave off some wood so the head would fit. 
After getting it on, I used the small wedge and drove it in with my hammer. 
It still sticks up a bit, but not too much.

It worked fine when I tested it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Estimating Wood Needs

Since we started heating with wood, I have never known how much wood we burn in a year. I am always splitting more, and never have time to count cords. So I came up with a way to estimate how much wood I need in a year. And then, lo and behold, my favorite blog "Walden Effect" had a post on their wood supply.

So I thought I would share my method. This works with any kind of wood, I burn mostly cedar and cypress (gasp!). Because all wood has the same energy per kilogram. It just takes more pieces and chimney cleaning to burn softwoods.

Step 1. About how many days will you use your woodstove? It doesn't have to be exact, but it is better to over than under estimate. Here we usually burn from mid-November to mid-April. So 5 months. 5x30 is 150 days.
Like I said, this is not rocket science.
Step 2. How much wood do you use every day  on average? An easy way to figure that out is to fill your woodbox/rack in the morning, and count how many pieces of wood are in it. The next morning at about the same time, count again and subtract. We burn an average of 30 pieces of wood per day. The more days that you count it, the more accurate your estimate will become. Multiply your number by the heating days. In my case: 150 days x 30 pieces = 4500 pieces of wood. But who wants to count to 4500 when you are splitting? Not me.
Step 3. Go to your woodpile and count how many splits are in a square foot of face on your woodpile. (Yes, that is right, Mr. Metric says count in feet. The numbers are easier to imagine in this case) We average about 15 splits  (I split quite small, since I procrastinate so badly- they need to dry faster than other people's wood). With 32 square feet of face on a cord, that comes to 480 per tier. If you cut to 16 inch lengths (three tiers/cord), that is 1440 pieces per cord. If you cut to 12 inches like me (four tiers/cord), that is 1920.
Step 4. Divide your needs by the pieces/cord. For my case 4500 pieces/1920 pieces = 2.34375 cords. Let's round up and say two and a half cords.

Or you can just use my handy dandy Wood Needs Calculator.

So, now I should get out there splitting, 'cause I only have 1.5 cords split and stacked!

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Hate Wild Boars

It all started about a week ago.
The dog started barking like mad. I thought, maybe it is just a cat or something, and went back to reading my book. But the barking continued, so I went out to check. When I got down to the dog, I heard something very very large moving away from my taro patch. Oh no... I thought. The full moon shone down on a pig about the size of a small house, waddling away from my beloved elephant ears patch... Speaking of them, WHY COULDN'T I SEE THEIR USUAL 150CM HIGH SHAPES?!!?!?!?!? I let the dog loose and he chased a pig four times his size into the bamboo.

The Taro Boar Disaster Aftermath
I hate boars.

The next day I harvested, or should I say salvaged the last 10Kg or so. I suppose 10% is better than none... It doesn't feel like it when you look at though... Then I took the dog for a walk down past the bottom garden. WHERE WERE MY FALL POTATOES??????

I hate boars.

Then I noticed that the net fence I lent our friend who is gardening on a little patch by ours...I thought:
and also
HOW MUCH CAN ONE BOAR EAT IN A NIGHT?????!??!?!?  Whew, I guess he only ate about 1/5 or so. I felt a stab of jealousy that she still had at least some crop. Then I felt bad that I was jealous. I am a complicated kind of guy.
Boars love sweet potatoes.
I hate boars.

I was able to reduce some of the damage by tying up Mocha the wonder dog near the garden. He is a heck of a good mutt. He got some extra special food and a longer than usual walk.
His head isn't really that big. Otherwise he would fall over all the time.

Fava Beans and more!

Well, they have come up- and despite some damage from wild boars (more on that in a later post) they are looking good!
Fava Beans poking up

Komatsuna for a windbreak

Sugar Snap Peas

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Rice For Lunch

My homegrown Koshi-Hikari and my wife's "Saba no Miso-ni" (Miso Mackerel)

Well, I finally had a chance. I cooked and ate the rice.
It was so good! But I am not exactly an unbiased party.
According to my wife, who is Japanese and spent her entire life eating rice, the texture was "mochiri" (kind of springy) and the taste was different from the Koshi-Hikari rice that we usually buy. I think she is being polite when she says "different." But I loved it. The kids loved it, and the woman I love says she loves it just to make me feel good!
She is sitting behind me on the sofa and she says that I should have put the fish and rice on proper serving dishes if I was going to put the picture on the blog. So imagine the rice in a bowl, and the fish on a square plate, with the chopsticks balanced on a ceramic eggplant, with a lacquer bowl of miso soup behind them. (I just didn't want to do all those dishes)

If you want to make Miso Mackerel at home, here is my wife's take on the recipe.

Mackerel (1, cut into fillets)
Soy sauce 1 tbsp
Japanese Cooking Sake (rice wine) 1/3cup
Water 1 cup
Sugar 3 tbsp
Miso 4 tbsp
Ginger (freshly grated 2 tbsp) or powdered ginger 1/2 tsp.

1. Pour some boiling water over the mackerel.
2. Bring the water, soy sauce, and rice wine to a boil, and put the mackerel (skin side up) in the pot. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes or so.
3. Add the miso and boil it down until it is nice and thick.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Planting Jinenjo (Dioscorea opposita )

I have no idea if I did it right, it is just an experiment.

First, I lay a piece of Moso bamboo I had split and knocked the nodes out of and checked the length.

Then, I dug a trench in the side of my garden bank and put the bamboo trough in it.

Then I filled the trench with soft soil, being careful to avoid any rocks or roots.

At the top of the bamboo trough, I put the top 15cm of jinenjo root my friend gave me, and carefully replaced the soil around it.

The theory is that the root will grow down the bamboo trough, and I won't have to dig a one meter deep hole next to the root just to get it out without breaking it.

**** 2012/05/06**** The embankment was destroyed by wild boars, and I am afraid the jinenjo were as well.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rice Threshing 2011

My Rice- Koshi-Hikari
Well, I did it. And it feels good. A bit embarassing, but still pretty good.

As you know, this year I grew some rice. The kids and built the paddy, planted the rice, watched it grow, and harvested it.
And now it is threshed and de-hulled.
Here is the story in pictures.

I took the rice off the drying racks and carted it up to the house. That way, I could sit in the sun and work threshing the grain from the straw. I tried a number of ways. I beat it with a stick. I walked on it, but the best method by far was to grasp a few stalks in my hands, and run my fingers from the base to the head. The kernels just popped right off. Of course, this method will be too labor intensive if I ever grow rice well enough for a decent harvest. But for my harvest... Meh.

Here we have a mid threshing shot.
And a closeup of after stripping the grains. Lots of empty hulls and small bits of straw. I then spent a few minutes picking up handfuls of the grain and chaff, and rubbing my hands together to separate them.

Then I winnowed the grain by the time honored method of throwing it up in the air and letting the breeze carry away an alarming amount of empty hulls and straw. After gathering it back up, it looked like this.

And so I weighed it. 1500g. of unhulled rice. Hmm.... 25 square meters, 400 plants, 1500g of rice.... Oh, did I forget? I took it to the big machine in town to have it polished up and the hulls removed.

It came back at 1000g. Yes, my yield was 40g/ square meter.

So if 1 acre equals 4047 square meters, I would have grown  161.88 Kg. of rice, or  356.9Lbs...

(in 2001, the US average rice harvest/ acre was 6374 Lbs...)

All the more incentive to do better next year.
But I will enjoy eating this rice!

My Precious.....