Settling into Spring

Spring makes me antsy – it puts me in the mood for travel, for adventure, for places yet unseen. The promise of summer’s balmy nights lies not far off, just perceptible, like a taste on the tip of the tongue. I always have to be careful, though, to not wish on summer too eagerly. In the end, it always passes far too quickly, leaving me wishing I had savored the moments between the seasons more judiciously.

This year I’m making an effort to do just that. As we begin the inexorable slide toward summer, I find myself cooking less intensively but still craving sustenance with some body. Although warm food still seems appropriate, spring’s delicate, young vegetables – a far cry from the flamboyant, exuberant bounty of summer produce – call for a light hand in seasoning and preparation.

While Western cuisine can certainly do justice to spring produce (as evidenced by this gorgeous spread), the restrained flavors and minimalist preparations of Japanese cooking seem, in some ways, much better suited to these fleeting delicacies. I’m certainly not butter-averse (particularly when it comes to baked goods), but dousing vegetables with the stuff is not exactly an affordable proposition in Japan, where less than half a pound costs upwards of 350 yen (~4 USD). So, I’ve decided to take a different approach this spring and try my hand at some unfamiliar dishes.

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A Weekend in Akita

I originally wrote this post back in (gasp!) late February. I had planned to post it a few days before the earthquake and then found myself bogged down in work and other obligations. When the earthquake hit, all planned activities, blogging and otherwise, were put on hold. It’s never too late to catch up, right?

The post details a trip I took to visit my friend Charlotte in Akita prefecture. Akita, which is in the Tōhoku region, shares borders with Aomori prefecture to the north, Iwate prefecture to the east, and Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures to the south. (Need to brush up on your Japanese geography? Look no further.) It is a place of rugged beauty, marked by vast rice-producing plains, remote hot springs, and densely wooded mountains. Although Akita was spared the horrific physical damage of the March 11th disaster, its proximity to the affected areas no doubt made the experience feel much closer to home than for those of us in the Tokyo area.

Last Wednesday marked two months since the disaster, so it seems somehow appropriate to post this now, despite the decidedly wintery visuals and subject matter. (I have left it unedited from its original form.) As the disaster fades from public consciousness outside Japan, I urge you to please keep the people of Tōhoku in your thoughts and remind those around you that this humanitarian crisis still deserves the world’s attention and support. Thank you for reading, as always!

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