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Sunday, December 4, 2011

An Afternoon with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

I just went to one of the first event's of Austin's Eat Drink Local Week, An Afternoon with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. It was billed as an unrehearsed, earnest conversation between two of the most influential architects of the sustainable food movement, and that it was, splashed with some equally unscripted humor between the two long-time friends and moderator, Marla Camp. The laughs began when Wendell Berry didn't know where his microphone was because he was sitting on it, and they continued with asides like Wes Jackson recalling the first time he gave Wendell one of his essays to critique. Wes said it was though "Wendell had slit his wrists and bled on it, it was so marked up". I'm convinced that its because they have incredible senses of humor that they're able to address the greatest issues of humanity with steadfast hope and unblinking clarity. Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me from this afternoon's conversation.

"If you are only taking on problems that can be solved within your lifetime, you're not thinking long-term enough." - Wes Jackson. This made me think of how important it is to foster relationships between generations so that we can successively address critical issues far into the future.

"The individuals who bring about positive change in our society are those who simply see something that needs to be done and do it. They don't wait for permission or a grant from the government. They are almost never wealthy or powerful, but they find a way to do what's right." - Wendell Berry. Amen!

"We need people who will advance ideas that increase our imagination about possibilities, knowing they'll be defeated in the short run, because the idea once it's out there will never be completed defeated, and if it's a good idea it will eventually take root... But let's just focus on this planet for now; don't worry about getting to Mars. I promise you, this planet is zipping through the universe at a pretty good clip, so if we just hang on we'll get wherever a rocket ship would have taken us." - Wes Jackson. A good example of how he segues from a profound proclamation into neighborly humor.

"The carbon in our bodies has cycled through a supernova twice at least... Developing this kind of profound awareness and appreciation of our origins starts with going outside and getting reacquainted with nature." - Wes Jackson. This gave me goosebumps.

These two great thinkers gave me plenty to think about. They also inspired me to add yet more books to my ever-growing reading list.
Has anyone read these? Or have you read other books about nature, love, discovery, etc. that you would recommend?

Ever curious and appreciative,


Friday, October 21, 2011

When in Drought

Currently, about 95 percent of Texas is in either a severe or exceptional drought status and the past year has been the worst one-year drought in the state's history. This recent drought has devastated farmers and ranchers, and officials have estimated agriculture losses at more than 45.2 billion. This summer, hundreds of wildfires erupted in Texas and burned more than 127,000 acres, the most ever, and lake levels are down as much as 50 feet in some lakes while several West Texas lakes have completely dried up.

In recent statements, Texas State Climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon explains why he believes that this drought may last another five to fifteen years. For more, visit http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/2011/09/29/terrible-news-texas-drought-could-last-until-2020/

Or perhaps you prefer this explanation:
A cloud which was designed for rain
was home to drops (that should be plain) .
The forecast had announced some showers
thus, in the early morning hours
the signal came from higher up
that all the drops jump off the top.

Two oval shaped good looking drops
took off their speedos and their tops
and slowly went up to the edge
when one of them said 'I do pledge
to never misbehave again',
the other answered 'count to ten.'

They were afraid, that much is clear
and looking down increased their fear.
Little did each tiny rain drop know
How much they're needed for plants to grow
That without their courage and impending rain
Those below would suffer drought and pain.

Well you can guess what happened then
The number ten came and went.
Due to the drops' hesitation and doubt -
Here we are, in the middle of a drought.

Adapted from a poem by Herbert Nehrlich


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ping & Pillows: Photos from our Ravioli Production Party

Karina and Jeff making the ping - Their Noni would be so proud!

Karina and Naoko spreading the ping on the pasta dough

Chef Jeff rolling the ravioli pin across the ping-stuffed dough to make pillows

Karina, Robert, Jeff and me taking a wine break ;)


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Natural Epicurean Earns Sustainable Teaching Award

The Natural Epicurean Academy earned Texas Campaign for the Environment's 2011 Sustainable Teaching Award at their 20th Anniversary Celebration that we catered on Saturday, September 24th.

Here's what we brought to the table:

The Plant-Centric Sandwich Trio
Prepared by the Barr Mansion and the Natural Epicurean
September 24, 2011

Plant-based cuisine is requires less energy, land, and water resources than animal-based cuisine. This plant-centric trio of sandwiches features an array of local, organic produce generously donated by Johnson's Backyard Garden, delivered on artisan-made, wood-fired bread which was made using no heavy machinery or additives, but rather the skill of a master baker able to adjust for natural fluctuations in temperatures and moisture levels.

* * *

Grilled Summer Squash

Marinated in Smoky Mesquite Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, and Sea Saltwith a Carrot Walnut Pate and Fresh Arugula
on Moroccan Spiced Ciabatta

Freshly-Pickled Pepper, Radish, and Fennel Medley
with a Root Vegetable Puree and Oregano Marinated Onions
on Parmesan Ciabatta

Roasted Butternut Squash
with Sweet Potato Greens Marinated in a Sesame-Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette and Caramelized Onion Spread

on Sesame Seed Ciabatta

* * *

The team of culinary students who executed on the menu just started the Natural Epicurean's 900-hr professional chef's training program in August. This event was great experience for working in tight quarters in public eye. Everything ran smoothly and on schedule thanks to the
excellent communication skills, work ethic, and supportive spirit of our team.

Natural Epicurean Culinary Students Crank out 500+ sandwich tastings at the Texas Campaign for the Environment Benefit on September 24, 2011. (From Left to Right) Einat Soltes, Katy Hacker, Brenda Reed, Natalie Conti and Olivia Gregg


Sunday, June 19, 2011

I heart Love Balls

Takoyaki has come to Austin thanks to Gabe and Sao Rothschild who opened a trailer eatery called Love Balls that specializes in this delicious Japanese street food.

Traditionally takoyaki is a ball of fried dough filled with octopus. What makes it especially delicious are all the sauces and toppings that deliver a mega punch of UMAMI**
  • Smoky tasting fish flakes,
  • The natural flavor enhancers of ao nori,
  • A rich tomato & soy-based sauce,
  • And Japanese mayo - follow this link to learn how they get Japanese mayo so much more umami than western mayo.
My favorite thing on the Love Balls menu is their creative vegetarian variation of takoyaki which replaces the octopus with mushroom (pictured below).

*One warning to the super-hungry: These are served right off the griddle, so let some of the steam escape from the inside of the balls before you try to devour one or else you WILL burn your mouth.

** Coined in Japan in 1907, umami translates literally to “delicious essence” and refers to the savory & rich essence that lingers on your palate and enhances your dining experience. Umami can exist in a wide range of foods, from vegetables to grains to meats - basically wherever there are proteins to be broken down, since the umami essence is created whenever protein strands are broken through the process of fermentation or cooking. Source: Kasabian, Anna and David. The Fifth Taste (2005).


Friday, April 29, 2011

Dawn and dusk in the foothills of Mount Fuji


... and dusk...

... in the foothills of Mount Fuji.


Monday, April 18, 2011

A Lesson from a Butterfly

Lately, I've been taking the same walk everyday.

Along the creek

Up the steps

Past the tree where I like to perch
To the shrine
Yesterday I was going through the same motions of walking past these now-familiar landmarks, until suddenly a butterfly fluttered across my path and perched on a blooming flower before me.

And with out saying a word this butterfly shattered my paradigm that anything could stay the same even from one moment to the next. I realized that I this walk was unique from the one I took the day before. Though I had almost overlooked it, my surroundings and I were both different from the day before. With each flap of its paper-thin wings it proclaimed:

Nothing remains constant
From moment
to moment
to moment
Elements collide
You breathe in
You breathe out
The world pulses
When you observe tiny changes
that occur from moment
to moment
within and around you
Then when something dramatic shifts,
your fresh eyes and new heart,
are more prepared to understand and accept
that nothing could have ever remained constant

And then it was gone, to visit another flower, never knowing that it had changed my world.

May many butterflies cross your path. Perhaps one as beautiful as this peacock-patterned butterfly who I came across in Taiwan.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Atsusaka's Garden: Atsusaka No Niwa

I'll take you on a tour of the Atsusaka's garden as I practice my Japanese! (Naoko, I'm counting on you to let me know if I get things wrong :)

What's Growing in the Atsusaka's Garden = Nanika ga Atsusaka no niwa de sodatte imasu

Cherry blossoms are blooming! = Sakura ga saite imasu

The owl watches = Fukurou wa mite imasu

Soon we will eat beans = Mo sugu ni watashi-tachi wa mame o tabemasu

Spring is here! = Haru wa koko ni arimasu


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taiwan: Something for the Whole Family

For my family. Wish you were here in Taiwan with us. I'm sure you'd love it!

For my Mom, who shares my love for hot springs and massages. Of all the hot springs that bubble up in Taiwan, perhaps you would love the one tucked away in Jhihben most. The water flows into a huge pool that is outfitted with massage jets in dozens of individual stalls. So you can float through the naturally warm water to massage your feet, your lower back, your neck, and so on... so relaxing.

For my Dad, who has an adventurous spirit and an impeccable sense of direction, I'm sure you would love winding your way through all of the nature trails that go over the mountains and through the woods… where they end, nobody knows.

Maria, my sister, the dog lover. You would meet many of your 4-legged companions in Taiwan.

They roam the streets, sun bathe near monuments, and pass out in parks.

And really lucky ones, like Willow, have homes where they get to curl up under the kitchen table.

Nick, my brother, an engineer with an artistic bent, you would love to get your hands on some of this driftwood that has washed up on the coast. I'm sure you'd find all sorts of use for it.

And when you were done with that project, perhaps you would like to make a little side business by selling plastic bead keychains at the night market :).

And last but not least, for Nathan, my youngest brother who has an infinite appreciation for bathroom humor, I'm sure you would get the greatest kick out of riding the Diing Dong Bus.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Love is What Makes this World Beautiful

While in Hualien, Taiwan, Danny and I went for a visit to a the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation. I really didn't know much about it before going... just what I read on the Taiwanese Secrets travel site - there's a beautiful roof and free lunch. Free lunch!? I'm there.

It turned out to be an incredible organization founded by a Taiwanese nun in the 1960's - that has expanded from an initial local effort of running free clinics, to building a national network of hospitals and schools, to doing international relief work in times of crisis.

I was especially interested to hear about their relief work in Japan since the tsunami, (which includes preparing and delivering hot meals to the people who lost their homes), since I have been looking for a venue to volunteer once we return to Japan.

We missed the free lunch which was a slight bummer, but were recommended to try out the food at the Tzu Chi Hospital next door. I don't usually go to hospital cafeterias expecting much, so you can imagine my delight when we were served this miso hot pot (below). So fresh, nourishing and delicious!


Friday, March 25, 2011

Street Eats in Taiwan

Dumplings hot off the griddle. At just 30 cents a piece, a delicious daily staple of Taiwanese streets (Jingmei Night Market, Taipei)

Grilled pumpkin with drizzled honey (Wulai)

I Love Inari: Fried Tofu Pouches usually stuffed with Sweet Sushi Rice. This vendor did something a little different and stuffed some with sweet red beans which was equally as delicious! (Jingmei Night Market, Taipei)

Florence and Danny about to indulge in some candied fruit skewers: strawberries, loquats, and cherry tomatoes (Lehua Night Market, Taipei)


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Living Kansha

Kansha is the Japanese principle of using food to its fullest and the subject of Elizabeth Andoh's latest cookbook. Multiply the excitement that I felt when I received Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions in the mail from Amazon two months ago by at least 1000 and you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive a personal invitation from Elizabeth to stay with her several nights at her apartment in Osaka.

The circumstances were unexpected and unfortunate. The extended lack of control of a nuclear power plant 250 km north of where I had been staying in Izunokuni prompted my loved ones to plea my departure. I decided the risk was unknown enough and the ground beneath us still unstable enough, that I would err on the side of safety and head to Osaka the next day where I could catch a flight to Taipei and wait out the radioactive resolution from a safe distance.

Elizabeth and I had already exchanged several emails regarding my attendance at her cherry blossom cooking workshop in April, so as the one person who I knew in the Osaka area, I sent her an email seeking her advice. Without skipping a beat, she invited Danny and me to both come stay with her in Osaka several nights.

It was an honor and a joy to be invited not only into her home, but her kitchen, where kansha came to life. For example, four young bamboo shoots stretched to make an entire meal, where we began with an appetizer made of the tender artichoke-like tops of the bamboo tossed in white miso and sansho pepper leaves (pictured above). We then marinated the middle section of the bamboo shoots with a rich soy seasoning and cooked them into rice and dashi to make a sumptuous grain dish. And as a main course we braised the dense base of the shoots along with two kinds of tofu in a sake-soy glaze (pictured below).

You too can tap into Elizabeth's deep well of knowledge to make earnestly delicious Japanese dishes, by going to her website, www.kanshacooking.com, where you can sign-up to access select recipes from her workshops and cookbooks for free.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prayers for Japan

As I'm sure you have seen in the past few days, the news from Northeastern Japan has become even more heartbreaking since photos and video footage from those who were on the ground as the tsunami hit made their way to the media. Heartbreaking and horrifying.

I feel very much how I did after evacuating New Orleans in 2005, watching news of the city's unraveling from nearby Lafayette... not knowing at the present what to do besides pray. Pray that families are reunited, pray that no more lives are lost, pray for all the medical and rescue crews working.

The dangerous radioactive leaks from the plant in Fukushima is not yet under control, so I am staying alert to its condition. Right now I appear to be a safe distance away from the site, 250 miles. The best news source I have found for staying up to date on this situation is: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nhk-world-tv, where they are doing direct translations of the Japanese news.

Source of Above Photo: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/03/japan_earthquake_aftermath.html (Accessed 3/15/11).


Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami News

I had just gotten back to the Atsusaka's in Izunokuni when we felt the first of the mild tremors that this region received. We immediately flipped on the TV, and watched in shock as the effects of the 8.9 quake elicited a ravaging tsunami on the northeastern coast of Japan. Ms. Astusaka told me that a tsunami of this magnitude only occurs once a lifetime.

The only real repercussion here was the immediate shut-down of all public transportation. Danny was in the nearest city about 1 hour away teaching yesterday afternoon. Without a train to ride back to Izunokuni, Mr. Atsusaka graciously drove the 2 hours to pick him up and bring him home. We talked to the Atsusaka's daughter, Yuko, who lives in Tokyo (about 150 miles north of Izu) last night, after she finally got home from work. It took her 2 hours to make the walk back to her quake-ransacked apartment.

All this is to say we were spared the worst of this devastating disaster, and I will keep you posted as I find out more information.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Beds We Built

Last week, Danny and I rolled up our sleeves to cultivate the Atsusaka's front yard garden and add bamboo borders to the beds.

There's a bamboo grove just across the river from the Atsusaka's home in Izunokuni. With the help of Mr. Atsusaka and one of the town's naturalists, Mr. Totsuka, whom we now affectionately call Uncle Bamboo, we hand-sawed the bamboo stalks to fit the dimensions of the beds.

When I went back to the bamboo grove the next day, this bamboo stump had filled like a cup full of water. Pretty.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a wedding, a shrine, a forest

Saw this beautiful wedding procession at a shrine in the middle of forest right in the middle of Tokyo! Had no idea that such an expansive forest existed in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.

Here's an excerpt about the shrine from the official website.

Meiji Jingu Naien
(Photo: Meiji Jingu Naien)

Welcome to Meiji Jingu!
Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is called Japan's ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religious conversion, but Shinto values for example harmony with nature and virtues such as "Magokoro (sincere heart)". In Shinto, some divinity is found as Kami (divine spirit), or it may be said that there is an unlimited number of Kami. You can see Kami in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. From ancient times, Japanese people have felt awe and gratitude towards such Kami and dedicated shrines to many of them.

This shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken (their tombs are in Kyoto). Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914. After their demise, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever. So they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and from overseas, and they worked voluntarily to create this forest.
This forest was carefully planned as an eternal forest that recreates itself. Now after about 90 years it cannot be distinguished from a natural forest, inhabited by many endangered plants and animals.

Thanks to the sincere heart of the people, this shrine was established on November 1, 1920.

... The most incredible thing is that I thought I was in an old-growth forest as I walking through; I had no idea until later upon reading more that it was actually planned and planted by people. Remarkable!


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