Tokyo’s UNU Farmer’s Market: Bringing Portland to Japan

Portland Tokyo Fest 2015

Portland Tokyo Fest 2015

Over the past few weeks I have been writing about the adventures my husband and I had in Japan last month, but have yet to elaborate on the reason we were there in the first place: the Portland Tokyo Fest. We helped comprise the Portland element of the festival, along with two other local chefs (one who also runs several farms in Portland), a winemaker, a coffee roaster and a brewer.

The focus of the event was to highlight urban farming and the farm-to-table cooking that is so common in Portland. In order to do this we had two cooking demonstrations at the United Nations University Farmer’s Market in Shibuya and we also hosted a dinner party for 100 guests, where each chef served several snacks to be paired with Portland wine, beer and cocktails.

To prepare for these events, we spent our third day in Japan touring local urban farms. A bus took our group from the bustling Tokyo to the much quieter area of Narita, about an hour away, where there are many small, family run farms. Besides getting to see the properties and talk to the farmers, we were also shopping for the produce we would use at the upcoming events.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to our first stop, the Chef’s Garden Farm, but it certainly wasn’t the small, white-haired Japanese man sporting a hat with a skull on it and a massive belt buckle who greeted us. He spoke very little English but happily pulled up all kinds of vegetables for us to inspect. I can honestly say our entire group was stunned by his farm — he had the usual suspects (carrots, radishes) but also yuzu, peanuts, and wasabi. At the request a local chef, he even grows saffron.

This guy was awesome!

This guy was awesome!

Harvesting saffron

Harvesting saffron

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From Tongue to Tail: Midnight snacks in Shibuya, Tokyo


Japanese beef ready for the grill. Late night bites at a yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo.

*  If you missed the first installment (where we dined on our first bowl of Japanese ramen at 9am), click here to catch up!  *

Our second evening in Tokyo ended on a serious high note. Koji, a friend of a friend and a native to the city, took us to his favorite late-night spot, a small yakiniku restaurant near the Shibuya Station.

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for grilled meats, and refers to the tabletop grills that many of these restaurants sport. The customer is basically the cook; servers pass off plates of raw meat and patrons are in charge of cooking it to their liking. Each table gets a few pairs of tongs so guests can take turns flipping meat.

Our table top grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the beef. Though most of it went unused as it nearly seemed blasphemous.

Our tabletop grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the cooked beef, though most of it went unused as it seemed nearly blasphemous with such beautiful meat.

Given that we were in a group with several chefs, two things were immediately clear: we were going to eat A LOT of meat and it was all going to be cooked impeccably.

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Copenhagen, the first 6 hours: from sleep deprived to satisfied

Our first Danish sunset - I've never been so happy to see the sun set at 10pm.

Our first Danish sunset – I’ve never been so happy to see the sun set at 10pm.

When we left Iceland I was practically in tears. Not because I was sad to go — which I really was — but because I was so tired.

I’m not sure if it was vacation jitters or the very real midnight sun (it literally never got dark the whole time we were there) but the last two nights we were in Reykjavik, I didn’t fall asleep until after 6am. While the first morning I could sleep in, the second morning we had to be ready for our shuttle to the airport at 9am.

I think I clocked in 90 minutes of actual shut-eye before it was time to leave our apartment and lug our suitcases to the van. Sleep-deprived, my mood teetered from dazed and confused to frustrated and teary. If being hangry is a thing — and I believe it is — there must be a word for being so exhausted you’re just angry at the world. And particularly angry at all the well-rested people who had probably slept for a full 8 hours the night before. I hated those people.

After groggily making my way through customs and onto the plane, I collapsed in my window seat in sheer delight. I have never been so excited to sit on a plane in my life! Not even the exuberant Danish kids behind us could keep me from falling asleep before we even left the ground. It was magnificent.

And thankfully, upon waking up as we descended into Copenhagen, my feelings of anger had dissipated, leaving only excitement for the week to come, and especially for the evening ahead of us. To celebrate our first night in Denmark, my husband had made dinner reservations at Amass, number 66 on the list of the world’s best restaurants. A good reason for an attitude adjustment if there ever was one!

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Reykjavik, Day 2: A little culture and a lot of hot dogs

Sólfar, Reykjavik, Iceland

Sólfar, Reykjavik, Iceland

We started our second afternoon in Iceland with brunch at the KEX hostel, a popular place to stay as well as to eat and drink. It’s a quirky little spot – I can imagine young international backpackers feel right at home here. For us, the food was decent, but the service was a little lacking. We did find out that the trout on the sourdough toast is smoked locally with a combination of moss and lamb “poo.”

The smoked trout was quite tasty but being used to applewood and cherrywood, we couldn't place the flavor profile. Upon asking, we learned it was smoked over lamb dung and moss.

The smoked trout was quite tasty but being used to applewood and cherrywood, we couldn’t place the flavor profile. Upon asking, we learned it was smoked over lamb dung and moss.

KEX hostel

KEX hostel

From the hostel, it was a short walk to the Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture on the Reykjavík waterfront. While some understandably mistake this for an homage to a Viking ship it’s actually an ode to the sun. Regardless of its meaning, it’s a stunning art piece, perfectly fitting for the stark landscape.

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Reykjavik: The first 24 hours

Flying into Iceland - the steam coming up is from one of the many geothermal pools.

Flying into Iceland – the steam coming up is from one of the many geothermal pools.

My husband and I arrived in Iceland on Saturday morning at 6am. For being half asleep and totally jet lagged, we managed to make the most of our first day of vacation.

We left the Keflavik airport and headed directly to the Blue Lagoon, the most famous of Iceland’s geothermal pools. This is a popular spot with tourists since it’s a perfect place to soak out the aches of air travel.

Inside the Blue Lagoon

Inside the Blue Lagoon

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Going Coastal for Sanity’s Sake: A Weekend in Astoria, OR

Waterfront Sunset, Astoria, OR

A beautiful evening at the Oregon coast.

I live for the ocean.

Having grown up on a small Alaskan island, the scent of seawater was one ubiquitous thing about my childhood. And after I moved away from Kodiak, I made sure to always live near water, since I was no longer surrounded by it.

I went to college in Arcata, CA where there were several beaches (both rocky and sandy) just minutes away. Then I moved north to Portland where the Willamette River is just a five-minute walk from my office in the industrial southeast. If I’m having a stressful day (which is every day lately), I take what I like to call a “rage walk” to the riverfront to have some alone time by the water.

But sometimes the Willamette is just not enough and I feel the pull to the Oregon coast to breath in some salty ocean air. Happily, my husband feels the same and it’s easy to convince him that a trip to the beach is a necessity.

Often when the mood strikes, we head to Depoe Bay and then on to Newport, but another favorite spot for us is Astoria. For a sleepy town, Astoria certainly has its allures – state parks, historical markers from the Lewis & Clark expedition, rivers plus the ocean, and several breweries (yay!).

And out of all the coastal towns in this state, it reminds me the most of home — a small, windy, rainy, foggy place where the docks are full of fishing boats and the people tend to be a bit bedraggled.

On my most recent trip there a few weeks ago with my dad, stepmother and their ridiculously spoiled dog Pépe, the sun was actually shining. And while the wind was whipping with some ferocity, it was still a wonderfully dry weekend, perfect for exploring.

Since sometimes I don’t “explore” any further than the local breweries, this time I made an effort to see some new things. Here’s some of the sights, bites and suds we enjoyed during our stay:

The Goonies House - yes, the original

The original “Goon Docks” from the movie The Goonies. I was obsessed with the film as a kid so it’s always fun to make this pilgrimage. And every time I go, plenty of others – both  young and old – are on the same mission. Fun fact: this year is the movie’s 30th anniversary!

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