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

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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: a canal tour and the first round of Danish dogs

Our first round of Danish dogs: I got a rød pølse, the classic red sausage, my husband got the spicy beef sausage, oksekrydder.

Our first round of Danish dogs: I got a rød pølse, the classic red sausage, my husband got the spicy beef sausage, oksekrydder.

We spent our second day in Copenhagen exploring the city in the best possible way — by boat.

While it’s impossible to pretend you’re anything other than a tourist when you take a canal tour, there’s nothing quite like seeing a city as colorful as Copenhagen from the water. Besides, with my Nikon strapped securely around my neck for our entire vacation, I don’t think we ever had a chance to pass as natives anyways.

The tour was wonderful – even better than I could have hoped. We used Netto, on the recommendation of travel guru Rick Steves, and it was shockingly inexpensive (around $7 a person) and very well done. Our guide spoke three languages and the tour lasted a little over an hour.

The spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior's Church) peeking out on the skyline.

The spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior’s Church) peeking out on the skyline.

Copenhagen Canal Tour

The tour boat took us to see some of the major historicalsights, including the famous Little Mermaid and past the royal palace, Amalieborg, but we also wove leisurely under bridges and through the port district of Christianshavn. Click on the photos to enlarge and read the details…

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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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Yum Bao: Chinese steamed buns meet Thai sweet pork

A most delicious project: Steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

A most delicious project: steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

It’s not often you can credit a success in the kitchen to an Olympic figure skater, but I most definitely owe Brian Boitano a huge thank you for these delightfully decadent pork buns.

The last time I made steamed buns, the filling was fantastic but the buns lacked the fluffy tenderness of the bao from my favorite Chinese restaurant. So I turned to the internet in search of a fairly uncomplicated yeasted steamed bun recipe and somehow landed on one attributed to Mr. Boitano, who apparently has his own cooking show.

While I nearly passed the recipe by for something, well, more authentic, its stellar reviews caught my eye. People seemed to love the recipe, praising the buns for their puffy, fluffy texture. In fact, while reading the comments in other bun recipes that I came across, I saw references to Boitano’s tasty buns (ha!) and was finally convinced to try them out.

Well, Boitano certainly deserves a gold medal for that recipe because it’s pretty awesome. The dough was a dream to work with, very pliable, and the texture was spot-on, light and fluffy even though my pleating was far from delicate. While I think the dough could have used a dash of salt, that’s the only criticism I have. Continue reading