Sunday, December 22, 2013

Toji (Winter Solstice)

Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice here (it's the 22nd in Japan.) We had our first snow this week, which seemed appropriate. Known as "toji" in Japan, the winter solstice is a time for traditional practices that are typically meant to ward off disease in the coming winter season. The most common is that of putting yuzu fruit into the bath to prevent catching colds in winter. Yuzu are a small, yellow citrus fruit that are unfortunately not available here in the Pacfic NW United States. Growing up here, my mother used to always put in the Satsuma Mikan (Satsuma Oranges, like a Clementine) that were imported from Japan in those days, specifically from Kagoshima Prefecture, whose pre-modern Provincial name was Satsuma. Although whole yuzu are used in Japan, we used to just throw in the peels and eat the oranges themselves. I try to keep this tradition going with my children. The Mikan these days are most likely grown in California, and we can also purchase yuzu shibori (yuzu juice) at an Asian market. I add a few drops of this just for the fragrance (and possibly for whatever magical powers these possess that created this tradition in the first place.)

I don't think anyone really knows where the tradition actually comes from, but a natural connection to Vitamin C certainly comes to  mind. Although this is done is many Japanese households still today, it is a somewhat dying tradition. In the past, when communal bathing was a public necessity, hot springs and public baths also dumped loads of yuzu into their baths to attract customers. I'm sure it's still done in some places. Another practice is to put azuki beans in the bath, for the same purpose. This one I haven't tried yet. If anyone has, and if it works, let me know. Happy Toji to all of you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow)

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow.) Yesterday, we had our first snow of the season here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest (south of us in Oregon, they were already dumped on in record amounts a few weeks ago.) It was only a few inches, and gone too soon for the kids' liking, but snow at all is still magical. It transforms the landscape, and our emotions. I try to make it a tradition to take a bowl of matcha outside whenever we have a new snow.
On rare occasions when we have lots of snow, we try to build a yuki kamakura (snow hut) in which to light candles and take tea.

The bowl used yesterday was a Black Raku Chawan by George Gledhill. I thought the stark contrast of black on white would be interesting. I hope you are enjoying tea wherever you, are and in whatever weather.
Warm wishes for the holidays.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Charaku Fine Japanese Tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery - Dec. 15, 2013

   Once again I had the privilege to serve tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery in Seattle, one of just a few professional wagashi-ya in America.  Once each month, on the third Sunday, Chef Tokara opens her shop to guests to enjoy a traditional Japanese sweet of the kyogashi variety and a bowl of freshly whisked Matcha. She also prepares a monthly selection of sweets for customers to order and pick up. The monthly set includes three seasonal wagashi.  This month's selections included: Suomi Mochi (pictured at top), a snowball-esque pillow of delicious sweet white bean paste enveloped in a blanket of soft mochi. Rice flakes decorate the outside, along
with a holiday-themed holly leaf made of bean candy.

-2nd image: Tea Bowls at the ready. - 3rd image: Charaku Teas for sale.

-Images below show sweets served with Charaku Teas.

-The next sweet was "Hatsu Yuki" (First Snow,) made from Black Sugar and Azuki Bean Paste, and topped with rice wafer flakes to      create an image of the first snowflakes on the ground. Hagi Ware Tea Bowl with Craling Glaze.

-The third sweet was a "Soba Manju." Soba is Buckwheat, and the Red Bean paste is covered in a flaky crust of buckwheat cake. Black Raku Tea Bowl by George Gledhill.

For those guests wishing to partake of a sweet with a bowl of matcha, the featured sweet this day was a Castella Cake, the sweet introduced by Portugal in the 17th Century. It was revolutionary at the time to use eggs and flour in sweets, and this treat has since become a Japanese standard. Shino Tea Bowl by John Miller, Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan.
 On this day, Chef Tokara also created a line of "Casual Sweets" for a fund-raising even at the Taoist Studies Institute down the street. These sweets were more of the "manju" type of sweet.

Here is a "Dorayaki," chunky red bean paste sandwiched between two mirin-sweetened pancakes. Mashiko-yaki Kyusu (Tea Pot,) Sweet Plate by Mika Sulivan.

"Kuri Manju" (Chestnut Bun) with chestnuts & white beans in a chestnut-shaped bun.  Tea Pot and Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan, Kyo-yaki Guinomi (Sake Cup.)
 "Bolo de Chika" is a creative fusion of a Shortbread Cookie filled with Azuki Bean Paste mixed with Cream Cheese.  Yummm.
White Shino Yunomi (Tea Cup.)

 This last sweet is Chef Tokara's Miso Mochi Bar, a sweet rice flour bar flavored with savory miso and topped with pine nuts, sesame and poppy seeds. Porcelain Mug by Hanako Nakazato. Sweet Plate by George Gledhill.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Single Shard

It's been a nearly nightly ritual since both of our children were born to read to them before bedtime. We just finished this book, "A Single Shard" by Linda Sue Park. My kids have patiently endured many a gallery exhibit, pottery show, or studio open house but they usually need to be bribed with ice cream to make it patiently through any of these for the proscribed amount of time. This book about a potter in 12th Century Korea, however, held their interest from start to finish. And, they learned a bit of pottery history as well.

I've yet to post any kind of a book review here; and since I'm no literary critic to begin with, this will not be the first. Instead, this will just an endorsement of a book that I think will appeal to those interested in pottery, Korean pottery, pottery history, or just a well-written story for children of all ages. I enjoyed reading it for myself just as  much as I enjoyed reading it for my children, who are eight and ten. The characters jumped off the page so vividly for me that I felt as though I was watching a movie (and I'm quite surprised that a movie has yet to be made from this story.) It's a story that could be translated into many cultures and many crafts, even though it is specific to this period in Korean history.

I don't want to spoil the story for anyone, so I won't describe the plot in any detail. I'll just do what the publisher did and quote the inside jacket teaser page:

    "Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew on tree trunks without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan.
    Foraging in the fields and on rubbish heaps, and sharing the food with his friend Crane-man, used to be enough to fill Tree-ear's days. But now all Tree-ear wants to do is watch master potter Min at work.
    Ch'ulp'o is a potters' village, famous for delicate celadon ware, and Min is the most brilliant of all the potters in Ch'ilp'o. He is also known to be short-tempered. Even so, Tree-ear is drawn irresistibly to Min's workplace. He is fascinated by the miracle of the potter's craft and dreams of making a pot of his own someday. His quest leads him down unexpected paths, with hazards and rewards beyond imagining.
    This account of a creative spirit on its journey toward fulfillment is set in twelfth-century Korea, where the course of human destiny could be determined by a single celadon shard."

The author, Park, is a Korean-American writer of a number of children's books that have a historic or cultural backdrop to them. "A Single Shard," published in 2001, was awarded the Newberry Medal by the Association for Library Service to Children , recognizing it as a "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. I also recall my daughter telling me a few years ago that a good book was read to the class a few years ago about Africa called "A Long Walk to Water." This NY Times best seller was another of Park's novels, and tells the story of one of the Sudanese "Lost Boys" of the 1990's.  In other words, she's a good writer. Even if you're not a pottery nut like me, you can't go wrong with this one.

Saturday, September 07, 2013


We recently hosted a birthday dinner for good friends and brought out some of the pottery collection for a Summer menu inspired by local, seasonal ingredients (many from the birthday boy's own garden) and Japanese kaiseki-style courses. I say "kaiseki-style" in that my food doesn't really compare to true Kyoto Kaiseki Cuisine. It just wants to be that when it grows up. It's the end of the summer in the Pacific Northwest, and we're been enjoying the remaining days of long daylight, warm sun on the tomatoes, the last of the berries, and the first corn harvests. It's a great time to select from a wide variety of ingredients.

Kumidashi Course: 
Not quite an appetizer, the kumidashi course is just a welcoming opener. Often a fragrant beverage, or as simple as warm water to take the chill off during the winter months; I chose this time to serve a chilled watermelon and shiso soup. The vessels are vintage era Japanese porcelain demitasse cups. They show images of the flowers of different seasons such as iris (late spring, early summer,) wisteria (summer,) chrysanthemum (fall,) and winter peonies. These delicate cups are probably Kutani-yaki from the early-mid 1900's.
Also served was mizudashi karigane-cha,  cold-infused karigane (stems of Gyokuro) tea. This is one of our popular Charaku teas throughout the year, but especially now as it infuses well both hot & cold. Served in stemware, along with the porcelain demitasse, it is a elegant diversion to the mostly stoneware dishes to follow in the rest of the meal.

Mukozuke Course:
The mukozuke dish here is replaced by another unexpected piece of glassware, a vintage cut-crystal martini glass with a bamboo motif.
It contains a small salad of NW spot shrimp with avocado, dressed simply in light soy sauce, lime juice, and freshly grated lime zest.
The glass gets replaced later by an actual mukozuke dish with which to eat the rest of the meal.  

The remainder of the mukozuke course is comprise of a small bit of kaiseki rice (rice cooked with not only water, but also some sake and a small bit of salt) and miso soup. The soup today is white miso soup with pureed fresh corn from Small's Farm in Ferndale, WA. From the same farm is a round of dashi-simmered zucchini, topped with a dab of karashi Japanese mustard. The rice bowl is Kyo-yaki with a floral motif, and the soup bowl is Sendai-nuri (black lacquer ware from Sendai in NE Japan.)

Yakimono (Grilled Dish) Course:

On a vintage Mashiko-yaki plate with a Mt. Fuji motif, painted by Minakwa Hiro, was served a simple Beef Tataki dish with homemade ponzu dipping sauce. The plate is not necessarily seasonal, but it was a nod to the recent announcement of "Fuji-san" being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The beef was "Kobe Beef" from Snake River Farms in Idaho. I say Kobe in quotations because although it is marketed as Kobe Beef, it is technically American Wagyu and not really from Kobe, or Hyogo Prefecture, from where true Kobe Beef hails. Still, it's some of the best beef we've had in America, and we're lucky that our local market carries it a few times a year and that this week was one of those times. Simply seared on the outside, and left rare in the center, it was then marinated in a mixture of sake and soy sauce for about an hour. It served with a citrus-soy dipping sauce with condiments such as green onions, grated daikon radish, and chili. The vessels here are a half round of green bamboo, and some simple local pots, the pitcher on a karakusa (Chinese grass)- motif saucer.

Sake is introduced with this course, and this meal's offering was "Tochigi Oni." As we used to live in Mashiko, which is located in Tochigi Prefecture; I thought it appropriate. It is also very smooth, and drinks well at room temperature. The guinomi in the foreground is a slip-trailed Onta-yaki piece. Those pictured in the group are (L-R): a warade (wheat straw) motif cup by local potter, Mika Sullivan; the Onta-yaki cup, a tall-handled bajyohai (cup for drinking sake on horseback!) of Shodai-yaki in Kumamoto, a red-glazed & slip decorated piece by an apprentice of Kawai Kanjiro, and a zogan-inlay guinomi by the late National Living Treasure, Shimaoka Tatsuzo.

Azukebachi Course:
This course left at the table was a another summer salad. This one was made with golden cherry tomatoes from our and our guests' garden, dressed in a mixture of freshly grated cucumber (also from our friends's garden) and daikon radish, plus lemon juice & salt.
It's very simple, but really exudes the flavor of the season maybe more that any other dish. It tastes and smells like harvesting tomatoes from your own back yard.
The bowl is a piece from the 1980's by Seattle potter, Liza Richardson. In Japan, it would be considered a donburi, but also works very well with salads and fruit. The floral pattern around the interior rim was perfect for this dish. Liza is someone with whom I used to work, but have lost track of over the years. We got many fine pots from her, and they are still used regularly in our home after all of these years. I hope to find her again!

Hassun Course:
The hassun course typically has two small items, one from the land and one from the sea, with which to enjoy a last cup of sake with the host.
The item from the sea is often something as simple as a few slices of smoked fish. In this case, I broke the rule and substituted something with a similar taste and mouthfeel, Prosciutto di Parma.  We have a good source for Italian & American prosciutto, as well as Serrano Ham from Spain, just north of us at Old World Deli in Bellingham.  I paired these with home-made Strawberry Conserves, with local favorite Sakuma Brothers Farm late-season Albions, topped with a drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar.The plate is an irregular-shaped dessert plate by an Orgeon potter, and decorated with summer dragonflies.

For the final rice course, I instead served cold noodles, a hot summer favorite. These noodles are cha-soba, green tea flavored buckwheat noodles. These are taken in small mouthfuls, dipped quickly in a soy and dashi broth, and then slurped noisily. The dipping cups are authentic soba choko, Imari ware from the mid-Edo Period (1600-1868.) Porcelain, with underglaze gosu (cobalt) blue brushwork.
The takuan pickles usually served with rice are substituted with kombu-pickled Beets, also from Small's Farm. I pickled these with kombu and rice vinegar for just a day to keep the fresh beet flavor and crispness. The dish is a small Onta-yaki plate with a combed design running through the glaze. I picked up these little dishes on a visit to Sarayama back in 2001, and they have been handy favorites for all kinds of side dishes since then.

For the dessert course, came the actual Birthday Cake. This was an idea I've had for a while and finally got to try out. It's a kare-sansui (dry landscape) garden made from cake, chocolate truffles, and matcha. The cake is a white cake, flavored with kuro goma (balck sesame) paste, then crumbled finely and dried to resemble raked sand. The "stones" are handmade chocolate truffles, and they are surrounded by freshly sifted matcha "moss." I enjoy making themed birthday cakes for my children, and this was a first attempt at a cake an adult who has spent time in Japan might appreciate.

 While we might enjoy sipping matcha contemplating a dry garden at a Zen temple in Japan, this matcha was meant to enjoy while "eating" the garden! As always, there were a variety of bowls for our many guests, but these two I thought best represented the season. The top bowl is a hira-chawan (wide tea bowl,) meant for summer use, by Sachiko Furuya. She excels in her use of bamboo ash glaze. This one has a mixture of Shino and take-bai (bamboo ash) glazes. We carry lots of her work on our WaSabiDou site. The other is an aohagi (blue Hagi) nodate chawan. Nodate tea bowls are small and can be used for outdoor use, such as on a summer picnic.

 There is rarely a shortage of desserts in the Tomeoka household, and had a few this day as well. We had a baked Peach Cake, with fresh Sun Crest Peaches from Eastern Washington. The peaches in the filling were marinated in Moscato Arancio, an American Orange Muscat Port, from Creekside Cellars in Boulder, Colorado, then roasted to concentrate their flavor and juices, thus reducing the sogginess often associated with this cake. The plate is another plate by Liza Richardson. The colorful pastel glazes look just as though the plate is decorated with pansies, that are revealed with each slice. Individual serving plates are by Mika Sullivan.

This was served with Lavender Ice Cream, home made by our guests, which was churning away on the front porch during dinner.
Washington State has a number of lavender farms, including a few on nearby Whidbey Island and on San Juan Island. Across the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) in the town of Sequim, one of the largest lavender festivals in the country takes place at nearly a dozen farms. This ice cream left a final taste & memory of a NW summer in all of our mouths. The dish is a porcelain mukozuke dish by Karatsu & Maine potter, Hanako Nakazato, whose work carry at WaSabiDou.

The last beverage was non-caffeinated and served in simple Mashiko cups. This was Natamame-cha (Sword Bean Tea) sent from Japan by a friend whose relatives are bean farmers and produce this bean, along with Kuromame (Black Beans.) They are in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture, well-know for both of these beans. Currently, natamame-cha is enjoying wide popularity in Japan as a health drink.  It was a calming way to end a meal with good friends. I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy the end of another season.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

2013 Shincha is here! - Over 100+ New Pots Added To WaSabiDou site!

JUNE 2013
It’s that time of year again…shincha is in! The annual new tea harvest in Japan occurs in May, and we usually receive our shipment around June. It’s always an exciting time of year for Japanese tea drinkers, and this year is no exception. We’re continuing to carry two of the new teas added last year; Usuki Organic Sencha from Oita, and Tsuno Sencha from Kouchi. This year, we’ve added two new teas that we are proud to offer; another wonderful tea from Kagoshima Prefecture, Hayato Sencha from Kirishima City, and a smooth & sweet Tamaryoku Sencha from the famous tea producing city of Ureshino in Saga Prefecture. Our Asahina Karigane (stems of Gyokuro,) from Okabe in Shikuzoka, is also back in stock. We hope you’ll enjoy all of our tea offerings! Visit the shopping pages of our Charaku Fine Japanese Tea website to see all. 

There is still a limited quantity of 2012 harvest teas available at a 20% discount. As many of you know, our teas are nitrogen-flushed and individually small-packed in Japan to maintain maximum freshness. We never buy in bulk and re-package. Therefore, even these 2012 teas will stay fresh, unopened, well into 2014. If you’d like to stock up, or see what’s still available, just drop me a line. Stock is limited and subject to availability.

We also have LOTS of new pottery inventory posted on our craft site, WaSabiDou. Over 100 pieces of new work are available from the father & son potters, Isamu and Munetoshi Tagami, from Mashiko; George Gledhill, Sachiko Furuya, and Hanako Nakazato. There is also still a good selection of yunomi from John Miller as well as a vast library of classic books on Japanese arts and crafts. Just visit the site, go to “Ceramics” from the home page, and then enter a term in the search bar. Or, browse through all 200 hundred items under the Ceramic heading!
Plate: Hinata Kiln, Mashiko
Wood-fired Tea Bowl, George Gledhill

Shino & Bamboo Ash Glaze Vase,
Sachiko Furuya

Porcelain Sake / Whiskey Cups
Hanako Nakazato

Tokoname Kyusu,
Yoshiki Murata

Yunomi, John Miller

We also recently acquired these fantastic woodblock prints from Serizawa Keisuke, who was designated a National Living Treasure in 1956. These prints were issued by the Japan Folk Craft Museum over a few years, and these prints (one in English and one in Japanese) were hand printed in 1970. They are maps of the traditional folk kilns of Japan and are quite rare!

Tin-lined Tea Shipment Box

Also, here are some more vintage tea export items that I began discussing in my June 12th post. I hope that those items have been enjoyable to view. 

And, as always, thank you all for another year of the opportunity to share tea. 

Sincerely, Tatsuo Tomeoka, Charaku – WaSabiDou.   

Lid Interior Detail

Black Bird Brand Tea Box