NATSU MIKAN A SWEET TALE

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Fumiko Kikuchi, the soon to be 97 year old Mother of my dear friend, Yuri, has been making delicious marmalade from the fruitful natsu mikan tree in her magical Tokyo garden for years.  It was what Yuichi, my sweets-loving husband, lived for each year. (She should open a shop in Paris and sell it, he always told her!) We planted our own natsu mikan tree at home, which grew quickly and bore fruit generously. But I never dreamed of trying to emulate Kikuchi san’s natsu mikan marmalade.
Instead, I opted for candied peels that I never tire of cutting and simmering, because I adore them myself, and am proud to give to friends something I have made myself.  I too often rely on giving what others have made!
This year, we didn’t have enough natsu mikan, so I foolishly asked my friend whose tree had borne 100 fruits last year, if she had any extras.  Sadly she said that there were only 30 on her tree this year, so I forgot about my request.  But she didn’t and last week, true to her thoughtful ways, she arrived in Blue & White with a huge shopping bag so heavy she could barely lift it.  And herein lies the tale.

Yuri had felt badly that she couldn’t spare any fruit, so she mustered up her courage and went to an adjoining and unknown neighbor’s house whose tree was large and laden with fruit.  Her heart pounding, she rang his door bell and a very old man with a slightly grumpy look on his face, appeared and asked her what she wanted. In all those years of living next door to each other, they had never met.  She explained that her friend wanted to make natsu mikan peels and she wondered if he was going to use his fruit.  She had waited til late in the season to make sure that he wasn’t.  The garden was a jungle and clearly hadn’t been touched for years!
He said help yourself.  And just come in to the garden freely.  You don’t need to ring the bell, he said as he teetered unsteadily on his wooden geta to show her the tree.

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She waited to go until Sunday when her husband could help her, and give courage.  He carried the ladder.  She climbed it!  And like monkeys, she said – not such young ones at that! – they picked every mikan they could reach !  There were many more than 20 big fat natsu mikan in the  heavy bag she brought.

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When I heard the story and the dangers my friend and her husband had subjected themselves to for love of a friend and love of natsu mikan, the fruit tasted that much sweeter, and the old old friendship that much deeper.

 

RECIPE FOR CANDIED NATSU MIKAN PEELS

4 or 5 Natsu Mikan
2 ½ cups sugar

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Cut the natsu mikan peels into thin slivers with a sharp knife.
Place in a thick pan filled with cold water.
Bring to a boil over high heat and blanch for 5 minutes.

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Drain the water, cool and repeat three times.

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Save the fruit inside for jelly or marmalade
In the same pan, combine 1½ cups of sugar and 1 cup water
Bring to a boil over high heat.  Let it become slightly syrupy then add the peels.
Simmer very gently until peels become translucent and they have absorbed the syrup. Stir frequently to keep from burning.
Drain the peels, and let them cool.

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When cool roll them in the remaining cup of sugar – you may need more  – on a flattish plate – and spread them to dry on a rack with parchment paper underneath

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Let them dry for 4 or 5 hours, or overnight.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.
It works for yuzu, grapefruit or other thick skinned citrus fruit.
But there is no recipe for a friendship like that.
Just great good fortune!

Above is the recipe for these golden peels.

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A BLUE AND WHITE BIKE TRIP

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After a world first inaugural showing of blue and white ceramic SCRUNCH ware at Blue & White

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its creator, my BFF, Jill Harken Hall, and I departed for a largely unplanned bike trip over the bridges of the Inland Sea, on a route   invitingly described by the Japan Times’ peripatetic writer, Amy Chavez who lives on Shiraishi, one of the many Inland Sea Islands.   We asked a Japan-loving and Japan-curious English friend, Becky Wells, an artist from the UK, to join us and flew to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island where we started our journey with an abbreviated, and mostly motorized pilgrimage to 6 of the 88 famous temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.  Surely we needed prayer first! Our kind taxi driver was concerned with our total lack of hotel accommodations at this very busy time of year, and brought us to a hotel to book the first night anyway, and leave our bags.

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After driving us to 4 temples, he proceeded to take us to a Ramen restaurant – it was late and we were all very hungry. His wife was worried because he usually went home for lunch but he stayed with us instead and insisted on paying for our delicious lunch and then we parted ways.  He to go home because he was way overdue and we proceeded on foot to two more temples, winding up invited by a handsome young gardener to a luxurious foot bath in the garden where he had been working. We got to sit, enjoy the chatter of two young families, and treat ourselves to a hot spring for the feet!  A good beginning for a bike trip!

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In the morning after viewing the charismatic Dogo Onsen, a late 19th century massive wooden bathhouse, more a temple really – cleanliness is next to godliness in Japan

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We arrived at our starting point, Kurushima Kaikyo bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge, 4015 meters long, a high, high bridge over the Inland Sea – the view was spectacular and breath stopping on many levels.

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Yikes!  Were we really planning to bike across that?

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and at this hour?

Somehow we did – and 6 more.
These are serious bridges!  High and long, extending over 11? Islands of the Inland Sea.

The saving grace for bikers, even cowards like us, was the beautiful blue and white line indicating the enclosed lane dedicated to bikers, while serious heavy traffic for trucks and buses and cars whizzed by on the other side of the divider. It was often hard to keep our eyes on the road. 9.png

Bridges of staggering engineering and grace!

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The beauty of a bicycle is that with the possible exception of bridge crossing, you can stop whenever something catches your eye.
There was much on this trip to stop for, and one unforgettable site was a simple wooden Shikoku style house, somewhat reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s house in Takamatsu, with a curious signboard of eyeglass testing charts in front.
We swerved into the driveway and found lots of other curiosities.  Large rocks drilled and tracked with mysterious paths of color.

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and bottles and objects of experimentation and education, stopped in a moment of time.

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Mysterious colorful petrographs were incised in large blocks of granite.

What did they mean?  What were they saying?

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A fascinating house of science and mysterious intelligence.

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Spider webs of wires in front of the windows.  Test tubes, and other signs of intellectual activity.  Who lived here we wondered?  What were they doing in this house where time seemed to have stopped.  Fascinated, we asked a farmer passing by who told us that it had been a classroom for children that a teacher had organized, but he was in hospital now, and not expected to return.  How sad, we thought, we who would return there often in our dreams.  It was a small scientific paradise.

Pink sakura and brilliant yellow rape flowers and every other blossom imaginable were putting on a spring spectacular.  Our eyes were filled with the technicolor of nature, as well as man made curiosities that we felt compelled to explore.  6 eyes were simply not enough!

After more bridges, more exquisite nature and dreamy deep Setouchi blue green waters and islands, we came to our own Paradiso, in the form of a b&b in Setoda named Koune Paradiso.    On the way, we happened upon a bizarre scene of a lady covered in a voluminous red cape, having her hair cut. She looked like a female Jizo saint. Animated and filled with life, she told us she was 100 years old! and her daughter was cutting her hair.

 

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A kindred spirit was in the water as we biked by.

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People stopped to help us find our way. This lovely farm couple was filled with smiles as they set us straight, we who had been going in exactly the opposite direction from our destination for some time.

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And this dapper fellow cyclist was cutting cherry blossoms for his party that he invited us to that evening, promising karaoke and sake.
Our b&b hosts firmly advised that we not go.  Who knew how the party would turn out, they warned !

We finally made our way to our own Paradiso a charming b&b run by an industrious couple – fabulous cooks – and their small son

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We were happy to get off of our bikes to walk with our inn’s wife and toddler to a small beach — a beach combers’ delight!

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We dined on perfect lemon pasta, lemons and other citrus being a great specialty throughout the area. The citrus trees on all of the islands gave the air a sweet lemony fragrance throughout our ride.  The b&b was out of their featured wild boar sausages when we asked but they couldn’t have been better than what we were served.

On Amy Chavez’s meticulous advice, Slow food and easy pedaling along Seto Inland Sea’s Shimanami Kaido…
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/…/slow-food-easy-pedaling-along-seto-inland-seas-shiman…
Nov 25, 2017

Her article was what inspired us to take this trip in the first place, we skipped the last two bridges over two more industrialized islands, and took a small yellow ferry to Onomichi.

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The pilot stepped away from his steering wheel to welcome us and give us a box of chocolate covered almonds. We ferried from Setoda, where the inspiring museum, (handsome architecture, impressive collection) of the paintings of native born Hirayama Ikuo enchanted us with his work, to Onomichi. We left our bikes at the U2 Cycle drop off to explore the trend-setting and confident restaurant and shop complex – a spectacular transformed warehouse – replete with a Cycle Hotel where we were sorry not to have the time to spend the night,. It is the last word in cool travel in Japan.

Rain on the last day did nothing whatsoever to dampen our spirits or discourage me from getting out of the taxi for closer inspection of the curious monuments of amassed plastic discards we found in Onomichi on our way to the station.

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a hoarder’s art

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Fortunately the artist was sitting in his bedecked car, smiling at our delighted reaction to his creations.

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Somehow we made it! With the help of our deep pink bike tenugui from Todaya Shoten dyers – the tenugui were made for the Tokyo Bike ride going on at the same time but we were on our own adventure.

From start to finish, our blue & white journey on the Shimanami Kaido was one of the most exciting, beautiful and surprising experiences I have EVER had in Japan.
And I have had a few !
We simply followed the BLUE & WHITE LINE.
There was much to see and do and eat on this exciting trip.  The lemon cake near the base of the Tatara bridge was delicious, the Imabari towels were world class, the delicious lemon pasta for at the b&b Koune Paradiso was from the heart, and our beach combing there was fruitful.  In my heart I will go back there often, and if I hurry and not get too much older, I will return to bike again and take my time riding over those graceful bridges, the lemony air, and the luminous lazuline paradise that is the Inland Sea and the Shimanami Kaido that arches over it.

 

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Scrunch At Blue & White

scrunch2scrunchatblue

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