The low winter sun sets the trees afire. It looks like the whole woods is aflame. The alders face off as if insane, waving their branches and twigs every which way, twisting themselves into untangable knots.
The cool, drizzly weather keeps the dandelions buds closed tight. They are one sunbeam away from exploding open.
Three queens, Shiun-hime, Sunshine, and Svenda, up on their roost. Of the three, Shim-hime, exudes a most royal air. She looks down at me as if I am one of her countless subjects. You can almost see her fiery eyes commanding, “Off with its head!”
Svenda is out early this morning, enjoying a morning drink out of the cold flowing stream. The stream flows from fall through spring. The headwaters are just a few hundred feet away in the woods to the north. It’s pure rain water, flowing down through branches of cedars, firs, alders, wild cherry, and vine maples, filtering through mosses and ferns before running into the creek. It makes me wonder if Svenda can taste the different trees as she drinks. “Hmm, today’s stream has a heavy taste of cedar with a hint of maple.”
Ungetsu-hime is one of the many hens who are back to laying after their winter break. The basket gets fuller every day, a sure sign that spring is around the corner. Tonight, quite a few frogs are singing at the pond. It’s only January and frogs are coming out of hibernation. It’s a most unusual year.
A rooster’s quest for love never ends. From dawn to dusk, a courting he will go. The only thing that slows a rooster down is nightfall. Once it is time to go to bed, they give up love’s conquest. They’ll even roost next to roosters they compete with during the day.
Making bread ranks up there along with making tofu and petting your cat as one of the most relaxing, heart warming things you can do. Sometimes I add nutmeg, or allspice, or coriander to the dough. Today it’s dillweed.
It’s not something to rush. Adding just a bit of yeast to the dough and letting it slowly rise overnight makes dough that is as soft and pliable as a baby’s butt. Tomorrow the house will fill with the wonderful aroma of baking bread.
Spring creeps ever closer. The daffodils are sending their flower buds up toward the sky. More green than yellow today, each day their buds turn ever more yellow.
Fuller baskets of eggs are a sure sign of spring’s approach. Each week, more hens stir from their winter break to lay eggs. I read about an egg farm, Trillium Farms, in Ohio which produces 8,000,000 eggs every day, which means they must have some 10,000,000 or so hens. Details about the farm were in an article about migrant children forced to work for $2 a day in horrible conditions at the farm. The next time you buy eggs, think about where they came from. No one needs to suffer for you to eat.
When I go out to gather eggs, thirty or more chickens sometimes come chasing after me. It’s my fault. I often give them several scoops of sunflower seeds, something they love to eat. Ever hear the pitter-patter of tens of chickens chasing after you? It’s a delightful sound that’ll put the smile on your face. I wonder what the sound of ten million hens running after me would sound like?
This gray time of year, with day after day of clouds, drizzle, and rain, I can feel like this leaf looks. A walk in the woods, among the green ferns helps.
It’s King Richard who knows how to perk me up. Such razzle, dazzle. Maybe there is something to be said about dressing up in brilliant clothes, at least wearing a flaming red hat. Hens are into dressing up too. Plain won’t do for them. Even the hens, who from a distance look like they are wearing a simple outfit, when you get up close, have feathers of exquisite patterns. “Drab be gone, drab be gone,” is their siren call.
Irizake, a dipping sauce made from sake, dried plums, fish flakes, and salt, is having a comeback in Japan. Historical references to this sauce go back to the end of the Muromachi period (1336~1573). During the Edo period (1603~1868), irizake was an indispensible seasoning. If you were to have sashimi back then, you would dipped your fish in irizake instead of 醤油 – soy sauce. In Japan, soy sauce did not become a seasoning for the masses until the middle of the Edo period, and its current form did not appear until the late 1800s when scientific understanding of fermentation combined with industrial manufacturing to enable mass production of soy sauce.
Irizake is easy to make. You first mix the sake, umeboshi, and salt together, and bring it to a boil. Once the alcohol has boiled out, you add the fish flakes and simmer until the amount of liquid has been reduced to half. Strain it, and you have irizake, a seasoning with a history of six to seven hundred years.
The very oldest versions of irizake are even simpler. The sake and umeboshi are boiled until the mixture is reduced to half. The result is strained, dried seaweed is added, and let to soak for a day or two.
Poor Sven. After a morning deluge, he is so soaked, his feathers are dragging in the mud. Nothing looks as sorry as a wet rooster. What he needs is a hole in the sky, just what I found on my bicycle ride home from the post office. There, off to the south, a hole in the sky, a hole so bright it could have been an alien spaceship blasting its way down for a landing. I could have been seconds away from being whisked away to another galaxy. It’s one possibility if you never hear from me again. If I go silent, look up on a clear, moonless night. Somewhere way out there, far, far away, among the galaxies millions of light years away, that’s where they will have taken me.
Too many roosters, so some have to go. Sad rooster, happy cat. I can’t finish butchering a rooster without our cat coming into the kitchen and meowing until I give him fresh liver. How does he even know I am doing a rooster? He sleeps during the day, a long ways from the kitchen. He gets drawn into the kitchen like my husband does when I’m baking bread.
Hmm, so this is what a shiitake feels like when you cut it up after just picking it. I highly recommend starting a day by making an omelette using mushrooms plucked at the time you break the eggs. It really ups the flavor a notch.
Getting a New Years card from a dear friend on the other side of the ocean ups the day a notch too. It’s like the old days. The card took a month to get here even though it was sent air mail. It makes you wonder where all that plane went. Guam? The Marianas? Hop-scotched through Micronesia? Each of the Aleutian Islands?