7 Jun 2010

Cozy comfy winter days

The seasons changed while we were away, the warm 'Indian summer' days of late autumn changing into the crisp frosty winter mornings of winter. I love the seasons.

The Japanese have a word, shun 旬, to define the period during which a type of food is in season and at the at the height of perfection. Shun foods simply taste better and the Japanese know it. The foods in season during our recent visit included sublime strawberries, watermelon, cherries, raspberries, asparagus, tomatoes, ayu 鮎, sweetfish, and anago 穴子 sea eel on sushi. It was all fantastic. More than once we were told that Jemimah couldn't have her favourite ikura イクラ salmon roe sushi because it wasn't the season. You could buy it in the supermarkets, but it wouldn't taste perfect and therefore they wouldn't sell it! It wasn't shun.

Until quite recently we all ate foods in season. Without modern methods of preservation and fast efficient modes of transport, we relied on products grown locally for the bulk of our food and stewed, preserved or cellared the rest to 'see us through the winter. Our the world has shrunk. Today we have a globalised food market and with it comes the convenience of buying any food at any time of the year.

The payoff is taste.

We may be able to buy tomatoes in the supermarkets year round, but the pale watery specimens of winter fail miserably in their attempts to stand up against the warm red luscious summer tomatoes of our kitchen garden. Likewise strawberries, asparagus and stone fruits. It seems that ikura is the same, and so good sushi restaurants in Japan don't sell it in May. If it's not shun it's not for sale. I like it.

Back at home in wintery Australia food is shun too. The pumpkin harvest has been a good one; likewise the silverbeet and broccoli are flourishing. Stews, hotpots and casseroles surely must be shun foods in winter, so must be apple-pies, soups and macaroni cheese. Oishi 大石 !!

We took advantage of this past weekend to get well into the way of a truly shun Aussie winter. If you'd been a fly on the wall of our parlour this past few days you'd have seen me occupied in one or more of the the following truly wintery season activities:
  • Snuggling under a pile of mohair and angora rugs and reading my wonderful living book, Kyoto - A Cultural History by John Dougill.
  • Joining my crochet granny rug using the method described here. You can see a pic of the work in progress above. Do tell me what you think!
  • Baking and eating apple pie with shortbread pastry and icecream to make it extra wicked.
  • Cheering Jemimah's minkey hockey game from the sidelines.
  • Listening to our new Japanese CD purchases including this, this, this, and this.
  • Cutting up a friend's homegrown pumpkins to make enough pumpkin soup for a week of warming winter lunches.
  • Drinking a fine bottle of Aussie 2001 vintage Shiraz Cabernet with my beloved.
  • Reading aloud The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice with a little appropriate editing on the fly to make it appropriate for Miss 8.
  • Preparing and eating that wonder winter standby, Macaroni Cheese - the advanced version, full of things like Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vegies and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Heart attack in a pan, this one - just like the best winter foods!
  • Chatting to a good overseas friend for 2 1/2 hours in Facebook chat.
  • Eating Vegemite on sourdough toast with lashings of butter cooked piece-by-piece over the crackling wood fire in the living room. Mmmm, definitely shun.
  • Freezing half to death on Sunday morning in a suddenly powerless church and smiling wryly at all the puns about a church with no power but full of The Power. Yeah, yeah, I know...
  • Best of all, cuggling with my wonderful family. (A Cuggle for those who don't know is midway between a cuddle and a hug. Obviously.)
As I read my list I can't help reflect over the fact that it is little surprise that we all gain weight in winter too. Ah well. So be it.

So seasonality. What to you do to celebrate the seasons where you live?

How was your weekend? Do tell.

I'll leave you with this video from The Visit Japan Campaign about seasonality and kaiseki cuisine:

Gochisōsama-deshita ごちそうさまでした


  1. Jeanne, I must admit that when I saw "winter" in your title, I started. Then I remember that equator thing.

    I love the idea of shun. Mireille Guiliano writes of the French take on the topic in her French Women books. And while I completely agree, I find it hard to shake off my American expectations of the global food market. (That being said, I refuse to buy watermelon in any season BUT summer. It's just WRONG.) The funny thing is, if I buy produce when it's not in season, when said fruit or veg has been shipped from around the world, I am always disappointed in the flavor, which came at a high price, too! When will I learn?

  2. I have to come here just to cool off. I want winter back! Whaaaa.

    I 100% agree about local and in-season produce. We buy from local farmers and the taste difference is amazing.

  3. Is that "The Ink Keeper's Apprentice" in its entirety? Is it an e-book?

  4. We shun. Sorta. Keeping our own veggie garden going means we eat a lot of what we can actually groww at any given time. Just now we are pigging on the most luscious pumpkins!

    I love the rug colours. Brown instead of the traditional black for your edging works wonderfully with your colour choices. So much softer & more inviting.

  5. Jeanne, your rug is a masterpiece! Second row, second right. That swuare is just like the little rug I made many moons ago!!!
    "Heartattack in a pan"/ You said it. All the Winter food is loaded with goodies! My Dad (also diabetic) complains that my dinners put his sugar levels up!
    It is impossible to shun shuck gorgeous foods. I do think the seasonal thing is the way to go though.

  6. You didn't really need to write an entire post - you could have just shown us your unabashedly gorgeous rug!

    I picture you typing with your nose as you crochet while toasting your sourdough with your left foot and rolling the perfect pie crust with your right. Say's book hangs above your head by some crazy contraption your beloved built that both turns pages and keeps the vintage Shiraz Cabernet blend coming.

    We have snuggles and buggles - wasn't aware of the cuggle. I learn something new from you every day.

    2 1/2 hours. Somebody take their super mom insignias away please.

  7. Thanks for introducing me to a few new words today including shun and cuggle!
    Our shun around here is warm winter roasts and hot curries, not together obviously:)

  8. Hello Jeanne! Just popping by to say weclome home (I could be a few weeks late by now!?) and to say what a divine rug!!!!! mmmmmmmmmmm lovely!

  9. minkey hockey??? Translation please?

    I heard a report [possibly Marketplace or National Public Radio] on creating an edible supermarket tomato!! Glad to hear it's a world-wide problem.

    Glad you are back to blogging, too!

  10. I LOVE The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice! Thank you for introdcing me to the concept of shun. Oishi is one of my few Japanese words - along with iwashi (it's a long story and the two didn't come together!) so now I have another one. We're just comin ginto tomato season here in the UK - hooray!

  11. Your rung looks lovely and colorful! x

  12. umm, thats meant to be RUG!!!

  13. I have a big pot of lentil and vegetable soup simmering on the stove, so your post really resonated with me. Here in the subtropics the winter difference is not as marked as further south, but I long for a log fire and toast before it. Where we lived in Sydney, we had a big recessed fireplace and Dad would add a bbq plate to a little shelf above the coals and cook steaks!

    What I love about winter here is being able to walk on the beach without heat exhaustion, snuggling under rugs to read or watch a movie, and soup.


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