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Cecilia's Butterbur Day

I love drawing its frilly round leaves. I love it when I call in on oldies in the countryside, and they shuffle over to offer me a dish of fuki, as it’s called in Japanese: stems of butterbur carefully prepared and simmered in a delicate savoury broth.

Most of all I love coming across Giant Butterburr, ‘oni-fuki’. Literally, ‘Ogre Butterburr’. They lurk in shady river banks, their oversized leaves making me feel I’m a naiad in a picture book.

Today’s butterburr encounter was at NIHO Kamakura, my ‘share living room’. I went to do a few hours of skill share with my Permie friend Hasami Noda, and ran into the aftermath of a farmer’s market culinary party with the good people of the ‘Zen 2.0' movement.

Drawing up a Permaculture garden for AMIGO house, with Hasami

There they all were, Mikio Shishido, Kouji Miki, people I’d been wanting to meet for weeks, busy turning Kamakura into the Mindfulness Capital of Japan’, with their cultivated, back-to-nature ways.

So far, so good. Kamakura is fantastic.

I was handed a home-grown strawberry ginger mocktail, and gifted a heap of leftover organic vegetables to take home. Then, even though was already having a wonderful day, I was handed a ‘sacred riceball’, made carefully by Yumiko.

Sacred riceballs

They’re a thing.

It’s a movement following the footsteps of Hatsume Sato, Japan’s Mother Teresa. With her homegrown food, she brought solace to the forlorn, accepting them in her ever-growing home, inviting them to join her in the steadying, very human process of preparing food together. She listened to their stories of heartbreak and being lost in a scary world, then over soup and hand-shaped riceballs, the bleakness softened for them.

I was way too happy to eat it myself, so kept it in case I came across a forlorn person. Luckily, I did.

I got home to Remi's house with my vegetables and big smile, to find her despondent. 'A tough day', she said.

A forlorn person, home delivered!

‘Well, I just so happen to have a Sacred Riceball on me. Here you go'.

There is a scene in the animation ‘Spirited Away’, where the mysterious boy looks after lost and despairing Chihiro. When he gives her a riceball, the relief of eating and being cared for makes her tears come.

It was a bit like that.

I told her about my wonderful day, she told me about wonderful Hatsume-san, the riceball grandma.

‘It’s so good sharing a home with someone’ said Remi, over our food. If it was just me, I’d be sad all night.

Yes. Sharing is so good.

How to prepare Butterbur

First you boil it for 20 minutes, to denature its toxins. Then peel the fibrous skin, and soak them in water overnight.

Don’t drink the water!

Rinse, and braise in a broth of stock, mirin for sweetness, and soy sauce. Sprinkle with sesame oil if you like. Remi made a vegan version with shiitake and kelp broth.

Mikio Shishido, Ai Izumi, Cecilia Macaulay, Yumiko, Takuya Takahama at NIHO Kamakura co-living room

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