Friday, December 31, 2010

NY101: Kadomatsu "gate pine"

I figure since I have three boys and they'll soon be on their own, I should actually post some of our mana'o on why we do certain things for special events like New Year's since they won't actually ask. That way when we're gone or when it's their turn to take over, they'll at least know what to do (or not).

New Year's 101 or inside joke ("I show you how!")

The kadomatsu (literally gate pine) is supposed to flank both sides of the entryway of the house for new years and stay up until January 7th. It acts as a temporary housing for the ancestral spirits of the harvest.  We tend to use it as a centerpiece and post the fresh bamboo and pine bunches from farmer's market at the entryway.

What else it means:
  • bamboo symbolizes strength and growth
  • pine is for long life and endurance
  • the bamboo is always bound together in threes to represent heaven, humanity and earth 
  • tallest bamboo is heaven
  • middle is humanity
  • shortest is earth
  • chrysanthemum is not only the symbol for the imperial family of Japan but it symbolizes happiness
  • all our wishes for the new year

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ready for 2011?

One of the worst and best things about New Years is being Japanese. There are so many traditions and expectations for this time of year that it's even more work than getting ready for Christmas.  I'm glad I'm not married to a taishō (the stereotypical boss man husband that sits at the table and yells for beer).

After 23 years, we have our own rhythm and our own list of things that need to be done before tomorrow night, so preparation and lots of list making is key. Today I'm in charge of laundry (don't want to start the new year off with dirty laundry), finishing the new year's cleaning and staying out of Ken's way. He's in charge of the last minute buying, checking and rechecking his lists and negotiating for the best sashimi.

We'd love to make it a simple affair, and food wise, we are, but tradition, tradition, tradition. . .hope your preparations are more relaxed.

Things that can be checked off so far:
  • Red fish (traditionally tai) signifies good luck. The Japanese usually use tai because the Japanese word for auspicious is omedetai so they use the tai, but we are more interested in color and using what we get from our own "backyard" so this weke 'ula is from Ken's November boy scout trip to Ke'ei. He usually starts actively fishing for New Years in October and we just vacuum seal it. If it's not big enough we'll use two, but one's good this year. Ken is a truly sad puppy if we have to buy fish  for New Year's but we haven't had to do that in a long time.
  • We'll make the fish netsuke style where the fish is cooked with sake, mirin, some ginger, soy sauce and a little bit of sugar. The cooked fish is put on a bed of rolled somen noodles and the netsuke sauce is poured over the fish and somen. 

Our family tradition for New Years: sushi bar. My mom changes Christmas dinner every year, and we used to do that for New Years too, but we don't mess with the menu anymore. New Year's eve dinner is shrimp and vegetable tempura and open sushi bar. It makes it easy once all the prep is done. In the bin:
  • koshian is an (sweetened red azuki bean paste). It's used as a filling for mochi, put over local style shaved ice or put into sweet buns (an pan). We use it to make zenzai a hot dessert soup made with azuki to dispel evil and illness in the new year. The azuki soup also has balls of mochi floating in it. If you have a brazier or a grill, grill the mochi first and then put it into the ladled soup. うまい (wonderful)!
  • In ancient times mochi was reserved for special occasions because of the communal nature of making the mochi, but now with electric mochi makers and more demand, mochi is eaten all year round. Japanese believe that mochi embodies the spiritual power of the gods and by eating it one can welcome that power into their bodies and gain vitality and be renewed.
  • sushinoko - It's not difficult to make the vinegar recipe for sushi rice, but really, why? Everyone uses the packaged sushinoko but if you want to make it yourself, it's equal parts rice vinegar and sugar with some salt. Heat it in a non-metal pot to combine flavors (the metal reacts with the vinegar even when using powdered sushinoko so don't mix the hot rice and vinegar in a metal bowl or pot. 
  • Nori
  • Goma (sesame seeds) for the  special mayo and honey sauce. Put some tobiko (flying fish roe) in the mayo sauce for the instant winner.
  • Tempura batter mix
  • Panko for the nice crunch on the shrimp tempura
  • Tapioca for warm Thai tapioca dessert with coconut milk
  • Packages of dried mochi 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The 7-course Italian Dinner

 Each year, my mom does an ethnic Christmas dinner complete with researched dishes and a spreadsheet of job assignments for everyone but the little ones and my dad. For the first time in years, my siblings all came home for Christmas so it was wonderful to have the house overflowing with people. But back to the food. Let me just say this is the FINAL time we'll be doing this to this scale. In the midst of it all I felt like we were actually living in the movie Big Night. If you've never seen Big Night with Tony Shalhoub of Monk, it's a foodie movie must-see.

The 7 courses turned into 6 mostly out of a necessity to live to eat another day. 
Course 1: antipasti (1:00 p.m.)

The research:
Antipasti is an Italian word meaning literally "before the meal." The antipasti is the appetizer or hors d'oeuvre course. Antipasti is the plural form of the word, but the singular form, antipasto, is often also used.
Our offering: 

  • mozzarella-prosciutto-basil logs
  • mozzarella-salami logs
  • salami
  • assorted cheeses
  • assorted olives
  • artichoke hearts
  • tomato and mozzarella with sea salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (insalata caprese)
  • crusty bread with garlic-balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping
  • ceviche with fresh caught mahimahi
  • shiraz
Course 2: insalata (2:15 p.m.)
We waited about a half an hour and that gave the cooks enough time to put the salads together. Salads are also served at an antipasti course, but we played Christmas bingo between courses instead.
Our offering:
  • Caesar salad with anchovies on the side (Ken's homemade Caesar salad dressing)
  • pasta salad
  • marinated vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, smoked green olives)
  • chardonay
Course 3: soup (3:30 p.m.)
At this point, lethargy is setting in and the day is getting hot. The older kids have disappeared to the park so Ahi can do some stunting, the little ones are outside picking tangerines and our youngest is downstairs in the "man cave/tattoo studio" playing "Modern Warfare."

Our offering:
  • cioppino
  • minestrone
  • shiraz left from a former course and chardonay
The research:
Cioppino is a fish stew  developed by Italian fisherman in the 1800s.  It's a stew, so any kind of seafood will do and everything is in a tomato and wine flavored broth.  Like cioppino, minestrone is not a fussy soup because cooks just use whatever vegetables are in season.

Course 4: Pasta (5:30 p.m.)
There was a bit of a mix-up on what came when so the fire was started for the salmon and the orzo was finished before the pasta course came out. At this point, everyone is beyond full and seriously making sure that they have enough room for what's coming up. The clearing tables, putting food away and setting up for the next course is taking longer than the actual eating.
The offering:
  • Spaghetti with mushroom marinara
  • Spaghetti with simple clam sauce
  • merlot, second chardonay
Course 5: Entree (6:30 p.m.)
The offering:
  • Grilled salmon seasoned with olive oil, lemon, Rocking H salt
  • Pork loin with roasted potatoes, onions and mushrooms
  • Mango chutney for the pork
  • Orzo with parmesan
  • Grilled marinated vegetables (asparagus, colored peppers, zucchini)

Course 6: (not served): fruit and cheese platter
Course 7: dessert and coffee 
We were actually going to make cannolis but there were no cannoli tubes in Hilo. True story. It seems we only want to make cannolis around Christmas and our local restaurant supply store is always out of cannoli tubes. They must order one after our inquiry, then sell it before the year is up so when we call again, they are once again out of it.

The offerings:
  • Panatone (Italian fruit cake)
  • Christmas themed white cake
  • Lime layered jello
  • Ken's dark chocolate sea salt fudge
  • Ken's cream cheese pie with blueberry or cherry topping

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What to Get a Foodie Geek

Aloha kalikimaka from our family to yours. Hope the big elf left you something wonderful under the tree.

For us, now that our kids are older, Christmas is mostly about breakfast (homemade waffles with strawberries and whip cream, different kinds of sausages and eggs), a fast open of gifts, then on to getting the house ready for company to come over and eat.

Each year my husband gets some kind of foodie thing, so what to get a foodie geek?  A cordless wine cooler :0 You put your water and ice, turn it on, and it spins. Of course hubby already has his own wine refrigerator, but there can never be enough gadgets.