Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Latest Happy New Year Ever

Ozoni, mochi soup to start the year off right.
Happy Year of the Rabbit! All the more important now that the zodiac has been thrown into upheaval, don't you think? Actually, I am early by the lunar calendar, which is also my standing excuse for missed birthdays and such. We spent New Year's eve on the plane back to Tokyo from California, hurtling toward the international dateline. The celebrating we did a couple of days earlier at my mom's, with the traditional ozoni soup. It's a very light and clear dashi broth with bamboo shoots, carrots, greens, mushrooms, and mochi rice cakes. The mochi gets hot and gooey, like mozzarella on steroids, which is fun to slurp at, especially for the kids. I've seen warnings on Japanese TV about the choking hazard for the elderly around the end of the year, and I can see why. This time Mom did seaweed broth instead of fish, since my soul-sister Monster S, who was in attendance with her homemade Korean fried noodles with tofu, is vegetarian. Mom even cut the carrots into little flowers, which Mini Z loved. Mochi is deceptively simple, and once its density becomes apparent, about two bites in, one is grateful the soup is not heavy. Besides, the brightness of the vegetables is such a treat in the middle of the winter. Even in LA.

Tofu japchae and a side of kimchee
So good. And japchae is not something in my repetoire, which makes it even more of a treat. Monster S stood over the pan with chopsticks and wooden spoons, pulling sesame-slicked noodles and vegetables into the air and tossing them. The smell in the house was so rich and wonderful. We were actually to full to eat it and so waited until the kids had gone to bed a few hours later to dig in. You have to do noodles on New Year's, and in Japan we do buckwheat soba--long noodles for long life. As a kid, I hated the obligatory shot of sake from the sharp, flat little silver cups that sat in the cupboard all year. As with most things that took a lot of explanation, we were just told it was good luck. Then we sat down to a big bowl of noodles at midnight.