All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Breakfast, January 1, 2015

Once again this year, we had our typical ozoni soup with rice cakes and osechi special dishes for New Year's Day. When we have guests, I am tempted to make something different just for fun. But with ozoni and osechi, my focus has been to maintain the taste, which is largely supported by the quality of ingredients and the many little simple steps involved in preparation.

My ozoni and osechi prep usually starts on December 27 or 28, and our fridge is filled with small containers by the evening of the 31st. Large containers go to our near-freezing basement or outside shelves, and they all wait to be served on the morning of January 1st.

Why all this cooking in advance? Serving many items for New Year's breakfast is the biggest reason, and while I do boil mochi rice cakes and grill fish and scallops in order to serve them hot, cooking on January 1st is not a tradition. Rather, you are supposed to not stand in front of the stove. In the old days, only during the first three days of January were busy home cooks (usually women) excused from preparing food. Another story says that the deity of fire takes a rest on January 1st, so that home cooks should cooperate by not using fire for cooking.

This year's ozoni turned out to be a bit disappointing. Tom now understands why I sometimes make a special trip to look for the best possible fish for the soup.
  • Ozoni / New Year's Day soup with rice cakes
  • Kuromame no fukumeni / slightly sweet soy sauce-flavored black soybeans: mame [beans] also signify health
  • Kohaku namasu / daikon radish and carrot in yuzu citrus vinegar marinade: red (carrot) and white (daikon) are a celebratory combination
  • Ebi no umani / prawns in light soy sauce-flavored broth: bent form for longevity
  • Musubi kamaboko / fishcake in knot shape
  • Datemaki / rolled seafood omelet: for intellectual enhancement and cultural appreciation
  • Takiawase / assorted ingredients cooked separately and then put together, including: Warabi to ganmodoki no nimono [bracken and deep-fried tofu patties simmered in broth]; Koyadofu no fukumeni [rehydrated freeze-dried tofu simmered in light broth; Umeninjin no nimono, shoga-aji [plum-blossom cut carrot simmered in light ginger-flavored broth]: plum blossoms symbolize early spring; and Yabane kinusaya [snow peas cut in arrow-shaft feather shape]: the arrow shaft wards off evil sprints
  • Gindara to hotate no saikyozuke / grilled Saikyo-miso marinated black cod and sea scallops: a standard addition to our osechi
  • Surenkon / lotus root marinated in sweetened vinegar: see-through holes for a good perspective
  • Kikuka kabu / Chrysanthemum-cut Japanese turnip in sweetened vinegar

We had a nice sake called Chiyozuru -- chilled, of course -- I brought back from Japan. At first it tasted sweet but then turned dry, almost spicy. Very intriguing.

Chiyozuru literally means "1,000-year cranes," which probably is from a Japanese proverb saying that cranes live for 1,000 years and turtles for 10,000 years. So that's another longevity wish.

During my trip to Japan last year, I learned that Mr. Hideaki Yamamoto had passed away in 2010. He made the Tateyama-wan lacquer bowls we use for ozoni. The steep 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) class Tateyama mountains in my hometown prefecture are the source of his inspiration for the bowls' beautiful form with angled surfaces. Urushi lacquerware become shinier over the years with repeated use, washing, and drying with a cloth. The urushi bowls and plates we have been using on a daily basis for more than 15 years or so look shiny, but these Tateyama-wan still seem muted. In the year to come, we shall use them more often to make them glow. That should please the late Mr. Yamamoto.

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