|Yes, it's pretty... and encased in plastic - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
The Prime's family has never been sticklers for shogatsu (Japanese New Years) -- with parents who grew up in Hawaii, the Old World ways mixed with the new, and all that mattered was having enough firecrackers to turn the neighborhood into the DMZ and keep all fingers intact. Growing up in California, my parents and I used to gather at a family friends' home with many others and celebrate the Eve with food and drink. My grandparents were really the ones who observed the old customs like having a kadomatsu -- a bamboo and pine centerpiece that represents prosperity and longevity, while welcoming the harvest spirits. My paternal grandfather used to make ozoni, a savory, long-simmered broth, flavored with shoyu and occasionally butterfish, served on New Year's Day morning with a disc of plain mochi in it, to ensure a lucky year. Sadly, his recipe passed away with him, but the rites of food, loved ones, and the renewal of one's luck is a tradition worth hanging onto, and so we do what we can in our own home.
It's tricky to get a fresh kadomatsu, but we put out a kagami mochi -- decorated stacked rice cakes topped with a bitter orange or satsuma, preferably with the stem and leaf still attached. Thanks to the obsessive nature of Japan, I found a kagami mochi centerpiece at Uwajimaya -- it's real rice cakes, but they're hermetically sealed like King Tut. It's a bit silly to display this near-faux food item, but I'd like to believe it would make my grandparents happy to know a little of the past hasn't been forgotten.
To mix some new with the old, the Prime hangs a wreath decorated with different holiday ornaments from Hawaii and Japan that have been collected over the years. You're supposed to make sure the house is clean before the new year to ensure a fresh start, which I'm sure includes taking down all the Christmas decorations. This was done, save for the wreath and some lights, because I still insist on a bit of sparkle for the Eve. Sure, the wreath is a fake pine, but I'm fairly certain the wandering harvest kami would be down with that, as long as I make something mochi-licious!
Because this is a post of good mochi intentions, I hope to make either sweet mochi and/or this treat that I'd like to share the recipe for. It's from my mother's dessert files -- a creamy, sweet custard bar made with rice flour. It has a little of the sticky, gelatin-like mochi texture, but sweeter and probably more successful on palates unfamiliar with the traditional rice cakes. Whatever you do for New Years, I hope it's spent with loved ones and happy times. Kinga shinnen!
Wasabi Mom's Custard Mochi
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 cups milk (2% or higher)
4 whole eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups mochiko (rice flour)
2 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13 X 9 pan. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour into pan and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until center is firm. Cool and chill in refrigerator. Cut into squares -- my mom suggests using a plastic knife for easier cutting. Do as Mom says, she knows best.
|New Years wishes from the Wasabi household - Photos by Wasabi Prime|