Osechi (New Year's Feast): The Next Generation

I wasn't able to make it back to Japan to spend New Year's Day with my family, since I'm still not fully up to the enduring the rigors of a long flight by myself and The Guy is too busy with work to go away for an extended time. So my mother sent photos of the feast they had. I'm really sorry I missed it, since it marked the debut of the next generation of chefs in our family preparing food for an important holiday in a sense. In previous years my mother took the lead in making osechi ryouri (traditional New Year's food), but this year that role was taken on by my sister Mayumi and my 11 year old niece Lena. They started making everything 3 days beforehand and brought everything over to my mom and stepfather's place in juubako, which are large stacking bento boxes. Lena-chan was very much a little princess until just a year or so ago, but she's growing up so fast in so many ways it's amazing.

This is one layer of the juubako, containing onishime - a melange of winter vegetables, dried shiitake mushrooms, konnyaku and other items such as fried tofu and chicken simmered together in dashi. Lena-chan helped to prepare the vegetables and make the twisted konnyaku pieces. (For instructions for how to make the twisted konnyaku, see this page. For a simmered dish that's similar to onishime, see this recipe.) The golden brown things in the background are spring rolls, which are not exactly traditional for New Year's, but were pronounced as delicious by everyone. (Here is my recipe for Japanese style spring rolls.)

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The next layer has a variety of things. Clockwise from top left: burdock root (gobo) wrapped in beef; kobumaki - semi-dried herring called mikaki nishin wrapped in konbu seaweed, tied with kampyo (dried gourd strips), and simmered; pink-and-white kamaboko; datemaki (egg and fish paste roll); and some slices of regular tamagoyaki. Mayumi and Lena-chan made it all except for the kamaboko and datemaki, which they bought.

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They made even more osechi items, to eat during the New Year's holidays. Basically osechi items keep for several days, so you can take out a little at a time and enjoy them during the holiday period, so the cook of the family can take a little break from kitchen chores. On this plate, clockwise from top left there is boiled shrimp; nibuta (simmered pork - see my nibuta recipe here); some kind of simmered tofu (I don't have the recipe...I'll have to get it from Mayumi); simmered dried scallops; some 'chicken ham' (recipe for chicken ham or torihamu here); more datemaki; and two simmered satoimo or taro root (how to cook satoimo).

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And here's even more osechi. Clockwise from top left theres some large kuromame (sweet black beans); a selection of simmered items from the onishime - kouya dofu or kohya dofu (or koya dofu) (freeze-dried tofu; see more about kouya dofu here), carrots and atsuage or deep fried tofu (more about atsuage and other types of tofu); another kind of kuromame using small black soy beans; kinton, or mashed sweet potatoes with syrup and chestnuts; and more onishime items - dried shiitake mushrooms, burdock root (gobo) and lotus root (renkon). In the center are two chicken dumplings or tsukune (recipe for tsukune here). In the background is a bottle of celebratory sake, an essential part of the whole feast of course. The label carries a saying: 笑う門には福来たる (warau mon ni wa fuku kitaru) - "Good luck comes to the gate (household) that laughs".

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As if that weren't enough, they even made some futomaki or fat sushi rolls. Lena-chan was responsible for the actual rolling, and I think they look pretty great.

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My mother and stepfather contributed a a plate of nigiri-zushi to the meal. Sushi is not at all traditional to the New Year, but more and more people are enjoying it these days.

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I'm really sorry I couldn't make it there this year, but maybe I'll be there with the family in 2014, and to taste Lena-chan's osechi for myself.

In the meantime though I'm sort of glad that the holiday season is over. Maybe the workers will finally, finally finish up the construction work on the house so we can get to enjoy it fully without having to clean up the dust all the time and push back dropcloths to get at stuff. One can dream....^_^;

Happy New Year everyone!

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