Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan Times, plus a bit about my niece and nephew
I've had an article with recipe in The Japan Times every month since August. Writing for them is a bit different than writing for my blogs; I try to focus more on the story behind the food, and I also write for English speaking people living in Japan, who are the main audience for the paper. It's an interesting challenge every month! Anyway, for this month I have an article about Toshikoshi soba, or year-end soba. It goes into a lot more of the historical background and origins of the custom of eating soba noodles on New Year's Eve than my old toshikoshi soba post from back in 2003. The recipe is also a bit different; instead of using pre-made kaeshi or storebought mentsuyu, I give instructions for making the soup totally from scratch using konbu seaweed, bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Again I'm assuming that most of the readers have ready access to these ingredients, as well as the kamaboko topping. Anyway, I hope you'll take a look!
I've used my favorite eating-model again for the top photo accompanying the article, my 9 year old niece Lena. (I've spelled her name phonetically as "Rena" on these pages before, but she apparently favors the spelling "Lena". Her name in kanji is 玲奈.) I love my nephew Lyoh, her older brother, just as much of course, but he tends to pull awful/funny faces when I point the lens at him, as boys will do. Lena-chan is a great model; she loves to pose for the camera when she's aware of it, and when she's not she has the most adorable, intent look on her face. Here she is eating some sushi. She's checking under the fish for wasabi, since she doesn't like it.
Lena and Lyoh are both great kids, though I may be biased as their aunt. They are quite rambunctious and can start a wrestling match in the back seat of their dad's SUV at the drop of a hat, but they're definitely not kids that their parents are afraid to take out to a restaurant at any time. Even when they were younger, they knew how to behave themselves. Here's Lena-chan eating soba again when she was just 6 years old, with my mother looking on fondly. Even when she was little, she had great table manners.
I spent a weekend with my sister, her husband and the kids at Hakone, a popular resort area at the foot of Mount Fuji, in November. We ate out a lot of course, and wherever we went the kids behaved themselves impeccably. When we went to a kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant, Lyoh even ordered some special items directly to the waitress just like his dad. (Tip: if you want to be ensured of freshly made sushi at a kaiten-zushi place rather than sushi that may have been around the track several times, just put your order in for something directly.) I don't think they are necessarily unusual - most kids in restaurants are quite well behaved, especially in Japan. But I was reminded of how jarring kids in restaurants can be the other day when I was at a cafe, where a set of parents were ignoring the fact that their kids were running around rampant. It happens in all countries, and I really think it's all up to how the parents react. Lyoh happens to have ADD and some other problems, so he can get a bit agitated sometimes, but when that happens one of his parents talk him down quietly so that he breathes and calms down.
I love this photo of the kids that I took at Tokyo Disney. It really shows their personalities. Lena-chan is trying to pose cutely for the camera, and there's Lyoh-kun totally ignoring it and jumping up and down, full of beans.
Another fun thing about my niece and nephew is that they both prefer washoku or Japanese food most of the time over Western food. Sure, they do beg for a Makku (Japanese slang for McDonald's) visit sometimes as all kids do, but not that much. When we went out for breakfast at a diner-type place, the adults all ordered "morning sets" with toast, eggs, and so on, but the kids both ordered traditional Japanese style sets with rice, miso soup, pickles and fish or chicken. When I took them to Tokyo Disney back in the spring, they grew tired of eating things like Mickey Mouse shaped pastries, so their mother went out to get them some bentos, which they tucked into happily. Lena is especially fond of Japanese food. Here she's eating some mitarashi dango.
I really miss seeing the kids at this time of year, so please excuse my rambling on about them. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!