Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The pre-Christmas calendar got too congested for what has become our annual elaborate cookie decorating party (the decorating is elaborate, not the party), so Akemi and I moved on to new year’s preparation instead.  On the day after Christmas, we hosted for the first time our own mochitsuki – the making of the rice cakes served as the traditional first meal on New Year’s Day.

When we were in Anaheim for Christmas eve, we got my dad’s mochi-maker out of the Peralta Hills garage. My dad loved this machine.  It looks like an over-sized rice cooker, which, actually, it is.  It’s quite amazing: it steams the rice, just like a rice cooker, and then moves into a mode that is a combination food processor and mixer as it grinds and beats the steamed rice into a smooth paste.  No more bicep-building hefting of wet rice into big steamers.  No more jerry-rigged meat-grinders engineered by my dad and his brother.  My dad was happy to leave my childhood memories behind for the wonders of modern convenience.

When we pulled out the English translation of the instructions, I saw that my dad had written in the conversion from kilograms for the equivalent of five pounds of rice and the calculation of the necessary amount of water: 545 ml, to be precise.  “Aw, Grandpa,” said Akemi.  How like my dad.  I left it to a Harvard chemistry major, a Harvard computer science major, and a Tufts human factors major to carry out the assembly and machine operation.  We were encouraged when that heart-warming smell of steamed rice began to waft through the kitchen.

We sat around to mostly, literally, watch a pot boil, until I pronounced the rice “smooth enough.”  I tried to channel my Auntie Emi, who usually held the place of honor at the extended Kamei clan mochitsuki to push the hot rice into a long loaf and cut it into small pieces for everyone standing around the table to mold into little cakes.  The an paste came out of a can instead of being homemade, and many of the cakes were a little wrinkly instead of being glossy smooth, but our guests got the idea.  What we lacked in style points, we made up for in a good time.

In another break from tradition, we did not wait for New Year’s Day to eat our mochi, serving ozoni up immediately for our guest participants.  My mom’s family, the city folks, prepared clear soup, while my dad’s family, the country folks, always put miso in theirs.  In a concession to the Kameis, my mom since her marriage had made ozoni with miso, so that’s the way we know it. 

Since Akemi and I got a jump on our new year’s meal, yesterday for New Year’s Day at my mother’s home we went straight for the sushi.  We noshed our way through an afternoon of Stanford hanging on to win the Rose Bowl, chess games, and Uno.

2012 turned out surprisingly well, much better than I could have anticipated.  I always eat an odd number of kuromame – sweet black soy beans – for good luck, and this year ate a generous amount for an especially auspicious 2013.  Happy new year!