On the morning of January 1st, our table seemed festive and special. After a painful end to 2009, since my maternal grandfather left us for his heavenly abode on the 28th, Charlie and I canceled the party we had organized for the 31st, and felt like doing nothing. Hiroko Shimbo and her husband James "Buzz" Beitchman arrived on the 30th as planned, and with them brought some unexpected but solemn cheer.
Hiroko worked hard on the night of the 31st, and again the morning of the 1st. Whilst she did not prepare the traditional Osechi Ryoori (new years feast) since we did not have most of the ingredients necessary, she had brought with her some Mochi (rice cakes) and so decided she would at least bless our new year with that cooked with some other lucky dishes. As you can see above, Hiroko looks beautiful and all ready, even first thing in the morning. There is something very special about her energy. Charlie and I are HUGE fans of her food and her style.
Hiroko was most concerned that we all get some Mochi Soup, since it is considered very auspicious on new years day. It is called Ozoni. Also of concern to her always, are the serving dishes. Since I was still in mourning for my grandfather (Nana), I could not think of using bright colors for breakfast. So I chose a white placemat, with yellow stripes running on the two sides. I thought it simple enough, and yet somewhat colored, to show hope for the new year. Decided to use Blue and White Spode service, with some accent pieces that would be good to show off her food. And yet keep it in a somewhat Japanese look. To Hiroko, the soup seemed very American. Since the vegetables used in its preparation were not traditional.
It is traditionally made with kombu (kelp), katsubushi (fish flakes) and some salt and shoyu. With very limited ingredients to her call, Hiroko was smart in using a recipe for Ozoni from Kyoto. The recipe was not what she grew up with. But instead, was made using sweet white miso, called Saikyo. She is not alone in making this Ozoni. Whilst it is different from her own family tradition, it is authentic. It also works for the American audience. In using the locally available sweet white Miso of Kyoto in our farm kitchen, Hiroko was able to serve Ozoni, even though it was not her family recipe. Her parents are from Niigata prefecture, in the North West of Tokyo. Hiroko is always very respectful of traditions, and I could feel that she was sad that she did not have all ingredients at her side to make Ozoni like her mother. But also at peace knowing that she had cooked for us an authentic version from Kyoto. Thanks Hiroko!
Her mother calls the salad she made (look above) Kohaku Namasu, made from carrots, daikon (juliennes) and dressed with a mix of rice vinegar, salt, sugar, dashi (fish stock) and some ground sesame seeds, and white sesame seeds, but since she could not find our container of white sesame seeds, she was sweet enough to use black sesame seeds. Of course it made it look "chic and sleek" in her words. It was a very tasty salad. And of course very beautiful and colorful. Trust the Japanese to make food both tasty and beautiful at once.
Kuromame (black soy beans) are for good health and to ensure that we are able to work hard in the new year. You can visit Hrioko's blog and find a recent post on these beans. You can also see below the Kuromame she had prepared the previous year at her apartment in NYC, with better access to great ingredients. The farm and surrounding areas have very modest and limited choices. Sorry Hiroko!
Nishiki Tomago (Japanese Omelette) - Nishiki refers to gold brocade, Tomago being egg. And as the name suggests, what we ate, courtesy our heritage chicken eggs, was a beautifully golden omelette. The real Nishiki Tomago is prepared using hard boiled eggs, and while they are hot they are peeled, separating the yolks and white. Each pressed through a very fine sieve and made into a sand like light and airy ingredient to be used late. Each is mixed with sugar. This gives moisture to the omelette. These moist egg parts are placed onto a container, with the egg white being on the bottom, and then egg yolk lightly sprinkled over the white. The container is then steamed. Then this steamed egg mix is cut into cubes so you see a layer of white against a layer of golden yellow. It is a very festive dish, considered lucky for the start of the new year. As Hiroko said to me, "this golden yellow egg dish is a must". She continued with, "I am sorry I did not wake up early enough to make Nishiki Tomago, and so instead I made Dashimaki Tomago". It is the rolled Japanese omelette. And you can find a recipe for this in The Japanese Kitchen and The Sushi Experience.
Buzz Beitchman, Hiroko's husband, is a Pennsylvanian, who now finds himself spending more time in Japan than in the US. He speaks fluent Japanese and Korean amongst other languages. He is a die-hard protector of all things Japanese, and will give you a sound tongue lashing if you enter into any mild or even playful teasing of Japanese culture. From his behavior towards ensuring the supremacy of the Japanese and their culture, I assume he has deep rooted belief in the culture he has adopted and has studied it deep enough to know enough to protect. Hiroko is much more guarded and generous when it comes to her own culture. And is quite open and accepting about others. Perhaps that generosity comes from having grown up in Japan, and Buzz gets his ferocity, which can be charming, from his being an adopted Japanese, or one that perhaps hopes to be accepted in that society someday. I gather it is not easy to break into that society, and perhaps in someway, Buzz is so protective of it, because he is still not accepted by the culture which he so admires. Funny how life works. I am somewhat the same way about countries and cultures that I have made dear to my heart. Can only imagine what some must say after they hear me protect these countries and cultures and the people that make their home there. For Charlie and I, Buzz and Hiroko are a blessing, and two wonderful friends, who we adore and hope to always have in our lives. They are beautiful people, with beautiful minds, and very generous and kind souls.
How could you not be a fan of Hiroko Shimbo? Look at that gorgeous smile. And of course that food. WOW! She has a way of cooking so easily and comfortably, that it is infectious to be around her, and one can never find cooking a chore. She is always reminding all she meets about cooking with quality ingredients, so as to not eat in quantity.
The table had beautiful color, that was brought to us courtesy of Hiroko and the Japanese kitchen. Certainly we are blessed to have had such a wonderful beginning to 2010. Charlie and I shall forever be beholden to Hiroko, Buzz and Sally for being with us on this day, and for brightening what would have been an otherwise very quiet day with their company, their conversations and this great food.
Hiroko was very concerned that no one who has been in Japan for the new year, think that she attempted to recreate Osechi Ryori at the farm. Instead, she wanted me to make sure everyone understood that she only made a very limited amount of dishes that are served that day.
Above you can see the Osechi Ryori that was ordered by Hiroko's sister in Tokyo. She got it from a famous restaurant. Hiroko emailed me the photograph to give everyone an idea of what a more complete Osechi Ryori feast might look like. Much more complex and lavish then what we ate. But I want all to know, even in a very limited offering, what Hiroko shared was wondrous and very special to us heathens.
The above photograph is one Hiroko shared from January 1st, 2009, when she had made a more proper version of Ozoni, Nishiki Tamago and Kuromame. This was prepared in Hiroko and Buzz's NYC apartment. How clear the broth is. How beautiful and designed everything looks. And yes, the Omelette is exactly as she described to me, and I wrote about above. With the white and golden yellow in two separated layers. Marvelous again.
The photograph above shows you the morning outside of the dining room. It was beautiful, but rather chilly and stark. The geese are following Austin, as he goes to feed the chickens and the ducks as well as the geese. The landscape outside seemed all black and white, not unlike the austerity at the table. The colored outbuildings that litter the farm, a reminder that the photograph and our lives, are colored with more than what meets the eye if you will. In some ways, looking out, at the barns, the outbuildings, and seeing the colors in Hiroko's creations, made us think of all the wonderful moments that Nana added in our life, and how he colored and enriched our lives in ways we may have not noticed when he was around us, but shall certainly remember every time we miss something from our past - something that he had taught us, he did with us, or what he gifted us. In dining with Hiroko, and enjoying the clean and brilliant flavors of Japan, I also made peace with the loss of Nana, and with his own very chic, understated and elegant living. Happy New Year Nana, wherever you are, and also to you Nani and Dadi and all my loved ones, who bless me all the time from their lives outside of the mortal world I belong to. I thank you for having been in my life, and that of all of my family and friends. Whilst I may not think of you every moment, or mention you often, I do celebrate you in many ways, and in special times and moments. Not always predictable, and not always the same. But you are never forgotten.
In this year of the tiger, you will roar in my heart and remain the kings and queens of the jungle that is the world of memories in which I dwell more often than most would believe.