Being of Japanese-Chinese descent as well as a born & raised Hawai'i girl, we still celebrate a lot of the traditional foods and customs of New Years celebration - cleaning the entire house before the New Year, setting off fireworks to ward off the evil spirits, drinking sake for good luck. We also still make mochi & the traditional ozoni (mochi soup).
Step 1: Cooking the mochi-gome (rice).
When we were growing up, the families & friends used to get together to make the mochi. Traditionally, the mochi-gome was soaked overnight then steamed over an open fire.
Today, as the families moved away and time passed on, my immediate family uses an electronic mochi maker to cook & "pound" the rice into mochi. We use a Tiger SMH-1801 CR mochi maker bought from Marukai for about $120 around 10 years ago. The soaked rice is put in the bin with water and cooked for about 40 minutes. Here, you can see the cooked rice. Notice the three buttons on the side? The middle one is to cook the rice.
Here's a batch of cooked rice that had ground green tea added to it.
Step 2: Pounding the rice.
After the rice was cooked, it was then poured into an usu (large stone/wooden mortar) and pounded with a kine (large wooden pestle) by the men. Inevitably, there was always one man who had no rhythm or aim, and his batch of mochi would end up with splinters in it while the man turning the hot rice in the usu would be cursing (after being hit by the kine).
With our modern mochi maker, we don't have splinters or bruised hands anymore. Now, the "pounding" is done at the touch of a button. Here's my brother getting ready to "pound" the next batch of mochi. (The third button on the machine.)
Dad is turning the mochi rice and wetting it as it is being "pounded."
Step 3: Forming the mochi.
In the past, the women would take the pounded rice and form the mochi balls, using katakuriko (potato starch) to keep the mochi from sticking. In these modern times, nothing has changed.
Dad & Mom are pouring out the pounded rice from the "usu" into a tray of katakuriko.
When forming the mochi, grab a part of the hot pounded rice in your hands and pinch between your thumb and forefinger to form a ball. There should be no seams, creases, or dimples when done properly. To add the tsubushian (sweetened red bean paste) to the inside of the mochi, stretch out the mochi slightly, wrap a tsubushian ball inside the rice and form the mochi the same way.
The tsubushian was made a couple of days ago by soaking dried azuki beans overnight in water, then cooked until almost all the water is gone and the beans are soft. Add sugar & salt to taste, then mash slightly. You can make this into koshi-an (sweet red bean "jam") by pressing the cooked tsubushian through a sieve to remove the skins & make smooth).
I have two blisters on my right hand from the constant stirring of the tsubushian. RAWR!
Anyway, here's me forming some of the green tea mochi in my traditional mochi-making attire. This winter has been particularly warm and dry - 80 degrees and no rain!
Girl-chan (my 3 year old niece), helped make mochi this year. She has "scribbles and snakes" forms of mochi down pat. Next year we're hoping that she can actually make "balls"! Here she is, showing us just how sticky mochi is.
Step 4: Mochi Aftermath
Once the mochi has been made, we fill up our dining room table with them and then start packing them up to deliver to various family and friends. The really big mochi on the plates & pans are for the kasane (kagami) mochi.
Close up of individual mochi. Sorry for the weirdness of it - it's really difficult to cut soft mochi photogenically. At least for me!
Step 5: Ozoni
The traditional good luck mochi soup is eaten on New Years. You can read more about it in this thread. Our ozoni contains carrots, daikon, mizuna, dried shredded ika, konbu, gobo (burdock), hasu (lotus root) in a dashi-bonito broth and topped with kamaboko and araimo (a sort of potato).
I was told that the veggies are normally cut into rounds to represent the gold & silver money. :D
In our household, we eat the soup part of the ozoni with soba and/or saimin & won ton (this year we made gyoza) after the midnight fireworks. When we wake up in the morning, we eat it the customary way with mochi in it. The rest of our New Years breakfast consists of kuromame (sweetened black beans with chestnuts) and yokan (azuki "jelly" made with agar agar).
Step 6: Kasane (Kagami) Mochi & Kadomatsu
For good luck, we have two of the mochi placed on some ferns with a tangerine on top as an offering for the new year. Kasane is "piled" mochi while kagami is "two mirrors". I think. I'm having a no-sleep moment, so maybe Hiroyuki or Torakris can help me out on this one?
Kadomatsu is a pine & bamboo arrangement bound by rope and placed in front of the entrance. Originally it contained water "in case of fires." The bamboo and pine are supposed to represent strength and growth. One story of the kadomatsu is that the sticky pine traps the evil spirits inside of the bamboo before they can enter the house. Later, the kadomatsu is burned, destroying the evil spirits and protecting the household for the rest of the year.
I hope everyone has had a fabulous celebration and will have an ultra-faboo and prosperous New Year with lots of yummy food with family and friends!
Edited by mochihead, 01 January 2006 - 06:15 PM.