japan, staying home

Flower carrots, sleep deprivation and memories

Every New Year’s Day, my mom would make osechi ryori, traditional Japanese New Year foods. Actually, I need to correct myself. She’d be cooking all day and night before New Year’s Day. If we weren’t home in Seattle, then we’d have an even more elaborate osechi in Japan with my baa-ba (grandma).

In recent years (pre-Covid), we’d typically be in Japan to ring in the new year so we were fortunate to enjoy the full spread of foods. It’s basically a feast you eat for breakfast — and have leftovers for the following two days! It contains a lot of small dishes. I guess some may consider it Japanese tapas? It includes a variety of seafood, vegetables and some meat.

With a second year of not being able to travel to Japan, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I’d make osechi myself. (My mom is in Japan caring for baa-ba). Maybe having a daughter now has also inspired me. I want to be able to make these foods for her to enjoy in the near future.

What did I make?

I didn’t want to be too ambitious so I planned to make four things:

  • Kuri kinton – Pureed satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) with candied chestnuts.
  • Kuromame – Japanese black soy beans soaked in soy sauce and sugar.
  • Nishime – Stewed vegetables. You usually include chicken but I’m a vegetarian so I substituted with fried tofu.
  • Tazukuri – Candied sardines.

I successfully pulled off three of the four so I was happy. After all, this was the first time I was making any of these dishes. Side note: I’m not a huge fan of cooking. It usually feels more like a chore to me than something fun. For this reason, my husband typically does more cooking than I do in a typical week.

On left: Nishime. On right: Kamaboko (fish cake I just cut), then kuromame and kuri kinton. Not pictured: tazukuri 🙂

The kuromame was the easiest thing to make because it was an Instant Pot recipe with very little prepping. (I can wash beans!) The kuri kinton and nishime turned out well, too. The tazukuri did not turn out well. OK, it turned out very poorly. After sending my mom a picture of my results, she said I didn’t buy the right type of fish for the tazukuri. (Mine were too big, she said). I tried to make do with what I had — well, with what the store had available — but I missed the mark. The fish were not crispy enough and my sauce turned out too goopy so everything stuck together wayyyy to much making it difficult to eat.

Alone at midnight

Because I’m a vegetarian, I don’t have great knife skills. The nishime was pretty time consuming just because there was so much to cut: carrots, bamboo shoot, snow peas, renkon (lotus root), burdock root, shiitake mushroom and konnyaku (yam). Not to mention, I wanted to make my nishime look good so I cut the carrots into flowers. Most people have a special flower cutter for their carrots but I do not own one. I thought about purchasing one but wasn’t sure if it would be something I would be using often.

The cutting wasn’t too difficult and I still have 10 fingers. So, maybe I don’t need a carrot flower cutter?

I was up when the clock struck midnight because I was cutting and cooking. The baby was sleeping already (thankfully). Of course I was exhausted but I really wanted to get as much done before the morning. This may have been the most uneventful NYE I’ve ever experienced – I was doing what I consider to be a chore!

I set aside a bit of the pureed satsumaimo (without any of the added ingredients to it), for the baby to try New Year’s Day. She loved it! I feel like this is a good sign she will want to try more osechi next year?

We couldn’t be in Japan but I think I successfully brought a bit of it to us. My parents even complimented that my kuromame looked just as good as the store-bought kuromame in Japan!

I can’t wait until my baby is able to visit Japan and enjoy osechi with her great baa-ba. For now, they FaceTime nearly every day and it’s one of my favorite things.

The osechi spread at baa-ba’s.

I followed Just One Cookbook’s recipes for osechi. She has a lot of Japanese recipes for year-round, too!

2 thoughts on “Flower carrots, sleep deprivation and memories”

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