With the New Year upon us, my mind turns to Japan where I spent one the best New Year’s Eves of my life. The New Year is one of the biggest holidays in Japan, and I was lucky enough to be there with a family. My husband is half Japanese and spent time living in Japan during college with a host family. He became very close with his host family and has stayed in touch over the years. In 2006, the stars aligned and we were able to go to Japan for almost four weeks. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and celebrating New Year’s with his host family topped everything. Like many of the best holidays, food plays a central part in the New Year’s celebrations…
…and one of the foods most strongly connected with New Year’s is mochi.
So, what is mochi?
It is a Japanese food made from very glutinous sticky rice. It is stretchy and gooey and wonderful.
Here you can see the difference between regular Japanese rice (on the left) and the sweet rice (on the right) used for mochi.
Many people are familiar with Mochi Ice Cream which can be purchased at Trader Joe’s:
Some of the best mochi I have had was in Hilo, Hawaii at Two Ladies Kitchen. They have a mochi covered strawberry that is wonderful, but my favorite was the lilikoi flavor which is a Hawaiian citrus flavor.
So, how is mochi made?
Mochi can be made a few different ways. There is the traditional way, the modern technology way, and the rice flour way.
The Traditional Way
The rice is soaked for about 8 hours in water and then drained. Unlike other rice that is cooked directly in water, sweet rice is steamed in a container like this:
Once the rice is cooked, in the traditional method it is then pounded and flipped by two people until is gets to be the right doughy, gooey consistency. The best way to understand this is to see it with these two great videos.
The Modern Technology Way
Soak the rice for about 8 hours and place in mochi maker.
Make sure the rice is thoroughly drained before putting it in the mochi maker.
The mochi maker steams and pounds the rice for you.
The trick seems to be adding water as it is pounded to get it to the right consistency.
About half of the mochi we made in Japan was shaped into round discs that were stacked on top of each other and topped with a clementine for the ancestors. This was placed in the area of the home that was dedicated to the ancestors.
The Rice Flour Way (The easiest and least expensive way to make your own mochi)
This recipe will make a sweeter mochi.
◦ 1 cup mochiko sweet rice flour ( glutinous rice flour)
◦ 1 cup water
◦ 1/4 cup sugar
◦ katakuriko, for dusting ( potato starch) or kinako (roasted soy bean powder found at asian grocers or on amazon)
Variations for Dough: Add a few drops of food coloring into batter for color variation. A few drops of flavoring (strawberry, grape, orange, blueberry, etc.) may also be added. >> For chocolate flavor, stir about 1/4 cup melted chocolate chips into mochi batter before cooking.
So what is my favorite mochi?
That is hard to answer, but I think I can narrow it down to 4 different styles.
1. Plain mochi toasted and dipped in a soy sauce and sugar mixture. You get a little bit of goo with a little bit of crunch, and a little bit of sweet with a little bit of salty, all combined with a slightly toasted flavor. Plus it is fun to watch the mochi come alive and expand in the toaster oven. Oishii (Delicious)!
2. Warabi Mochi
This is a very soft and sweet version of mochi. So delicious!
3. Fried mochi sesame balls
I have actually only had these at a Chinese restaurant, so I am not sure if they are found in Japan as well, but they are amazing. Of course deep frying anything makes it amazing. The crunch of the mochi and sesame seeds and the soft sweet filling (I don’t know what it is, but it is the perfect amount of sweetness) combine and dance inside your mouth for an incredible eating experience.
I love yatsuhashi! I had it the first time in Kyoto. It is mochi that has been rolled very thin and folded into a triangle shape of a filling of red beans or chestnut paste. Everywhere we went in Kyoto they were selling yatsuhashi and offering free samples. Of course Japan takes everything to the next level, so we would walk into the store and they would bring us yatsuhashi and a cup of green tea to go with it as our free sample. I must have eaten about 50 pounds of these in Kyoto. I couldn’t get enough!
I had to share this picture I found from http://delectablehodgepodge.com/recipes/yatsuhashi.html because it is such a beautiful picture of yatsuhashi.
Here is my first attempt at making yatsuhashi (i need to work on the neatness and presentation, especially when I include the photo above). The recipe for the yatsuhashi I made can be found here.
I think my favorite yatsuhashi is the plain mochi skin with the chestnut filling inside.
Now You Can Make Your Own Mochi!
A great place to get the sweet rice steamer and sweet rice is Import Food.
I got my rice flour at Wegmans (my all time favorite grocery store).
That was some steep competition!
The results are in for the gingerbread house competition this year. There were some amazing gingerbread constructions involving moving parts and engineering genius. 42 groups entered houses (I use this word loosely because many of the creations did not involve any sort of house) in the competition, and over 2400 votes were cast. This year was the first year they put the houses up on facebook, and they added a category for the group who got the most “likes” on facebook. Had we known this we would have pushed harder for these votes…next year. OK, so you want the results. Looking at Facebook, we came in fourth place. Overall I have no idea where we stood.
In First Place…”Santa’s Radiation Workshop” created by Radiation Oncology. In this scene, Rudolph is lying on a table getting a scan done and his nose is lit up.
I was happy they won because their idea was so creative.
Second Place: “Angry Birds” by Rehabilitative Medicine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of this one.
Third Place: “Building 1″ which is the main administrative building on the campus.
The Facebook Winner was “Bridge to the Future” by the Office of Science Education
Overall, it was a fun competition. We learned from our first time around and next year we will be in it to win it! Here are some more pictures for you to enjoy…
Family, Friends and Food!
The holidays filled our house with family, friends and food. It was such a nice way to open up our house to the people we care about, and made us feel very lucky to have such a wonderful home. There was a lot of hustle and bustle getting ready – cooking, cleaning, decorating… Here is an overview of what was happening at our house. We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and wish everyone a happy new year!
Cranberries aren’t just for eating!
This is a quick and easy way to add festive candles to your holiday decor.
Take a few big handfuls of cranberries and pick over them for any they don’t meet your standards for prettiness. Dump them into the glass dish, add water to cover the cranberries, drop in floating candles and you’re done! I told you it was quick and easy. Enjoy!
I’m feeling more festive already!
A Gingerbread House Competition – Who Could Resist?
When I got an email at work about a gingerbread house competition, the wheels in my domestic diva brain immediately started turning. The benefits: 1) I get to build a gingerbread house (who wouldn’t want to do this – turns out a lot of people, but I will get to that later); 2) A little friendly competition to up the ante – what could be more fun; 3) It will be on display for all of the children in the hospital where I work – definitely the best part.
The Theme: The 3 Little Pigs
Here is my beautiful original sketch for the gingerbread house plan:
The drawing skills are incredible – I know. What can I say? My brain thinks in rough sketches, and usually they end up on paper. So anyways, this was the original plan, but of course things change as you encounter reality, or in this case – gravity. Check out item number 3 above in the drawing. When your pig ends up being 5 times larger than your table, and your chair won’t actually stand up because you accidentally (despite your best effort) made the legs different lengths, you learn to let go and move on. So instead, we ended up with what we like to call “alien pig” inside the stick house…
As part of the competition, everyone has to pick up a gingerbread house kit and use all the pieces from it. We also learned that one of the rules was that everything that could be seen has to be edible, so we could use glue, and styrofoam, and whatever else we wanted to construct our scene as long as they were all covered with edible things. While shopping, we decided to go with fast drying industrial strength glue to hold everything together. We later learned that this glue was not so fast drying and the fumes probably killed about a hundred brain cells per second. Halfway through the night we had all the windows open (even though it was about 40 degrees outside) for ventilation. One of my coworkers also discovered the magic of glue guns for the first time, and was totally enamored with it for the rest of the night.
Okay, backing up…Team Gingerbread got together after work, started sorting the million pounds of candy we had purchased, ate some pizza, drank some wine, and began the journey into the world of gingerbread construction.
Our best moments: building the snowmen/lady, the shingles on the brick house, using pretzels to make the stick house.
Check out those shingles!
Our most challenging moments: constructing the pigs and the wolf. One of our pigs was accidentally decapitated multiple times, lost an arm and a leg, and was definitely not going to stand up on his own. Alien Pig has no legs so that he would A) stand up and B) fit inside the stick house. The wolfs legs started out long and ended up being reversed so they just look like feet coming out and so he could stand on his own (with a little help from a candy cane). Gluing sugar to wood also presents some challenges. Full protective gear was used in this process. The wood was taken outside, placed on newspapers, and sprayed with glue (while wearing a face mask). It was then sprinkled with sugar, sprayed with more glue, sprinkled with more sugar, sprayed with more glue…you get the idea.
He is intact and somewhat upright now, so we are pretty darn happy!
Four hours later, we were exhausted, brainfried from glue, but pleasantly surprised by the final product…
Go Team Gingerbread! Results will be in on December 19th!
Fa La La La La…
I still haven’t found the right artwork for the walls, but the Christmas cheer is starting to shine bright in our guest room. I bought some super fuzzy and soft Christmas fabric to make pillow covers with for the bed. Every year my Christmas decorating starts with choosing a color theme, and this year I decided to go with a red, white and silver. We have a super cozy fleece blanket and down comforter for the bed to keep our guests nice and toasty. I think it is also nice to throw in a little gift for guests when they arrive. It is a nice surprise, and is easy to do.
For my guest gift this year, I turned to one of my favorite resources – Crate and Barrel. Keeping with the warm and toasty theme, I decided to center my gift around hot chocolate. I have a cute little can of hot chocolate, a candy cane encrusted marshmallow on a stick, a long silver spoon that says “cocoa” on it, and a cute little glass mug with snowmen on it. I also through in some green and red argyle tissues.
Here is the gift set out on the bed and ready for the guests to arrive…
Bring on the guests and the holiday cheer!
Getting ready to host our first Thanksgiving!
What better holiday could there be for a domestic diva? It combines, baking, cooking, and decorating(the table) all in one holiday. Not to mention lots of friends and family. This year, since we now have a house, we decided to host thanksgiving. We are keeping it somewhat small (8 people), which is nice for a number of reasons. First, it will be more intimate, second, it is less stressful, and third, our table seats up to 8 people.
First, the most important part…the food! Here is the menu I have put together with the help of some family members:
You may be wondering what Texas Smoked Turkey is doing in DC. The New York Times recently published an article, “A Spicy, Smoky Holiday Turkey” which was in turn read by my husband’s grandmother, who then decided we needed a Texas bird of our own, so she ordered one and it arrived on our doorstep yesterday. I opened the box and felt like I was opening the door to the smokehouse as the aroma wafted out. The bird is now sitting in our fridge, and I can’t wait to try it tomorrow.
The World was Covered in a Blanket of Beauty
The anticipation was great! It was supposed to be one of the biggest winter storms to hit D.C. Reports went from expecting 8 inches to 15 inches to 20 inches! I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and decided to take a quick peak outside to see if the snow had started. The world outside was covered in white. It looked like about 4 inches had fallen. I went back to bed and woke up again at 9:00, and the snow had doubled! The plants on my balcony were slowly disappearing including my Japanese Maple. At dusk, my husband I ventured outside. The street lights were beginning to turn on and the world was blanketed in the wonderful silence that comes with snow. Everything was glistening and then the kid in me wanted to play! The snow was up to my knees (not including the piles from the plows)! I haven’t seen snow like this since growing up in Syracuse. We got 23 inches when it was all done!
My poor little maple was almost completely buried.
Icicles in the sun