Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Day Traditions

We all know that black-eyed peas, 12 grapes, pork, greens, along with round-shaped baked items all are some of the many symbolic foods traditionally eaten on New Year's Day to ensure prosperity, long life, completion of a full circle and starting anew. Then there are those foods to avoid, including both lobster and chicken; because lobsters move backward and chickens scratch backward...rather than the forward movement we want in our lives as the new year begins. Hmmm.
Of all of my childhood memories, and I've got a lot, I don't remember a New Year's Eve. Christmas, yes, New Year's Eve, no. I can only think that we just didn't do much of anything. I know we sure weren't eating black-eyed peas, which I never ate until I left home. And round, baked items weren't a big part of our lives either. Bagels, yes, round baked things, no.

But it all got me to thinking, what special traditions go on in your house on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day? Do you make special foods? Draw up lists of resolutions? Wave sparklers or shoot off fireworks? Are champagne corks flying along with kisses at midnight? Or do you throw the night to the wind, go to bed early and simply remind yourself to write a new digit or 2 or 3 on your paperwork?

Because New Year's Eve is on Friday this year, I thought I'd put together a couple of lucky recipes early this week (for prep time, or, if need be, for search, go to the big island, beg for time) that sound good: whether they actually will bring you what you long for, beyond a satisfied palate, I can't promise. I'm only a human being, after all!

I like a lot of the Japanese ways of ending the year, parties called "bounenkai" (forget-the-year-parties) held throughout December, "osoji" which is the deep cleaning of homes, offices and schools, to welcome the new year with a literal clean slate, the eating of long soba noodles, obvious for longevity (plus, I just really like soba noodles).

And then there is joya-no-kane. This is when, before and up to midnight, the temples across Japan begin to toll their bells 108 times, said in Buddhism to purify one who listens of their 108 worldly desires, or sins. I had no idea there WERE 108 worldly desires, and obviously have some serious catching up to do.

Not unlike here, most shops are closed on New Year's Day in Japan, so stocking up beforehand and food preparation are done before the day itself, so that families and friends can enjoy the celebrations.

What I would/could/should do for New Year's Day eating (if my desire for more simplicity in my life shows up here, take it like you see it):

Spinach chips - hey, they are green, they are sort of round, they are easy to make and they are good.

A bag of fresh spinach leaves goes a LONG way here, so just remember you need to lay them out in only one layer (unless you have a dehydrator, and they will still go a real long way)
Olive oil
Seasonings (ground, yes) of your choice - do you like garlic or cumin or hot red pepper flakes on your chips? then use them here!
Parchment paper (and yes, you CAN find it on of those things)

Wash and dry your spinach leaves and toss with a wee bit of olive oil. You do not want these to be anything more than very lightly coated. You can really even omit the oil if you like, but it helps the seasonings to stick and gives the crispiness some help as well.

Toss with the seasonings and put down one layer on your parchment paper covered baking pan. The oven should be about 300 and you're going to let these babies go about 10 minutes. Yes, it's okay to peek and see what's going on with them.

When they are done, they are going to be almost ethereal on your tongue. Sort of like communion wafers are supposed to be, I bet (not being an expert on the subject). I have read for a thicker chip that using kale is best. But I don't see kale much around take your choice and get your lucky greens going on.

Soba noodles are considered lucky because they symbolize long life. But you have to eat them in one long slurp! Pork symbolizes progress. I'm not exactly sure why...but so it is written!
Here is a recipe that combines both of them.

Mr. Lucky?

Soba Noodles with Pork (two, two two lucks in one)
 (adapted from FoodNetwork)

This will serve 4, so if you have more people coming, you can do the math and adjust the amounts accordingly.

8 ounces soba noodles
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil - I like hot, as in spicy, sesame oil, but you might not. Remember, sesame oil is strong stuff so don't just be dumping lots in there, even if you don't have a measuring spoon, go slow!
1 tablespoon minced pickled ginger - If you can't find pickled ginger, and around here there is a real good chance of that, just use fresh, peel a chunk of it and grate out a couple of tablespoon-ish size amounts. And if you can't find fresh? Sure, use powdered, but use about half the amount.
2 pounds pork (butt, roast, chop, your choice, if you must use tenderloin, go ahead!), cut into 1-inch chunks
salt to taste
a few twists of freshly ground or a finger pinch of already ground black pepper
4 scallions chopped, use the whole thing (well not the roots, don't be silly)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds - a combination of white and black sesame seeds dress this up, but use what you can get
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts, drained - if you like water chestnuts, if not, leave 'em out
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves - fresh isn't optional here, use fresh! With fresh, the stems can be used as well as the leaves; if you use the stems, cut them really tiny! Also, be sure to wash your cilantro well, it's usually got some grit left on it. Dry it by rolling and patting in a dish towel or paper towel.

Cook the soba noodles according to the package directions. Drain, and add 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil, gently fork toss to coat the noodles and set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced ginger stirring for 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pork, and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides, maybe around 5 minutes.

Stir in salt, pepper, ginger, scallions and sesame seeds to mix, that should only take about a minute. Reduce your heat to medium and add the broth and soy sauce. Just let that simmer until the pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes or so, stirring a couple of times. Remove from the heat and stir in the water chestnuts if you want them in there.

Chop the cilantro, and add it and the soba noodles to the meat mixture. Simmer that for about five minutes and wa la, you've done it!

If you want to make this ahead, you can cool the meat mixture and put it in a container in the fridge. Do the same with the soba noodles. This will keep up to three days, and you can just reheat it on the stove or in the microwave and serve. If you do hold it, don't put in the cilantro until you're ready to serve it.

New beginnings, lucky foods, a clean slate. It's all in how you cook it up in your own life. Or at least, that's what I think. Bon chance and buen provecho!


  1. Oh I wish I would have learned about Osoji in November. It makes perfect sense but there's no way it's happening in the next two or three days. Maybe the lesson here is to have a house and belongings that could actually be cleared in that amount of time. If I still made New Year's resolutions this would be one of them. Cest la Vie. Is there a spanish version of cest la vie?

  2. I'm sure there is and it's probably something very cool for 'such is life'. I'll ask and let you know! Or...someone can post a comment telling know who you are!

  3. Woohoo! Just scored three big bags of spinach at Costa del Sol. Got my greens for New Year's. Not the same as collards, but I reckon I'll find those here when pigs fly. The black-eyed peas traveled with me (just in case I couldn't find them, and of course, they seem to be abundant around here now). Now if only I could find some cottage cheese. . .

  4. Wow, spinach at C del S...good score! Did you try Genesis for cottage cheese?