The sun was setting over the far western hills, and a turn-of-the-year chill was setting in. New Year’s Eve was upon us. The house was clean, smelling of orange oil and a favorite cinnamon candle, sun shone through newly washed glass louvers in the kitchen allowing for one of those clear-day views of Mt. Waialeale and the Makalehas, the bills were paid, and 2017 calendars were up by both kitchen and work desks. Also, fresh tangerines with green leaves were picked and shared with those who follow that tradition (Buddhist) or just wanted to eat ‘em; ingredients for my husband’s special soup were stocked; and our neighbor lady (the same one who outdoes herself each year with a mini-fruitcake) remembered to bring us the finishing touch for each bowl: frozen, round mochi.
When I thanked her and popped the mochi in the freezer, ready to toast/defrost on the morrow, the symbol of the roundness, fullness symbolizing happiness and prosperity reminded me that I had more to check off my list for the Kawahara household. Where was the “good luck god”? The table mat embroidered in a design of Buddha’s footprint? The jasmine incense? Once these were retrieved and placed appropriately, I figured we were ready.
To roll back time slightly, some years ago when we invited our grownup kids for this traditional New Year’s Day breakfast offering, to be stirred and simmered and served by their dad, I was amused by the rejoinder, “What? Since when did we ever do that?” Realizing the Kawahara kids had grown up local, often with a picnic, swim and surfing on Day 1 of the year and some firecrackers come nightfall, their dad countered that this was his tradition, going back a generation, to his mother, their grandmother Tei. He decided to bring the tradition back, and I like that.
New to me, who came from very different traditions blending several ethnicities and cultural absorptions, here’s how preparing this simple soup goes:
For ‘Mother Tei’s’ New Year’s Soup
Have ready: some packaged fish soup mix (we prefer a brand with no MSG) or homemade stock; figure one cup broth for each person, plus a little extra; harvest or buy a bunch of fresh mizuna (spinach also works to offset stickiness of the warm mochi, but mizuna is best); beg, borrow or make some fat, plain mochi (about 1/3 cup size); 1/4 – ½ cup of shoyu .
About an hour before serving, bring the right amount of water/broth to the boil in a large soup pan; add the broth mix if needed, and stir; simmer five minutes; add shoyu to taste.
Ten minutes before serving, place the frozen mochi (1 per serving) ready to toast on a small baking sheet; reheat the broth; meanwhile, wash the mizuna thoroughly, drain, chop the stems into ½-inch sections and drop a handful or two into the simmering broth.
After a minute, add the leaves (chopped into approx. 3-inch lengths).
Toast the mochi in a toaster oven until “puffed” and slightly browned on top; transfer one to a bowl.
Ladle hot broth and mizuna over the mochi, plate and serve. (Chopsticks are nice for handling the mochi and green leaves, which help with the swallowing of the sticky “dumplings” the mochi become.)
Christmas carols and “Auld Lang Syne” now are but a pleasing echo. The promised light slowly returns: Each day the sun rises slightly more south to mark the half-year path to June and summer solstice. On clear nights, the stars and planets wink in the velvet skies cupping our island.
Throughout Kauai neighborhoods, 100 to 100,000 firecrackers have exploded. At our place, Buddha’s footprint is upon us, and the “good luck god’s” stomach has been rubbed and wished upon for good luck and prosperity. The incense ash now hints at its fragrance while burning to midnight, the tangerine peels lie drying, the soup has nourished us (I claim it is a “blood purifier”). Thank you’s have been penned and said. The nights remain cool and crisp, and each day grows longer. There’s absolutely no excuse to NOT take down the out-dated Christmas decorations, boxing them up for the next 11 months, I tell myself.
And think of it: “our” humpback whales are back again, so January is fully announced on this beautiful Garden Island. I tackle my personal review of the year that was and resolve to make some changes for the better. There is much that lies beyond the sphere of any influence you or I may have, Dear Readers. However, I wonder, to what shall we collectively — as members of the Kauai community — apply strong attention to make happen or not happen in 2017; what can each one of us do for the good of our island home, looking forward.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai over, 30 years ago. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua. Shared passions are travel and golf. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For more information, www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.