Sunday, November 28, 2010

Foodbuzz 24x24: Issei Nissei Sansei Thanksgiving

My mother is "issei"-- Japanese born and moved to a foreign country. I am Nissei, 2nd generation from a Japanese native and born in a foreign country. My daughter is Sansei. You get the idea. Since I spend a lot of time thinking about how I will affect my daughter's eating and attitudes towards food, I think a lot about how my mother has affected me.

She's not one of these moms with 2 or 3 dinners that get rotated every night of the week. She pulls a strong tradition of Japanese cooking, but is versatile and willing to try new foods. When Amaya started eating solid foods, around a year old, I was worried she was never going to like anything. She hated most foods and spat out everything. We took her to Japan with us and she loved almost every bite we fed her. Even natto. I can't tell you how happy I was that Japanese seemed to be in her blood.

My dad is very much a part of the food in our family. He cooks right along side Mom and gives his input. When the kabocha turned out strangely he was immediately looking for solutions and mixing things up. He makes cooking a big meal much less stressful with his joking around. After my dad forgot to buy eggs, my mom gave him a hard time about forgetting because she had only asked him for two things.

He said, "You expect me to be perfect?"

"Yes," she said, "Today I want you to be perfect."

So after that anything that went wrong he went ahead and blamed himself for forgetting the eggs. Even the next day. "It's because I forgot the eggs," he said when we took the wrong turn on our way to a lunch reservation.

Turned out we didn't need any more eggs anyway.

My mother came here from Japan when she was 22 years old. Globalization wasn't as big as it is now, so foods like "Cream of Mushroom Soup" were probably not part of her daily living. Thanksgiving must have seemed like a bland mix of carbohydrate centered food. It kind of is.

As a kid I remember some holiday dinners at our house where we had all Japanese food, or all different foods that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving (just a lot of it) and several Thanksgiving dinners that any 1950's American housewife would be proud of.

Foodbuzz has given me the opportunity to document our Thanksgiving meal for a feature called 24x24, or, 24 meals in 24 hours. For our dinner we decided to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a Japanese influence.

Star Anise Brined Turkey: Star anise flavors actually stayed strong after the turkey cooked. The sensation of it was strange, like, "Am I eating duck or turkey?" We made a hoisin sauce to go with the turkey but accidentally forgot it was there. It was cold enough outside that we kept the turkey in a cooler on the back porch while it was brining.

Chestnut Stuffing: I remember chestnuts in our rice when I was a kid. It was a special thing, but I didn't like it at the time. I really enjoy thinking back to flavors I thought were weird as a kid and find that I probably love those things even more because of those memories. I hope my daughter will decide she likes mushrooms and onions in pasta for that same reason. The only problem with chestnuts is how much work they are. Boiling and then scooping out the meat from the shells is a pain.

Tempura Green Beans with French's Fried Onions: Mom is extremely resourceful and creative when it comes to cooking. We were making the tempura green beans and she decided to try putting those french onion crisps in the tempura. Suddenly we had our green bean casserole in a way better form. No mushiness, just crisp and french oniony. That's the only reason people like that casserole anyway.

Okinawan Sweet Potatoes: The Okinawan sweet potatoes were extremely sweet. They were practically dessert. I love the color so much. These can be roasted whole in the oven. Pierce the skin with a fork several times, place on oven rack and bake for 20-30 minutes until soft (no need to wrap in foil or anything). Remove skins and mash in a bowl with butter and a bit of milk (if you desire it to be a little softer).

Roasted Kabocha Squash: We experimented with a cocoa powder/cayenne pepper rub from a recipe my mom had. This was a miss, but the second it came out my dad was trying to figure out how to make it taste better. He mashed some up with butter and sugar and had us all taste it. It was interesting to see the cooking problem solving in action between my mother and he. I think we'll stick with just roasting the cut pieces at 350 degrees with oil and salt next time

Japanese Pickles: Tsukemono is a standard side dish at a Japanese meal.  My mom just taught me how to make these and it is amazingly easy. I enjoyed having a crisp vegetable among the traditional Thanksgiving mush.

Milk Bread Rolls: The milk bread rolls didn't make an appearance until it was time for dessert because I miscalculated a step. Bakeries are so common in Japan and they obsess a bit over extremely white bread recipes. Japanese milk bread is soft, sweet, and has the layered texture you dream about in home made rolls. I used a milk bread loaf recipe and just made them into rolls. We all didn't mind eating these with dessert because they were so tasty. Mom reminded me to brush these with egg for a beautiful finish. Amaya ate big chunks of dough, and I kind of let her because it was Thanksgiving. Special. My mom always bent the rules a little for special occasions, and I appreciated her flexibility. She has always been very balanced about food.

Gingered Carrots: For the gingered carrots my mom had me round out the edges. She is very good at small details like this. I would never think of something like that but she was right. They did look so much better.

Asian Pear Pie: My parents have an Asian pear tree right in our backyard. During the summer they picked buckets and buckets of pears from one small tree. What they couldn't give away they canned in an Apple pie manner. They give this canned Asian pear filling to friends. I usually hide my jar until I'm sure they're making a batch during the next season. My pantry feels barren without a jar of this. It is way better than apple pie. Just substitute the pears for apples with your favorite apple pie recipe. The Asian pears keep some of their texture while apples just turn too soft to taste. Mom made a beautiful crust (again, the details) where I would have just had shaggy edges.

Mont Blanc Cake: Japanese use chestnuts in many desserts as well. Mont Blanc cake isn't Japanese in origin, but it is very popular in Japan. Every Japanese cake shop will have a Mont Blanc cake. Ours weren't as pretty, of course, but they were tasty. Extremely hard to pipe that thick "frosting". I had to use my muscle man to squirt it out of the pastry bag. This is hands down my mom's favorite cake. When my parents visit Japan, this is usually the first cake she gets at the cake shop. Cake shops and French bakeries are on almost every corner in every city. One time I got a text from my dad, while they were visiting Japan, saying, "Just walked into our 3rd bakery for today..."

Jake was a champ and held the baby and entertained Amaya for most of the day. Jake's influence on Amaya will probably be even greater than mine because he shows her how patient you have to be when your cook is very very slow.

Even though your Thanksgiving is over you can still make some yummy Japanese food with your leftovers.
Turkey rice porridge (Zosui) (using leftover turkey)
Korroke (Japanese style croquettes using mashed potatoes or even sweet potatoes)
Tempura green beans (using leftover green beans)

One way I hope I'll be influenced at SOME point in my life is how to decorate a table. My mom had the whole thing decked out before we even showed up. She even found these cute Thanksgiving people (Yes, pilgrims) to put on the table. Maybe at least Amaya will learn how to make things look more appetizing and she can do it for me. I'm hopeless when it comes to presentation. I'm too focused on getting the food in my mouth, I think.

A whole day devoted to cooking and eating food. Sounds like my kind of day.

But I think it's good that we keep it to one day a year.



FOODalogue said...

Love the Japanese inspired Thanksgiving dinner, especially those tempura beans whichI bet are better than those green bean casseroles. Beautiful family!

BraveTart said...

This post truly has blown me away. I lived in Japan for a bit, and I came away with one thing: a passionate love for chestnuts and mont blanc. Somehow, Japan = Mont Blanc to me, forever and always, so when I finally scrolled down to your photos, I was jumping up and down with excitement.

And, oh, my love of milk bread too. And kabocha. And. And. I loved everything about this post. What a perfect balance between two cultures. Well done!

Smiths said...

Wow! I'm still full of turkey, rolls, and sweet potato, but I'm totally drooling. Oh, and don't get me started on Asian pears.... YUM.

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Thanks for sharing your dinner and your stories! I was born in Japan, but I grew up with a hapa half-sister and American step-father, so I can relate. We usually did a traditional thanksgiving, but Christmas is my mother's birthday, so I always made something more Japanese for that holiday.

Damaris @Kitchen Corners said...

Christian said we should of gone to oregon this year for Thanksgiving.


Courtney said...

This all looks incredibly delicious! The tempura green beans sound so good, and I can't wait to give them a try. Your Asian pear pie is gorgeous, too. Thanks for sharing such an awesome meal and story. :)

Mariko said...

Foodalogue: It was so much better than green bean casserole. Hopefully none of you are offended when I say I hate cream of mushroom soup. (I think that's more of a mental thing than a taste thing.) Thanks for coming by!
Brave Tart: That is such a very nice comment. The mont blanc was surprisingly easy. The only thing we left out was the apricot glaze, so you may want to put that in if you decide to make it. I think I want more custard next time too.
Marc: We always did Japanese food for Christmas (some of it I will never like-- Konnyaku jelly, for example) and I think I might like that better, actually.
Smiths: Don't worry, we're bringing back a jar of Asian Pear pie to make for Christmas.
Christian: Did you hear that? Maybe I'll tuck in an extra one for you.
Courtney: Thank you! My mom said, "You made it sound better than it was" but I think she is pretty self-critical of her cooking (like I am-- hmmm....). The pie and beans alone could make a great dinner.

Emme @Food Samba said...

Mariko, this is awesome! I love that you too gave your Thanksgiving a twist! Your Turkey looks ....when I first glanced at it it reminded me of a duck! So it was funny to read on to see that you guys felt like it might taste like duck! lol xoxo

Bekah said...

How fun and Yummy. Miss you guys. I'd wait for your slow cooking any day Mighty.

Zoe said...

I can lots of delicious food and fun for your Thankgiving dinner. Being the dessert person, I love your Asian pear pie the most.

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

what a spread of beautiful foods and tradition! wow nice post congrats!

Kare said...

I adore your photos - they're absolutely gorgeous. I'd like a slice of the Asian Pear Pie, please. :)

Torviewtoronto said...

lovely post delicious food and title

January said...

definitely an amazing thanksgiving! lovely food and great photos too :)

Jun Belen said...

I'm sorry I haven't been around your blog lately. It's been utterly busy around here ever since the holidays. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! The star anise brine sounds intriguing... in a good way! I'd have to try that with chicken next time. We always brine our birds with Thomas Keller's recipe. And those Okinawan purple sweet potatoes are my favorite!! It's my substitute for ube back home in Manila! Lovely photos and lovely dinner!

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