Sunday, December 22, 2013

Toji (Winter Solstice)

Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice here (it's the 22nd in Japan.) We had our first snow this week, which seemed appropriate. Known as "toji" in Japan, the winter solstice is a time for traditional practices that are typically meant to ward off disease in the coming winter season. The most common is that of putting yuzu fruit into the bath to prevent catching colds in winter. Yuzu are a small, yellow citrus fruit that are unfortunately not available here in the Pacfic NW United States. Growing up here, my mother used to always put in the Satsuma Mikan (Satsuma Oranges, like a Clementine) that were imported from Japan in those days, specifically from Kagoshima Prefecture, whose pre-modern Provincial name was Satsuma. Although whole yuzu are used in Japan, we used to just throw in the peels and eat the oranges themselves. I try to keep this tradition going with my children. The Mikan these days are most likely grown in California, and we can also purchase yuzu shibori (yuzu juice) at an Asian market. I add a few drops of this just for the fragrance (and possibly for whatever magical powers these possess that created this tradition in the first place.)

I don't think anyone really knows where the tradition actually comes from, but a natural connection to Vitamin C certainly comes to  mind. Although this is done is many Japanese households still today, it is a somewhat dying tradition. In the past, when communal bathing was a public necessity, hot springs and public baths also dumped loads of yuzu into their baths to attract customers. I'm sure it's still done in some places. Another practice is to put azuki beans in the bath, for the same purpose. This one I haven't tried yet. If anyone has, and if it works, let me know. Happy Toji to all of you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow)

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow.) Yesterday, we had our first snow of the season here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest (south of us in Oregon, they were already dumped on in record amounts a few weeks ago.) It was only a few inches, and gone too soon for the kids' liking, but snow at all is still magical. It transforms the landscape, and our emotions. I try to make it a tradition to take a bowl of matcha outside whenever we have a new snow.
On rare occasions when we have lots of snow, we try to build a yuki kamakura (snow hut) in which to light candles and take tea.

The bowl used yesterday was a Black Raku Chawan by George Gledhill. I thought the stark contrast of black on white would be interesting. I hope you are enjoying tea wherever you, are and in whatever weather.
Warm wishes for the holidays.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Charaku Fine Japanese Tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery - Dec. 15, 2013

   Once again I had the privilege to serve tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery in Seattle, one of just a few professional wagashi-ya in America.  Once each month, on the third Sunday, Chef Tokara opens her shop to guests to enjoy a traditional Japanese sweet of the kyogashi variety and a bowl of freshly whisked Matcha. She also prepares a monthly selection of sweets for customers to order and pick up. The monthly set includes three seasonal wagashi.  This month's selections included: Suomi Mochi (pictured at top), a snowball-esque pillow of delicious sweet white bean paste enveloped in a blanket of soft mochi. Rice flakes decorate the outside, along
with a holiday-themed holly leaf made of bean candy.

-2nd image: Tea Bowls at the ready. - 3rd image: Charaku Teas for sale.

-Images below show sweets served with Charaku Teas.

-The next sweet was "Hatsu Yuki" (First Snow,) made from Black Sugar and Azuki Bean Paste, and topped with rice wafer flakes to      create an image of the first snowflakes on the ground. Hagi Ware Tea Bowl with Craling Glaze.

-The third sweet was a "Soba Manju." Soba is Buckwheat, and the Red Bean paste is covered in a flaky crust of buckwheat cake. Black Raku Tea Bowl by George Gledhill.

For those guests wishing to partake of a sweet with a bowl of matcha, the featured sweet this day was a Castella Cake, the sweet introduced by Portugal in the 17th Century. It was revolutionary at the time to use eggs and flour in sweets, and this treat has since become a Japanese standard. Shino Tea Bowl by John Miller, Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan.
 On this day, Chef Tokara also created a line of "Casual Sweets" for a fund-raising even at the Taoist Studies Institute down the street. These sweets were more of the "manju" type of sweet.

Here is a "Dorayaki," chunky red bean paste sandwiched between two mirin-sweetened pancakes. Mashiko-yaki Kyusu (Tea Pot,) Sweet Plate by Mika Sulivan.

"Kuri Manju" (Chestnut Bun) with chestnuts & white beans in a chestnut-shaped bun.  Tea Pot and Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan, Kyo-yaki Guinomi (Sake Cup.)
 "Bolo de Chika" is a creative fusion of a Shortbread Cookie filled with Azuki Bean Paste mixed with Cream Cheese.  Yummm.
White Shino Yunomi (Tea Cup.)

 This last sweet is Chef Tokara's Miso Mochi Bar, a sweet rice flour bar flavored with savory miso and topped with pine nuts, sesame and poppy seeds. Porcelain Mug by Hanako Nakazato. Sweet Plate by George Gledhill.