The day after Ninjafuzz's legendary New Year's bash, Margaret asked the Oni to invite a number of his friends over to her home for a traditional Japanese New Year's celebration.
(Where to begin?)
When Semajim and I arrived, the dining room table practically groaned under the weight of all the tasty osechi. Ninjafuzz and I were both suffering from lack of sleep and the liberal amount of "celebrating" we'd done the night before. However, the sight of all that delicious food cleared my head and awoke in me a hunger to try everything. Besides, I spotted a little something that I knew would fix me right up.
(Can you spot the miracle drug?)
A shot or two of syrupy hot sake washed away the last of the cobwebs. What can I say? The donut & nigori sake shooters I'd invented the night before seemed like a good idea at the time. For those of you worried about the state of my liver, it's ok. I rarely indulge like this. Cat takes good care of me. But, moderation in all things, including moderation.
(Lilliputian Life Savers)
Since I still wasn't sure about the state of my stomach, I decided to start with something light. These lotus slices, and the lightly pickled cucumber relish in the bowl behind them, were just what I needed to cleanse my palate and reawaken my appetite. I was back in the game!
(Joy and health? Seconds please.)
At Margaret's insistence, I had a large helping of this konbu (seaweed) and kuro-mame (black soybean) mixture. Soft and slightly sweet, it was a traditional Japanese New Year's dish meant to bring joy and health to the eater. Given how I'd felt when I'd staggered out of bed, I went back for seconds.
("Five a day" and more.)
Feeling the need for more healthy nourishment, I sampled some of this lovely crudités platter. I wasn't quite up to anything heavy yet, so I gave the dip a pass. The veggies were fresh and invigorating. I was particularly fond of the beets, which were sweet and a little spicy, and made excellent hurling weapons when the occasion called for it.
(Chinese for "tasty".)
The Chinese Chicken Salad was next. Its complex balance of sweet, sour, soft, and crunchy prompted Waldensian to comment that it was very Panda Express. As the running gag goes in our group, "Panda Express" is Chinese for "tasty". I'm pretty sure they started that just to tweak me, but it was so long ago, I can't remember.
Now that I felt much more human, this charcuterie platter called to me with its rustic blend of brie, salami, and starch. The winning combination was obvious, and I enjoyed each savory morsel.
(A little taste of home.)
This delicate dish of savory chicken stewed with carrots, shitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots in a soy-based broth was both filling and comforting. The gentle flavors reminded me of my grandmother's cooking.
(Golden pouches of deliciousness.)
A heaping platter of inari-zushi provided the starch. Pouches of fried tofu skin simmered in a sweet broth were stuffed with generous helpings of sushi rice. This was another traditional dish, meant to symbolize bags of money and bring prosperity in the new year. I've loved these since I was a child.
It's not Japanese New Year's without sushi. Margaret had purchased this hefty platter of assorted rolls from a local Japanese market. There wasn't much left by the time we were done with it.
(Grilled to perfection.)
We stuffed ourselves until we thought we couldn't eat any more. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.
(Who needs to chew?)
Who could resist Margaret's teriyaki marinated steak? Skillfully sliced by the Oni, each tender morsel melted away like beefy butter in our mouths. We packed bite after agonizing bite of meaty goodness into our already strained bellies.
The real coup de grace was Margaret's Kahlua pork, which she'd slow roasted for hours and pulled apart by hand. It was the most amazingly seasoned and incredibly juicy Kahlua pork I'd ever had. We couldn't get enough of it. Somehow, we managed to find enough room left in our tummies to do it justice.
(Memories in ball form.)
As we lolled in our chairs and attempted to digest, those of us with death wishes nibbled on these daifuku mochi (pounded rice cakes filled with sugary bean paste). Chewy and sweet, they tasted of childhood visits to Taiwan.
(Yes, this became an entire whole conversation.)
Unable to move after the glorious feast, we stayed and chatted well into the afternoon about a myriad of subjects, including how to lick a cat. Watch the video above if you'd like to hear Waldensian's take on the best method to secure a cat for licking. Yes, we're talking about the kind that goes, "meow". No, we didn't actually try any of these. It's amazing what people talk about when they're too full to move.
It was an excellent meal with some really good friends. I'd like to thank Margaret and Joe for welcoming us into their home. I'd also like to thank my good friend, the Oni, for inviting me partake of his family's wonderful New Year's feast. Finally, and most importantly, I'd like to thank Margaret for all of her hard work in preparing the spectacular food, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. It was truly "Panda Express".
***About Margaret's French Bakery***
While I was in college, Margaret and Joe decided to simplify their lives by selling their retail stores and concentrating on the supply side of their business. However, their delicious cakes and desserts continue to be available at Marjolaine Bakery and Cafe in Los Altos, which is owned and operated by a former Marjolaine employee who I worked under. I also highly recommend a visit to Margaret's online store at Margaret's French Bakery, where you'll find photos of her wedding cakes and detailed descriptions of her delightful delicacies. The online shopping cart isn't up yet, but soon will be. If you live in Silicon Valley, you can also order cakes and wedding cakes directly from her production facility in Campbell. You won't find better products anywhere else.