January 4, 2017

Dear friends,

Maybe Tony was homesick. Maybe he was thinking of his mom, who died in August at age 86. Whatever the reason, he decided to create a traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve meal.

New Year’s is the biggest holiday in Japan. Tony’s family always celebrated with an all-night gathering of the aunts and uncles who prepared and feasted on a buffet of special dishes while watching “Red and White,” a nationwide annual New Year’s singing contest, on TV.

The elders are in their 80s now and don’t stay up all night. In fact, when we called shortly after midnight Tokyo time, even Tony’s brother was already in bed. We thought of them and my dear mother-in-law Fumi when we celebrated that evening (there’s a 12- to 13-hour time difference, depending on the season).

From memory, Tony made a red bean and mochi (elastic-texured pounded rice) stew (oshiruko) and a soup with rice cake (ozoni) that is traditionally eaten New Year’s morning. I’m not crazy about mochi but I loved his third dish, a vinegary salad of shredded daikon radish, carrot and black beans. The soft, meaty beans were a counterpoint to the crisp carrot and radish, both in texture and flavor. Black soybeans are used in Japan, Tony says, but he substituted regular black beans with a delicious result.

I didn’t go hungry while Tony loaded up on mochi and stew and soup. I had made a back-up selection, split pea soup, earlier that day because with Japanese food, you never know. These are the people who invented squid-flavored popcorn.

We would have fit right in with Tony’s family’s celebration this year. I went to bed at 11 p.m. and Tony fell asleep in the living room before the ball dropped. No matter. The New Year arrived just the same.

I think you will like Tony’s refreshing black bean sunomono (salad).



(Black bean salad)

2 cups julienned daikon radish
1/2 cup julienned carrot
3/4 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tsp. sugar
Salt to taste

Combine radish, carrots and beans in a serving bowl. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, stir together water, vinegar and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over vegetables and mix well. Season lightly with salt. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Makes 4 to 5 servings.


I haven’t had much luck finding decent ramen in northeast Ohio until last week when I found not one but two restaurants to satisfy my craving. The first was close to home (and heart) at Sushi Katsu in Akron’s Merriman Valley. The second was at Flying Cranes, a darling half-Japanese half-American cafe in Cleveland on the edge of Shaker Heights.

Chefs Tin and Jason at Sushi Katsu, my husband’s former restaurant, serve a bowlful of comfort made from scratch with pork bones. The broth is lighter than ones I’ve had in Japan, but delicious and authentic-tasting. The broth is loaded with succulent slices of pork, pickled and poached eggs, kombu seaweed and bits of burdock. The noodles are crinkly and al dente. Bravo. A big bowl is $9. The restaurant’s website is http://www.sushikatwsu.com.

Flying Cranes Cafe has the standard ramen as well as the champon variety Tony had. The milky seafood broth was stocked with vegeables and ramen noodles. Tony said it was an authentic representation of the Southern Japanese specialty. Japanese comfort foods such as donburi bowls and Japanese curry also are on the menu, as well as soups, sandwiches, quiche and other non-Asian fare. The menu reflects the tastes of the owners, British-born Bill Frye and his wife and the chef, Kayoko, who is from Japan.

The website is http://www.flyingcranes cafe.com.


From Pennie:
A Norwegian cookie I want to make calls for almond extract which tastes bad to me. Too artificial. I’ve seen suggestions to substitute vanilla extract so I could do that but not sure the flavor would taste right. Subbing brandy extract, another suggestion, sounds odd to me. What about using Torani syrup or almond butter? The ingredients are simple ones.

Dear Pennie: Brandy extract sounds a lot more fake-tasting than almond extract. Your grandmother’s recipe has almost no liquid other than an egg and a teaspoon of extract, so I would not sub more than 2 teaspoons. I don’t think Torani syrup would do it in that small a quantity. Same goes for almond liqueur (amaretto).

I think your choices are either putting up with the taste of almond extract (which I love) or subbing vanilla for an entirely different taste. I’m craving some of those cookies!

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