The past two years have been filled with social distancing, masking, pivoting, and mountains of challenges and uncertainties. Depending on your field of work, like mine, it also may have been and continues to be stressful. Like most of you, I was ready for an escape from it all, and wanted to host a holiday gathering with my wine group of friends before the year ended. When fielding date options, the majority of my group were only available for New Year’s Eve.
With the date decided, I found myself now trying to figure out how to host a party on a Friday, after a full eight hours of work. For a couple of days my mind spun with ways to put everything together the weekend prior, and a simple way to have food and spirits, when the idea of a large tray of sushi came to mind. I thought of all of the special heavy meals enjoyed over the holiday season, and thought that an Asian themed party might be a nice change in cuisine to end and begin the years, while allowing me to order and pick up fresh prepared sushi with no worries of cooking, keeping warm and so on.
I shared my idea with the group and asked everyone to bring an Asian dish and a wine or possibly Asian beer that they would like to drink at the party. I would supply a couple of bottles of sake to taste and a plum wine. The selection of options were minimal, and I have no knowledge of sake, but the bottles I did find were nearly sold out, so I took that as a sign they were at least considered acceptable. Below are the notes I found on each.
Tyku Junmai Ginjo (black bottle) drops the sweet grain and banana of the Junmai for classic Ginjo flavors of melon and pear. However, overall aromatic and flavor intensity takes a hit. Fortunately there’s enough sweet melon flavor on the finish to save it from tasting bland. Like the Junmai, what’s here is good but the sake tastes too simple and too gentle.
Tozai Junmai Nigori Snow Maiden Sake and fresh with a lovely ricey and fruity combination. Flavors of honeydew melon, raw pumpkin, and radish. Creamy texture and full body. Try with spicy foods, crab, pork, or spicy tuna poke.
Gekkeikan Black & Gold California – This versatile sake has a smooth, mellow flavor and can be enjoyed warmed, room temperature or chilled. Serve from this traditional “”tokkuri”” container that was used when purchasing sake in the old days. Full-bodied with hints of honeydew, papaya, anise and roasted nuts. Well balanced, finishes long and smooth. A great sipping sake.
One evening I searched through Pinterest for some inspiration, and found this Youtube video of how to fold a napkin to look like a kimono. I remembered I had these floral paper napkins and thought the print was perfect for my Asian theme. The embossed textured borders folded nicely and provided texture and interest to the finished fold. I used the kimonos as placeholders for the chopsticks, with my purple linen napkins just beneath.
I had just enough time to order two sets of painted black wooden chopsticks that pulled together a place setting of purple, greens, blacks and golds (inspired by the sake bottles). While looking through the flower selection at my local Fresh Market, I found one lone package each of purple and a variegated green/purple chrysanthemum that were the perfect colors and looked very much like the flower on my kimono napkin. It never fails that I’ll find exactly what I want two weeks before the party and then can’t find a single replacement the week of the party. Fingers crossed I’ll find the same lovely version again, or I’ll have to figure out an alternative.
One of the comforting traditions of Japanese restaurants are the small fragrant steamy hot towels (called an oshibori) they hand out along with the menus. My best friend and I often had lunch at one such place and each time we were so tempted to wipe our faces in addition to our hands, which would have resulted in destroying our makeup. Always a lovely surprise to me when the tray of steamy towels arrived and I’ve prepared to do the same for my guests.
Japanese restaurants often provide a small hot towel called an oshibori. This is to wipe your hands but not your face. You may see some Japanese wiping their faces with their oshibori, but sometimes this is considered bad form. If you must use your oshibori on your face, wipe your face first, then your hands.
While searching for chopsticks I also found these vellum gold trimmed chinese floating lanterns. I don’t have a lake or a swimming pool to float lanterns in, but I thought they would be lovely, lite and simply placed all across the front lawn. (Below is just a quick test I tried before Christmas to see how they would look.) The package of 20 will create a warm, celebratory scene for greeting my guests. I also placed a few on the table.
Asian meals traditionally end with fortune cookies. A friend of mine made large versions years ago for Christmas gifts dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, so I thought they shouldn’t be that hard to make. I learned they were a bigger challenge than expected, but somehow I got through and used red ribbon for a pop of color with a New Year’s wish for each of my friends. The first recipe I tried was an epic fail, so I went to my trustworthy mentor Martha Stewart. The technique takes a little time to master and leaves the baker with slightly burning finger tips, but eventually I got the hang of it and filled a bowl with the number I needed.
My modest effort at fortune cookies are individually wrapped with red ribbons and stacked in a large bowl to serve to my guests.
The next addition were paper glittered 2022 eye frames that I wrapped around the bottom of the lanterns on two sides and placed New Year’s crackers at each place setting.
While there will be wine and sake, we will still have bubbly for midnight.
To crank up the party atmosphere I strung lights on the wall with a Happy New Year banner that can also be used as a backdrop for taking pictures. I’d like to order black, gold and white helium filled balloons to rest along the ceiling in the dining room, but that may be a challenge to pick up prior to the party (remember I’m working that day), but if I can make it happen – I will.
All I have left to do is order my platter of sushi for pick up on Friday afternoon. My guests are bringing items some of which are potstickers, chicken satay, spring rolls, edamame salad and a couple of other items that haven’t been shared with me yet.
A friend from our group has offered to come help me with some ideas for an Asian charcuterie board. I found only one example on Pinterest that included sugar snap peas (that would be good in a little sesame oil with black sesame seeds), thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, edamame, pineapple, mandarin segments, dumplings with dipping bowls of peanut sauce and soy sauce, and some Thai spiced potato chips. We’re looking to see what we can find to make our own version.
There is no need to buy fireworks because folks in my neighborhood put on an incredible fireworks display every year that we can simply step outside among the chinese lanterns and enjoy. I’m so looking forward to bringing in the new year with the company of friends, good conversation, laughter and of course good food.
Happy New Year everyone! We are all ready to feel the joy again in our lives and share time together to form new memories. Blessings and joy to you and yours!
Photos from the actual party.
My neighborhood fireworks – photo taken with a drone.