(by Kaylee Correa)
Christmas time is a bittersweet season for my family: It’s sweet because I get to take a break from law school and travel 4,000 miles back to Maui. But it’s bitter because the season represented the loss of several beloved family members, including my maternal grandmother. For a time, there was a barrier in my relationship with my mother because I was a moody teenager, and she was grieving, having lost her mom. Yelling replaced talking, and I had no desire to spend time with her making the holiday meal.
We celebrate Japanese New Year in my family, with specific meaningful foods: ozoni (a miso-based soup) for longevity, kuromame (sweet black soybeans) for health, and nishime (a root vegetable stew) for good fortune. My mother learned the recipes from my grandmothers and great-aunt, who were all 100 percent Japanese, and she continued their traditions after they had passed. Being in the kitchen with her to learn these recipes marked a turning point in our relationship.
I went through two painful orthopedic surgeries, and my mom walked every step of the recovery process with me, sponge-bathing me for months, and dealing with my emotional outbursts. An unsaid agreement formed between us that holiday season. I think we both came to the realization that many of the strong women who had helped to raise me were disappearing from my life, and it was my turn to honor them. So she showed me how to make ozoni for the New Year. The words exchanged between us were mostly the recipe directions, but that was the first time in years that we held a conversation without yelling at each other.
Mom was a social worker before my brother was born and later became a high school counselor at my school when I was in the second grade. As a psychology major herself, she was resistant when I switched from business to psychology, worried about potential career opportunities for me. But as a feminist, she supported my decision to pursue my own path. I always thought that I was more similar to my dad because so many people say that we look alike, but now I can see the many similarities I share with my mom—political views (especially when it comes to reproductive and women's rights); sense of humor (we can make each other laugh in any situation); and the tendency to share exactly what's on our mind.
Once I was open to her advice, the best counsel she ever gave me was when I had just finished the first round of midterms in my freshman year at Notre Dame. I was a straight A student in high school, so getting 48 percent on one and 63 percent on the other was a huge blow to my self-esteem. I called my mom sobbing about not being good enough, what were people were going to think of me—a full-blown existential crisis. Mom is a no-nonsense person; she rarely sugarcoats anything she says. So she said, "It looks like you have two options: You can come home and go to the local college like every other Hawaii kid, or you can suck it up and make sure this never happens again." Her words hit me hard, making me remember our family motto: Correas never quit. Her advice was a (slightly abrasive) reminder that I had worked hard to overcome other obstacles in my life, and this was just another hurdle that I had to figure out how to jump over.
Our relationship is much different than before. We talk every day, sometimes multiple times a day, with good or bad news—basically, I share my entire life with her, even more than with my friends. And sometime she even thinks highly enough of my opinion to ask why I feel a certain way or how I would go about doing a certain thing. What an interesting full circle we’ve come.
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
handful of ebe (dried shrimp)
3 - 4 pieces kombu (dried kelp), each 6 x 6 inches, brushed clean
5 - 6 T. shoyu (soy sauce)
1 large daikon radish, peeled and cut into half-moon slices
6 mochi (sweet rice cakes)
1 bunch mizuna, cut into strips
Soak shiitake mushrooms in water to soften, then drain, slice, and set aside.
Soak kombu to soften, then drain, and set aside.
Fill a 10 – 12 inch pot 3/4 full with water.
Add ebe, bring water to boil, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add kombu and continue to boil for about 5 – 8 minutes.
Remove and discard kombu, and continue to cook for 5 more minutes over high heat.
Lower heat to medium and add shoyu, daikon, shiitake mushrooms, and mochi.
Allow mochi to soften.
Serve with mizuna.