Yule is upon us and the other night I had the pleasure of hosting my First Annual Solstice Celebration with some great friends and some very scrumptious seasonal foods!
This time of year, as we move into the longest night, the winter, away from the abundance of the harvest, the Solstice is historically a time to prepare for the prospect of surviving through winter. Livestock were slaughtered so that they did not use up precious grain stores, so it was the one time of year that fresh meat was abundant. Wine and beer made throughout the year was fermented by this point and ready for the guzzling. The death of the year was observed, but more importantly the birth of the new year, the coming of the sun and the anticipation of spring was celebrated.
I thought it quite appropriate that I found myself preparing my first Solstice party on the day the so-called apocalypse of 12/21/12 was suppose to obliterate life as we know it. Or whatever. The ULTIMATE metaphor for the holiday! So as loads of people around the world were stock-piling water and freeze-dried food, hunkering down in their bunkers or whatever brilliant plan they had for the “End of Days,” I was happily spending my “last days on earth” doing one of the things I love best…prepping food for dear friends and family!
The menu was a conglomeration of traditional Solstice fare and local, seasonal Okinawan harvests from the farmers in my village. I wanted to utilize my knowledge of the gorgeous meat pies and mulled wine that I came to love during the holiday season in London, incorporating the luscious pig and Kobe cow and the fragrant, hearty root crops of my island home. And my husband’s amazing Hot Buttered Rum. Classic!
The whole feast was about a 3 day process, as I like to let certain things set for a day or two to allow them full opportunity to get down and dirty and marry the flavors together. I started with my mushroom soup (which you can read about in my article https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/mushroom-soup-with-a-small-side-of-rant/) It is definitely mushroom season on Okinawa and the pickins were plentiful. I think I used about 15 different types of mushrooms, including oyster, shiitake, button, cremini, porto, enokitake (long, white and stringy), matsutake (hearty, fat pine mushrooms) and so on. This first course was excellently paired with my Mulled Wine, which was made in a crockpot for several hours, blending ginger, cinnamon, clove, orange peel, lemon peel, satsuma, chunks of ginger, a touch of brown sugar and fresh scraped vanilla bean.
The next course was a nice wintery kale salad . The trick to this yummy puppy was to marinade the kale overnight. I made a dressing of white wine vinegar, local honey, minced shallot, olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed the kale in it, covered the bowl and let it set for 24 hours. I decided, on a whim, that pomegranate seeds would be awesome in this, and I was lucky to have my friend Becky show me the easy trick to getting the little slippery, red jewels out of their cocoon in no time at all. I added some Romano cheese shavings, dried currants, toasted pine nuts ( a little over toasted…eeeep! Mulled wine to blame!) and almonds. It went over pretty well, I think.
Mains were a Pork and Beef Cheesy Cottage Pie made the potato mash topping loaded with aged cheddar, habanero jack cheese and lots of good butter and cream ( even made it look really posh…check it out!) a Steak and Guinness Pie, and a side of Roasted Purple Oki Sweet Potatoes and Kabocha Squash with Raspberry Bellavitano Cheese. Also, I must add, that my wonderful husband, anticipating the little, young guests at our party (our surrogate nephews, Warren and Jake) decided to throw together two beautiful crockpot game hens, stuffed with raisins, satsumas and lemons and rubbed with a sage and rosemary herbed butter topped on a bed of root veggies! And to top it all off, Becky brought us the most amazingly moist, delicate yet hearty apple filled cupcakes with cinnamon frosting! The feast was complete, complimentary and plein de cœur! (Ok give me hell….I wanted a c word for heartwarming!)
The purpose of Solstice was invented to gather together, enjoy the fruits of your labor and celebrate that you are in a community where, in the long, wintery roads ahead, you got each other’s backs. The beautiful people I celebrated with have been some of the longest friendships and the most fiercely devoted that I have had since I moved to this island. Sadly, this will be our last Solstice together on Okinawa. Both families are heading off into their bright new chapter of life, somewhere on that horizon. But with the magic of this Solstice night, I can feel comfort that the sun will greet them cheerfully and that they will have crops a-plenty, cornucopias of luck and hopefully a LOT of mulled wine!