After a months-long stint in Maine, we’re back in Japan. As usual, the days leading up to the long flight were marked by unease. Have I forgotten to do something or bring something or anticipate something that will be impossible to address from the other side of the world? And then, as usual, as soon as I boarded the plane and shut down the phone, I relaxed because at that point what will be will be and there is no turning back.
After hours and hours on planes and trains, a taxi dropped us at the foot of our little hill. In the dark we hauled suitcases up the path to our door. I turned the key in the lock and entered, breathing in the familiar aroma of the cypress beams that frame our little Mirukashi home. The house was just as we had left it, or maybe even tidier, with the addition of beer in the fridge and kashiwa-meshi onigiri that my sister-in-law had prepared for us. We ran the bath, toasted to being home while relishing delicious rice, and fell into bed for a sound sleep.
Besides the unease of leaving, a sort of separation anxiety that dogs me still after all these years, we’ve mastered these migrations and move quite smoothly between countries now. The first few days home are sweet and hazy as we move through the fog of jet-lag unpacking, organizing, and catching up. I love to spend the first morning walking the small property, assessing changes in the garden and trees. Kuniko was excited to show us the yuzu tree behind her house, dotted with at least twenty orange orbs. We’ve had the tree for years but it’s only in the last couple that it’s born any fruit, much to Kuniko’s delight.
Like our lemons and ume, our yuzu bear the marks of homegrown fruits. You could call them organic at best, but untended might be more accurate, offered no more than grass cuttings as fertilizer while spiders cast their nets between the thorny branches. Kuniko clipped the fruits and spent a long day squeezing, blanching, and chopping. She wanted to make sweet yuzu rinds. “The book says rock sugar is best,” she told me. I contained my surprised. She is referring to books again. We recently passed the three-year mark since the stroke that took written language from her and if I ever questioned all those beautiful days she passed bent over kanji workbooks at her desk when I thought her time might be more fruitfully spent arranging flowers or taking walks, I was wrong. She’s gaining bits of her old life back, like not letting a single fruit fall from the tree and go to waste.
Yuzu satozuke (yuzu preserved in sugar) is a poor man’s marmalade. The citrus is juiced, the inner skins removed, and the rinds roughly sliced. A quick blanching fortifies the color and aroma. Once drained, they are mixed with rock sugar and left to sit in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks. We pulled them out last night to try for the first time. They are the color of summer, a most cheerful sight on these increasingly cold gray days. At once bitter and sweet, like a good chocolate, we all agreed that they are perfect to nibble after dinner while sipping whisky by the light of the Christmas tree.