Cultivated Days | Sweet and hazy
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Sweet and hazy

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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.yuzu-satozuke-3

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-diptych-1Yuzu 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.watermelon-radish-1

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10 Comments
  • Jeanne
    Posted at 11:55h, 07 December

    How lovely to be welcomed home with the lovely scent and taste of yuzu 🙂

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:54h, 07 December

      Jeanne, yes and such a lovely fragrance and flavor! Thank you~

  • Mora
    Posted at 13:02h, 07 December

    So happy to read about Kuniko’s improvement. Though I’ve never met her, and know her only through your writings, I can feel her warrior-spirit.. May she continue to find the strength to continue on her path. Give her a hug for me!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:53h, 07 December

      Mora, thank you! I’m grateful that you and others have come to care about her through these stories.

  • Alana V.
    Posted at 13:29h, 07 December

    Your articles go straight to my heart! I echo Mora’s joy at learning about Kuniko’s progress and her stalwart way. An inspiration. I also linger over each of your photographs, sipping my green tea and smiling. I feel so grateful to learn about yuzu.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:40h, 07 December

      Alana, thank you! Your comments keep me connected to Maine and all that I love about the place and people there, even when I’m far away. So grateful for that!

  • Marj Wright
    Posted at 14:45h, 07 December

    Great news about Kuniko! Please give her our heartfelt greetings and maybe even ” a big kiss”! ( i wonder if she remembers that old joke of ours?)

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:38h, 07 December

      Thanks Marj! I bet she does, she’s still so keen! Can’t sneak much past her… I’ll ask if she remembers…

  • Bessie Smith Moulton
    Posted at 16:20h, 07 December

    I enjoy Cultivated Days so much, beautifully written and illustrated with your photographs. It provides continuity, whether you and Kuniko are in Maine or Karatsu, we can still feel connected.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:36h, 07 December

      Thank you Bessie! A longing for that continuity and connection is exactly why I started Cultivated Days. So glad that you feel it too!