The solstice has passed and though the shift feels incremental, our trajectory points towards the light again. A gift of this darkest time of year is the beauty of the sunrise. Mornings open late and its easy to be up before the sun crests the distant mountains outside my window. Those few minutes with a warm mug in my hand and the fire in the wood stove rekindled, are perfectly still and quiet. As I watch the sun float up my heart wells with gratitude and a spark of hope ignites. Beginnings – of a new day or a new year – are like a door opening to new possibilities.
Each day throughout the month of December, as the day brightened and the sun’s rays washed the front of the house I’ve retrieved a small bamboo tray from the entryway and set it outside. On it rest nine yubeshi wrapped in white cloth. These citrus shells stuffed with miso and nuts have bathed in the winter sunlight, curing in the cold air until leather hard, ready to slice and eat. Yubeshi are prepared at the peak of the yuzu season, as November becomes December, to be ready in time for New Years. These savory citrus slices accompanied by celebratory sips of sake open the first meals of the New Year in the most fragrant, flavorful, and festive way.
There are as many variations as there are people making yubeshi, which may not actually be so many these days. Some are on the sweeter side, a natural confection, while others are on the spicy or savory side. Mine are the latter, sweetened with restraint to let the savory miso flecked with nuts and fragrant yuzu rind shine. In simplest form, a couple of slices enjoyed with a bit of sake warmed in a water bath atop the wood stove is a warming way to ease into the evening. But they pair just as beautifully with a chardonnay and a well aged conte cheese too, I think. Yubeshi also most perfectly compliment any one of the cognac or bourbon based chestnut liqueur cocktails I nurse as darkness closes in and the first flames of a fire chase away the chill. Yubeshi and a small pour of smoky single malt by the fire with a good book is a good idea too. Yubeshi with warming spirits, I think you get the picture.
The New Year cometh but unlike years past its not easy to look ahead and plan for 2021. And for someone like me, who often gets lost in dreams of the future, that’s been blessing in disguise. There is less to distract from the moment at hand. And there is more incentive to be grateful for the simple blessings that count for more than anything else – the health of those I love, a fire in the hearth, food on the table, and with a little luck, a slice or two of yubeshi and wine or sake in our cups. These are the things that for me define abundance and with them there is nothing more to ask for.
If you try your hand at this recipe, after you extract the juice from the yuzu flesh, wrap the remaining skins, pulp, and seeds in a bit of muslin or cheesecloth and tie with a twine. Toss in it a hot bath. The fragrance will sooth and relax and the yuzu oils will do wonders for your skin.