The crest of winter


December 7, 2023

I wake in the dark, kindle a fire in the hearth, brew chai, and kneel beside Bean on a sheepskin before the wood stove. I cradle my warm mug between sips and together we watch the flames dance. Not a glimmer of light glows on the horizon, won’t still of quite some time. Darkness reigns this time of year. I’m looking forward to winter, to a stretch of deep stillness. 2023 has been an astonishing adventure. More than thirty guests joined us in this inaugural year of salon sessions. From time to time writers, photographers, and videographers visited Mirukashi as well. And with Japan’s doors re-opened, I could finally relaunch the 4 week-long programs I run in collaboration with Ace Camps bringing the total to a stunning 70 foreign travelers who entrusted me to show them a unique and delicious slice of life in Japan. If you were one of them, please know how very grateful I am to have spent time with you. 

After a year that has felt fuller than any other, I’m ready to withdraw and turn inwards, dwell for a while in a quieter place. I find the stillness I crave in these dark hours before dawn. But December, a month that hosts so many holidays, is full of its own kind of light. Last weekend we trekked about the neighborhood in search of an evergreen and banded two saplings together to fashion a Christmas tree. Strung with Kuniko’s embroidered tamari collection, painted glass figurines from my grandmother, and stars made of straw, it illuminates the room with twinkling lights mirrored and doubled in a window as black as night. 

As we settle into winter, citrus comes calling, bright and cheerful, adding zest and zing to otherwise starchier and heartier fare. A bowl of orange tangerines sits on the counter and ripe yuzu still hang from the tree. In the realm of washoku, a cuisine that whispers with subtle flavors, a sliver of yuzu peel skims a clear soup to perfume the broth. I find yuzu intoxicating and feel it should headline a dish that chimes as loud as church bells to proclaim the season. And so I made a sorbet of pure yuzu juice sweetened with a cinnamon syrup. Flecked with zest and softly spiced with cinnamon, it packs a seriously citrusy punch.

I navigate each year through a constellations of flavors. Like Polaris and Sirius or the stars of the southern cross, these flavors locate me in a time and place, a particular season in Mirukashi. Sansho in spring, ume in summer, chestnuts in fall, and yuzu at the crest of winter. These flavors beckon brightest to me, each a signature taste procured from trees that grow around our home. Be it the longest day or the shortest, a time of equilibrium or imbalance, these flavors point me towards a point on the horizon that like the sun, is still out of site.


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