Between the Christmas festivities and the expansion of our pâtisserie to a grand total of two shops just a month beforehand, my schedule has felt a little vampiric recently. For the month of December, I had to work nights to make up the deficit in yule logs for the new shop. At first I enjoyed the calm and the quiet, stirring figures of eight in vats of crème anglaise and pouring the finished bavaroise into hundreds of long gutter-shaped moulds. I liked coming home at sunrise, picking my way through the morning market with its oysters, pyramids of tangerines and a solitary suckling pig. Then I started to miss the clatter of customers and the warmth of the bread oven. The time difference began to give me all the dizziness of jetlag. We worked in organized panic right up until the morning of the 25th, icing and decorating, before we could finally take a breath.
New Year’s Day meant catching the metro at 5.30a.m. as usual, but this time with a crowd of tired revellers and a strong smell of vomit and cigarettes permeating the carriages. It meant the parties were over and I could go back to the comfort of a daily routine. Best of all, it meant New Year Soup.
Until we sat down to drink the simple broth, buoyed up with cabbage and scraps of chicken, I had been muttering grumpily to myself about the seemingly endless long hours. It is all very well following a dream, but the reality always seems to include more drudgery than bargained for. It is one thing to have a burning passion, but if it leaves scorched earth behind it… In short, I was as miserable as a sleepy toddler.
But the soup – o-zōni, a Japanese tradition for New Year’s Day – was nourishment itself, flavoured with miso and fish stock and a splash of yuzu (a citrus fruit even more bitter than lemon). Floating in the middle, a sticky mochi rice cake on which many old age pensioners and young children choke every year. Though it is obviously a sad predicament, I had to laugh at the dangerous nature of their celebration soup and at the obvious joy my Japanese colleagues showed in drinking every last drop.
For the rest of the afternoon, I felt like a person again. Like I could go back to writing and running, two parts that make up my whole, as well as working. I would have the time to indulge all of my passions and not get lost in just one. I started noticing, and taking pleasure in, the satiny fluff of egg yolks whipped with hot sugar and the scrap of blue sky out of our new window. Paragraphs started shaping themselves in my head… until the milk boiled over.
Back to work, now with a lighter heart. Fortified by lucky soup and all the possibility of beginnings. Happy New Year, everyone!
P.S. Upon googling o-zōni, I have discovered a fierce rival. Cooking with Dog – charismatic and well-coiffed, and he is even called Francis. I fear I cannot compete.