Food Miscellany

My 48th birthday

Today was very special. So many things came together, so many loved ones involved either before or during the day. When my sister was here months ago, she left behind a large gift-wrapped box, which I would open on my birthday. Jeremy has been working on a charf* for me, which he completed just two days ago. And he had wrapped another gift, placing it on top of the gift my sister left for me.

I woke shortly before 9 today and called Cocoro, a local Japanese restaurant where I’ve spent so much time indulging my love of sushi. They don’t open until noon, but I wanted to leave a message that today was my birthday and would Makoto – their magnificent head chef – please prepare me a meal, omakase, which is Japanese for, “I leave it to you.”

A couple of hours later, one of Makoto’s colleagues, Tai, called to ask me a few questions. Did I have any restrictions? Did I want meat? What time would I be there? How many?

We showed up at 12:30 to find that personalized printed menus had been placed on a table just for us, with the heading: Omotenashi, Cocoro special sushi sashimi course. Omotenashi’s simple translation is “hospitality,” but in Japanese it has a more nuanced meaning that no single English word I know captures.

The host anticipates the needs of the guest in advance and offers a pleasant service that the guests don’t expect.

Because I’ve been to Cocoro many times and have gotten to know Makoto well (he’s even loaned me some of his Joe Hisaishi CDs because he knows I’m an admirer), he was able to anticipate my needs in advance and offer a pleasant service that I did not expect. It was magnificent, and the menu, shown below, could not have been more Andrew-ish if I had told him specifically what I wanted. He is a master host.

Dazed and slightly comatose after our two-and-a-half-hour meal, we headed home so I could open that great big box I had been looking at for over two months.

My sister knows me a hell of a lot better than Makoto, and she always has a knack of surprising me. I remember years ago when she gave me a precious collectible figurine of a Skeksis from the movie The Dark Crystal, one of my most cherished collectibles. And when, as a “Bon Voyage” gift before we moved to New Zealand, she arranged for us to all retire to a Mendocino resort for a few days of excellent solitude and self-indulgence.

I unwrapped the gift to find a stunning miniature of Orthanc, the tower in which Saruman resides in Lord of the Rings, created by the same WETA designers who built the bigature used in the films. It stands about 15 inches tall and lords over a base that includes inch-tall lovingly detailed trees from Orthanc’s grounds.

I now have the delightful task of reorganizing my collectible shelves to make room for this impressive piece of mini-tecture.

Jeremy, in addition to his wonderful charf, gave me a book – Cutting the curd – a guide to cheese making at home. Jeremy knows me well enough to understand that if you turn on a part of my brain that is intrigued by seemingly complex processes, I will figure out how to unravel them. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he loves cheese. Hmmm. More later on cheese making as I dive into that realm.

We rented a bunch of Tom Clancy movies and bought some Manuka-honey smoked ribs to grill for dinner. So, now, I’m just sitting here, fat and happier than can be, grateful for what was a moving and special day. Humbled to have so many people I probably don’t deserve in my life.

* A “charf” is my term for a scarf designed for the chest. It’s roughly rectangular in size and you lay it on your chest (or your lap) when you want an extra layer of warmth while you’re lazing around.

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