January the First

The New Year is off to an auspicious start: Our bank accounts are empty or over-drawn. It can only get better from here!

January the First is the one moment when all of mankind identifies with “newness.” Even if they just acknowledge only that it’s a new year or just a new month, it still is a renewal. For some, this is a time for metaphorical or metaphysical rebirth. For others, this is an opportunity to start over. This is the Fresh Start.

Growing up, I spent many New Years celebrations with my Southern Baptist grandparents. They were both raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where it is traditional to serve cornbread and black-eyed peas. The idea is that by serving such a simple and humble meal at the start of the year, the family ensures that every meal served afterward for the remainder of the year will be better.

Years ago, in another life, I had an opportunity to spend New Years with the Fire Chief of the city of Yokosuka, Japan. In Japan, I was told, it was tradition to serve mochi as good luck for the new year. Mochi is made from pounding cooked rice into a glutenous pulp until one is left with a gooey, chewy, bland ball. The Fire Chief’s wife had made this mochi herself, and as the guest, I was offered the first ball. Very conscious not to offend, I graciously picked up the near golf-ball sized treat and plopped the entire thing in my mouth and began to chew. This was the night I learned what it is to bite off more than one can chew. As the roomful ofofficials, family, and acquaintances watched with expectant looks I chewed and chewed and chewed. I chewed until my jaws ached. I chewed until saliva leaked from the corners of my stuffed mouth. I chewed until I ran out of saliva. I chewed until the smiles faded from the room and were replaced by looks of astonishment and then consternation. I chewed until my temples bulged and started to sweat. “Maybe you don’t need to finish,” the Fire Chief said, but I was determined not to shame myself or my host! I chewed until I could not chew any more. My jaw and temples were completely numb. Red faced from exhaustion and embarrassment, I bit through the mass, and then I was able to down it in chunks. The memory of that night still makes me squirm.

Last night, we shared dinner with new friends. For supper was Pho. It was to be a simple, homemade soup. Due to the relative bedtime-to-blood sugar-ratio of the kiddos, the meal preparation was slightly rushed — there wasn’t enough time to properly chill the beef brisket enough to slice it thinly — which, in turn, yielded thick, rubbery strips of meat. Consequently, the meal was delicious, mostly edible, but not entirely a success. In other words, it was exactly what I would hope for in the meal that carries me into the New Year. Afterward, we broke open a box of red bean filled mochi from Fubonn. Umai!

Two Thousand and Fourteen is certain to be one of the best.

Happy New Year!