Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy new year!

(Scroll down to get to a fabulous recipe for Hoppin' John!)

For the first time in years, New Year's Day was a relaxing vacation day at home -- paid time off, to boot. The past two years, I went to my job on Jan. 1. The year before that, I don't remember -- I guess I stayed home along with most other co-workers. Before that, though, when Don and I were driving cab, Jan. 1 was a day to recover from the most grueling, busy night of a cabbie's year.

But this was the first that I recall devoting Jan. 1 to a leisurely day off. It was a great way to start the year.

On and off during the day I puttered in the kitchen, making New Year's Day foods that are traditional either for me and Don personally or for a larger audience. Here's what we had.

Deviled Eggs

This is a tradition Don and I started the first New Year's we spent together, when 1992 became 1993. The two of us were together in our little basement apartment on Gorham Street, and as the clock wound down, I let out that I regretted we hadn't planned anything, we didn't have anything special lined up to happen at the stroke of midnight. Don sprang into action. He pulled out his old Slovak Cookbook that he'd gotten from his grandmother and found some fast, fun, festive recipes – cheese puffs and deviled eggs -- and made both happen in the 40 minutes remaining. Since then, we've made deviled eggs every year and cheese puffs some years. The eggs, especially, make perfect sense as a new year's tradition. Eggs and birth and newness and all that.

Beaten Biscuits

Egg Nog

Made by cooking egg yolks in milk over a gentle flame until slightly thickened and appealingly creamy, with the addition of a little sugar and vanilla. This is really a potable custard -- a like baked custard, except you can drink it. I love custard. And with egg nog, you can add rum.

Hopping John (Hoppin' John)

Black-eyed peas with smoked pork and rice is a traditional New Year's dish in the South, and, as Wikipedia tells me, throughout the Carribbean also. It's said to bring good luck in the coming year.

Flouting recipes we've read, we do not cook the rice with the beans. The cooking times of rice and beans are incompatible, and if you don't want mush rice (or pebble beans), it's neater to cook them separately and plate individual composites. This makes starch control easier too; I can get just a taste of rice with my pork and beans if I choose.

It's not strictly necessary to soak dry black-eyed peas overnight, but we do it routinely. Soaking any kind of whole seed wakes up the life force and makes it more nourishing. Soaking and rinsing beans washes away potentially toxic compounds. This latter reasoning is less new-agey than the former; our friend landed in the hospital after making a habit of cooking unsoaked, unrinsed beans. He very nearly died. Please soak and rinse all dry beans! (Do I need to mention that this does not apply to canned beans?)

Hopping John recipe

2 cups black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed thoroughly
8 to 16 ounces smoked pork jowl, cut in 1/2" to 1" chunks
1 t0 2 tablespoons bacon fat (reserved from cooking bacon) or any oil or fat you choose
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery (plus half the leaves from the core of the celery, if you have them), sliced
2 cups stock, heated
1 teaspoon salt

Heat fat in a Dutch oven or any heavy pot or saucepan of at least three quarts capacity. Over medium heat, cook onions and celery until softened. Add pork jowl and cook together for a few minutes.

Add the beans. Add the hot stock. Add the salt. Simmer over low heat for about one hour, or until the beans are soft.

Serve over rice.

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