Post #726 But What Does it Mean?

June 17, 2020 at 9:46 PM | Posted in Basics, Easy, Main, My Recipe List | Leave a comment

When I was in high school, mom and dad both worked.  My younger brother wasn’t inclined to do the job, and my older sister worked full time.  So the evening meal fell to me, but it was okay because I loved cooking.  Mom would tell me what to do before I left for school and I’d follow the directions when I got home.  Most of the time, it was pretty standard stuff.  I made a lot of spaghetti, and meatloaf, and pot roasts, etc.  She was teaching me to cook and was trying to give me foolproof recipes that I couldn’t screw up.  It gave me a chance to develop confidence, make mistakes, and learn how to correct them.

One day, she left instructions for pork chops that turned out so delicious and tender, I’ve remembered the process fifty years later.  I used an electric skillet.  In the desert where we lived, you developed ways to keep the heat inside the house to a minimum during the hot months (about 9 of them).  One of Mom’s ways was the electric skillet.  Instead of having an open fire on the stove, or a massive hot box in the oven, the only thing that got hot was the small metal plate with a domed lid.  The house stayed cool while dinner cooked.  (As an aside, we also cooked outdoors on the grill a lot, too.)

So anyway, I browned the pork chops in the skillet.  I did that in batches since the skillet was on the small side.  After they were done, I sliced up some onions and cooked them, then added a can of tomatoes and a can of green chilies.  I added the pork chops back and simmered them for a couple of hours, adding water whenever it needed it.  When they were done, tender and almost falling off the bone, I made some rice and some corn.  We had the pork chops on top of the rice with corn on the side, or in my brother’s case, mixed into the rice.  It was so good!  And so easy.

Decades later, when Partner/Spouse and I were living in Oklahoma, we went to a restaurant that had been recommended to us where they had good authentic Mexican food.  It was really Tex-Mex, but good nonetheless.  I ordered Carne Guisada.  I took a bite and was transported back to high school and a pork chop meal made in an electric skillet.  It was beefy, fiery, and so good I couldn’t stop eating.  It was much hotter than I’m used to, but it was so good I kept right at it.  We went to the restaurant a couple of times, and each time I went back to the guisada.  I found that the fire varied with the batch, which is normal for any food.

Then last week, I made pinto beans for myself and the FIL.  I added a single dehydrated Hatch chili.  And, boom! there was the fire.  Hatch chilis are the product of a plant grown in Hatch, NM.  They are really jalapenos, but something in the ground there, or the growing process, or maybe it’s the water, but the chilis are world famous for their flavor and their heat.

I’ve played around with making guisada on my own, but I think I’ve found the secret ingredient.

So, lets talk about Carne Guisada.  Carne means meat, usually beef.  Pollo (pronounced poyo)  is chicken.  Carnitas is pork.  Pescado is fish.  Guisada simply means stewed.  Stewed means cooking in a braise or sauce slowly for a few hours until tender.  So it’s basically Stewed Meat of some form.

At the restaurant, they served it with warm flour tortillas, refried beans with cheese melted on top, and Spanish rice is mostly must white rice with salsa stirred into it.  It looks like this:

So, how do you make it?  Like most things, there are as many ways to make guisada as there are cooks making it.  The goal is mix meat, onion, garlic, chilis, and spices to make a tender meat filled gravy.  Here’s my take on it.

Carne Guisada

  • two pounds chuck roast cut into one inch cubes
  • one large onion roughly chopped
  • four cloves of garlic minced
  • salt and pepper
  • one medium can diced tomatoes with the juice
  • one teaspoon cumin
  • one can chopped green chilis
  • one or two pinches oregano
  • two dehydrated chilis as hot as you can stand them (Hatch chilis are perfect for us)

In a heavy skillet or pot (think Dutch oven style), heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil until it shimmers, then brown the beef cubes, working in batches if needed and removing to a plate.  When the meat is all seared, add the onion and cook until transparent.  Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes with the juice, and the can of green chilis with their juices, and one cup of water.  Stir to combine, and add the spices.  Place the beef in the sauce and add any juices that have collected on the plate.  That’s all flavor for the stew.  Cover the pan and reduce the heat so the stew barely simmers.  Check the stew and stir about every half hour.  Add water as needed to prevent scorching.  You’ll know when the stew is done when the meat is fork tender and the flavors have blended and the sauce has thickened.

This is best served as above, but can also be used as the filling for tacos and burritos.  Also, lime wedges can be served with it to brighten the flavor.

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We’ve finally entered summer here in New England.  It took some time, but we’re there.  All my plants are exploding.  The small peppermint plant has taken over it’s pot and is ready to overflow.  The basil is about three times the size it was.  It spread out, but hasn’t grown up yet.  The Patio tomato plant has about eight tomatoes on it.  The seedlings didn’t really do well except the two tomatoes which will be repotted this weekend, and the cilantro, which has already been repotted.  The elm is slow growing because it’s a hardwood, but it’s doing fine.  The maple exploded, too, and is now far taller than I am.  In just the last week, it added another foot to the top.  And the flowers are doing great.  My customers at the store are reporting the same kind of results in their gardens, so things are looking good all over.  FIL is concentrating on radishes right now so we’ll have those to eat in about thirty days.  Partner/Spouse is looking forward to them.  We have a skunk visiting once in a while, and leaving his distinctive calling card behind.  So far, it’s just the fact that he’s walking by.  He hasn’t really sprayed anything yet.  The year is shaping up well in the garden dept.

Hope all is well in your parts of the world.  Holler and let us all know how you’re faring.

As always,

Post #724 Ice Cream Remedy

June 7, 2020 at 8:05 AM | Posted in Basics, Classic, Easy, Main | Leave a comment

It happened a while ago.  People come to Partner/Spouse for free medical advice and he guides them.  Sometimes bluntly, most times gently.  He never tells them what to do; never makes them do the right thing; never is autocratic in his responses.  He tells them the options, points them in the correct direction to accomplish what they want, and leaves them alone.  He enjoys helping people.  It gets kind of rough on him when it’s his own family.

His cousins called.  These are nice people, but were hard on him as they were all growing up.  They could not accept his lifestyle “choices” and made certain he knew it.  They told him he wouldn’t amount to much.  They said he’d never be successful or find happiness.  He simply shrugged his shoulders and carried on.

Life took over.  They all pursued their own dreams and goals.  Partner/Spouse went on to become a very successful nurse, finally acquiring a PhD and building a reputation known throughout the country, and moved on to a global stage.  The cousins achieved their own successes.  People got older.  Uncle and Aunts started having medical issues.

The cousins turned to Partner/Spouse who did what he does.

Uncle was failing fast.  The cousins didn’t know what to do.  He wants to eat crazy things, they said.  Should we let him?

Partner/Spouse shrugged.  What’s it going to hurt?  Give him what he wants.  He wants ice cream?  Give him a milk shake.  It’s easy to eat.

Cousins smiled, chuckled softly.  They took him a milk shake in his favorite flavor.  He loved it.  He couldn’t finish the whole thing, but he relished every swallow.  The cousins enjoyed watching him drink the shake, and loved hearing him talk about it.

This is the best thing I’ve had in a long time, he said.  I’m loving this.  Thank you so much.

The cousins called Partner/Spouse to tell him how much Uncle had enjoyed the milk shake.  It had been a real therapeutic moment for him.  It perked him right up.

That night he passed away.

The cousins were grateful they had listened.  His last moments had been pleasant ones because of the milk shake.

Sometimes, ice cream can be the remedy.

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FIL arrived safe and sound on Friday, and it’s been a whirlwind of activity.  We hoped to take him to a farmer’s market yesterday, but lines, social distancing, and a sudden downpour of rain squashed those plans so we took him to a Co-op instead.  Today, we wanted to take him to King Arthur Flour down in Rutland, but again, social distancing and covid response changed those plans.  KAF isn’t open to browsing just yet.  So we’re going to Stowe instead.  Then we’re coming back home and putting together the fire pit and the new barbecue grill so we can grill the flesh of some animal later this afternoon.

On Friday, I made a ham with a lime mojito glaze.  It cooked during the afternoon, then sat in the oven to stay warm while we went to the airport to pick him up.  It remained tender and juicy and delicious.  I made an asparagus salad to go with it.  That was fun.  Pencil Asparagus cut into pearl size, then tomatoes, celery, pico de gallo, and salad dressing to add to it.

Yesterday, I made pinto beans and ham.  I’ve been wanting them ever since FIL made plans to move here.  I don’t make them often because Partner/Spouse doesn’t like them and I can’t eat an entire potful by myself, even over several days.  FIL loves them as much as I do.  At the Co-Op we found some dried Hatch Chilies.  Hatch is a town in New Mexico renowned for it chili peppers.  I’ve written about them once before.  I put one of the dried peppers into the beans near the end when I put in the tomatoes.  The heat was so good!  When making beans of any kind always put the acid in after the beans have finished cooking.  The acid toughens the skin of the bean and they’ll never cook throughout.  I also made corn muffins from scratch, not a mix.  Partner/Spouse had a ham and rice dish of his own creation.

So that’s the weekend for us.  Hope yours has been nice.

As always,

Post #721 Why Peppers Are Hot

May 27, 2020 at 5:30 PM | Posted in Easy, Standard, Vegetable | Leave a comment

I had a request recently about why foods behave the way they when they interact with our bodies.  Oddly enough, or maybe it was serendipitous (nice word, huh?), I’ve been recording a PBS show called The Science of Food, and the most recent episode was pretty fascinating.  It told us all why peppers are hot.

I already knew that.

But I did learn some things from it.  The heat from the pepper comes from one place only, and it’s not the place most people, me included, always thought.

Inside every pepper (and many other fruits and veggies) is a rib, kind of a pith.  It gives structure to the pepper and holds the seeds in place.  The seeds have no flavor, and no heat.  Those ribs are what hold it all.  They contain varying amounts of capsaicin.  Capsaicin is what makes the pepper hot.

Here’s why.  Everyone knows the tongue is full of little bumps commonly called taste buds.  Those taste buds have almost microscopic papillae on them numbering in the thousands.  These are the real taste receptors.  It happens that there is a receptor shaped in a particular way that matches capsaicin exactly.  The chemical make up of capsaicin makes the receptors feel like they are on fire.  But it gets worse than that.

When those receptors are triggered, not only does the tongue feel like it’s on fire, the brain reacts as though the whole body is on fire.  They’ve actually watched brain imaging that shows this.  Because of this reaction, the whole body responds.  You start sweating; your eyes water; your nose runs; and if you have a bad reaction, everything swells.

But not every pepper is created equal.  So they created a scale of heat called the Scoville scale, named for the guy who invented it.

There are several different iterations of the scale depending on who drew it up and what they wanted to show.  This one is my favorite because it has all my favorites on it.  Bell pepper is the most innocuous of the pepper family.  I don’t like them because I don’t like their flavor.  They got no heat so as far as I’m concerned, they’re just a waste of space.  On this scale, cayenne is usually as high as I’ll go.  Habaneros I won’t go near.  The Ghost Pepper is scary.  And I’ve only just heard of the Carolina Reaper which is the highest on the scale.  So far.

So, let’s say you’ve taken a bit out of a pepper and you hate it.  Your mouth is on fire.  Instinctively, you reach for something to cool the burn and latch onto ice water.

DON’T DO THAT!!!!

Capsaicin ignores water since saliva is 90% water.  More water is just more saliva.  And even the icy coolness is only momentary relief since it vanishes as soon as it’s swallowed.

Something like this happened to my niece when she was about four years old or so.  Her parents took her and her brother to our family favorite Mexican restaurant in our home town.  Standard operating procedure was for the waitress to bring ice water, chips and salsa, and a jalapeno mixed dish before ordering.  The pepper dish was a mix of jalapenos and other veggies in the jalapeno pickling dish.  My niece saw a whole jalapeno and thought “Pickle!”  She reached for it since everyone in our family loves dill pickles beyond all reason.  My brother stopped her.

“I want you to know that you can have that, but it’s not what you think it is.  It’s not a dill pickle, it’s a hot pepper.  You won’t like it.”

She teared up. “But dad, I want it.”

He grinned.  He told me the waitress immediately went to the kitchen to get something to help her even before she had taken the first bite.  He also told me the county sheriff was sitting nearby and and turned to watch.

“You can have it, sweetheart, but it’s going to be very hot.”

She grabbed it and took a big bite, like she was used to doing with the pickles.  Then she spit it out and immediately started crying and rubbing her tongue.  She reached for, you guessed it, ice water, but my brother stopped her.

The waitress was already there with the right cure, ice cold milk.

Yup, milk, cold or not, will turn the heat off.  The reason for that is that there’s a substance in milk that counteracts capsaicin.  It’s called casein.  It surrounds the capsaicin, neutralizes it, and washes it away.

I don’t like milk, but I will admit that it has its uses.

I was talking to a customer the other day.  He was buying pounds and pounds of various peppers so I asked what his plans were for them.  He asked what I’d do with them and I said I’d probably dry them for later use.  He said he used them in smoothies.  I was taken aback quite a bit and told him I’d never ever thought of putting a pepper in a smoothie.  He said it gives them a real kick.  I bet it does.

My favorite way to use peppers is either in salsa fresca or in chili con carne.

The easiest way I’ve stumbled on to make chili con carne is in the oven.

Take a 2-3 pound chuck roast and season it with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Place it in a heavy dutch oven with about a cup of water and cook it covered in a slow oven for about 3-4 hours.  A slow oven means an oven temp that cooks slowly, so no higher than 300.  Once the roast is done to fork tenderness remove it from the oven and allow to cool for about a half hour.  Shred the roast into the broth that’s collected and mix it up well.  Then add two medium jars of your favorite salsa.  You can mix it up and use a red and a green, or whatever you like.  Mix that up, then add a small can of jalapeno peppers or green chilis.  Cover it again and cook for another hour.  Take out of the oven and add a small can of tomato sauce, and if you like them add a medium can of red beans or pinto beans.  Stir the beans carefully into the chili so they don’t turn to mush.  Serve hot with whatever sides you like.  Mostly I’ve seen cornbread, corn chips, grated cheddar cheese, chopped onion, salsa fresca, chopped cilantro, and the like.  Easy peasy cuz while it’s cooking, you can ignore it.

So, that’s the scoop on peppers.  Next time, I’ll be dishing on one of my favorite things: chocolate!

So, an update on the plants around the house.  Everything seems to be sprouting!  We’re still waiting on the roses to send out buds, but we may not have wintered them properly.  We’ll see.  I’ve got a whole planter full of my favorite Bachelor Buttons.  Once there are blossoms I’ll post pics.  In the meantime, here’s the lilac which just two weeks ago was covered in snow.

 

In two weeks, the FIL arrives and the vegetable garden is his to plan and enjoy.

Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

 

Post #687 Cooking the Easy Peasy Way

January 12, 2020 at 1:15 PM | Posted in Basics, Easy, Main, My Recipe List, Standard | 3 Comments

**** NOTE ****  Sorry, I started this post five days ago, but my gut system acted up on me (probably rushed the whole fatty element part of the plan) and I spent a couple of days feeling like a slug.  I’m much better now, so here’s the finished post!

 

Unfortunately, for this post, there are no pictures for the meals we cooked.  But each one was so good and in such different ways, I wanted to share what’s been going on here.  But first, health update.  Things have been going exactly the way they were expected to.  I’ve been introducing more of the fatty elements into my diet and have suffered no ill effects.  So, yay me!  There’s still one more thing, ice cream, but since I’m not a big fan of the stuff, it shouldn’t pose any kind of a hurdle.  Had bacon one day over the weekend, and sausage the next.  Both times I had bread of some type with butter and not even a twinge.  I’m not overdoing it, and I’m always trying to eat healthy, but for the moment, it looks like normal eating habits are around the corner.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that Partner/Spouse and I are big fans of Mexican cooking.  We both grew up with it, and have missed it tremendously since moving away from the southwest.  So we try to keep the flavors going as best we can wherever we are.  Sometimes it means growing the ingredients ourselves, and other times it’s just finding good local sources.  Here, we have good local sources, but since the growing season is so short, winter time can be rather a dry time.  Don’t get wrong.  We do tacos any time because we love them so much.  As long as we can get corn tortillas, or make them ourselves, we can do tacos.  But there’s so many other things.  So I was casting about for something to fix for dinner that was going to be easy, and quick, and tasty.  I took out some chicken thighs cuz they’re just so darn good.  I wanted to make some kind of braise, or stew, but not a soup cuz we’ve been eating a lot of soup recently due to cold weather.  I noticed some pico de gallo (think a very very chunky salsa) and some hot salsa, although around here, nothing is really very hot to our taste.  I also found a tube of cilantro paste that we’ve been using that has actual chunks of cilantro in it.  I browned the chicken, added the two salsas, some “Better Than Bouillon” roasted chicken flavor, and some fresh garlic.  I let that all simmer for a couple of hours, adding water when it was in danger of burning.  When it was close to being done, I put on some white rice and added a good helping of cilantro and some lime to the rice to flavor it.  Since there was still a good healthy squeeze or two of cilantro paste in the tube, I put the last of it into the chicken.  When the rice was done, I set it aside to stay warm, and finished up the chicken by adjusting the balance of salt and water for thickness.  The chicken was served over the rice and was spicy and tangy and warm and chickeny (is that a word?) and so good we both said it would have to become one of our staple recipes.  There was enough leftover for lunch which I enjoyed a couple of days later and it was still so good.  It helped that the salsas were so good.  Oddly enough, they were both store brand salsas that we got right here in Vermont.  As I’ve always said, anyone who can read can cook.  They must have been following the right recipe.  We just like a little more heat.

On Saturday, to test out my new digestive system sans gall bladder, we wanted to make steak and salad.  You’re probably saying to yourself “They’ve had that since his operation.” and you’d be right, except for one thing.  I’ve had the leanest cut of steak known to mankind, the sirloin.  Apart from a strip of fat on the outside, there is no internal fat to a sirloin.  Some people call it flavorless and coat the thing with all kinds of spice rubs.  I like the flavor of beef, so I cook it rare, sprinkle it with a light coating of salt, and eat it hot or cold.  But this time, I got a rib eye!  Bone in for flavor, and well marbled throughout.  It’s the tenderest cut of beef, and the marbling adds so much flavor it’s like the meat is basted from the inside.  I used our cast iron griddle pan for both steaks, and did the Bobby Flay method of getting the cast iron blazing hot, and searing the steak for two minutes a side, flipping the meat until it’s done to your liking.  The salad was a standard garden salad, but that steak was so good!  I made fresh bread to go with the meal, and had cold steak and fresh bread the next day for lunch.  So Yum!!

On Sunday, Partner/Spouse decided he wanted tacos.  It was fairly late in morning when he decided that, so there wasn’t really time to thaw out a piece of roast beef to cook until tender, then add seasonings, etc. to get the full flavor of Mexican.  But, we could thaw out some chicken pieces pretty quickly and get them cooked well for tacos.  However, while the chicken was thawing (and I was working on loom knitting a scarf that was his last Christmas present, and I’m very nearly done), he changed his mind and decided to make a crockpot full of chicken chili.  I will say that although I offered suggestions, he made this on his own, following his own designs, and I didn’t watch or participate since I was sitting in the living room with balls of yarn around me.  But the aroma as it cooked slowly filled the house and was so tantalizing.  By the time it was done, it smelled perfect.  Then, he made home made corn tortilla chips that were excellent!  Scooped into a bowl with a small sprinkle of local cheese and tortilla chips sitting on top, it had just the right amount of spicy heat without being killer.  Against the backdrop of snow falling lightly for three days, it was a cozy homey meal.

During all this, we were trying to schedule with our local auto glass shop to get our windshield replaced.  We got a small chip which the cold temperatures turned into a large crack running from one side of the thing to the other.  Not at eye level which is typical, but at the bottom where it could easily be ignored, but we didn’t want to.  They were originally supposed to come by on Friday morning, but the tech split his hand open on the previous job and the poor guy called from the ER to explain he was going to be late.  I called and rescheduled for Monday morning, but because of the incessant snowfall, I ended up going into the shop.  From there, I drove to Partner/Spouse’s office and waited about a half hour for him to get off work.  We got home later than usual, and I wanted something hot and satisfying.  I made Beef Mushroom Risotto.  What I did was cut up some chuck roast and onions.  I fried them up in a tablespoon of olive oil for the onion to soften and the beef to brown, then added a cup of Arborio rice.  I’ve written about the different types of rice before; Arborio rice is short and plump and very starchy.  It absorbs three to four times its weight in liquids and takes on the flavors of whatever liquid is being used.  Once the rice had cooked for a couple of minutes, I started adding mushroom stock that was heat to simmering.  I’d added minced garlic to the stock while it was heating so it would pick up that flavor.  I added the stock to the rice and beef by the cupful and stirred the rice constantly.  There are two reasons to stir the rice.  First, so the liquid is all evenly absorbed and the rice doesn’t scorch; and second, so it creates a sauce with the starch from the rice.  For one cup of rice, I had five cups of stock simmering.  Cooking risotto isn’t an exact science, so it’s best to have too much liquid than you think you’ll need, just in case.  I ended up using all of it to make the rice more fluid at the end.  Normally, when the rice is done, you finish it off by added about a half cup of finely grated parmesan cheese.  Instead, I added a quarter cup chilled butter in small chunks to give the sauce a silky finish.  It can take up to an hour to cook properly, but the best way to figure out when it’s done is to cook for about 30-40 minutes, then keep sampling small bites till the rice is al dente.  It was so good!

Then, the next day, which would have been “yesterday” from the original timing of the post, with the snow still falling lightly, I made lemon chicken and pasta.  This is one of those dishes that is so quick and easy that the longest part of the process is getting the water to come to a boil.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I cut up onions and chicken thighs to bite sized pieces.  I was heating a large skillet while doing this, so when I added a touch of oil it shimmered immediately.  I used a Myers Lemon infused olive oil for the flavor.  I started the chicken and onion cooking then put the pasta in to boil.  I used a shaped pasta rather than a long pasta because we like them better.  Then it was just a matter of letting everything cook.  Once the pasta was done, it went into a colander.  By this time, the chicken was done.  I added more of the Myer’s Lemon oil, and then some lemon juice.  I added a handful of pine nuts, too.  Oddly, while the lemon flavor was there, it seemed bland to both of us.  So I added some lime juice and that made it turn the corner.  The oil became saucy, and the flavor when Boom!  I added the drained pasta and flipped it all around.  From beginning to end, thirty minutes, give or take a minute or two.

So, that’s been the menus for the week.  Nothing took long, except the slow cooked chili, and nothing was to hard or too intricate.  I love cooking!

So how is everyone else bearing up to the winter?  Are there any recipes that make you feel warm?  Or do you prefer to embrace the cold and reflect that in your meals?

Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

Post #686 Beginning the New Year

January 1, 2020 at 12:34 PM | Posted in Easy, Holiday | 2 Comments

Happy New Year to everyone!  How cool the blog post falls on the new year’s start.  So much I want to see for this year.  I guess the most important is this is an election year and it’s an opportunity to flex our political muscles and see to it that the person we want to hold elected office(s) gets in and does the work that needs to be done.  So everyone, get out and vote!!

New Year’s Day was always a big deal when I was growing up.  Mom was Irish and Dad was German and Scots.  So any traditions for the new year was a blend of the cultures.  Predominantly, the German tradition was what we followed, which meant the first main meal of the new year included pork and sauerkraut.  Mom always added boiled potatoes because she was Irish and potatoes were included in practically every meal of any kind.  She would always cook a good sized pork roast so the fat cap was rendered and crispy while the meat was tender and juicy.  She never drained the sauerkraut but added sliced apples while it was cooking so it took on a sour and sweet flavor, but all the flavor of the meat juices.  We kids only ate a tiny bite of the sauerkraut, just so we’d get the good luck, but went to town on the potatoes and pork.  Sometimes she would add ice cold apple sauce which was like dessert during the meal.  But once I was on my own, I switched from a pork roast to pork chops.  For one, I like pork chops a LOT, and while I like pork roast, pork chops are the bomb.  So I now do the new year’s meal with pork chops that I’ve seasoned myself.  When the chops are done, I move them to a plate, and fry the sauerkraut in the same pan as the pork chops so they pick up the flavor of the juices and fond and seasonings.  I’ve left out the apples since I left home, but this year, I’m adding them back.

When we moved to Arizona, I found that many of my friends had different traditions for the new year.  Since they were Hispanic, their traditions were mostly from that culture.  As I explained the Germanic/Gaelic flavor of our family’s traditions, they in turn explained theirs.  They were mostly the same as their Christmas traditions, and since I love tamales, it was like extending Christmas far beyond the day.  But there was one that I used to like and giggle at since it was a challenge.  Just before midnight, each person is handed a small bowl or saucer with twelve grapes or raisins in it.  When the clock chimed midnight on New Year’s Eve, each person ate one grape or raisin at each chime of the clock.  Every sweet grape was good luck for that month, and every sour grape was bad luck.

When I moved to Virginia and started dating the girl who became my wife, she introduced me to the custom of Black Eyed Peas.  I was already familiar with them and like them okay.  But I didn’t know they were considered good luck on new year’s day.  In the South, black eyed peas are considered a must to ensure good luck for the upcoming year.  If you don’t eat them, you may as well stay in bed for the year.  We both like them, so eating them was a simple addition to the pork and sauerkraut we already had.

Of course, another tradition from the South that goes hand in hand with the black eyed peas is crispy corn bread.  The way to make corn bread crispy is to cook it in a cast iron skillet.  The trick is to put the skillet in the oven and let it heat up while the oven is heating.  Once the oven has reached its temperature, make the corn bread batter, open the oven, melt a good amount of butter in the skillet, and pour the batter in while the butter is still sizzling hot.  Close the oven and bake according the recipe.  When it’s done, all the parts that touched the skillet will be a crispy crust that is to die for.

Another legume that is considered lucky at New Year is the lentil.  I love lentils.  My sister introduced me to them back in college.  They’re small, round, flat with a bulgy middle, and look like tiny coins.  In Italy, and many Hispanic cultures, lentils are considered good luck and prosperity for the new year.  It doesn’t really matter how they’re made as long as they’re eaten.  I’ve mostly eaten them in soups, but they can be made into a salad and any number of casseroles.

Fruits of various types are also looked on as lucky.  The key is they must be round.  That symbolizes the turning of the year and success as the old year passes and the new year is born.  When we were kids, our Christmas stocking always had tucked among the candy and small gifts, at least an orange or a tangerine.  We never knew what they were for, but I found out a few years ago and it made sense.  Plus the bright color seems almost like a jewel.

Pomegranates are also thought to be lucky at the new year.  Apart from being round, the abundance of seeds symbolized fertility in all endeavors.  Some cultures will slam the ripe pomegranate on the doorway making the rind crack and the seeds scatter to bring fertility to all inhabitants in the house and all their deeds.

One tradition I learned about during my travels was the Filipino Twelve Fruits.  From what I can remember, the actual fruits didn’t matter as long as there were twelve, one for each month.  The fruits were eaten to bring good luck for each month of the year.  Some people fruit juice will also work, and try to find the most pleasing tasting blend of twelve fruits they can.

Finally, there’s the tradition of the Long Noodle from Asia.  It represents longevity and prosperity.  The noodles must be unbroken and cooked in a savory broth.  The person who could eat one noodle without breaking it or biting it would have exceptional good luck for the year.

So, what New Year food traditions do you have in your family?  Let us know.  Feel free to share this post far and wide.

As always,

 

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