Wednesday, January 02, 2008

All is quiet on New Years Day

What a day. I couldn't really tell you a single thing I did today, other than cook, but I mean that in a good way. The day just passed by in a pleasant, slow moving blur. Everyone relaxed, hanging around, talking. A perfect day for me to be the big shiftless hillbilly I am.

Today was a food day. I took a pound of sausage out of the freezer last night to thaw, and rinsed and put a pound of black eyed peas in a bowl to soak before we went out. The last couple of years I've gone running on New Years Day, but the snow and ice kept me from doing that this year. So I cooked, and I ate. I woke up before anyone else, drank some coffee and caught up on some reading. And then I started cooking. Breakfast was biscuits and sausage gravy--delicious and filling, and a nice lazy way to start the year.

Once we were sufficiently coffee'd up, and had some food in our bellies, the champagne came out. Today's drink was the Bellini; we cheated and used peach nectar instead of pureed peaches, and we used champagne instead of sparkling Italian wine.

Later in the afternoon it was time to start cooking again. Usually on New Years day I like to make hoppin' John. I was excited because this year I had a new recipe that promised to be more flavorful than the one I'd used in the past. Also on the menu were southern greens. I started the greens first.

Like all good southern vegetable dishes, you start with some bacon.
You chop a half pound of bacon, and fry it in a big pot until it starts to get crispy. Then you add a couple cups of sliced onions, and fry them with the bacon till they turn golden. Then throw in a tablespoon of minced garlic, fry it a little more, then pour in a bottle of beer, a quarter cup of vinegar and a couple tablespoons of molasses. Mix it all up, and then start adding your greens.
Lately we've been using the greens from Glory Foods, a mix of mustard, collard and turnip greens that come pre-washed and chopped. It saves a lot of trouble, I'll tell you, especially in January when the garden is snowed under and there's no farmers market. You add 3 pounds of greens to the bacon/onion/liquid mix described above and then you cook the whole thing on a low heat for about an hour and a half.

While the greens are cooking you can start on your hoppin' John. The first thing you got to do is rinse and soak your black eyed peas overnight

The recipe calls for a ham hock, but I cheated and used a big hunk of smoked ham, cut into chunks. You start by searing some ham in a big pot; after a few minutes you add a half cup of chopped celery, a half cup of chopped red pepper, a tablespoon or two of garlic, and a cup of chopped onion. Boy, does it smell good.

After a while you add a bay leaf, a teaspoon of thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne and a quart of stock. You bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for a little over an hour. I had to add about another cup of stock during the cooking. When it's all done you serve it over some steamed white rice:

We were going to make cornbread, but after a few Bellinis we just didn't have the energy. Which is kind of a shame, because MizBubs makes some damned fine cornbread.

So the day went by in a pleasant haze of eating, lounging and drinking. Our youngest left for a sleepover, our eldest's boyfriend came by and had dinner with us, then they went out for ice cream with some friends. We popped in Kairo, the original Japanese version of Pulse. It was a cool movie, moody and dark, but I started to fall asleep and got up to go to bed. And then the phone rang.

It was an old friend of mine, technically an ex-girlfriend although I don't really think of her that way since I only dated her for a few months in my junior year in high school. She's one of a small number of people I've managed to stay in touch with since high school. From her I found out that one of my best friends in high school, someone I'd lost track of about 20 years ago, had died of brain cancer.

I cracked open a bottle of Knob Creek that my partner gave me as a Christmas present, poured a quadruple, and spent the next half hour on the phone catching up. I found out another girl I knew--my ex-girlfriend's best friend--also had cancer and was quite sick. We spent some time talking about our kids, talking about loss, about reaching middle age, and about the tendency of some folks in our age bracket to spend more time looking back than looking forward.

My friend Warren Stewart was one of the coolest people I ever met. He was one of those kids in high school who just had style and tastes that were developed far beyond that of any of his peers. He was wicked smart, and funny, and he loved good food and paid attention to good cooking years before I ever did. He was the first of my friends who knew how to mix a cocktail.

The last time I saw him was in 1984, when he visited me and MizBubs in Chicago, and I have vague memories of him and MizBubs dragging me home from a punk rock bar in the classic drunken sailor/crucifixion manner. I can't even remember how I lost track of him, and I feel kind of shitty about that.

It turns out Warren was living in Brooklyn when he died, and was loved, and will be missed by many many people. There's a memorial blog set up for him, and I spent some time reading the various entries. I didn't recognize the names of any of the posters; the lack of names from our high school years made the passage of time seem somehow more intense. I don't know why, but the idea that I had at one time been so close to Warren, and knew nothing of how he'd spent the past 20 + years, was at once disorienting and sad.

After a while I got off the phone with my friend, and went upstairs to tuck in MizBubs. She was curled up in bed reading, and asked how my call went. She had only met Warren twice, but they got along famously. I like to think he'd be pleased to see how we turned out. At one point I said that we've now officially hit middle age--we're at the point when we're starting to hear about friends getting sick and dying, and there's sure to be more of it coming in the next 10 or 20 years. Somehow, though, that thought's not depressing to me. It's just kind of curious, just part of the journey. Time marches on, and we all go on doing whatever it is that we do, and so does everyone else.

Tired and weary, or not, we must go alone. Hopefully we'll all find peace in the new year.


Dale said...

Sorry to hear about your friend Bubs, especially after the day started so well (bacon and booze for president!). You made some good points about looking forward and continuing on.

Hot Lemon said...


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Yes, you are a hillbilly. You managed to slip both blackeyed peas and greens in on your first supper of the new year in true southern style. I'm a hillbilly too, we had greens and blackeyed peas for supper last night as well.

kirby said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of your friend.

The cooking sounded spectacular though. The only thing that I did was boil up the Christmas turkey bones for stock.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I made Hoppin' John for Spooney for New Years. If you drop a couple of poached eggs on top of a heapin bowl of it, it's breakfast.

lauralu said...

Bubs, sorry about your friend.

It sounds like a pretty good NY Day though, you got to eat and drink and hang out with your family. Miz Bubs is the best.

Hang in there, it's a long journey for sure.


Madam Z said...

What? No grits?

That's okay. I can't stand grits. But I sure do like Hoppin' John and boiled greens and cornbread. And now I know what we're having for dinner tonight, whether my Ohio-born-Irish-Catholic hubby likes it or not. I haven't indulged my Arkansas roots for a long time.

Thanks for the beautiful New Year's Day story. It made me feel happy and sad at the same time. I particularly like this sentence: "Time marches on, and we all go on doing whatever it is that we do, and so does everyone else." We can only hope that whatever we do, we can live to see another new year.

GETkristiLOVE said...

You had me at bacon... but the beer and Knob Creek was a nice touch.

Bubs said...

GKL, thanks.

Madame Z, welcome! Nice to have a new visitor--please visit again. Glad you enjoyed the post, and got a useful menu idea to boot!

Laura, it's amazing how time passes isn't it? and she is the best.

Vikki, I'll have to try that with my leftovers. Thanks!

Barbara, this is one of the first times in years that MizBubs doesn't have the freezer full of carcasses for stock. We've kind of gotten out of the habit since Costco started carrying these 6 1-quart packages of organic chicken stock.

Laura, Barbara, Kirby and Dale, thanks. Here's the thing--I'd lost touch with Warren so long ago, so it doesn't really register as a loss on a personal level. I was actually quite happy to see what a full life he'd had, and how many friends and loved ones commented on his passing.

Dr MVM, me, you and Vikki--who knew how many of us would be eating the same thing on New Years, huh? More plate-o-shrimp coincidence...

Johnny Yen said...

I'm sorry to hear about your friend.

In 1987, I was visiting my old college with a now-ex-girlfriend when I ran into Andreas, a guy I'd become friends with my last year of college, in 1985. He and I had lost touch. That night, we re-established our friendship and I realized how little I had done to keep our friendship going. I felt even worse when I found out that he'd survived cancer. I vowed from then on to make sure I worked at our friendship and all of my other ones.

'Bubbles' said...

What a wonderful post! I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. It sounds like the day was full of life, though. Good food, drink, family, friends - makes sense that there would be some loss in the mix, too, I suppose.

DCup said...

I'm sorry about the loss of your friend. It's easy to let people slip out of your life like that, I'm afraid.