A Moratorium on Resolution-Making

January 1st has never seemed to me a particularly auspicious time to start making resolutions.  Whatever sweeping life changes I may aspire to make, the combination of long nights and short, cold days pretty much nips all my ambitions in the bud. I can muster the motivation to bake cakes, make soups, and invite friends to dinner, but spring seems so far off that I struggle to imagine a time when I’ll truly want to radically alter any aspect of my life.

If I were to designate a day for resolution-making, I would nominate April 1st, which (as it so happens) was once considered the beginning of the new year, or at least very near it.    For much of the Middle Ages, though the Catholic church had officially adopted the Roman tradition of New Year’s Day on January 1st, most of Catholic Western Europe celebrated the beginning of the new year on Annunciation Day, March 25th.  Also known as “Lady Day,” the Feast of the Annunciation recalled the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Christ, and thus to many Christians the festival represented new beginnings.  In some villages, the feasting continued for a full week, which meant that the New Year did not officially begin until April 1st.

I would chose April 1st for a more secular reason: while I struggle to recall the precise sensation in these dark months, I know that spring causes the sap to rise in all things, including me.  As the grass stretches skyward, as the rain melts the snow and swells the streams, I can get carried away.  I’ll want to plant an orchard.  I’ll think about tuning up my bike.  I’ll feel a sudden, strong desire to make lists and to attack them.  But not yet.

While I will not be making any major life changes while snow blankets the ground and all vegetative life (outside of my high tunnel!) hibernates silently, I can bring myself to ring in the Roman  New Year with proper Southern style.  On Wednesday three of my dear farming friends joined us for a New Year’s lunch of Hoppin’ John, Brown-Butter Creamed Kale, Cornbread, and Candied Yams with Apples.  (Amusingly, my southern cookbook classified the candied yams dish as a “vegetable side,” though I recommend it as dessert).

Whether you celebrate the New Year in January, March, April, or some other time of your choosing, this meal will set you on the path to health, wealth, and good fortune (or at least a full belly).

Brown-Butter Creamed Winter Greens
from the January 2008 edition of “Gourmet,” recipe from chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta.  While the recipe is a bit involved, it is worth every minutes.  Budget at least an hour, or more like 1.5 hours if you like your greens well-done.

  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 3 1/2 pounds mixed winter greens such as collards, mustard greens, and kale
  • 6 ounces slab bacon, any rind discarded and bacon cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch sticks (lardons)  note: bacon ends are perfect for this
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, then add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add milk in a stream, whisking, then add shallot, bay leaf, and peppercorns and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Strain béchamel sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids, and cover surface with parchment paper.

Discard stems and center ribs from greens, then coarsely chop leaves.

Cook lardons in a wide 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown but not crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then pour off fat from pot and wipe clean.

Heat remaining 1/2 stick butter in pot over medium-low heat until browned and fragrant, about 2 minutes, then cook onion, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, then stir in greens, 1 handful at a time, letting each handful wilt before adding next. Add béchamel, cream, garlic, red-pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and boil, uncovered, stirring, until sauce coats greens and greens are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in lardons, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Hoppin’ John
recipe from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything

  • 1 cup black-eyed peas
  • 1/ 4 pound bacon (cut into lardons) or 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 t dried thyme or rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

Place the peas in a medium pot with the bacon or ham hock, onions, herb, and water to cover by at least 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Turn the heat down to medium and cook, skimming off any foam that rises, until the beans are tender (1-1.5 hours).  Remove the meat and reduce the liquid to 3 cups, meanwhile, if you used a ham hock, cut the meat off the bone into bite-sized pieces.  Return the meat to the pot.
Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the rice and cook, covered, until the rice is done and the liquid absorbed, 15-20 minutes.
Candied Yams and Apples
adapted from Grace Hartley’s Southern Cookbook
My version is really not so much candied (sugared) as glazed (buttered).  Served with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of candied ginger, it is divine.
  • 3 medium size sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 4-6 cooking apples, seeded and sliced, but not peeled
  • 2 T runny honey
  • 6 T butter, cut into chuncks
  • sprinkling of powdered ginger
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a casserole, layer slices of sweet potato with slices of apples, periodically dotting everything with butter.  Once the casserole is full, spread the honey around as evenly as possible.  Pour the cider on top.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, until everything is soft and glazed.  The bottom of the casserole should be a bit soupy.  Top with the coconut, if desired, and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes.

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