It’s New Year’s Day, and while a lot is written about lucky foods and whatnot, what are people REALLY eating today?
I can’t answer that question for the world, or even the Gulf Coast, but I can tell you what we are going to eat.
We started off the day before we even went to bed, as I had cooked a small pan of dried black eyed peas. I didn’t want extras, so I used only about 1/4 of a pound of peas in a quart or so of water, along with some salt. (I thought they were horribly bland, but that could be addressed with a sprinkle of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning…that stuff saves many a boring dish!)
When we came back inside after the stroke of midnight, we reheated the blackeyed peas in the microwave (for us) and even the dogs got their few spoonfuls of the peas, ensuring our communal luck (and lack of leftovers.) Shortly after that, we had headed to bed in anticipation of the New Year. (And in honor of a long day and still recovering from a “bug” of some kind.)
Today, we’ll have some family and friends coming around, and while we won’t have any hangovers to contend with (none of our crowd was feeling like a wild party, I guess) we will have plenty of food to offer. So what is on the menu?
Cabbage with potatoes and carrots. Here’s a simple preparation. The cabbage is cut into wedges, the potatoes are just scrubbed unless they are very large. The carrots will be peeled (maybe) and cut into chunks about 3″ long. The dish starts off with the potatoes and carrots being cooked with the least amount of water possible, along with a sprinkle of sea salt and a dash of pepper. The cabbage is added when the potatoes and carrots begin to soften, as this is one time I prefer “overcooked” and soft cabbage. Even so, it will only take 30-45 minutes to cook the cabbage, with the potatoes and carrots getting about that same amount of precooking before the cabbage is added to the pot. This vegetable mixture is served in a bowl with butter, along with a choice of salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Tony Chachere’s. Granted, it’s not exciting, and normally it would have ham or ham hocks added…but we’re having a glazed ham alongside of the vegetable dish, so we have opted for a meatless preparation of the obligatory cabbage for New Year’s Day. Along side of these two dishes, there is a choice of bakery Italian bread or skillet (also known as flat) cornbread. Since I don’t want to bake cornbread in the oven, we’re opting for the version baked in a hot skillet, essentially making single serving corn bread cakes that can be served hot and spread with butter. All it consists of is the same exact batter used for cornbread, but it is poured into a hot lightly greased skillet and cooked like a pancake. These also reheat beautifully in the microwave, and are virtually indistinguishable from the freshly made version, if you want to make them ahead. We will be dining outdoors, and I’ll actually make them right at the table on a camp stove, as needed, with the batter waiting patiently in a covered bowl for the next cake. (They only take a minute, literally, to cook.) The ham is completely cooked, so I’ll just heat it enough to distribute the mustard-brown sugar glaze we prefer over the ham. The glaze is VERY simple. Take about 1/2-3/4 c. of packed brown sugar, and add enough plain yellow salad mustard to make a thick paste–it’s a few tablespoons. This thick paste is spread over the top of the ham, and the ham is heated through, allowing the glaze to set and the flavor to accent the ham’s flavor. Simple and delicious! If you really like the mustard flavor, it increases as you add more to the glaze, obviously, and the more mustard…the thinner the glaze. We only use enough mustard to make a thick paste, so its a mild mustard flavor. Therefore, if you want the mustard flavor to be mild, add the mustard a little at a time, stirring to distribute it…and use barely enough to turn the sugar into a spreadable paste, and I do mean spreadable! It doesn’t pour or run at all the way I make it. Typically, I only have the glaze spread on the upper 1/3 of the ham, sort of as a topping, rather than completely covering the ham. If you don’t have enough glaze to coat it to suit your tastes…it’s easy enough to mix!
But for ham glazes, there are as many versions as there are cooks glazing hams. Some swear by pineapple or other fruit juices, some by honey, others by…hold your breath here…Coca-Cola. I even know some people who use root beer! The soda pop flavors are turned into glazes by pouring them into a pan and cooking out some of the moisture, creating a thick sugary syrup. I’ve used them, I’ve tasted them, and I regard them as a lot of work for syrup…and I prefer to use the mustard glaze, which is also my daughter’s favorite. Even mustard haters, if you don’t tell them your “secret ingredient”, like this glaze when it’s made thick with a minimal mustard content. I’m also going to “cheat” on the whole ham-heating-and-glazing-operation. I’m going to use the microwave!
So these foods being served today, what do they represent in terms of their connection with luck and symbology?
Carrots…are “gold” of course, and if you slice them into coins, I suppose the symbology is more apparent. Potatoes are connected to the earth and our roots. They also have “eyes” to “see.” Cabbage, of course, has many green leaves, which is associated with American paper money and prosperity. The black eyed peas, because there are many in a bowl, are once again associated with plentiful food and prosperity. Pork is the meat of choice in the South because a pig is always fat and prosperous, right? Even the mustard-brown sugar glaze can be associated with the yellow color of the mustard equals gold, and sugar was once referred to as “white gold” along the Gulf Coast, because sugar was so incredibly valuable. The corn bread too, has the gold color for prosperity and money, the round shape of a coin, and the many kernels of corn ground together implies peace, plentiful food, fertility, and prosperity as well. And the bread…bread is the staff of life, right?
So enjoy your New Year’s Day, and no matter what you are eating, I hope it brings you peace and prosperity in the coming year.