We have been saddened by the death of our editor, Jim Smith. The passing of a friend is always a sad occasion, but at this time of year it seems even harder. Jim was always helpful to me and others and we will miss him. He always enjoyed the "tasting" part of the Cookbook contest and this year he really did enjoy the Cherry-Pineapple Salad that won first place in the salads. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family.
Even though Christmas Day is over, the Christmas Season continues through the Twelve Days of Christmas to the Epiphany, the celebration of the day the Wise Men visited the Baby Jesus. In many cultures, that is the start of the Carnival, or Mardi Gras, season. That season ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. The conclusion of Lent is, of course, Easter. So you can keep busy with something right through the Year. How is that for stress?
I hope everyone had a happy and relaxed Christmas. You still have a few days to finish off the homemade candy and cookies if there are any left at your house. I go on the premise that there are no calories in anything from the middle of December until after the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Then, I access the damages and plan a new campaign of healthy food minus all those great sweets. New Year's just has to be acknowledged with a feast of some kind of pork, sauerkraut, beans, black-eyed peas, cornbread, etc. and the proper beverage to add to the celebration. Of course, if you take in the Carnival or Mardi Gras season, you have to wait until the start of Lent to rework those eating habits. The forty days of Lent give you enough time to get down to the size of your Easter dress, so enjoy life and food is a giant part of that.
Several cities in this country have Mardi Gras celebrations and they usually build up to the few days before Ash Wednesday. However, in some countries, the Carnival season goes from the end of the Christmas season through to Ash Wednesday, with almost constant parties. That is one way to get through the cold winter months, at least in Northern European countries. One tale I heard while in Germany was that what happened during Carnival could be grounds for divorce unless the offended party allowed the offending one back in the house when Lent started. That sounded like a tall tale to me, but I was assured it was the law of the land. Some things one just doesn't want to partake of just to see if the tale is true.
If you are out on the highways after Christmas, you will see a lot of traffic heading south; many, like turtles, with their homes on their backs. They have a name - Snowbirds. They head for nesting grounds to stay with others like themselves who are there only for the winter. They are not the most welcome beings with the average natives, but the merchants and restaurant owners like to see them come with their full pocketbooks. The natives who have to work during this period grumble about the added traffic on the highways and the crowded places to eat just when they have their lunch hours and have to be back to work soon. Snowbirds like to drive slowly so they can see everything on both sides of the street (or zoom around to get to the eating places first) and take their time enjoying the warmer weather as they take long lunches. So, if you are one of those Snowbirds, and you want to be treated nice all the time, remember to smile at everyone and be courteous. Tell them when you are returning north and they will probably accept you better. After all, Florida is getting more and more crowded and it is worrisome to those who have beaten you there.
My Christmas cards and the stamps are still sitting on my desk - I didn't get a one sent this year. By the time, if ever, I do send them, they will probably be antiques. I do appreciate you younger ones who did get cards out and I love you all, but don't keep looking for that card I was supposed to send you. I am still baking some cookies and making another batch of fudge since I ate the entire last batch before Christmas. And I did get a garland around the front door and, with help, got some of the decorations on the tree. Thank all of you who put up Christmas decorations for me to enjoy as I drove around the area this year. Next year, I'll try to do more, I promise.
Have a happy, sane and safe New Year's. Don't get writer's cramp making those resolutions that you will break soon anyway. Just, slowly, think about what you would like to do this next year and make a plan of how you want to accomplish it. Check your Bucket List and make any needed revisions to it. This time of year is the perfect time to make a "Me Assessment". God Bless you all in this coming year.
TWELFTH NIGHT CAKE
One cup raisins
One cup currants
One cup chopped candied pineapple
One-half cup chopped candied red cherries
Three-fourths cup bourbon
One and one-half cups butter or margarine, softened
One and one-half cup sugar
Three cups all-purpose flour
One teaspoon ground cinnamon
One-teaspoon ground ginger
One-half teaspoon ground nutmeg
One cup ground almonds
One dried pinto bean
One dried black-eyed pea
Combine first five ingredients and stir well. Cover mixture and let set overnight. The next day, cream butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir flour and spices together and gradually add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in almonds and fruit mixtures. Spoon batter into a greased and waxed paper lined nine-inch springform pan. Press bean and pea just under the surface of the batter, a little distance from each other. Sprinkle with green, purple and gold sugar, in separate mounds - the traditional colors of Marti Gras. Bake in preheated 300-degree oven for two hours or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake completely in pan.
The man who finds the bean is the "king" and the person who finds the pea is his "queen" for the party.
This is the traditional cake for a Twelfth Night Party, the start of the Mardi Gras season.
SPARERIBS AND SAUERKRAUT
Salt and pepper
Cut spareribs into serving-sized pieces and brown in a heavy skillet and a little oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drain sauerkraut and rinse with water and drain again. Core and slice apple. Peeling is optional. For one bag of sauerkraut, use one large apple or two small ones and about one-third cup of brown sugar. Use one-half to three-fourths teaspoon caraway seeds. Combine the kraut, sugar, sliced apple and caraway seeds in a Dutch oven or a crockpot. Add water to not quite cover the top of the kraut. Place the browned spareribs on top. Cook gently until the ribs are tender. In a Dutch oven, it takes about two hours of simmering. In a crockpot, it takes several hours. The crockpot is best - start the ribs on New Year's Eve and have them to eat on New Year's Day. It is also the easiest - no watching the pot. If you like the kraut a little more sour, don't rinse it before you add it to the pot.
Mashed potatoes go great with this - just put the kraut on top of the potatoes.
BLACK-EYED PEAS AND HAM HOCKS
One (16-oz.) package dried black-eyed peas
Ten to twelve cups water, divided
One ham hock - at least one-half pound, or two small ones
One large onion, whole
Sort and wash peas and place in a Dutch oven. Cover with water two-inches above peas (five to six cups). Let soak overnight. Drain peas and cover with fresh water. Wash ham hock and add to peas. Add onion. Stir gently. Simmer, allowing some of the steam to escape, for about one hour or until peas are tender. Remove onion and discard. Remove ham hock and cut the meat from the bone. Dice meat and stir into the peas. Add salt to taste. Fresh, frozen or canned peas may be used and don't require the soaking that the dried ones do. Add only enough water to cook those types.
If you have a ham with a bone in it for Christmas, don't cut all the meat off the bone, place in freezer, and use it for this recipe.
Six slices bacon, diced
One onion, whole
Six cups water
One cup dried black-eyed peas
One cup regular rice
One teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon pepper
Combine bacon, onion and water in a large Dutch oven. (I brown the bacon slightly, and then add the onion and the water.) Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer twenty minutes. Add the peas, cover, and simmer one hour and forty-five minutes or until peas are tender. Remove onion and discard. Stir in rice, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer another twenty minutes or until rice is tender.
If you soak the peas overnight, like in the above recipe, it doesn't take long to make this. If you use fresh, frozen, or canned peas, it goes even quicker.
Happy New Year.
Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.