Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Janus Day

Asheville, viewed from from the Grove Park Inn's back porch

I always think of the first day of the year as the Janus day, the day when we stand with one foot in the past and one in the future and can look both backward and forward like Janus. On this day, when the old year dies and the new one is born, we can see life as it is and as we hope it can be simultaneously.

For at least seven years now we have celebrated the new year with my sister and her family with a Wii tournament. No one thought to mark the first year of the competition and now our memories are fuzzy and we can't recall when it started exactly. When we first started our nine-year-old daughter was a toddler and we would give her a fake controller to keep her occupied.

This year's holiday schedule was exciting and exhausting. We returned from Georgia two days ago, washed a bunch of laundry, packed our bags, and set out for the mountains of Asheville for the tournament. Yesterday, New Year's Day, the kids woke up around eight, despite all of them, even my two-year-old niece, staying up past midnight. I got up and made pancakes for them and then we set out to tour the Grove Park Inn, Asheville's iconic hotel, 101 years old this year. It's always fun to go and rock in the chairs in front of the giant fireplace and take in the glorious view from the back porch, but during the holidays it's wonderful to see the gingerbread houses and theme Christmas trees decorating the hotel. The beauty of the grounds provides a great environment for reflection, even with all the guests touring the hotel.

We set out for home around three yesterday and were still home in time to make our lucky New Year's Day foods. I'm superstitious. I've eaten sauerkraut every New Year's Day of my life except one year, 1994, and it ended up being one of the worst years of my life. So, I always eat my sauerkraut now, and in deference to our relocation to North Carolina I've also added black eyed peas to the repertoire. My mother used to serve both these by dumping them out of the can and heating them up with no seasoning or anything. Not surprisingly, they were awful and we choked them down reluctantly.

Then, in 1993, I spent Christmas in Germany and discovered a yuletide dish in a Weihnachts market booth. This was sauerkraut, seasoned with sauce like pasta and mixed with Spätzle, served in a paper cone. It was fabulous! I found in Germany, sauerkraut is served like pasta with a variety of sauces and it tastes so much better than I imagined it could. The secret to removing the bitterness is very thorough rinsing and draining and long cooking time. Years later I tried to re-create the recipe from memory and I ended up with a lucky food everyone loves.

I make homemade Spätzle for the sauerkraut. These are fluffy egg noodles rather like a cross between biscuits and dumplings, seasoned with nutmeg. They are quite easy. You just mix up the batter and drop it through a slotted spoon into boiling water to cook the dough. I'm happy to share this fortune-lifting recipe with you.

Lucky Sauerkraut with Spätzle
Serves about 20
32 ounce jar or bag fresh sauerkraut
sweet & sour sauce
1 batch Spätzle
Creamy Sweet & Sour Sauce:
2 beaten eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. cream
4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
4 cloves minced garlic
4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Combine and stir over very low heat until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in rinsed and drained kraut and Spätzle. Stir until heated through. For milder kraut, cook longer.
Press the Spätzle dough through a slotted spoon into simmering water.
Beat 2 eggs. Combine well with: 1 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. double-acting baking powder, dash nutmeg. Press dough through slotted spoon into simmering water. Simmer until noodles float. Drain and serve. If the dough is to thick or heavy add more water.

The Spätzle is finished when it is light and fluffy and floats to the top.

I prefer the refrigerated fresh kraut, but it's very difficult to find down here. At home it's rarely available at all. Here, you can tell there are a lot more Northerners because when I went to buy the kraut on the evening of New Year's Day there was a spot for it but it had sold out. One year I had a lot of cabbage from the garden so I made my own fresh lacto-fermented kraut, which isn't canned and retains many more nutrients. In Ohio where I grew up sauerkraut crocks are so plentiful they're used for everything from umbrella stands to waste baskets as well as for making sauerkraut, but that's another thing that's hard to find around here. My Aunt Carol's mother used to make homemade kraut so pungent the crock had to sit outside under a tree to ferment! You might notice this recipe makes a ton of sauerkraut. When we lived at home we all met at my mother's on New Year's Day to eat the lucky foods and I developed the recipe to feed a huge crowd and have some left over for making our favorite Reuben sandwiches. You might want to halve the recipe if you aren't cooking for 20 or more.

After making a better recipe for the sauerkraut we decided to tackle the black eyed peas. A grocery store at home started making a bean salad with black eyed peas called "Carolina Caviar" a few years ago. It's another much better recipe for the lucky food than I was used to growing up. My friend made a copycat recipe and I adapted it to suit our taste a bit better. Again, I prefer the frozen peas to the canned, but you can use either. If you use canned peas, rinse and drain them well.

Carolina Caviar:
10 ounce bag frozen black eyed peas, or three cans
5 ounces frozen or 1 can white or yellow corn
1 red or Vidalia onion, finely chopped
5.75 ounce jar Manzanilla green olives with pimentos, chopped
1 standard size bottle Italian dressing
Thaw frozen vegetables and drain. Chop all ingredients and mix with dressing. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Now our lucky foods are eaten and we are ready for the new year. I hope we are lucky and grow a bit more into the people we are supposed to be. May the year bring us all those things we need and guide us to our best fate.

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