Tuesday, December 29, 2020

No Soup for You

Ingredients - 1
In this pandemic time of no gathering, hope can be sustained by thinking of celebrations that will be restored once enough people have either survived infection with COVID-19 or been vaccinated. Think birthdays, graduations, holidays. Even funerals (there will still be funerals) will become, once again, time when people can congregate, reminisce, remember.  

New Year’s Eve celebrations will be missed this year. While there may be celebratory fireworks, First Night Boston and New York City’s famous illuminated ball drop, these events will be broadcast for viewing in the safety of home rather than being seen in person by tens of thousands of people. Think “Next year, next year, next year!”

New Year’s Day has its own celebratory traditions – things to do so as to bring good luck for the coming year. In Spain, one is supposed to eat twelve grapes at midnight of New Year’s Eve – one at each toll of the clock’s bell. In Japanese households, families eat long noodles at midnight, specifically “Toshikoshi Soba,” or “year-crossing noodle,” being careful to suck in the noodles intact versus biting them into pieces.  Elsewhere in Asia, ‘forward-moving’ foods such as fish are good luck on New Year’s Day, whereas backward moving (lobster, crayfish) and backward foot scratching (chicken, turkey) are to be avoided. Sauerkraut brings good luck in central Europe, lentils in Italy, herring in Scandinavia.

In the southeastern United States, people dine on black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day. Symbolically, there are ‘money’ foods, representing respectively coins, folding money and gold. Another southern New Year’s Day classic is red beans and rice with sausage. The thinking here is these are “poor people’s foods,” so by doing so you are destined to eat better the rest of the year.

From fall 1978 to fall 1980, we lived in Mobile, Alabama. Besides all-the-time hot and humid weather, and living through Hurricane Frederic, we were introduced to some deep south customs. One we brought north with us (New York City, then Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, now Maynard) was to start the New Year with friends, dining on beans and rice. In time, this evolved into a lot of friends, a lot of beans, and a lot of rice. And collard greens with black-eyed peas and salt pork. And ham. The beans became black bean soup, either with ham or vegetarian. The rice became New Orleans-style ‘dirty’ rice, with sausage or vegetarian. The ham became hams. “With friends” became inviting everyone we knew. Our event evolved into a New Year’s Day afternoon open house that sees 100+ people stopping by.

Daniel Mark, helping with New Year's Day cooking, Dec. 2005.
Three simple rules help make the event work: 1) Keep your shoes on; 2) Wear a name tag (helps us know who you are); and 3) Talk to people you don’t know. When we moved to Maynard, September 2000, there was some question as to whether the tradition was portable. The answer? Yes. Confirmed when mid-afternoon of our first Maynard open house, I asked Jeanne “How do we already know 50 people?” The tradition continued, so that January 1, 2020, was our 33rd annual New Year’s Day open house.

Sadly, New Year’s Day, 2021, we will do without. “No Soup for You.” [For those who lack the frame of reference, that was the catchphrase of a character who appeared in a 1995 episode of Seinfeld (a TV comedy).] There was some consideration toward making the soup, dividing it into quart containers, and inviting everyone to stop by to take some home, perhaps from a no-social-contact table by the front steps, but this grew logistically complex. Instead, Next year, next year, next year!!!

Mark thinks that any soup recipe that starts with a quart of olive oil, five pounds of onions, two heads of garlic, four large cans of diced tomatoes, eight pounds of dried black beans and a nine-pound ham cannot go wrong. Or the vegetarian version, with parsnips, celery, mushrooms, etc.  

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