After yesterday’s post, readers might get the impression that I am lacking in holiday cheer. Far from it! In fact, I have a mugful of “cheer” right at my elbow – enough to make me sing mindlessly to the computer as I click through my blogroll. Don’t be thinking it’s some Christmas carol, though. For some reason, the tune stuck in my head right now is “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”
My major Christmas present from my parents this year was a new, super-adjustable desk lamp with incandescent and florescent bulbs. It’s basic black and highly functional in design – the kind of thing favored by graphic artists, one suspects. It will replace the funky little lamp I have been using to save my eyes from the glare of the computer screen. Yes, my parents have become enablers for my blog-addicted lifestyle.
On our way back from getting a Christmas tree on Tuesday, we swung by the Amish store where we buy many of our staples (whole wheat flour, brown rice, basic herbs and spices, etc.). My mother gifted the women who run the store with a loaf of chocolate tea bread, which prompted immediate reciprocal gifts of a large jar of canned peaches and a little jar of hot pepper jelly. Then, just as we were about to leave, S. came running out and asked if wanted some of the ornamental kale from her garden before she got rid of it. “Sure,” I said, and took the better part of one, big plant.
The kale was limp from having been through a couple months of freezing weather, but it still smelled and tasted good and strong. I thought its festive colors would be perfect for a light, Christmas Eve supper, and in fact I was rather pleased with the recipe I came up with. I like to think of this as a brand-new holiday tradition, as I recently heard someone on NPR describe something or other.
Ornamental Kale and Walnut Sauce with Pasta
Clean and chop into 2-inch squares 4 – 6 c ornamental kale, striving for roughly equal quantities of green and purple leaves.
In a large saucepan, sauté a hellacious amount of minced garlic, about 1/4 t dried red pepper flakes and 1/2 c ground English walnuts in 1/4 c olive oil at medium-low heat for several minutes, until kitchen begins to reek. Then add kale, a couple glugs of red wine and about 1 1/2 c canned tomatoes, chopped, with juice (about 1/2 c). (Fresh tomatoes are tasteless and virtually devoid of nutritive value this time of year. Save your money.) Lid the sucker and let ‘er steam for a bit.
Meanwhile, cook pasta. I used about 12 oz whole-wheat shells, but other chunky sorts of pasta would probably work just as well. When kale is pretty much wilted, add salt (not much) and black pepper, 8 kalamata olives, slivered and half a can of reduced-sodium chicken broth. (Vegetarians can try substituting soup stock or, better yet, a good miso broth.) Give it a minute or two to heat up, then mix in the drained pasta and a buttload of parmesan or romano cheese.
I might’ve added something else, but I think that’s all. Some of my culinary experiments prompt my parents to say things like, “Well, that was very, um, interesting!” But this time, they both went back for rare second helpings. However, I must admit that the pairing with a raw cabbage salad was slightly unfortunate. Last night I had to be careful to keep the blankets tightly pinned to my body every time I turned over in bed, if you get my drift.
Now that I’ve largely gotten over my childhood greed, and prefer actually to receive boring presents so as to avoid all excitement and the loss in sleep that entails, my favorite part of holidays like Christmas is the feasting. Well, O.K., maybe I’ve just substituted one kind of greed for another. At any rate, the other new recipe I’m inordinately pleased with this year is also my own invention, though I fancy it’s fairly similar to what my medieval European ancestors may have consumed this time of year: wassail! I served it to some visitors on Wednesday night, and two out of three were highly enthusiastic. (The third objected to the high licorice content – a fair complaint, if you don’t like licorice.) I won’t give the entire recipe, since it won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t a homebrewer. But for those who are, here’s the gruit (herbal mix used instead of hops):
-> loose-packed pint dried mugwort
-> 2 oz dandelion root, roasted
-> 1/2 oz coriander seed, crushed
-> 1/2 oz Indian sarsaparilla root (Hemidesmus indicus)
-> 2 oz wild ginger root (Asarum canadense)
-> 2 oz licorice root (“dry-hopped” in primary)
-> 1 c (4 oz) dark baker’s cocoa
I’ll probably post the complete recipe in the homebrewing section of my other website at some point. In the meantime, anyone who wants to learn more about brewing traditional, unhopped ales should persuse my misleadingly named Short Treatise on Homebrewing and the True Meaning of Gruit.
I feel confident in recommending this gruit because my friend Chris, who is a trained beer taster, was one of my guests on Wednesday night. He regaled us with a number of fascinating tales of his exploits in Africa, of which (owing to the lateness of the hour and the strength of the brew) I remember only this:
During a tour of a paper-making cooperative in Malawi last month, Chris said, the guide kept pointing to these very large, dark sheets hanging up to dry and saying “This paper made from the elefandong!” And each time he would laugh uproariously. Chris smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit he didn’t know what the hell the guide was saying. After the third time it happened, however, he decided to follow up. “Now, what exactly is this ‘elefandong’?”
“Elefandong? You know – elephan’ poo-poo!”
I now know what I want my first, commercially published book of poems to be printed on…
My older brother called yesterday with, among other things, some news about his first offspring, expected in mid- to late-January. “They’ve decided on a name!” my mother informed me last night over the purple pasta repast. “They’ve decided to call her Elanor, after a character in Lord of the Flies!”
I’m sure William Golding would be proud.