Life + Outdoors » North Coast Almanack

Jan. 1-15, 2011

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Jan. 1. Southerners know that it is vitally important to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day or risk a year of bad luck. We know of one man, married to a southern woman, who detests the peas and swallows one each year, like a pill, to appease his wife. Black-eyed pea fritters, made in an egg and cornmeal batter and dredged in flour, then fried and served with a mayonnaise and roasted red pepper dip, are the only good luck delivery method she has yet discovered that he will eat without complaint. Most husbands will devour newspaper as long as it is breaded, fried and served with mayonnaise, making it a handy trick for a wife to have.

Jan. 2. In the United Kingdom some have adopted the custom of abstaining from alcohol in the month of January. It gives the liver a vacation and forces one to take stock of one's situation with clear-eyed sobriety. A hard-drinking man who participates in this custom calls himself a "January man." Women, if they take the month off at all, don't speak of it.

Jan. 3. If the evening is clear, it would be well worth having a look at the Quadrantids meteor shower. The best viewing position, in our assessment, is from a catamaran in Hawaii that sails out just far enough to escape the influence of artificial light and serves rum punch promptly upon departure.

Jan. 4. New moon, 1:04 a.m. A partial solar eclipse will be visible in north Africa, Europe and western Asia. It begins quite early on what is sure to be a cold morning, so we feel this would be best viewed from the window of a Parisian apartment in the sixth arrondissement while one's bed-mate runs out for the cafe et croissant.

Jan. 5. The black-eyed pea is, of course, actually a bean and not a pea at all. Peas are a type of bean belonging to the genus Pisum. Peas use tendrils to climb, while beans, if they climb at all, wrap around a pole but lack any mechanism with which to grip it.

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Jan. 7. If you have chosen to abstain from alcohol during the month of January for reasons of liver purification, weight loss, mental clarity, fiscal austerity or other such high-minded ideals, you have now reached Friday, a day typically occupied with pleasant thoughts of the end-of-week drink referred to in some circles as "the closing ceremony." There is surely some other more healthful and frugal way to mark the end of the work week, which it is now your duty to discover.

Jan. 8. January has been declared National Oatmeal Month. It is only fitting, given the gluttony of the previous month, that we should also take sober stock of the condition of our digestive tracts and undertake any necessary corrective measures. Corrective measures always seem to involve oatmeal; there is no escaping it.

Jan. 9. Birthdate, in 1913, of Richard Milhous Nixon. He is known for a great many things, not least of which was his 1969 speech in Humboldt County, Calif., at the dedication of the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, in which he spoke of what it meant "to stand here in this grove of redwoods, to realize what a few moments of solitude in this magnificent place can mean, what it can mean to a man who is President, what it can mean to any man or woman who needs time to get away from whatever may be the burdens of all our tasks." The full burden of his tasks would not be known for a few more years.

Jan. 10. Sunrise at 7:40 a.m.; sunset at 5:09 p.m. The days grow imperceptibly longer, but that offers little consolation. Think, on this dark day, of Anchorage, Alaska, where the sun rises at 10:04 a.m. and seems to set only minutes later at 4:11 pm. It is not uncommon, in Alaska, to organize one's day according to the Spanish tradition in wintertime, taking a lengthy mid-day break to walk in the dim and watery sunshine. This wards off madness but does nothing to relieve the urge to go to bed at six. Most Alaskans admit to sleeping half the winter away and getting not a minute of rest in summer.

Jan. 11. January is also National Soup Month, for much the same reasons given for National Oatmeal Month. Those who seek to dictate our dietary choices seem to want us on a mostly liquid diet for the month.

Jan. 12. Cream of horseradish makes a surprisingly good addition to mashed potatoes. Collinsville, Ill., and the surrounding region produce 80-85 percent of the world horseradish supply. Organizers of that community's International Horseradish Festival are pleased to announce that the International Herb Association has declared 2011 The Year of the Horseradish, which may shine the bright spotlight of fame on the winner of next year's Little Miss Horseradish contest. Applicants must be able to state their name, age and a horseradish fact without prompting, must attend four parades and be present to crown the next winner, cannot wear makeup, wigs or enhancements of any kind, and must be between four and six years of age.

Jan. 13. Palindromes inspired by poor vector control: Was that a rat I saw? Damn, I'm mad!

Jan. 14. It will be some time before Little Miss Horseradish discovers aquavit, a caraway-flavored spirit from Scandinavia, and learns that it only takes a single summer-ripe tomato, crushed to a pulp in a shaker with a few ounces of aquavit, a splash of Tabasco and a bit of horseradish, shaken and strained and served clear and cold, to produce a cocktail far superior to a Bloody Mary.

Jan. 15. Step on no pets.

 

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