When I was a kid we knew where we would be every January first, and we knew what we would be doing. We would be at either my parent’s house in Sacramento, or at my godparent’s, E&B’s in Davs, or G&C’s in Carmichael, there would be breakfast and football, and playing, and more football, the adults drinking B’s famous Gin Fizzes, more football, and then, finally, after what seemed HOURS of waiting…beans.
Now, whomever was hosting that particular year (we rotated) made their own version.Yeah, I’m not going to mince words: B’s recipe is the best. I’m still not entirely sure what he put into his (crack maybe?). They cooked for hours, and I think he may have mashed up some of the beans then added them back into the pot because they were very creamy. And of course, OF COURSE, there was ham. Not chunks of ham just randomly thrown in, no this was the Platonic freakin’ form of ham – tender and perfect.
It was hammered into my impressionable young brain that if you did not, for some godforsaken reason, have beans on New Year’s Day, you would be doomed to a year of utter failure. (I’m thinking that my upbringing now explains why I’m a rationalist but I’m also totally superstitious.) It’s stuck with me: I can’t think of a single New Year’s Day when I didn’t have beans of some sort. Even if I have to work, I put them in the crockpot so I’ve got dinner ready when I get home. My New Year’s don’t really involve Gin Fizzes anymore, and honestly I’m not a fan of college football, but a nice afternoon celebrating the New Year with my family and perhaps Ant Man or Guardians of the Galaxy I’m totally up for.
I actually make bean soup fairly often, because it’s cheap, warming and filling. I’m a fan of navy beans and I throw in a ham hock or, and I just tried this, cut up black forest ham (that way I can buy just a slice or two from the deli). But I decided to try something new this year. Well, I decided after I got my January Sunset Magazine – I guess that decided for me.
Fat Jeff’s Fat Tire Beans: yes, the Fat Tire is Fat Tire Brewing, you need a bottle of Amber Ale for this recipe (but I used another Belgian). Gotta say, that was what I was most uneasy for…until I walked into the house this afternoon and everything smelled like jalapenos, beer and ham. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
Before heading out to dinner last night I got everything ready, set the beans to soaking, sauteed the onion, jalapeno and garlic in bacon fat and set everything up so I’m be ready this morning.
The recipe called for 2 Roma tomatoes, but, really, it’s the middle of winter, so I cheated and used a can of Muir Glen No Salt Diced Tomatoes. Chipotle chili and Cumin make this a hybrid of bean soup and chili, but either way it’s awesome with cornbread (seriously, use the recipe on the Alber’s box!)
I’ve been testing it all afternoon and waiting for the cornbread to come out of the oven. You can take the lid off the crockpot, turn it up to high, and cook off some of the liquid (there’s really not that much), but I’m going to leave mine a little soupy so I have something to soak up with cornbread. We’ve got some huckleberry jam, a Christmas present from the Pacific Northwest, that will be a nice addition. And we’ve got this
Dancing Coyote Gruner-Veltliner, which should be just crisp enough. Surprisingly, the jalapenos added flavor but no heat, I’m chalking that up to the long simmer time.
If at the end of your life you get a highlight reel then New Year’s Day will show up on mine. The time that G made his fizzes with pineapple juice (and he had me taste them, so by the time my mom came over and I answered the door three sheets to the wind she bellowed, “Eugene, is my daughter drunk at 8:30 in the morning?!” I’d like to point out that I was of legal drinking age…), the year that we kids were bickering so C told us that we could only say nice things…and we all ended up using the word “unique” as a sweetly delivered insult (I still do that to this day), countless days spent building “mouse houses” – don’t ask, the story will take too long, the “bricks” in the playroom, and of course, the beans.
The tradition is tied to the meal, and vice versa, and no matter how much changes in life that core tradition remains.
Maybe it wasn’t the meal that guaranteed our good luck for the coming year, but the fact that we shared it with the people that we loved.