Thursday, January 01, 2004

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, because I am sure of failure. But here I am on New Year's Day, starting this blog. Maybe tomorrow I will post again. Or the day after. You can see how my resolutions might be unreliable.

I am making posole. It's a stew with chicken, chiles and hominy (admit it, you've always wondered what people use hominy for.) And tonight, there are snack size carrots floating around on top, looking for all the world like baby penises. Ok they are bright orange baby penises, but still they disturb me. I find myself cutting them in half because one should not have tiny penises floating in the stew. None of this would have happened if I had had the energy to use regular carrots.

I probably should have mentioned the sinus infection that has settled in like an unwelcome relative justifying any irrational act, such as watching Will and Grace reruns, or hours of repetitive TV winter storm coverage, or starting a blog when I'm least able to write coherently. Oh but I'd like to fool myself into thinking I still can. Here.

New Year's Eve finds me working my way through the box of tissues and a bottle of advil, watching old movies, and wondering whether the neighbor's illegal fireworks will indeed crash through the 2nd story window and onto my bedroom floor as they appear imminently likely to do. They don't.

I awaken to that unnatural quiet light that fills a house as one sleeps in after a night of frequently disturbed sleep, and the arrival of 4 inches of snow. MMMMmmmm snow.

Wandering downstairs, I contemplate breakfast. Or rather brunch. Open the fridge and find little. Open the freezer and find... YES! There is something there. Something with potential.

My Dad grew up in Rhode Island. Somehow it bothers me that Rhode Island is now associated mostly with a disastrous Great White concert, or used to describe things that are in all reality not that big. An area the size of Rhode Island. Anyway. For breakfast they ate Johnny Cakes. Occasionally. Well truthfully I don't know how often. But they did, because once he moved to the west coast, the relatives would send the bags of Johnny Cake mix every Christmas. This made Johnny Cakes a precious commodity in my early years, the weekend would arrive, my Dad would get up early with his "little daughter" and make breakfast. In the months after Christmas, he'd mix up the Johnny Cake batter and pour them on the griddle, cooking them 3-4 at a time, me consuming them as fast as he could cook. Other times in the year we'd have french toast or bacon or pancakes, but my favorite breakfast was always the Johnny Cakes. I guess what was special was... he knew that the only way Johnny Cakes were really good was eaten immediately off the griddle. And so he cooked them for me until I was too full to eat any more before he made any for himself. There is something so symbolic in that action I'm sure I don't have to explain why I treasure this memory.

By now I suppose I should explain what a Johnny Cake is. It's a crepe like pancake, made with a very thin corn meal batter and poured into silver dollar sized circles on a hot griddle, flipped as soon as they are covered in tiny bubbles, and eaten immediately with lots of butter and jam (I'm partial to apricot but I realize jam's a personal sort of thing.) The meal, or mix, came in a small brown paper bag, like you get coffee beans in these days, holding maybe 5 cups, with a label that had something to do with a mill.

For years this went on, the holiday box from the relatives arrived, with some nice gifts for the kids, and the precious cargo of 1 or 2 bags of Johnny Cake meal tucked in as padding. But everything changes and sure enough, the year arrived when the box didn't include the mix. I don't remember now why, it seemed like sporadically for the next couple of years there sometimes was, and sometimes wasn't mix, but finally the boxes stopped (Aunty Bell was in bad health) and so did the Johnny Cakes.

Now, as I peer into my freezer hoping for something to cheer me up on this sinus infected New Year's morning, something to start things off diffferently than they ended, I find the bags of what I hope are.... Johnny Cake meal. I've done this before, and ended up with good pancakes, but not Johnny Cakes. This time I'm more hopeful, because the bags are almost exactly as I remember. There are three of them, (bags) rescued from the half-off shelf at Cost Plus a few week's back, popped into the freezer and forgotten in the holiday rush. I always assumed that the place that made the mix had just disappeared. It never occured to me that I would ever find the same mix again. I'm still pretty doubtful as I open the bag and measure in the ingredients - mix, water, egg, oil. But as I see it coming together in the bowl, I know I've won the memory lottery. Remember how you have to add more water than it says to get the right texture batter. Remember how one only wants to cook them as they eat them rather than making them all at once. Remember the way the batter sizzles when the pan is the exact right temperature, remember how the butter looks sliding across the tiny bubbles left on the surface, remember how as I kid I would fold them in half and eat them in a single bite, sometimes not even bothering with the jam, rather than having the patience to cut them up. Remember that luxury of having someone cook and feed you until you are stuffed and can't eat another bite.

The first batch is too thick and the pan isn't hot enough to make them bubble the right way. The second batch is... perfect. Hot mulled cider fills the kitchen with smells of cinnamon and cloves, snow sparkles and paints the yard new, and the year starts with a memory of being cared for, once by my father, and now by my self. I can't wait to make them for my kids.

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