Savannah Morning News
Jan. 31, 2016
The hens are still laying, the kumquats continue to sweeten, someone just left me two dark chocolate peanut butter cups (organic, to boot, whatever that means), my 16-year-old dog, back legs shaking, eyes clouded over and deaf as a post, can still work up a playful trot with these cold early mornings (let me outside! let me outside!), and at least 30 of us, from two years old to 95, gathered at the iconic Johnny Harris’ to celebrate another icon, a matriarch turning 90. You only turn 90 once.
How bad could the world be?
So what if the sentry banana trees stand pathetic, their leaves shredded and worthless, some fruit trees (poor things) are starting to send out blossoms certain to be nipped by future low temperatures (someone send them a memo: it’s not time yet), and the kale keeps on keeping on (enough already with the kale; and how many turnips and/or kohlrabi can a person eat? I’m moving over to collard greens although if the truth be told I’m ready for yellow squash, basil, zucchini; is it summer yet?).
Who cares if the dishwasher is broken, the weather and/or interior heat-related sneezes, which lead to those tiresome monkey-brain middle-of-the-night interruptions will not cease and desist, and most of the light bulbs in the house – at the darkest time of the year – seem to burn out at the same time (is it a conspiracy or just inferior products?).
So what if I didn’t bring my frangipani tree inside this year? I’m tired of that giraffe of a plant not blooming. I don’t have the patience to wait. Some vegetation should remain in Key West. This is not its natural habitat. But maybe it’s not too late. I gave it the old finger scratch test and it showed green. Still, from the outside, it looks like the banana trees, finished.
January’s a challenging month. Always has been. Especially for light-deprived people. Greens-gumbo gatherings in the middle of the month help. Keep ‘em coming. Tradition holds that the number of different greens in the gumbo will be the number of new friends you’ll make in the new year.
The annual Burns Night Dinner – held near January 25 to celebrate Robert (or Rabbie for those in the know) Burns’ birthday – helps too, depending on the amount of Scotch whiskey you can drink.
Although I’m not a huge fan of his work (except for Auld Lang Syne, that venerable New Year’s Eve song nobody knows he wrote), I like the idea of the gathering to celebrate a literary figure, not unlike Bloomsday, which is held every June 16 to commemorate the life of Irish writer James Joyce. In Pittsburgh, where I lived for awhile, people gather at different bars all around the city starting at 1 p.m. to hear individuals read from Joyce’s book, “Ulysses,” all of which took place in one day – June 16.
Burns Suppers, which have been held for over 200 years, are about bagpipes, poetry and food. The tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnips) I can take. So too the Scotch eggs, a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried, kind of like the Italian arancini or stuffed rice balls. I’m not so sure about the main dish though, the haggis. Haggis is a pudding of sheep’s pluck. Now there’s a word for you. Pluck. If haggis sounds as bad as it tastes, pluck sounds better than it is. Pluck is a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs encased in the animal’s stomach.
Some may remember the time in the early ‘90s that Elizabeth Terry, the original owner and inventive chef of Elizabeth on 37th, won first place in The Great American Haggis contest in Boston for the recipe she called “Stuffed Southern Poke Haggis.” Instead of pluck, not always so easy to find, Elizabeth used chicken and prosciutto. Now that I might have preferred to the paunch of a sheep.
Not to be left out in the series of January celebrations is Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. This time around it’s the year of the monkey. Not to eat but to celebrate. That’s a good thing. Vietnamese summer rolls and banh mi sandwiches sound a lot more palatable than monkey. But there probably won’t be any bagpipes. That’s too bad. Bagpipes are the bomb.