Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Holiday Spirit

The drinking started at nine. A.M. The singing started around noon. Both continued for another twelve hours. Our neighbor and his friends assemble in his back yard almost every weekend, but last Saturday’s festivity was particularly impressive. It was as though they were in training for the holidays.

There were no women in sight -- there never are. The men were, as usual, shirtless, but the only sixpacks in sight was the beer they consumed (I believe this accounts for the lack of women). The guys sat drinking and laughing in the pouring rain, under a jury-rigged tarp -- one rigged by an inebriated, impaired jury.

The rain was as noteworthy as the revelry. It was a deluge in the midst of our dry season, it lasted all day, and no tarp was going to keep the rain out. It flooded our street, soaked my garden but did nothing to dampen their spirits.

Sunday was. . . quiet, and for them, probably painful. By late afternoon, the party host, his complexion gray, delicately picked his way outside to the muddy swamp that had been his party playground, and began collecting all the empties.

No doubt, the party will start anew and afresh on Friday, noche buena, the night Latinos celebrate Christmas (and in this case, celebrate and celebrate and celebrate).

I could gladly pass on their lustily warbled but tuneless canciones. I wish they’d put on shirts. I worry about their unhealthy lifestyle (their two food groups appear to be beer and pig). But I admire their spirit. And fortitude.

Wishing you great spirit and fortitude in the new year and all delicious things, including:

Wild Rice with Winter Greens, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Raisins

An old Sicilian trick, balancing the bitterness of winter greens with rich pine nuts and sweet raisins, yields a dish that’s fortifying and fabulous. You could add some cannellini and have a very rad but delicious version of hopping john -- excellent at the new year (and healthier than pig and beer).

1 cup wild rice

4 cups vegetable broth or water

2 lemons

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 bunch winter greens -- kale, collards, dandelions, what you will, tough center ribs

removed, leaves sliced into skinny ribbons

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/4 cup raisins

1 good pinch red pepper flakes

sea salt to taste

Rinse wild rice in a strainer or colander.

In a large pot, bring water or broth to boil over high heat. Add wild rice. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for half an hour. Turn off heat, leave the pot on the burner for another half hour or so, until all the liquid is absorbed. May be done the day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring back to room temperature before proceeding.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and saute, stirring until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add chopped winter greens, which will shrink in the heat to a fraction of their volume. Continue cooking until greens are just wilted -- another 3 to 5 minutes.

Tip in cooked rice and stir mixture gently to combine. Grate in the zest of both lemons, squeeze in lemon juice, stir in sea salt and pepper flakes. Add pine nuts and raisins just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.