Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Traditions: Dick Clark, Hoppin' John And A Plunging Pickle

I'm a fan of holiday traditions.

I always watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve – although I’m not entirely averse to channel-surfing now that I recognize so few of the featured performers. (Sorry, Nicki Mirage, er, Bling-Blaj, um, Minaj. Does your mother know you left the house wearing that outfit?)

I always have Hoppin’ John (for luck), collards (for money) and ham for New Year’s dinner.

I always bet on the bowl games. (However, given that I make my picks based on teams in towns I’d to visit, or teams at schools I wish my kids would attend, or teams wearing any color other than orange – take that, Clemson -- I can’t claim much success. Although all that would change if I just ate enough collards.)

Indeed, I’m so bound to holiday traditions that the kids often use it against me.

     You never make us listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving!
     You always let us open at least one gift on Christmas Eve!
     You can’t go to bed early! We have to go to the 10:30 p.m. service – it’s tradition!
     But we always have sausage bread Christmas morning!

With 49 years of tradition behind me, it’s hard to consider embracing another, but for “The Pickle Drop,” I just might. That’s right, “The Pickle Drop.”

Don’t know how I hadn’t heard about this before, but it turns out that for the past 13 years, Mt. Olive, North Carolina has hosted the New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop at the corner of, no kidding, Cucumber and Vine. Partygoers feast on hot chocolate and pickles (provided by the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, natch), before watching the lighted, three-foot pickle descend a flagpole. Again, just to be clear, no kidding.

And did I mention that big event occurs at 7 p.m.? That’s right. Seven-oh-clock in the evening, which means that, provided you don't over-indulge in pickles, you get a decent-night’s sleep -- on New Year's Eve.  I’m thinking Mt. Olivians are my kind of crowd.

Maybe my rigid, tradition-based mind could be a bit more flexible. In fact, I’m thinking I’ll add one more item to my New Year’s menu – this comforting corn chowder, crusted with bacon crumbles. But no pickles. At least, not until next year.

Jalapeno-Lime Corn Chowder

Four slices bacon, chopped

1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribbed, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 quart chicken stock
Juice of ½ lime
Corn cut from three cobs (or one 10-ounce frozen package)

1 cup heavy cream

In a large, heavy, lidded skillet, sauté bacon over medium-low heat until crispy.   Remove browned bacon bits, to be used as a garnish later.  In remaining bacon grease, sauté onion until translucent, stir in jalapeno and garlic.  When vegetables are tender and fragrant, sprinkle with flour.  Continue stirring until flour is well-combined and slightly browned.  Stir in chicken broth, potato, lime juice and corn.  Bring to boil, then, reduce heat to low, and simmer, lidded until potato is very tender -- about 20 minutes.  Stir in cream, season to taste and serve hot, garnished with reserved bacon bits.
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