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Today is New Year’s Day according to the Gregorian calendar, which is more or less universally used for daily affairs, although many cultures use other calendars for the timing of celebrations and anniversaries such as the new year. When a new year starts (or when a day starts) is obviously arbitrary. I once read of a bar in California that celebrated a “new year” every day at midnight with balloons, champagne, and Auld Lang Syne. There are many measures of time that are human creations, such as the hour, minute, or week, but the year (as well as day and month), is set by astronomical facts (one revolution of the earth around the sun), regardless of human perceptions and ideas. But because the year is a cycle, there is no obvious starting or ending point. All manner of dates have been used in the past in different cultures.

During the Middle Ages under the influence of the Catholic Church, many countries in western Europe moved the start of the year to one of several important Christian festivals – December 25 (the Nativity of Jesus), March 1, March 25 (the Annunciation), or even Easter. Eastern European countries (most of them with populations showing allegiance to the Orthodox Church) began their numbered year on September 1 from about 988 CE.

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In England, January 1 had been celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century to 1752 the year in England began on March 25 (Lady Day). So, for example, the Parliamentary record notes the execution of Charles I as occurring on January 30, 1648, (as the year did not end until March 24), although modern histories adjust the start of the year to January 1 and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

Most western European countries changed the start of the year to January 1 before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. For example, Scotland changed the start of the Scottish New Year to January 1 in 1600. England, Ireland and the British colonies changed the start of the year to January 1 in 1752. Later that year in September, the Gregorian calendar was introduced throughout Britain and the British colonies. These two reforms were implemented by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

January 1 became the official start of the year in various countries as follows:

1362 Grand Duchy of Lithuania
1522 Republic of Venice
1544 Holy Roman Empire
1556 Spain, Portugal
1559 Prussia, Sweden
1564 France
1576 Southern Netherlands
1579 Duchy of Lorraine
1583 Dutch Republic (northern)
1600 Scotland
1700 Russia
1721 Tuscany
1752 Great Britain (excluding Scotland) and its colonies

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There is no telling when and in which culture a new year’s festival was first celebrated. It was certainly known in ancient Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. Also, it is certainly the case that a new year’s celebration was independently invented several times – Mayans, Aztecs, Jews, Chinese etc. etc.

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The Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the pagan god of gates, doors, and beginnings, for whom the first month of the year, January, is also named. Janus was depicted as having two faces: one looking forwards, the other, backwards . This tradition may have started in 153 BCE, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls, after whose names the Romans identified the years, acceded to office on that day. After Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BCE and was subsequently murdered, the Roman Senate voted to deify him on 1 January 42 BCE, in honor of his life and his institution of the new rationalized calendar. Ever after 1 January was the unequivocal start of the new year in the Roman Empire until its collapse.

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There’s a host of New Year’s customs I don’t need to dwell on – champagne, fireworks, resolutions and so on. Besides those that have become widespread, there are also those that belong to individual cultures. One from Europe I observe is to do a little of something(s) I hope to do throughout the year. Sympathetic magic I suppose. I also follow the custom from the U.S. South of eating “poor” on New Year’s Day. Both greens and black-eyed peas, symbolizing wealth, are traditional foods. I usually cook up greens with ham and potatoes, hoppin’ John (rice and black-eyed peas), and hush puppies on New Year’s Day. My recipe for hush puppies is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/wright-brothers/ Here’s hoppin’ John as I made it today. Quantities are not necessary, but the amounts of rice and black-eyed peas should be about even, and they should dominate the dish.

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Hoppin’ John

Soak black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. The following morning drain the peas, cover them with water, add a ham hock and simmer until the peas are cooked. Meanwhile cook an equal amount of long grained white rice. Drain both the peas and rice, reserving the broth from the peas. Strip the meat from the ham hock.

Melt a little lard in a heavy skillet. Sauté a small amount of chopped white onion and the ham until the onion is translucent. Add the rice, peas, and a small amount of broth, and heat through. If you like you can add parsley, but it is not necessary. Serve with greens and hush puppies.

Nov 272013
 

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Today is the birthday of James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix), U.S. born musician, singer, and songwriter. Despite a relatively brief mainstream career spanning four years, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”

I am not going to ramble on too much about his life and career.  Chances are if you know that for live performances he first plugged his guitar into a Vox Wah-Wah pedal, then into an Arbiter Fuzz Face, and then into a Uni-Vibe, before connecting to a Marshall amplifier, I don’t need to remind you; and if you don’t, you probably don’t care.  So . . . some highlights, a few classic videos, quotes, and a recipe.

There are 3 clear phases in Jimi’s career:

  1. Backing musician in U.S.
  2. Breakout in England.
  3. U.S. and worldwide fame.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was granted an honorable discharge the following year. Soon afterward, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the “chitlin circuit,” eventually earning a place in the Isley Brothers’ backing band and later finding work with Little Richard, with whom he continued to play through mid-1965. He then joined Curtis Knight and the Squires.

After being befriended by bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals he moved to England in late 1966.. Within months, Hendrix had earned three U.K. top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary.”  No one in the U.S. paid any attention.  I am glad to have been part of this era. I was a teenager in England at the time and loved him.  I vividly recall the first time I saw him playing the guitar with his teeth. My parents were not amused.  Here’s “Purple Haze” – containing the phrase “ ’scuse me while I kiss the sky” which we all misheard as “ ’scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

He immediately had a following of British rock royalty – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton.

He achieved fame in the US after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when he famously set his guitar on fire.

I still howl with laughter watching the audience reaction – peace and love California hippy wannabees, already horrified watching The Who as Pete Townshend smashed his guitar and Keith Moon exploded his drum kit.  They were all relieved when a shell shocked Mamas and Papas came on, but Jimi skyrocketed to fame.

He closed out Woodstock in 1969, playing all day. His rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is legendary.

Most rock historians think of this performance as a commentary on the Vietnam war, but Hendrix himself said he thought of it as a way of uniting people in the U.S.

In 1970 he headlined the Isle of Wight Festival as the world’s highest-paid performer. On September 18, 1970 he died from barbiturate-related asphyxia, at the age of 27.

Here’s an assortment of quotes from Jimi I like:

It’s funny how most people love the dead, once you’re dead you’re made for life.

The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.

I’m gonna put a curse on you, and all your kids will be born completely naked.

I wish they’d had electric guitars in cotton fields back in the good old days. A whole lot of things would’ve been straightened out.

I’ve been imitated so well I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.

I’m the one that has to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to.

And . . . this from Clapton:

Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix.

 

For some reason there are quite a few drinks recipes honoring Jimi’s name, such as this one:

Hendrix Cocktail

1 bottle Jim Beam® bourbon whiskey

1 bottle Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee whiskey

1 bottle Bacardi® white rum

1 bottle Captain Morgan® Original spiced rum

5 bottles A&W® root beer

2 bottles Hawaiian Punch®

Mix all the ingredients together in a huge vat and stir with a big cauldron stick.

Or this:

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Jimi was a pretty mean drunk, however. When stoned out of his pumpkin on acid or weed, he was as mellow as they come.  But alcohol made him violent. He had several run-ins with the law because of it.  So I don’t feel like celebrating Jimi with a signature drink.

There is this psychedelic steak dish if you are interested, but it has little to do with Jimi’s preferences, I believe:

http://www.omahasteaks.com/servlet/recipe/jimi-hendrix-steak-experience

I found online a copy of a magazine questionnaire that was given to The Experience in 1967 by a teen magazine. For the question “Favorite Food,” Jimi answered “Strawberry shortcake, spaghetti.” Probably a joke.  He did not care for English food, and preferred Indian and Chinese restaurants when living there. I don’t blame him. In those days mainstream English food was still suffering from post-war rationing malaise – although I will repeat: English food is WONDERFUL. It just hit a bump during WW II. I ate curries a lot too in those days (along with steak and kidney pies and puddings, and plaice and chips).

I also remember reading that Jimi liked “soul food.” So here is my smothered pork chops and hominy with greens and hush puppies, learnt in coastal North Carolina in 1978 when I was living in a small fishing village doing research.  It would border on sacrilege to give a formal recipe; they are passed on by watching and doing, and exist in memory. Cooking comes from the soul.

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Smothered Pork Chops and Hominy with Greens and Hush Puppies

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Bacon grease is the preferred frying medium.  Loads of browned onions piled on a fried pork chop.

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You can get canned white hominy, but it is best if you cook it yourself.  Boil dried white hominy in plenty of water with chopped onions, garlic, and parsley. It usually takes 2 hours or more for the hominy to soften.

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Collards are the iconic greasy greens. Chop them and boil them in a large quantity of water with a slab of salt pork for hours and hours and hours.  My landlady started them after breakfast for that day’s dinner. And she cooked them EVERY day.

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Hush puppies are simply cornbread batter rolled into balls and deep fried.

Serves: anyone who is around at dinner time.