Thursday, December 29, 2005 | Living in San Diego County is like living in several timeshares all at once. From our front door in La Mesa, any kind of cultural, topographic and climatologic diversity is no more than two hours away.
It was warm and dry at our house last week, a few days before Christmas, and it didn’t seem very Christmas-y at all. We went for a drive, just for something to do. We could have gone in any number of directions, but we chose west. Winter Pacific storm systems were pounding the northwest, and sending big surf down to us.
We were in Karen’s convertible. It was about 75 and clear as we left, but we put jackets in the trunk. Passing the airport on Harbor Drive, we could see a bank of fog peeping above Point Loma. Up Talbot to Catalina, where the fog was all around us. We left the top down and got jackets out of the trunk. Coasting down Hill Street, we could see waves breaking toward the cliffs, but what really changed for us was the weather. At home we had ceiling fans on. In the car we turned the heater on and turned collars up against the cool, damp breath of the fog.
It wasn’t Aspen, but at least it was cuddly. A touch of Christmas at the coast.
We cruised the cliffs, watched waves foaming white as snow over black rock promontories, and let ourselves get nice and chilled. We stopped at the Waterfront for a scotch, and as we sipped, the fog rolled over Kettner. Then it followed us home, and the temperature dropped. We turned off the ceiling fans, plugged in Christmas lights in the gathering gloom, and built our first fire of the season.
This week, for New Year’s Eve, the destination is Ireland, which is about a mile from our house. Nobody celebrates New Year’s like the Irish.
At Hooley’s, an Irish pub in the Rancho San Diego commercial complex, there is a countdown clock above the bar that today is spinning down the seconds, minutes and hours, until Irish New Year’s: 4 p.m. on Saturday, which is midnight in Dublin. I discovered this three New Year’s Eves ago, when my son Tyler, now a picker in Nashville, was playing with a band at Hooley’s on New Year’s Eve as, on the countdown clock, 4 p.m. approached. The place was rocking, and at the stroke of 4, it was Irish New Year’s. We cheered and lifted glasses and sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
It was the perfect hour to celebrate New Year’s. Two years ago, I asked a few friends to join me there, and by 4:30 we were back at my house for drinks and dinner, after which folks could hang around or have plenty of time to move on to other parties geared to midnight and San Diego New Year’s, while others of us turned in at our usual bedtimes.
It worked out perfectly; everybody was happy. I lifted a Bushmill’s nightcap to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, for his thoughtfulness in discovering this place eight time zones west of Dublin, and retired at 9:30 in such bliss that I didn’t even hear the fireworks at midnight.
Now it is a tradition. On Saturday, we will celebrate at 4, then home for cocktails and dinner: roasted chicken, cabbage and sausage, black-eyed peas, biscuits and whiskey bread pudding. The black-eyes, you know, are a southern American New Year’s tradition. Eating black-eyes on New Year’s will bring you good luck in the new year. Maybe the San Diego city fathers should inaugurate a community Black-Eyes Peas Feed at high noon on New Year’s at Golden Hall.
Standard recipe is half a pound of bacon, diced; one large onion, chopped; and a pound or more of black-eyed peas, fresh preferred but dried will do. If they are dried, soak them overnight.
Cook the bacon in a bean pot until it starts to brown, then stir in the onion, season with salt and pepper, and stir until the onion is soft and a dark glaze is starting to form in the bottom of the pot. Stir in the black-eyes with water just to cover and simmer until done, about an hour.
I am also going to add some pork bits pulled off of leftover smoked ribs. In the old days, if I wanted my friends to have black-eyes for luck, I had to send them home with some. No longer, now that New Year’s begins at 4 in the afternoon. Perfect.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.