Tomorrow is February 1, which means we’ve survived January. For Andrew and I specifically, it means we’ve survived a Dry January.
At the start of 2016, “Dry January” was all the rage. The idea of deliberately abstaining from alcohol for an entire month had great legs. Much like training for a marathon or partaking in a 30-day yoga challenge, Dry January offered possibilities for bragging, humblebragging, and commiseration on social media, and I suppose in real life too.
Unfortunately, January 2017 has provided us some very different fish to fry when it comes to cultural discussions. And while certain world leaders may give us cause to drink, tossing a few back doesn’t ultimately ease the heart or mind. The meme of Dry January has evolved into the creation of drinking games for whenever Donald Trump did… well, basically anything.
But on a more personal level, the typical over-indulgences of the holiday season had again caught up to the two of us by year’s end. We felt puffy, and likely looked it. Sleep wasn’t restful. Our days seemed foggy. We felt awful. Desperate times called for desperate measures: we decided to dry out.
Having a compatriot proved helpful: whenever my gourmand tendencies tried to get the best of me, Andrew would gently remind me of our goal. The first days were painful, but soon our sense of self-righteousness fuelled our dedication. My New York-based friend Amy was also drying out; I repeatedly reminded her that, if sober, she’d be in better shape to outrun whatever hell might break loose in America under the new president. I was only somewhat joking.
I came across a column on the excellent mentalfloss.com mid-way through my Dry January; as fascinated as we currently are by “alternate facts” and fake news, they’re nothing new.
During the United States’ experience with prohibition in the 1920s, the temperance lobby put out all sorts of questionable information about the detrimental effect of alcohol to dissuade consumption, including the following six:
• alcohol turns blood into water
• merely smelling alcohol could create deformities in unborn babies
• some wines (notably Madeira, the distinctive Spanish red) were made with cockroaches
• most beer drinkers die of dropsy (modern term: edema, the swelling of soft tissues due to excess water)
• alcohol consumption can increase the weight of your liver to 25 lbs. (its average weight is 3.5 lbs.)
• alcoholics’ brains can be used as torches because they are so soaked with flammable alcohol
I’m certainly glad that, at least for a month, we’ve staved off any of these ailments! But on a serious note, Dry January has made all of us aware of our drinking habits, and how alcohol affects us. It has also lowered our tolerance and sharpened our wits.
Other than birthdays, there’s no point on the calendar year that makes one come to terms with their mortality than the changing of the calendar. Dry January may be a trendy name for new year’s resolutions, but there’s truth within the adage of “a year older, a year wiser.”
Now, about American politics…
Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern comfort food; people of this region could certainly use some comfort right now. Save time and skip the blanching step by using a more tender green, like spinach.
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
3 medium bunches green Swiss chard
2 serrano chiles, seeds removed, chopped
½ cup cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs
Harissa powder and coarsely chopped dill
Preheat oven to 325°F. Toast caraway seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Let cool; finely grind in spice mill or with mortar and pestle.
Remove ribs and stems from 1 bunch chard; discard. Blanch leaves in a large pot of boiling salted water 10 seconds. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water; let cool. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Coarsely chop; transfer to a blender. Add chiles, cilantro, cumin, caraway, ¼ cup oil, and 1 cup ice. Purée, adding more ice if needed, until smooth; season with salt.
Trim tough stems from remaining chard; separate leaves from ribs. Tear leaves and chop ribs into bite-size pieces. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook onion, stirring often, until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender and onion is soft, 5–8 minutes. Working in batches, add chard leaves; cook, tossing often, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Pour in purée and use a spoon to create 8 wells; crack an egg into each. Sprinkle with salt and harissa powder. Bake until eggs are just set, 20–25 minutes. Top with dill. Serves 8.