It’s Beginning To Taste A Lot Like Nickmas

If you like potato pancakes, and corn, and zucchini, and Tex-Mex flavors, and standing over a stove in August frying things, you'll love these!

Years ago, before I met the man who would eventually become Long-Suffering Husband, I briefly dated a man from Buffalo. We’ll call him “Briefly Suffering Boyfriend.” I remember only three things about him: he had a tattoo of an old grandfather-clock face, showing the time his son was born, on his arm; he had a room in his house called Jesus’ room because there was a Jesus statuette in there, and not much else; and he coined the term Nickmas, to describe the period of celebration, merriment and indulgence otherwise known as my birthday. He didn’t last long–it could have been the distance between us, or it could have been the Jesus whiff, although as I recall, the statuette was ironic–but “Nickmas” has entered my lexicon, and that of many others, I daresay. The Nickmas season lasts anywhere from a week or 12 days to several weeks, depending on what festivities are planned. This year, since there will be an auspicious, if alarming, number of candles on the cake, I plan on living it up from today right until Labor Day, but the high holy day is the 14th.

Last year, I hosted the First and Only Annual Girls-Only BaconFest, at which eight of us consumed approximately 10 pounds’ worth of bacon, wrapped-and-toothpicked around various small pieces of food (olives, Townhouse crackers, water chestnuts, dates, etc.). I had planned on making an entire bacon-themed menu, from goat-cheese-and-bacon lollipops to peanut-butter-bacon truffles to bacon-dulce-de-leche ice cream, but–due to some BaconFest Eve celebrations that got slightly out of hand, I was too whooped to do more than shove toothpicks in shit and call it a day. What can I say–people get carried away with the Nickmas spirit. Or spirits. Did I mention that we also had bacon-infused bourbon and vodka? Yeah.

This year things are going to be a little tamer and a little less artery-clogging–but no less delicious, I hope. Tonight we kicked off the season with the traditional Nickmas Corn and Zucchini Fritters. After all, it’s right around this time of the year that local sweet corn and zukes tend to overflow the farmer’s market, and taste their most delicious. Since I love Tex-Mex flavors, I spice my fritters with cumin, chili powder and jalepeno, and serve them with a cilantro-lime sour cream. They’d be equally good with some freshly made pico de gallo, or even just plain sour cream.

Nickmas Fritters are both a half-year reminder of Hannukah–the deep-fried holiday–and a tasty way to make the most of seasonal produce. They freeze well (although they won’t be as crisp upon reheating, of course) and also make an excellent breakfast, topped with a fried egg, a spoonful of that pico, and perhaps some queso fresco or shredded jack cheese.

Nickmas Corn and Zucchini Fritters

1 ½ c. masa harina or cornmeal
½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. parmesan cheese
1 t. baking powder
1 t. garlic powder
½ t. salt
½ t. cumin
½ t. oregano
½ t. chili powder
2 c. fresh corn kernels
3 c. shredded zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
¼ c. minced onion
1-2 jalepenos, minced
1 c. milk
oil for frying

Place shredded zucchini in a colander; sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Let sit 15 minutes in a bowl or in the sink. Squeeze zucchini, removing as much water as possible; you may wish to place it in several layers of clean dish towels and wring. Combine corn kernels, zucchini shreds, eggs, onion and jalepeno.

Stir together dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients. Begin adding milk, a splash at a time. Depending on how much you squoze your zucchini, you may need anywhere from ½ – 1 cup or even more. You want this about the consistency of pancake batter.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a skillet (hey, if you need more explicit instructions than that, go ask someone who gets money for writing recipes). Using a 1/3 c. measure or ice cream scoop, make pancakes with the batter, flattening slightly. When they brown around the edges, turn. When the bottom is brown, remove to a paper-towel-lined plate (I mean, c’mon, you know how to fry things, right?).

Serve with:

Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

1 c. sour cream or Mexican crema
juice of 1 lime
½ c. cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

P.S. Why, yes, I do! Thanks for asking.

In Which She Chooses Sides in the Great Cilantro Debate

Mmm. Look at all that cilantro.

Homemade salsa (or pico de gallo, for you stickers and purists out there) is my default potluck offering. Especially in summer, when we are overrun with amazing heirloom tomatoes from our garden and our CSA both, we always have a pint (or quart) Mason jar of this in our fridge. And if you come to visit me then, chances are I’ll send you home with a container of it.

Even in the winter, homemade salsa (humor me, OK? It’s six characters shorter than “pico de gallo” and you know what they say about brevity) that uses canned diced tomatoes is still pretty darn good. The key to salsa, though, is fresh cilantro. After all, cilantro is what makes salsa “salsa,” and not just “chopped up tomatoes and onions.”

Are you still with me? Or are you one of them–the people who hate cilantro, who thinks it tastes like dish soap or laundry soap? It’s a love-it-or-hate-it herb, that’s for sure. I mean, you never hear anyone say, “Jeez, I can’t stand basil. Ew.” Obviously, I belong to the lovers. Since I cook a lot of Tex-Mex, curries and Asian-y food, we nearly always have cilantro on hand. I’ve made peanut-cilantro pesto. I’ve even used it in bloody Marys with tomatillos. In short, I pink-puffy-heart cilantro.

Salsa yields a lot of bang for very little buck. It’s so easy–if you can chop things, you can make salsa–but it impresses the hell out of people. “Did you make this?” they’ll say, and you can nod smugly.

I’m giving you approximations, because that’s how I cook. Start with small amounts of the potent stuff (hotness, onions, cilantro) and increase as needed. Remember that it will meld and evolve in the fridge, so try to make it at least a few hours in advance, then taste and adjust before serving.

Homemade Salsa/Pico De Gallo

4-5 big heirloom tomatoes, chopped or run through the food processor, or one 28-oz can diced tomatoes

one medium onion’s worth of mixed allium–onion, red onion, green onion, garlic, shallot–minced

pickled jalepenos or chipotles in adobo, minced, to taste

handful cilantro, chopped

juice of one lime or one-half lemon

Salt and freshly ground pepper

The thing with salsa is that once you make it fresh, you’ll never be able go back to that wretched jarred stuff. Chi-Chi’s, my ass.

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