Bless It | Hoppin’ John

Gratitude goes beyond mine and thine and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. Henri Nouwen

The day after Christmas, my granddaughter Elodie and I cooked a menu of her design for the family. When tucked into bed that night, she said to her mother, “I am so happy and alive”.

Understanding that happiness is ever elusive, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle instructs, “don’t seek happiness”. The dearest of third graders nailed the specifics: happiness sneaks up when we are doing that thing that makes us feel the electricity of life. No doubt Elo will manifest this elevator ride to the rooftop by preparing good things to eat for others her whole life through.

Meanwhile at the other end of the timeline, I watch the unbridled joy of her swirling dervishness which brings me gratitude and that gets me jumping. Such observations are over there in the corner of my mind along with a blooming fondness for vegetable gardening, documentaries on nature and spiritual reading.

And then there’s also that frequent kick I get from channeling my grandparents, not in their roles as grandparents, but as the people they were. All of these current favorite things give me access to aliveness through the subtle feelings of gratefulness.

And I know without doubt; where I put my attention, so goeth my life. Each morning this coming year, I will set my sites on gratitude with a daily reading from a new collection drawn by the talks, writings and letters of Henri J. M. Nouwen. The meditations therein were compiled by Gabrielle Earnshaw, the curator of the Henri Nouwen Archives and Research Center.

Nouwen was a Dutch-Catholic priest who was engaged in social justice and community. For many years, he lived in a community of intellectually disabled men and women at L’Arch Daybreak. His documented experiences call us to see that even the pain and suffering in life can provide simple thresholds to fullness of being and an added appreciation for living.

I plan each morning to open my copy of You Are the Beloved and stream a roadmap to the essentials of being alive. Nouwen reflects on such thought provokers as: letting go, a new vision of maturity, what we’re looking for is already here and passages to new life. I can use some extra doorknobs on those topics and the hundreds of others that the book offers for introspection.

This hardback book is downright friendly in the way it rests in the hand. Each page is numbered by date in the top corner and contains plenty of free space to aid in your quiet approach to the day.

To get the lay of the land, I started by reading the last meditation, noting that I will read it again on December 31, 2018. And with a promise from Nouwen: You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last, “ I will undertake the year’s commitment.”

In gratitude, I open my arms to 2018 with a deep bow to my three year old grandson Robert. He showed the pathway with an essential prayer when, after a recent big sneeze he said, “Bless you, Me”.

*I received You Are the Beloved free from Blogging for Books, but was in no way required to provide anything but an honest review.

Hoppin’ John with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Greens

This is a love letter to those with eclectic taste buds. Each year, in preparation for New Year’s Eve, I fool around with something along the recipe lines below.

Before I ever heard of the “southern tradition” of hoppin’ john, I ate greens and boiled black-eyed peas with chow-chow for good luck at dinner tables across the south.

Finally as an adult, I got to mix it up for my own table. This year’s rendition looks something like this:

1 pound dried black-eyed peas (soaked in water overnight)
2 large onions, one peeled and halved and one diced
2 carrots
3 ribs of celery, chopped
4 bay leaves
kosher salt
8 ounces of bacon, turkey, or elk sausage (whatever on hand)
5 cloves of garlic, diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoons black pepper
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
3 chipotle peppers in adoba sauce, chopped
fish sauce and wine (optional)

Separately, prepare the sweet potatoes and greens:

Per person – 1 roasted sweet potato (stabbed a couple of times by a knife) at 400 degrees for 1 hour.

3 bunches of de-stemmed mixed greens (kale, collards, etc.) sauted in olive oil, soy sauce, chopped garlic and lemon juice.

Put the black-eyed peas, the halved onion, 3 bay leaves, and the two carrots in a large pot and cover all with about three inches of water. Turn up to a high heat. Bring to a simmer and turn down to medium low until the peas are tender – about 1 hour. Salt to taste towards the end of cooking peas. Put aside about 2 cups of liquid as you strain the peas, discarding the onion, bay leaves and carrots.

While the peas are cooking, you can cook the meat in a large pot until browned. If the meat is sausage or bacon, cut into pieces, if turkey or chicken, shred.   Add the diced onion and garlic and some salt. Cook until the onion begins to brown. Add cumin, paprika, pepper flakes and black pepper. Stir to combine the seasonings with the onion and meat.

Add the juice from the tomatoes. Add the chipotle peppers, and then the whole tomatoes, crushing them with your hands. Add one bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in the black-eyed peas. As needed, add the bean liquid that you put aside. If the dish needs an extra zing, splash in some fish sauce.

When preparing ahead of time refrigerate and later warm up with a tad of vegetable broth or wine.

Split open sweet potatoes lengthwise and fluff with fork. Pour a cup of peas and a cup of greens on top. Add coconut oil to the entire shebang.