There is a belief within African American culture that a pot of black eyed peas must be stewed on New Year’s Day to usher in the year. The beans promise prosperity and good fortune. They also, in a disguise of sorts, promise a slow day over the pot, on the couch; a hearty meal that will stick to your bones; the smell of something familiar; and a dose of resilience you’ll need as the year opens itself to you.
I serve mine with collard greens (the prosperity) and without ham hocks or turkey neck, unlike my family’s recipe. In the kitchen, the kids ask questions, but don’t participate as much, since beans aren’t their favorite. I chop the onions and am heavy-handed with the garlic and salt. I quickly roll up the collard greens on the cutting board that sits next to the stove, chop the stems and fold them in. I have years experience of this practice, of washing, rolling, and chopping the greens, as was always my duty as a kid. The kid version of me would hoist her arms in shame to see how hastily I chop and chuck them in the pan some 20 years later. They go in and the pan sizzles. The slow melody of a pop and simmer of vinegar and water misses my house this year as I try a new recipe.
“I don’t believe in good luck,” my friend said to me when we first met a few years ago.
“I don’t believe in God,” another friend said to me when we met many years before that.
Both of these people have shifted their tunes in one sense or another since, believing separately, for entirely different reasons, in a blessing or two. Most especially, the blessing of another person in this world. That’s stayed with me.
My beliefs are more rooted in the idea that maybe we just need to believe in something good, whether or not it’s concrete. River poured the sauce from the beans over to her rice, and I told her that they’d help her in the end. “It’s Good Luck!” I chanted. Oak took a bite out of his collard greens, and I praised the benefits of just a few bites. “You’ll feel more energetic,” I explained. Whatever it takes to get my kids to eat something good for them. A belief in something good.
This new year brought a different kind of excitement and an overcast feeling, too. It is just there. The vigor necessary to tackle things, coupled with true exhaustion, the marathon that was 2019, the mountain of 2020 that stands before me. Yes, there will be fields of daises, but to ignore what hangs on the edges this year is just silly. It exists.
A reader sent this form of encouragement, and it’s how we all should be looking at our collective community and the world: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” (Yasutani Roshi)
I ate two bowls of the black eyed peas and rice, and took one to a pregnant friend. I rode the train and the overcast, seemed to lift. The sun shone so brightly through the gated court yard of her building. I’m not sure about good luck, but I do believe in resilience. I’m not sure about how good I felt after the two bowls, but I believe in blessings. In the end, I’m not sure how I feel about meatless collard greens or even a vegan dish in its entirety, but I do believe in this space and people. Because I am here. You are here. I’m with you. You are with me. And maybe, that is more than enough to believe in this year.
My recipe is a slightly different version of Martha Schulman (no bay leaves etc) via The New York Times.