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01 January 2006

salty sweetness and smiling surprise

My creation, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last night, I spent a quiet New Year’s Eve alone. And I loved it.

I’ve been to fabulous parties at the top of tall buildings. I’ve been to small gatherings with only a dozen friends. I spent all my formative new years with my parents and brother, willing ourselves to stay up late enough to count down the seconds to midnight, then cheer and clink glasses. When my parents had parties with adults, Andy and I would have onion dip (made with sour cream and that beef onion mix from a packet) and root beer (so we could pretend it was beer). We’d raise our Ruffles, coated in thick onion dip, then knock them together and say, “Chip dip hooray!” That was about as exciting as it ever was.

To tell you the truth, I’ve always rather disliked New Year’s. Too many expectations, of meaningful kisses at midnight and bubbling-champagne life. Too many resolutions, with unrealistic goals bound to be moribund two weeks later. And too many drunken people driving haphazardly down the roads.

That’s why I love my recent tradition best.

For the past five years, I’ve been down in Ashland, Oregon, with my oldest friend, Sharon. Her dad lives there, high in the hills, in a lovely home. I’ve known them all since the early 80s, so there’s no possibility of tension or expectations. For most of the days, we just lounge around on the couches in front of the fire, Sharon and I, reading for hours, sipping tea, and watching snow fall outside the window. Ah, that’s the life. Sharon’s father, whom I still call Mr. ---- , even after all these years, owns more books than anyone I know. Every single room, including the kitchen, has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. If I ever run out of something to read in that house, I will have run out of livng.

But the vibrant highlight of the weekend is the neighborhood New Year’s Eve party. Sharon’s father sends out invitations, weeks in advance, to everyone he knows in Ashland. Members of the Secular Humanist club. Fellow Toastmasters. People he knows from the senior citizen learning center. His martini club. And everyone from the surrounding blocks. Every year, we all wonder who will show up, and especially, what food they will bring. The new-age author with the glowing skin and bright-white hair is a lovely woman, but she often brings leftovers from other parties, including the year she brought eight shriveled chicken wings on an enormous plate. The classical guitarist and Mandarin translator brings his shy wife, who barely speaks any English. Poor woman -- she just can’t cook. Within an hour of the party starting, nearly every plate of spectacular nosh is picked clean, except for the one holding her wilted, tasteless food. There’s the jocular next-door neighbor, a perennial favorite, who lilts stories in a mock-Irish accent and talks behind his hands with Sharon and me about everyone else around us. The house fills with senior citizens who have long ago thrown away any notions of being anyone other than themselves. Sharon and I are generally the youngest ones there by thirty years. And they all stay up late, way past midnight, celebrating on two glasses of champagne, while Sharon and I stand there yawning, wishing we could go to bed.

I love them.

I missed them this year.

This year, flights to Ashland were prohibitively expensive. I kept waiting for the prices to retreat, but they didn’t. And I’ve been working on a project that simply must be done soon, and I really couldn’t afford the five days away from that, either. So, I made the hard decision. I stayed at home instead.

Sharon will forgive me. Eventually.

Since I made the decision not to go at the last moment --staving off the inevitable-- everyone in Seattle assumed I’d be gone. I could have gone to a dozen parties, or spent a quiet night on the island with my brother and sister-in-law, and my nephew. That was tempting too. But I realized I relished the chance to be alone, wonderfully alone. There haven’t been too many chances for it, lately. Usually, with teaching and my wonderful cadre of friends, I’m surrounded by people. I may live alone, but I’m rarely alone.

But I love my alone time.

New Year’s really calls for some quiet contemplation.

After one pm, I was in the house to stay. Rain splashed down hard in all the puddles outside. I had all the food I needed. The house was clean, for once, so no need to feel guilty I wasn’t working on it. For hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Working all those muscles made me feel alive. I watched more episodes of Arrested Developmentwhich has become my new dvd obsession. (Haven’t seen it? Come on!) Sharon and I talked on the phone several times through the day, even during the party. (Yes, she has forgiven me.) And I sat hours of meditation, a chance to dive in more deeply than I have in months.

I came up to the surface of me feeling calm.

And of course, I cooked. Four or five dishes, some for a feast I made myself for dinner. A three-course meal by myself. It always makes me sad when I hear single people saying they can’t cook for only one, that they’re saving up their recipes for the days when they’re finally married. Not me. I wouldn’t mind being with someone -- in fact, I’d welcome him, if he’s the right man -- but I’m not putting my life on hold until he happens to walk up to my door. There’s just too much good food to experience, to chew slowly and smile. So I treated myself to a feast.

Around midnight, I was reading, with a little music on. What was I reading? Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers. Don’t laugh. I mean it. Do you remember him? Not the Eddie Murphy imitation of him, or the jaded view of him, but the man himself? He was marvelous. Now, I know it’s not cool for an adult woman to admit that she loves Mister Rogers, but neither is spending New Year’s Eve alone. I’ve long ago let go of cool. Instead, I just love him, his patience and kindness and humility.

And then I read this quote:

“For a long time, I’ve wondered why I felt like bowing when people showed their appreciation for the work that I’ve been privileged to do. It’s been a kind of natural response to a feeling of great gratitude. What I’ve come to understand is that we who bow are probably -- whether we know it or not --acknowledging the presence of the sacred. We’re bowing to the sacred in our neighbor.

You see, I believe that appreciation is a holy thing -- that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred. As I bow, I always feel like saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

—Mr. Rogers

And so, yes, there I was, on New Year’s Eve, crying happy tears of gratitude at a Mister Rogers quote. I realized I didn’t need to be in Ashland, or at a fabulous party, or anywhere else but in my own home, by myself, to ring in this new year the right away. I was here.

And being here, on this website, with all of you reading, has been one of the gifts for which I am most grateful this past year. I hope the recipes bring you joyful mouthfuls, the photographs some sensory pleasure, and the stories at least a little occasional laughter. I just can’t believe my luck.

I hope that every one of you reading has a year full of laughter, surprises that enrich your life, and people to love, fully. And of course, meal after marvelous, memorable meal.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin John

One of the dishes I made last night was some Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day. This Southern dish of black-eyed peas and rice, simmered with ham hocks, is meant to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. I’d never made it before, so I have no idea if it tastes authentic to someone raised on this, year after year. But it sure made a fine breakfast this morning. Yes, for breakfast. Why not start the day with luck and prosperity?

We could all use some of that, particularly those of us in this country who often don’t have enough money for food. Let’s do what we can to make their meals more memorable too.

two small smoked ham hocks
one pound dried black-eyed peas
two medium onions
five cloves garlic, peeled
two bay leaves
one cup long-grain rice (I used jasmine)
one can diced tomatoes
one jalapeno pepper, diced fine, seeds removed
one medium red bell pepper, diced
one medium green bell pepper, diced
three ribs celery, chopped
two teaspooon Creole seasoning
one teaspoon dried cumin
four stalks fresh thyme
one teaspoon salt
green onions, sliced

Put the ham hocks, black-eyed peas, one of the onions (cut in half), the garlic, and bay leaves in a large Dutch oven or stockpot, with six cups of water. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the beans are tender. This will probably be about two hours.

When the beans are tender, and the entire mixture smells deeply of smoked ham goodness, add three more cups of water and stir. Bring this to a boil again, then add the rice into the pot. Put on the cover and simmer it all until the rice is growing tender, about ten minutes.

Add the minced vegetables and peppers into the pot. Cook for a further eight to ten minutes, until the rice is entirely tender.

Top with sliced green onions and hot sauce. Try some gluten-free cornbread on the side.

Serves eight to ten.


At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely post.


At 2:23 PM, Anonymous kathryn h said...

Shauna -

How wonderful! I love your blog! I found it through a friend of a friend, of a friends blog!

The receipes look delish! I can't wait to try the pork and squash one. I love to cook, but have not gotten a chance to experiment much since I was diagnosed celiac. You are such an insperation! Thanks.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Nicky said...

Have a wonderful, happy and joyful new year Shauna. While I don't necessarily understand the hype about big party's at top floors in tall buildings, we've been there, too, of course had our own NY eve parties with friends and family and all, but this time it was just O. and I and two friends. And believe it or not, we didn't miss a thing - sometimes the quieter moments are so much more worth...all the best!

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Peggy said...

I think I puddled up when I read your post. Stumbling upon your blog was one of my happiest surprises of 2005 -- so, in the spirit of Mister Rogers, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Bakerina said...

Shauna, this is just grand, really thoughtful and funny and warm. I look forward to reading more beautiful prose in 2006.

Incidentally, one of the last public appearances Fred Rogers made before his death was as the commencement speaker at my alma mater, Chatham College in Pittsburgh. I think that grown women who admit they love Mr. Rogers are *very* cool. :)

Happy New Year to you, dearest.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous another outspoken female said...

Happy new year Shauna. May there be many delicious moments in this coming year.

My best NY eve was spent a few years ago with one of my most cherished friends back in NZ. She and her partner no longer drink alcohol and although they were happy for me to bring a bottle, an alcohol free entry into the new year sounded like a nice change. We sat beside the fire (an inclement Wellington summer) and talked and laughed til after 3am. It was a most heart warming, affirming and lucid NY eve.

I also don't get the 'not worth cooking for one' philosophy. It is like saying you are not important enough to take care of (do people say its not worth bathing/brushing your teeth etc if its only you too?).

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Zaak said...

Hi Shauna, got to your blog through the scrolling "Explore Blogs - blogs updated at..." Glad I did.

The Mr. Rogers Quote is fantastic. I've read a lot of cynical reviews of some films or books or music albums lately, so it was quite good to read a sincere response to sincere prose.

I agree with him. God is never far. I was chastised last year for not accepting praise and thanks gratefully. Still learning to find Him.

At 10:55 PM, Anonymous berett said...

you do the black-eyed peas thing as well? And here, i thought it was just some weird wilber family tradition. my madre and padre went to a party/gathering to day, and my mother decided that it was so important for me to eat some that she scooped a little into and empty tupperware, and brought two bites of it home for me. But anyway, happy new year!! May it bring you triumphs, essays, meals, friends, laughter, and so much more.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger sailu said...

Wishing you and your family a happy and safe new year,Shauna!

At 2:28 AM, Blogger David said...

Glad you had a nice New Years...and here's a toast to doing what you wanted to do!

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

Shauna, whenever I read your posts - and this one in particular, I feel like curling up on the couch to read it - too bad it's not in paperback ;-)

You've been a wonderful inspiration to so many this past year, even for those without Celiac disease. You fill us all with joy and the belief that anything is possible.

Thank you so much for sharing with us. I know 2006 will be your best year ever!!!

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous beastmomma said...

I love Arrested Development, Mr. Rogers, and peaceful New Years! Thank you for letting us into your world!

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Brendon said...

Hey, you made Hoppin' John too!! Cool. My DW and I love it, and we eat it every new year's day. Have a great year in 2006!

At 7:14 PM, Blogger J said...

hi shauna, thank you for a beautiful i am an arrested development addict too...happy new year to you and your loved ones and may 2006 be another delicious gluten-free year!

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Dena, thank you. And thank you for coming by.

Kathryn, I'm so glad you found my site! Thank you for your kind words. I hope you'll come back often.

At 1:45 AM, Blogger Pille said...

Hi Shauna - a very happy new year to you! I enjoyed reading your very personal and emotional post - and totally understand your wish to party on your own every now and then:) I had a great NYE party with some friends in Estonia, but then I don't see them so often because of living in Scotland, so I couldn't justify a night of contemplation on my own this time..
Looking forward to reading your posts of 2006!

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Cate said...

Wow. I was coming here to urge you to participate in my new weekly event (ARF/5-a-Day Tuesdays), which I still hope you'll do, but was so moved by your post. I love my alone time too, and here's another grown woman not afraid to admit she loves Mr. Rogers and everything he stood for. Here's to a wonderful 2006 full of gratitude.

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your pictures and description of your foods are fabulous! I can almost taste them from here.

I have 2 young kids who have been gluten and casein free for over 4 years. I've recently come across some mixes that I really like.
1) 123glutenfree...the poundcake is very good and the only GF birthday cake that I've ever made for my kids that the adults actually enjoyed too.
2) Namaste Foods...their blondie mix with added chocolate chips is great
3) The Cravings Place...Ooey gooey chocolate brownies can fulfil a chocolate craving in short order
4) Manna from Anna (Breads from Anna) from gluten evolution. Really great if you're needing to avoid all of that rice.

I've also learned that when baking from scratch, if you use a finely ground flour (like Authentic Foods brand) you'll get much better results!

At 3:53 PM, Blogger michelle said...

Happy Joyous, Wonderous, Alive New Year to you, Shauna! I loved this first post of 2006, and that you are far beyond anyone else's expectations for how to spend a New Year's Eve - it sounds perfect to me. I've missed your posts and I will definitely be back when I get home from FL to catch up with you. Have an incredible first week, my dear, for I am sure that 2006 holds many good things for you.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Dianna said...

Shauna, Just found out I have Celiac Disease. Appreciate your outstanding blog, especially your writing abilities and the quality photography and great recipes. Re: your broken leg, I too had a stress fracture this past fall over a minor turned ankle. They did a bone density test and found the Celiac Disease had caused such malnutrition, that it in turn caused severe osteoporsis. But I too am glad to have a diagnosis, and from this knowing place can respond through proper diet, weight bearing exercises, etc. Have set your blog site onto my favorite list, and look forward to learning as much I can about Celiac Disease. Am seeing conflicting reports re: oats and Celiac Disease. Also an unusual symptom has appeared: sore throat?

Dianna (REALTOR, and ASID Allied Designer, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Heidi said...

I would have to agree.

p.s. you have a great blog site

At 5:33 PM, Blogger inlandchi said...

dianna: I experienced a sore throat for a few years before I found it was caused by acid reflux. Getting off food I am allergic to helps, but I went to the doctor for some acid-reducing medication which I use when I need it. Check out that this is not the cause of your sore throat.

I am starting to feel better as I learn to identify and eliminate all the sources of gluten in my diet. Hope you will soon experience increased good health! And to everyone who hasn't tried it yet, I got a great new book for Gluten-free bread recipes called "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" by Bette Hagman, published by Henry Holt. The recipes for flour mixes including bean flour are really good. I tried pancakes yesterday that I would swear were made from whole wheat. And I made a really good pizza crust with only a few tweaks( adding some extra flour to make a firmer crust that I could work by hand and reducing the rising time.) Try them if you haven't already!

At 10:42 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Nicky, I'm so glad you had a good, quiet new year's. Maybe it's just that we're all growing older, but suddenly the thought of a big party and lots of alcohol just doesn't seem like the right way to usher in the new year. Anyway, thanks so much for coming by.

Peggy, thank you, my dear. Reading this comment just made my day. I'm so happy to have you here.

Bakerina, thank you, thank you. You know how much I adore your site. Having this wonderful little message from you really did start my year off right. And I'm with you -- women who love Mister Rogers are cool, now that you put it that way.

Outspoken female, brava! You have said it exactly right. Why would we not want to take care of ourselves? It sounds like you do.

Zaak, thank you so much for stopping by.

Happy New Year to you, dear dear Berett. I'm glad to know your mother insisted on the black-eyed peas for you. That means luck and prosperity for your wonderful family. And camp isn't that far away now....

Sailu, thank you for stopping by. It was lovely to discover your blog.

David, well, I probably would have enjoyed being with you in Paris even more. But after I read about those power outages.... Okay, Seattle is just fine. Have a wonderful year, sir.

Ruth, my goodness! Thank you so much for your ever-so-kind words. I adore having you here, and being able to read your blog. Here's to many more connections in 2006!

Beastmomma, thank you so much. And anyone who loves Arrested Development AND Mister Rogers? Yahee!

Brendon, your hoppin john sounded great. I hope that you and DW have a marvelous year.

J, I'm so excited to know that you're addicted to Arrested Development, way over there on the other side of the world. Have a marvelous year, my dear.

Pille, oh and I'm looking forward to yours in 2006 as well. Happy New Year.

Sweetnicks, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving this lovely comment. Honestly, all of these comments are making me tear up a little. And I'll be happy to participate in the ARF round-up next week!

Anonymous, thank you for the hints. I know all those mixes you mentioned, except the 123, which I'll have to check out. These days, I'm using fewer and fewer mixes, I have to say. Baking from scratch is really satisfying me, at the moment. Congratulations to you, feeding your kids so well!

Michelle, thank you so much, my dear. And you're off to Florida, after a week of being away for the holidays? What am I supposed to do without your blog? sigh. Have a joyful, peaceful 2006.

Dianna, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I agree with Islandchi's suggestions above mine. Also, sometimes dairy aggravated my throat, after I was recently diagnosed. Not anymore, though. What are they doing for your osteoporosis? Luckily, mine wasn't so bad, but that's an interesting connection you made with the celiac and my broken foot. Hm.

Heidi, thank you so much for stopping by!

Islandchi, thank you for your suggestions for Dianna, which I hadn't been able to comment on yet. I do know the Bette Hagman books, and they're quite good. She cleared the path for all the rest of us. But I'm starting to make my own mixes, and I have to say I really love teff flour, which she doesn't really use. There are so many ways for us to cook! I'm thrilled that you're starting to feel much better after cutting out the gluten.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Rachael said...

ACK! this is driving me insane. Dont ham hocks have gluten in them? The additives maybe? Obviously not in this case, but where did you buy yours? What brand were they?

Thanks peach!

(PS - I just got an angry-ish email from a woman claiming all cheese is verboten to GF eaters...yet you say all is good except blue cheese. My oh my is this business complicated! I am SO glad you are a sensible resource.)

At 3:30 PM, Blogger britni said...

What a beautiful post! I feel much the same about New Years.
I grew up near Ashland and I don't get the opportunity to go back, but I remember it being a cozy place where I was always safe. Hope you make it down there soon :)


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