transformation tuesday #1

This is the first in a series of thirteen posts on bodywork, the primarily physical aspect of Project 1827. As this is Day Five of 2021, I guess this serves as a baseline more than anything else.

  • I weigh 222.6 pounds as of this morning. I am weighing in every day, as I need the reminder that it’s not always a downward trend, no matter what is done well or not well in the course of a day. I’m not going to stress about it.
  • I have hit The Thousand Reps a few times working out, prior to 2021. I have taken on the challenge of alternating routines when doing bodyweight. I have not worked out one time in 2021, so far.
  • I am terrible with cardio. It’s cold out! There’s snow on the ground! It’s early and I don’t want to turn off the alarm. If only making excuses increased circulation!
  • It’s going to be a hoot starting Couch to 5K at the end of this month.
  • My biggest problems, when it comes to diet and exercise, are grazing and justification. I had to toss out the candy we had all over the house for the holidays. I’m no longer allowing myself to say “It’s just —–” or “it’s only a little ——” not because people shouldn’t enjoy themselves, or that stupid “it doesn’t taste as good as skinny feels,” (which is a horrid phrase), but because I’m really good at taking a mile if I give myself an inch. If I could stick to inches, I’d take inches.

It is a matter of taking one day at a time, and preferably, the day I’m actually living in, rather than the one before me, or God forbid, the one I’ve already done.

How about you, dear reader? How do you work out? What do you do that you enjoy? That you hate? What goals have you hit before, and where are you seeing transformation in your life?

Oh, come back tomorrow–I’ll post about The Thousand Reps for Workout Wednesday. (I will also commit to doing The Thousand Reps tomorrow, an Epiphany of sorts.)

new year’s dinner

I like black eyed peas, and we eat them year round at Brightsong. (Brightsong is the name of our house. I guess I should explain that somewhere.) We did our part last year for good luck as we had black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, and we did our part again yesterday. There were complications.

I’ll be detailing three recipes in this blog post, with any alterations, substitutions or omissions noted: Hoppin’ John, from Mike Holtquist; Southern Collard Greens from Jocelyn at GrandBaby Cakes; and because I’m always looking for that cornbread recipe, this time I tried Alex Guarnaschelli’s. I did not take pictures of the cornbread process, as there were complications.

…before the cook…

The morning of, after watching it snow for a bit, I soaked one pound (a bag!) of dry black eyed peas in six cups of water. (I didn’t measure the water. I just put a couple inches above the peas, and set it aside.) B. was kind enough to chop up a bunch of leftover ham from Christmas, and to slice off and set aside a lot of ham fat, which I used twice in this preparation.

the greens.

I know, weird to start with pictures of everything but.

The first thing to develop is the potlikker–the broth or brine or jus or whatever you wish to call it that the greens are going to steep in as they braise. I took some of the ham, threw it in a pot, covered it with water, and got it boiling. I’m going to attempt a before-and-after sliding image thing, below? I hope it works:

So I didn’t line these shots up, but I think you can see what’s happened.

Now: I started in my smaller stock pot. That was a mistake. I had to transfer stuff into the big one, and I scraped the smaller pot because I wanted everything in the new batch. I also over-reduced in the beginning. This would not continue to be a problem.

While the ham was doing its thing, I destemmed, chopped and washed all the greens. Four bunches, which yielded this much:

Greens! Greens! Nothing but greens!

I threw the greens in with the ham stock, the dry spices, the Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar, and I topped it off with water. I thought as I kept filling, “Goodness, this is more than what the recipe calls for.”

Tamp down your greens, everyone. Shove those suckers down in there, or they’ll never reduce. Lesson learned! Also, the recipe and technique Jocelyn provides is amazing, and I’m always one for spicy food, but a teaspoon of crushed red pepper is a lot. I reduced the amount, and it’s still a lot. I have a theory as to why it was so overpowering in this batch.

As I brought that up to a boil, I cooked down the onions. That wasn’t in the recipe, but I prefer not to put raw white onion into stocks, stews and braises. So I rendered out some ham fat, and got those onions going for a few minutes.

So gross looking. So delicious.

I finally tipped it all into the bigger pot, brought it to what I thought was a good temperature, and left it to do its thing. Then!

the hoppin’ john!

So I want to say from the get-go, the Hoppin’ John was very good. I also want to say that I didn’t think when I pulled a recipe from a website called Chili Pepper Madness about the heat levels, and I didn’t even blink when making a version of his Cajun spice blend, where he talks about how his personal secret ingredient is ghost chili peppers that he grows himself. Mike Holtquist, I want to be your friend. If that’s not possible, I certainly don’t want to be your enemy.

Here’s all the ducks in a row:

Please ignore the onion hiding behind the jarred garlic.

An aside: I learned to cook, in part, from a friend of mine who was severely Cajun. He once told me “if it don’t start with onions in fat, it’s not worth your time, honey.” I hadn’t realized how much he’d influenced my love and knowledge of cooking until I discovered mirepoix–the French base of onions, celery and carrots–and I was so offended. The Holy Trinity is better–and not just because I was raised Presbyterian-adjacent. Please also notice the fourth person of the Trinity: jalapeƱo peppers.

Oh, also notice the spice rub, because that’s going to come back in a big way later!

Re-rendered ham fat with onion remnants

So I re-rendered the ham fat in the onion remnants, the fond? if that word’s appropriate here, and then browned the sausage and more ham.

I followed instructions after that–sauteed the Four-Ingredient Trinity, added the garlic and meat, then broth and black-eyed peas and the spice rub.

So I never remember if it’s three or four teaspoons make a tablespoon. It’s three. I reduced Mike Holtquist’s Cajun Spice Blend recipe to eight teaspoons, thinking it was two tablespoons. It was two and two thirds. I threw it all in the pot, brought it to a boil, and put it on a simmer.

Bringing it to a boil.

And then I waited. I found my copy of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, which is a great read in my favorite genre–food history. I’ll write a review of it soon. You can order it here. And then I checked on things.

Y’all. It was so hot. Overwhelmingly spicy. All of it but the cornbread.

lessons learned and meals served.

B. is my shining knight when my cooking collapses under the weight of my hubris. “Throw it out! We’ll have pizza! I’m never doing this again!,” I cried, running to the fainting couch I insisted we install in the kitchen. (I am exaggerating, but not as much as I wish I was.)

  • We added butter to the Hoppin’ John, and that mellowed it out; serving it over rice, the heat was still more than what I wanted, but I found it tolerable. And the overall stew was delicious.
  • The greens didn’t reduce because I did not put them at a rolling boil. So there was so much potlikker, with these really tender greens drowned in it. So we threw it on the biggest burner, cranked it to high, and got it reducing quickly; B. mellowed out the over-hot potlikker by adding soy sauce and the smallest amount of sugar. It was saved!

I know the greens were a hit because The Kid, who has told me every time I make any dish from the dark, leafy green family that she hates collard greens, ate the entire bowl. I forgot to take more pictures towards the end of the process–but here’s a couple from the meal.

They bite back! (I will take better plating pictures moving forward.)
I couldn’t wait on the cornbread, which was lovely–thank you, ICAG.

So do you do black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day? Do you eat as many as your years? Do you despise the tradition? What’s your go-to to kick off a new period of time? Leave me a comment, let me know!

next beginnings

My alarm went off at four forty-five today–I did not kick it from a regular weekday schedule, and I think my phone believes I’ve given up on holidays. (It no longer asks, “Tomorrow is Flag Day (Observed); would you like to forgo your alarm?) I gave my orange cat Copperfield his dose of pain meds, and saw that it was snowing out.

Y’all. I love snow. I wrote about it some yesterday, before the next beginnings of today, because I really love snow. It’s a blank slate. It’s a callback to good days of childhood. It makes the world–at least the world under inches, the world of a few miles–be so intentional and examine their priorities.

As I went back to bed at five a.m., having drugged the cat and thought about doing Vigils (I went to sleep hours past my bedtime, I was groggy), I thought, “Well there goes the Best Morning on the first day of the year.” I promptly let go of that self-criticism, and went back to sleep.

Do you have a morning routine? I’ve developed one in the last six months. Here’s a picture of it, rather than a list:

A picture of a lit candle, full coffee cup, assorted chargers, a smart watch, and four books: A Holy Bible, A Year with Hafiz, The Divine Hours, and a blue journal with a beetle sticker on nit.
Completely staged, but a good representation of what “the opening” entails: coffee, exercise, Hafiz, prayer, scripture and the omnipresent Blue Book. The candle and the sparkling water are bonus.

On what I call best mornings, I rise early. I say prayers, I have coffee, I meditate on Hafiz a little, and I study scripture. I convince myself I should work out, and then do so, trying to negotiate away sets with myself the whole time. I sometimes succeed at stopping early.

This morning, I woke up and stayed in bed a bit. I watched the snow come down with B in a quiet house. I had a bagel and cream cheese a friend of ours shipped from New York. And I still found the time to pray, and do the daily Psalms, and sit with Hafiz, and look out on the next beginning of the next year.

I know a few years ago, I would have considered the year blown by sleeping, or not following a regular order, or not hitting every barely-considered self-made barrier checkpoint from the beginning. Resolutions that don’t have room for failure–repeated failure, complete failure, overt failure, unintentional failure–aren’t resolutions but self-loathing written down in a numbered list.

This is what I know: Today is a new day, just like yesterday was, and just as tomorrow will be. Therefore today I can strive to become more, and maybe through God’s grace and increased discipline, I will. And maybe I won’t–and tomorrow’s a new day.

I needed the snow this morning. It’s really coming down, and though it is supposed to stop at noon, I kind of hope it goes and swirls and falls all day and night. A good reminder for one like me who needs to live in next beginnings.

it is going to snow

credit: Alain Audet, from here.

I grew up outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, and we had snow in the winter. Maybe not a lot, but some, and I cannot remember a winter without it.

I moved to Texas in 2007, and there were maybe three instances of meaningful snow. (There was also the time TCU cancelled classes for two days because of an eighth of an inch of snow, but that’s not to be discussed on this blog, surely.)

I am now in Kansas. We are expecting five to eight inches. I am very excited because I love snow. I am very excited, too, because it is to happen tonight, the last night of 2020, and into the morning of the first night of 2021.

This is not a blog about New Year’s Resolutions. This is a blog that begins, formally, on the first of January because I have benchmarks and goalposts in this continual work of transformation–I want to work toward something–and I am so very excited to start the new year.

I have recently talked resolutions with a few friends, and none of them do New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I don’t officially, either–I take inventory, alter course, and keep aiming for the next right thing. I love calendars and goal tracking–tonight’s my jam, y’all! It’s okay to start over again and again and again, so long as there’s progress. I realize it means it’s not a clean restart–there’s always nuance.

Today is a simple day. I will be taking care of some work matters that must be addressed. I’ll be reading for class in a few weeks, and then making dinner. Tonight, I have no idea what we’re going to do until midnight, because The Kid has decided she’s going to try to stay up. At some point, I will be archiving my orange book and blessing the 2021’s Blue Book. And I am going to watch the snow fall. I am so ready, I hope it does not get blown off course.

Welcome to arthur the lesser, though we begin in earnest tomorrow. Bundle up!