Black-Eyed Peas and Noodles for New Year’s Week (Berlin, Jan. 2, 2012)

When I returned to my Berlin apartment to find that the tiny shallots I left there in December had sprouted. I’ll take that as a sign of good luck for 2012.

Last year was a crazy one. To recap: I began 2011 by teaching my first course in the record-breakingly cold winter, and that was really fun. It makes me glad to think that teaching will be on the horizon in some form or other. April through June were trying: that was when I found out about research grants and had to decide how to approach the following 12 months based on work-related and personal needs. Then it was time to pack up my apartment and move abroad. London from July-September was fast and furious and it almost seems like it never happened at this point, although it was vitally important for the beginning of my dissertation. Berlin has gone by a bit more slowly, and at times it’s been more challenging. There have been more research-related problems, but also more growth professionally.

When I found out that I would be gone from Chicago for 12 months, the first thing I did (after having many talks with Cesar) was to install a series of social media apps. This was a way I thought I could keep in touch with the world as I moved around in it a bit more than I wanted to. Some didn’t quite catch. There was runkeeper (I don’t run much and have no GPS-enabled devices) and Folia (my windowsill garden was a flop this year, but I’m hopeful for next time around). Others did, like this blog and twitter, which I’m trying to use more often. It calms me down somehow to see what other people are doing every few minutes, and to share myself.

Looking back on it all, it was a good year, with a couple of bad, very stressful moments. I have a set of resolutions designed to fix those that I won’t go into here, but the act of typing it serves as an early reminder that I have my work cut out for me.

What will 2012 have in store? As far as graduate-student-related work goes, there are three major projects: an encyclopedia entry, a conference paper and another dissertation chapter. There’s also a potential move to Florence for six months. I’ll get to that in another post but it’s a distinct possibility.

Besides that, I hope 2012 brings more variety to my weeknight meals, more of the good life at an affordable cost, and less unnecessary angst over minor decisions (that has to do with those resolutions I mentioned). In two days, I’m going to Madrid with Cesar, who is then coming to Berlin- I’m really excited about those two things at the beginning of this year.

Many people in the southern U.S. eat black-eyed peas with rice (called Hoppin’ John) for good luck on New Year’s Day. I spent most of mine flying to Berlin, but once I got here I decided to cook them despite my fatigue from the flight. I didn’t have rice but used small noodles and onions that were left over in the cupboard and some bacon and thyme. It was a simple, hot meal that was rewarding after so much time spent in the airport, and really cheap to make. I guess it’s a graduate-student-in-Berlin version of Hoppin’ John.

Black-Eyed Peas with Noodles for New Year’s Week

Ingredients

1.5 cups of dried black-eyed peas, picked over and washed

2 cups of small pasta (I used tubetti and penne, but macaroni or shells would also work)

1 large onion, diced finely

Several strips (around 8 oz or 200 grams) of bacon or slightly more ham, cut into cubes

5-6 large sprigs of thyme

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbs e.v. olive oil

Water as necessary

Plenty of salt and pepper Hot vinegar (e.g. Tabasco) to taste

Directions

Brown the bacon in a deep pan over medium heat. Pour off all but around a tablespoon of the fat from the bacon and add the olive oil. Fry the onions until they become translucent and add the garlic and thyme, stirring until these become fragrant (hint: Don’t bother removing the thyme leaves from the stems, you can fish these out easily later).

Add the dried peas and cold water enough to cover the mixture by around 2 inches. Add salt and pepper and bring to a low boil, skimming off any grey foam that forms on the top. Let this simmer for 30 minutes, skimming any additional foam.

After 30 minutes, check the peas. If the water has reduced so that the peas aren’t covered, add a bit more to return it to two inches over the mixture- you want this to be a bit soupy. Adjust salt and pepper as necessary. At this point, bring another small pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until just underdone (around 6 minutes).

Strain and rinse in cold water immediately. Add the strained and rinsed pasta to the simmering peas and cook until the pasta is done – around 5-6 more minutes. Serve immediately and dress with several dashes of hot pepper vinegar. You may need to also add a bit of salt.

Happy new year to all.

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