Hoppin’ John is classic low country cooking, having originated in South Carolina and probably with roots in African cuisine. I make mine with both thick country bacon and spicy Andouille sausage, but if you just wanted a nice vegetable forward dish, these could be omitted and the seasonings elevated.
Stories abound about how the name of this dish came to be. Some tales reference children “hopping happy” to see this meal coming their way, others speak to a crippled peddler who sold this food as a street vendor. One can only guess how Hoppin’ John became the lucky New Year’s Day meal of choice. Maybe it’s good for a hangover. This could be the year to find out!
HOPPIN’ JOHN / Serves 6 Generously
1/2 lb. thick bacon, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
1/2 lb. Andouille sausage
1 medium white onion, chopped fine
4 celery ribs, spiced medium
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
Chicken stock, if desired
1 bunch green onion, trimmed, chopped and set aside for garnish
1-1/2 uncooked long grain rice white or brown
Basil, thyme, cayenne, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 cans (15 oz) of black eyed peas, rinsed and drained. It depends on the ratio you like, it’s a personal thing. You may also cook your beans from scratch if not pressed for time.
Cook bacon and sausage in a large cast iron skillet with a tight fitting lid, set aside, slice sausage when cool.
Combine and sauté all vegetables in the bacon grease, stirring in salt and seasonings. Stir in the rice to coat with the pan drippings and spices.
Cover with chicken stock to the first knuckle on your index finger (good Grandma tip…first knuckle for rice, second for beans)
Cover and cook until rice has absorbed all liquid and appears to be done. If you need to add a bit more stock, please do.
Then add in the rinsed beans, bacon and sausage, gently folding in.
Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes on a very low flame while preparing the side dishes or salad you’d like to have to accompany the rice and peas.
Top with lots of green onion and have the hot sauce handy!
Everyone is lucky since this is a highly nutritious one pot meal that’s also economical.
“Imagine there’s no hunger. It’s easy if you try.”
John Lennon wrote those words decades ago. It’s more relevant now than ever. The gap between those who have and those who have not has never been greater. Climate change is only making it worse, the feeling is urgent. These changing times are wreaking havoc in so many fragile communities and food systems all over the world.
I’m a believer in positive thinking and envisioning our blue planet as an ecosystem that can benefit from elevated intention and, of course, deliberate and focused action. Gratitude has a place in this. Being grateful not only helps those around you to feel love, it creates abundance. Creative thinking will find the solutions for hunger and replace it with the mindset of abundance and the systems needed to support this.
Love makes a difference and can guide our actions. Raising vibration sounds scarily hokey, but I think it works. This means taking the high road mentally and spiritually and it’s not always easy. It begins at home and with ourselves in the most mundane of ways. We can get snagged and stuck in all manner of negativity…until we see it for what it is…then, and only then, can we affect change.
Once we know we’re in a neutral place, rather than a loaded one, we’re free. Free to act responsibly, creatively and to serve others. Karma Yoga. Free to feel deeply, create deeply and connect deeply with others. Which ultimately serves us and our relationships pretty well. It’s then easy to see how interconnected we all are. That feeling of connection is something I believe we all seek. It is understanding, tolerance, happiness, contentment and satisfaction over fear, illness and separation.
If everyone could do this, we’d all be making better decisions in our microcosm and in our larger world, our macrocosm . We’d realize the action, the pathway, which is uniquely ours to effect goodness. Why not seek out a charitable organization that truly works for people in need rather than it’s administration and donate? There are exhaustive lists available on the better ones to choose. Shine a light on an issue near to your heart, be it the ocean or the air, hunger in Afghanistan, or in your community. Dance with children or create a reading circle for elders, learn about hospice….or even learn to meditate!
May your winter and New Year be filled with crystalline clarity, love and grace.
Remember, a moment of stillness can be very illuminating!
Here is a classic recipe my family always made at Christmas time for gift giving, the Toll House Cookie from Nestle, modified by me with more vanilla and chips.
I prefer to roast the walnuts ahead of time for additional depth of flavor. In fact, the batter may be doubled and saved in the fridge, then scooped and bake as desired. Makes 5 dozen melty chocolate chip cookies.
2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 TSP. Baking Soda
1 CUP Softened Butter
3/4 C White Sugar
3/4 Light Brown Sugar
1 TB Real Vanilla
2 Large Eggs
3 Cups Chocolate Chips
1 1/2 Roasted Chopped Walnuts, optional
Preheat oven to 375°
Sift / Combine all Dry Ingredients
Beat sugars, softened butter and vanilla together until well creamed
Add eggs gradually.
When well combined, begin to add dry ingredients.
Finally stir in nuts and chips.
Drop desired size onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake about 10 minutes or until browned around edges.
Cool on wire racks, then package for holiday cheer!
Another pandemic Christmas is upon us. No traveling to speak of this year.So I’m finding my Food Safaris at home.
Not seeing many friends is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! I, for one, am falling out of the habit of seeing people, friends that used to be part of almost daily life. It’s even starting to feel normal. While some folks are “getting back to life” despite the Delta and other new variants of the Covid virus, I’m feeling content and yes, even blessed, to be healthy, without want, and able to help others in my community. Gratitude that my town wasn’t hit by a tornado or under flood waters.
This is not a time to be complacent but to give of ourselves and our resources to make the world a better place, starting at home. To say thank you to the people who we may sometimes take for granted. To help love, feed and shelter hungry animals. To give a gift or a toy to a child that otherwise may do without. To enrich a global village with a gift of livestock.
So again this holiday season it is a Safari inward to ask ourselves a few questions, challenge our reactions, and to travel out of our comfort zones, which is the only home many have.
May Christmas Spirit speak to you wherever it is that you worship.
Another Thanksgiving has passed, the snow in Maine came right on time. It’s been another moment of tough decision for people, making as yet a new variant of the Covid virus rocks our world. I chose to stay close, although I am longing for a feeling of connectedness with family.
I was fortunate to be invited to a small Friendsgiving in my neighborhood at Mike and Charlottes’ house.
My friend Charlotte and I are considered a couple of the better cooks in town, so it was indeed a feast for which we were all grateful. I brought the turkey, a locally raised gem…..and the gravy, green beans too. Charlotte made an oyster pan roast ( divine!), and lot of thoughtful side dishes.
Mike chose the wines for each course and we all made pies, a tart Tatin, custard, pumpkin and pecan rounded out the night. We ate and laughed until we all felt like footballs, finishing with a nice Port. We took time for Grace.
Honestly, although I missed my family and extended family of friends there is an abundance of goodness most everywhere in my life, and energy enough to help others in need, which is a year round opportunity, if we’re mindful enough to see it.
Let’s enter into this Holiday season with Yankee ingenuity, even if some store shelves are bare and gas costs more than we’d like it too, a mindful attitude, and full hearts for the many, many things that are right in our lives.
Stay safe and help others when opportunity presents.
In the wild world of catering, the summer catering season was the enthusiastic predecessor to the extended reality of the current covid surge. A few quick and hopeful months of thinking we could gather and celebrate “normally”. That maybe we’d seen the end of “this.”
At Laura Cabot Catering, we were fortunate to enjoy a full schedule these last few months, with a complement of different sorts of events, and many weddings. Eager brides and grooms gamely wearing their “Mr. and Mrs.” matching face masks. People tentatively in a group, revelry taking the edge off.
People hugged, then worried. Family-style dinner service was out of style. Our individual appetizer boxes became very popular. Buffets sported plexiglass sneeze guards and eco-ware took center stage as the washing up of china dishes became less popular and no one wanted to touch someone else’s glass. Branded masks became a thing and folks who had waited a year or more finally were able to have scaled back versions of their parties.
Now that the catering season in Maine is in the rear view mirror, and kids are back in schools where covid is alive and once again spreading, we have to wonder what the next season will bring.
If the number of inquiries pouring in is any indication, it will be rock and roll! We hope without face masks.
In the north country, spring foraging is one of life’s little pleasures.
The earliest greens that can be enjoyed come right out of the meadows, like early dandelion greens or from along Maine’s riverbanks. Now, per riverbanks,I’m talking about fiddleheads. Just after the dandelions go to bloom come fiddlehead ferns. Fiddleheads are the tightly furled shoot of the ostrich fern, reminiscent of the scroll on an instrument, are usually just right to harvest around Mother’s Day. At my restaurant, the Pine Cone Cafe, it was the most requested Mother’s Day treat and we always had it on our brunch menu in May as a rich quiche.
It’s important to be certain of a few things: One, make sure you have the right fern. The wrong one can make you sick. Two, be sure your harvest comes from a very clean area, waterside. There is no sense in eating wild food if it’s not from a clean area. Three, never take it all. We want to replenish the wild areas as the plants presence there serves many purposes, not just ours. Don’t trespass. Don’t eat this fern raw. All that said, fiddleheads have long been a part of a Maine spring and are good in stir fries, quiches, pickled, and so on.
Have ready one unbaked pie shell, your favorite recipe
2 tb soft butter
1-1/2 cup chopped white onion, pinch of salt
2 cups fiddleheads, cleaned of all brown papery stuff, washed twice, drained and steamed until bright
2 cups shredded farmhouse sharp cheddar
Salt, pepper and freshly ground nutmeg
6 eggs, beaten well
1-1/2 cup half and half or light cream
Make a custard of the beaten eggs and cream. Set aside.
Saute the onion until lightly browned, add salt , pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Toss with the cooled, cooked fiddleheads.
Pile into the uncooked pie shell, top with the cheese.
Pour the custard over all, don’t overfill if the custard is too generous. Dust lightly with paprika.
Bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet for about 40 minutes or until puffed and set in the center.
Let it rest for a half hour before slicing. Goes well with a crisp salad.
This is a little story about when I was six. My mother was a PA farm girl, studying for her nursing degree in Philadelphia, my Dad a city boy from Philly. He was recently out of the Army and at Temple University on the GI bill. When their worlds collided, they married. Back then there was a huge push towards something new, Suburbia!
My father bought into a brand new development called Cherry Hill, a sweet little house on a decent sized lot with lots of unspoiled woods and meadow around back. Formerly, and remnants still remain, it was rich farmland and horse country. The Garden State, right? We lived there until I graduated high school.
My early days were spent helping my Mother and Grandmother hang out laundry, iron dad’s white shirts, make mud pies and top them with flowers. I should have had an inkling then that food would be my passion.
When Granddad visited with Grandma the focus changed to foraging over housekeeping or making pies. “Hunting” for dandelions was what he called it. One fine spring day, much like this day in May, with Mother’s permission we set out the back door, down the hill to the creek, forged it and up the hill we went into a meadow. I remember it well, although it wasn’t long for this world, as it was earmarked to become a row of upscale track housing. Sadly, it was the last time I recall my grandfather too, as he got sick and passed away fairly soon after.
But then he was hale, handsome and hearty and hell bent on a sack of greens to bring home for my Grandmother, Laura’s hot dandelion greens with bacon. And at that time, the meadow, ringed with old growth trees, was awash in daisies in bud and loads of dandelions before their flowers showed.
Grandpa George showed me how to identify the greens. With his sharp jack knife, he’d pop them out of the ground by the root, also being good to eat, clean them in the field so as not to bring dirt into the kitchen… and Grandma did the rest. I remember those greens done up Pennsylvania Dutch style, cooked until bright green, then dressed with a sharp hot bacon vinaigrette. Grandma called them a Spring tonic.
It was an acquired taste but we loved everything about cooking something we’d “hunted” for… and we still do.