This piece was previously posted on JewHungry.
It was the black-eyed peas. Isn’t that where all great Southern Romances start? They should. I guess that isn’t really where it started. But that is definitely when I knew my life was about to change. Those black-eyed peas made me open up my eyes a little wider; they made me take notice.
I mean come on, y’all: A man who will hand you a bowl of black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread when the rest of the world looks at you like you’ve lost your mind? That’s a man you need to pay attention to; that is a man you should keep. If I were Scarlett O’Hara I would have required a fainting couch. Instead, I grabbed my bowl of peas, gave a wry smile and went on my lunch break.
I started working in a restaurant during graduate school because that’s what graduate acting students are supposed to do. Actors work in restaurants. I guess actors are really supposed to be waiters, but I am far too clumsy to jump in the deep end like that. Honestly, I’m as likely to fall down as I am to take another breath. Volunteering to carry a tray full of drinks would be disastrous for everyone involved. I needed to work up to something like that, so I started out in the shallow end as a host.
Being a host at a busy downtown Chicago restaurant is not as glamorous as it may sound. Aside from looking up and having Maya Angelou or some hot baseball player in my face, there wasn’t a lot to brag about. Why do people act like fools when they go out to eat? Working at that welcome desk was like working in a pressure cooker; there was always a new drama, someone was always upset and everyone was hungry. It was pretty miserable.
When I look back on that time in my life it’s pretty clear to me that I had “dropped my basket.” Why did I stand at that desk night after night organizing a dining room for $12 an hour? Oh, right, it was so I could avoid thinking about how my life was in the toilet.
I had moved to Chicago to study theatre. Exciting! I had arrived with a boyfriend and a plan. By the time I got out of school I had no boyfriend and my only plan was to not end up back in Arkansas with my parents. Everything had changed and it was not necessarily for the better. I should probably have been doing something more productive with my time than handing out menus and putting asses in chairs, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.
By the time Andy arrived I had almost given up. This was it. I would just be a host for the rest of my life. There are worse things and far worse jobs. I noticed Andy on his first day of training because I had never seen a restaurant manager smile so much. He was like a little miniature sun. He was glowing. When you’re training to be a manager in a restaurant they make you work in all of the different departments. It’s supposed to help you become acquainted with how everything works. It’s mostly just low-level torture.
His first week of training was in the kitchen. There he was behind the line in his little chef’s outfit smiling like a dang crazy person. No one has ever looked so happy standing in front of 1400 degree charcoal grills. No. One.
I was on my lunch break and was super excited because we had a new special. It was pork medallions over a bed of greens and black-eyed peas. The only trouble was I didn’t want the pork. I just wanted a huge bowl of those black-eyed peas and a slice of cornbread. It reminded me of home. I was willing to pay whatever I had to for those peas. I placed my order and waited. Then the chef came over to me.
“You want the pork special without the meat?”
“Yep, I just want the black-eyed peas.”
“Just black-eyed peas? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m from the South. That’s how we do. Is it a problem?”
I waited. My order did not come up. Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I walked over to the only friendly face in the kitchen. I explained my order to Andy and the situation. I had paid for the peas, I just needed somebody to make them happen.
“You just want a bowl of black-eyed peas?”
I watched as he walked over to where the peas were kept. He took a bowl, filled it and handed it to me. I smiled and walked away.
I smiled because in that moment I knew that I had just met my husband. I know it sounds goofy, but it’s true. I knew when he handed me those black-eyed peas that it was done. There were years between this moment and our first date. Years. I was not ready to be dating someone and he was in a relationship. That was almost 10 years ago.
I am always on a quest to add meaning to what is happening in my life. How did this happen? What does that mean? I really believe that G-d is sending us messages all the time. I’m constantly trying to figure out what they are. What is G-d trying to tell me? I ended up working in that restaurant for a lot of reasons. I met wonderful people, I had amazing experiences. I learned so much about myself and about how the world works. That restaurant helped me to become a grown up. When I really think about that place, what I know for sure is that it brought me my husband. Yeah. G-d works in mysterious ways.
Our wedding anniversary is tomorrow, Oct. 17. When I think of us I always think of black-eyed peas. I know this is super Southern and might sound a little weird for to your Northern ears, but you really should try this. It’s easy and delicious. It’s my version of a Hoppin’ John.
1 large yellow onion chopped (whatever kind of onion you love can be used)
3 carrots chopped
3 celery sticks chopped
2 15 oz cans of black eyed peas
1 15 oz can of whole kernel corn
2 10 oz cans of Rotel (I’m from the South, ya’ll)
10 oz frozen Lima beans thawed (you can used canned if you like)
2 cups rice (I use brown rice because Dr. Oz says so…2 bags of Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice will do the trick)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
Whisk olive oil and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside.
Everything good starts with a fried onion, y’all. Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until tender. You don’t want these veggies to crunch and you don’t want them mushy. It’s a delicate balance. Do what’s right for you. I don’t think this takes more than five-ish minutes.
I use a lot of canned veggies because I’m always in a hurry. You can use frozen veggies if that’s your thing. The measurements aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Don’t be scared to experiment with the amounts for the stuff you’ve got. Mix your fried onion/carrot/celery goodness with the black-eyed peas and other veggies. Combine everything until you’ve got a real good distribution of all of the ingredients. Toss in the oil & vinegar mixture. Stir that around until everything is coated. Add salt and black pepper to your liking. This makes a really great vegetarian dinner or side dish. Enjoy!