Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

The first day of 2010 has been a good one.  I'd been feeling a little under the weather until I figured out it was due to allergies, and so I took the proper medicine last night and woke up feeling much better, well enough to resuscitate my inner Martha Stewart (just a little) and make the traditional New Year's Day lentils with Italian sausage.  I used to make Hoppin' John, partly for the good luck and prosperity it promises and partly to honor my Southern heritage (of my four grandparents, three had roots in the South, in North Carolina, Alabama, and Missouri).  But although I think I make really, really good Hoppin' John, and Joe likes it, he's not all that big a fan of blackeyed peas.  So some years we honor his heritage, since in Italy people eat lentils on New Year's Day for prosperity in the coming year (lentils look like coins, after all). I found a simple recipe in The Romagnolis' Table, a wonderful cookbook from the 1970s which I'm sure is out of print now. Here's my adaptation of the Romagnolis' lenticchie:

Pick over and wash 1# brown lentils and put them in a biggish pot with:
1 chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
several good grindings of pepper
8 cups water or stock

Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, till lentils are tender.  If needed, add more stock or water. When done, season with salt (start with 1 teaspoon and add more to taste).
A sausage, some cooked greens dressed with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, some good bread and a nice glass of wine - it's a good way to begin the new year!

I wish you all, most sincerely, a year filled with joy, love, peace, justice, and prosperity.

But my new year really began yesterday, with a phone call from a dear friend I hadn't communicated with in months.  She moved away suddenly, I didn't know exactly where, but I knew life wasn't treating her well, and so I worried, tried unsuccessfully to reach her, and worried some more.  Before she left she gave me some of her plants, three roses and several pots of coleus.  When the cold weather threatened I took cuttings of the coleus and potted them up as a mixed "bouquet."  The roses have done well, too, though I left them in their pots for a few months, trying them in a few locations before putting them in the ground.  Now they're beginning to bloom again.  This is the first blossom.

In this picture there is also a statue of Kuan Yin, the boddhisatva of mercy and compassion, "she who hears the cries of the world." She must have heard my friend's cries. It was such a joy to me to hear her voice again and to learn that, yes, things have been terribly hard, but they're getting better.  Winston Churchill said, "When you're going through hell, keep going," and that's where she's been and what she's done, and in the process she has learned to find some peace within herself when it seems there is none to be found anywhere else.  But it has not been and is not easy. 

I love this rose, not only for its radiant colors, but because every time I look at it, I see my friend.  Plants are a special kind of gift because they are alive and because they keep growing, unfolding their individual, special beauty, and enriching our lives, as friendship does. But life can be so hard. Often we don't get the nurturing and nourishment we need.  Sometimes life rips us up by the roots and we have to struggle to replant ourselves in inhospitable soil, and the pain and effort may seem to require more of us than we can give.  I admire my friend so much for keeping on, for following Eleanor Roosevelt's advice: "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."  Because we can do those hard things.  In spite of drought and poor soil and lack of nourishment, we can bloom again, and again, and again.  And every day can be the beginning of a new year.

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