The Sacred Twelfth Day Feast for Southerners

This year I actually bought a can of smoked herring to try the traditional Urglaawe meal of herring on Twelfth Night, but I still won’t skip the traditional New Year’s meal that I’ve been eating since I was a kid: black-eyed peas!

When I was a kid my mom told me that you have to eat black-eyed peas on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day “for good luck.” Sometimes we’d just have some from a can as a side dish to whatever else we were having for dinner, but we’d always try to eat at least a few. There used to be a chain restaurant called The Black-Eyed Pea that we’d go to sometimes, and they would give you a special free cup of black-eyed peas with your meal on New Year’s. Of course, it was also packed on New Year’s and hard to get a table! Sadly, it looks like now that restaurant is out of business. I’d usually get the chicken-fried steak there. Yum!

Later I found out that you’re supposed to eat collard greens and cornbread with your black-eyed peas, so that’s how I do it now. I also cook the peas with the leftover ham bone from the Yule ham (with any leftover meat still on it), because the peas need some kind of smoked pork in them. The leftover meat ends up falling off the bone, and then I shred it up into bite-sized pieces and mix it back in.

In addition to the lucky peas, the collard greens represent money. The golden cornbread and pork are also symbols of prosperity. Overall, it seems like a very Vanic meal. In Urglaawe, the New Year’s feast is in honor of Frey, and the traditional fare is pork and sauerkraut. Well, collards are really just a more heat-tolerant, non-heading variety of cabbage, so I think this is close enough as a Texas equivalent of the traditional Twelfth Day feast for Frey.

You cook black-eyed peas about the same way you’d cook any other dried bean, though they are a different species than the common bean (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.). They’re actually more tender and take less time to cook than common beans. It’s not even necessary to soak them, but if you do, they only take about an hour to cook. If you don’t soak them, they take about two hours to cook. I sweat some onions first, and then add the ham bone and a pound of peas, cover with water, and simmer until done. Simple!

There are actually more varieties than just the black-eyed ones. There are solid red ones, solid black ones, ones with purple eyes instead of black, etc. The ones that aren’t black-eyed are usually called “cowpeas” or “Southern peas.” I’m sure any of the colors would work for the magical meal. The black-eyed ones are just the ones most likely to be found at an ordinary grocery store.

As for the collard greens, I have some growing in my garden right now that are ready to harvest for the feast. Collard greens are just the southern version of kale, without all the trendiness. No really, collards and kale are just different varieties of the same species of plant! And they’re also the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I grow collards in my garden every winter. Yes, I grow kale too, but the collards do better. I grow mustard greens as well, and sometimes mix them in with the collards when I make a “mess o greens.” Mustard greens have a “bite” tot hem, while the collards are a lot milder, like cabbage. Turnip greens can also be mixed in, and even diced up turnip root, but my turnips are not anywhere near ready yet.

To make a “mess o greens,” I rinse the greens from the garden well (make sure there aren’t any bugs hiding in there), cut out the tough rib in the middle, and then slice them up into bite-sized pieces. Then I sweat some onions in bacon grease in a pot, add in the greens (keep in mind that they shrink a lot when they cook, so you have to have a lot of them), get the greens to wilt a bit, and then add water or chicken stock and gently simmer them.

In most cases I like my vegetables a little on the crispy side. Collard greens are an exception. In this case you’re supposed to cook them until they are very soft, maybe about half an hour. Then I add a splash of vinegar (members of the cabbage family really benefit from something acidic added to them) and salt and pepper to taste.

But if you boil vegetables for a long time, all the nutrients come out into the water, right? Well, in this case, the liquid from the cooked greens is called “pot liquor” and you are supposed to drink it. You can dunk your cornbread in it.

Which brings me to the golden cornbread, which is made with buttermilk and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Texans also don’t like very sweet cornbread. I’ve had cornbread before that reminded me more of yellow pound cake than cornbread. In my cornbread, there is more cornmeal than flour (because it’s CORNbread), and only 2 tablespoons of sugar (because it’s cornBREAD, not cake).

Sometimes I mix the greens into the peas, and sometimes I eat them separately. Both the greens and peas get some hot sauce on top. You can also put the peas over rice (and then it’s called Hoppin’ John). Beer is my preferred beverage to drink with it.

Black-eyed peas are from Africa, collards (and other members of the cabbage family) are from Europe, and corn is Native American, so this meal is as multicultural as Texas itself.

To me, it’s just not New Year’s in Texas without it.


New Year’s Resolutions

It’s early January, and that means a bunch of people are making New Year’s Resolutions, while more people are making sure we all know that they don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because the whole tradition is stupid and nobody ever keeps their resolutions anyway.

I happen to be a person who thinks it’s a good tradition, and I always do some resolutions. Some I keep, some I don’t, but my first rule on How to Do New Year’s Resolutions is to only make resolutions you intend to keep. Should be obvious, right? But apparently not. Sure, we’re human and sometimes we fail, but making goals is always a good thing. Sure, you can make goals at any time in the year, but you can also give gifts to your loved ones at any time of year. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have a holiday especially for that (Christmas/Yule). So January is the season to make goals for the coming year. Why not?

It’s not an arbitrary calendar date either. It’s right after Yule, the winter solstice, so it makes perfect sense that as the days grow longer, this is the beginning of the new year, and a fresh start. This is why the tradition goes way back. It’s too cold to work out in the fields, so everyone’s huddled up inside and has plenty of time to plan out what they’re going to do once the weather warms up. Maybe I should plant barley instead of wheat this year, maybe I should start a new breeding project on the cattle herd, things like that. Even now when most people work indoors in climate-controlled buildings, most of us at least get some time off work this time of year to take a deep breath, sit down, and make a to-do list for the coming year.

Even the most common resolution, losing weight, has ancient roots. I think late winter and early spring is a perfect time for cutting back on things. Back in the old days, you had to. Last year’s harvest was getting used up after the Yuletide feasts, and now you had to ration your food carefully to make it last until the first spring and summer crops finally came in. For a long time there was a balance between feasting and fasting, but now life is one big feast for those of us privileged to have a middle class lifestyle in developed countries. We’re no longer forced to fast at certain times of year, and our waistlines show it. So now after the holiday feasting, I think it’s a great idea for people to cut back on some of the sweet treats and eat more kale. To me, that’s just part of living with the seasonal rhythms like a good pagan should. The time between Yule and Easter is a time for cleansing, both physically and spiritually. Cutting out the junk food is part of “spring cleaning” for the body.

As for the criticism that people don’t stick to their resolutions, well, there’s always next year. Yes, you shouldn’t make resolutions you don’t intend to keep, but if you fail, there is always next year. Maybe next year you’ll get it. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Along those lines, don’t overdo it . Another reason why I think a lot of people fail their resolutions is they’ll say something like, “This year I’m going to quit smoking and lose 50 pounds and become a vegetarian and go to the gym every day!” Of course you’re going to fail if you do that to yourself! People who are doing it that way have probably already failed now that 2014 is almost a week old. Especially since they also tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude about it: “Oops, I ate a cheeseburger. So much for my resolutions! It’s all over now.”

If you’re going to make major lifestyle changes, you should do one at a time or at most two (especially if they’re related). Prioritize. Quit smoking first, and then when you’re completely done with that, lose that weight. Take it one step at a time instead of trying to make a giant leap and then falling on your face. A few years ago the Old Farmer’s Almanac had an article proposing that people should make May Day resolutions instead of New Year’s resolutions. The idea was that spring is the best time to start new things, not the dead of winter. I can see the merit in that argument, but I think now is the time to plan for what you are going to do in spring. Everything doesn’t have to all happen right now, but right now you can say “in March I will do this, and then by May I should be ready to do this.” Just be sure to remember it once that day comes. Mark it on your new 2014 calendar.

With all that said, here are my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions, and since I’m not going to do all of them right away, it’s good to put them here where I can find them later as a reminder.

First off, like most Americans, I am overweight. However, I’m lucky that I’m not that bad. I just weighed myself, and according to the BMI scale, to get down into the very uppermost of the “normal weight” range I only need to lose 18 pounds. I’ve been in worse shape before, and that mostly seems to happen when I start eating too much fast food. In my mid-20’s I discovered I couldn’t eat fast food every day like I used to when I was a teenager and still stay in a healthy weight range. When I fell into that habit again, I got to about 30 pounds overweight, and that was when I started having problems like back pain. When I started bringing my lunch to work again, my weight went back down, and the back pain went away. Eating out in general is a big weakness of mine, even if it’s at a sit-down restaurant. When I cook at home, I cook pretty healthy food. When I eat out, that’s when I splurge on appetizers, big portions, dessert (I don’t keep a lot of sweets in the house when it’s not a holiday), and calorie-laden drinks (at home I drink water). I think eating out is fun, so when I’m there, I don’t want to feel deprived.

The problem is when I’m eating at a restaurant not because it’s a special occasion, but because I’ve been too busy or lazy or tired to cook for myself. If I didn’t bring my lunch to work, I go to the restaurant across the street. If I’m too tired to cook dinner tonight, I order a pizza. So when it comes down to it, it’s a problem of poor planning that hurts both my waistline and my budget.

So rather than concentrating on losing those stubborn 20 pounds, I think I’ll concentrate on meal planning better. I can try to keep the house stocked up with healthy, quick to prepare foods for breakfast and dinner, and I can go back to bringing healthy lunches to work. And that will probably result in me losing some weight, but even if it doesn’t, it will have other benefits like better nutrition and it will save money.

OK, eating better is an easy one, actually. I like to cook, and I know how to cook healthy food, so it’s just a matter of better planning. My next resolution is going to be a bit more difficult. I really need to exercise more. Again, losing weight would be a nice side-benefit, but I have other reasons as well. Strengthening my body would make working in my garden easier, would let me go on longer hikes in the woods before tiring, and would make hauling my heavy bag up the stairs at work easier. It would get some endorphins pumping, and I suffer from clinical depression, so that would help with my mental as well as physical health.

The problem is I’ve always been terrible at keeping up with exercise. I’m just not a very physical person. Even though I feel good after I exercise, a lot of times I’ll make excuses like I don’t have time, and I have other things I need to get done, most of which involve sitting at my butt in front of a screen. I need to make it more of a priority. Exercise first, butt-sitting later!

This is also a resolution that I’ve made several times and then quit. I’ll keep it up for four to six months. I’ll go to the gym three times a week, doing stretches and cardio and a circuit of weight training. Then one week I’ll have some excuse on why I can’t go this day. And then I don’t go a whole week. And then I just quit going all together.

So maybe this will be another one of those times, but when I mentioned this to my therapist, he said, “then at least you’ll be exercising for six months.”

My last resolution is probably a lot more relevant to you pagans who might be reading this, and that is I need to get a better spiritual routine. Now, it may appear that I’m breaking my own rule here about only doing one thing at a time, because here I am resolving to eat better, exercise, AND do more regular spiritual activity, but they all have the same underlying theme of better scheduling and planning in my life. Just like I need to schedule in regular exercise times, I also need to schedule in regular time for meditation and rituals.

I’ve actually laid out a plan for this, at least given my Spring 2014 teaching schedule. This semester they put all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which will save me a lot of gas, but will also mean on those two days I’m going to be gone from home for 12-14 hours. Those two days I should go easy on myself and just concentrate on teaching my classes, but that leaves five other days a week to figure out what I’ll do with myself.

Of course, in-class time is only half (or less) of the time an educator spends on her job, and so part of those days will have to be spent working at home: grading papers, answering emails, making lesson plans, and the like. Then I should also go to the gym at least three times a week, and have regular healthy meals, and work in some time for meditation and spiritual activity.

My therapist thinks I should meditate daily, for at least 10 minutes and preferably 20 minutes, to help with my depression. I’ve found that it does help to quiet my negative thoughts, but just like a lot of these other things, I often tell myself I don’t have time to do it. I’ve lumped this in with spiritual activity, because poor mental health makes everything in my life harder, including serving the gods.

By the way, going into therapy was one of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions! I kept it, see?

But the mediation he wants me to do is mainly an exercise to clear my mind, and not the kind to help get in touch with the gods, though usually when you do the latter type of mediation, you have to do the former first to even get into the kind of headspace where you are open to the gods. Years ago while I was in graduate school, I used to spend a little time at my altar every morning while I drank my coffee. I think it really helped keep me on track, and I think I should go back to doing something like that, but this time I’ll do my therapist’s mindfulness mediation first, then do something at the altar. Of course, this takes planning to make sure I’m not in too much of a rush in the morning to do all this, but I think it will really help me get each day off to a good start.

So here’s a weekly schedule I’m going to try. First, I’m going to try to meditate at least ten minutes every morning, maybe increasing it up to twenty eventually. I’ll probably do this after coffee so I won’t just fall back asleep. Then after that, when I’m in a good frame of mind, I’ll do some altar work, then get on with my day, either going to teach class, or working on stuff at home. I’ll also schedule a time to go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (not sure if that’s best to do in the morning or afternoon yet), and go for a walk around the block with my husband every evening when he gets home from work (another good thing we used to do that we need to get back into the habit of doing). I like the idea that some Heathens have of relating what they do on each day to the deity each day is named after, so here is how each specific day will go.

Monday is the Moon’s Day, and after my morning meditation, I’m going to honor my fylgja (guardian spirit), the Bear. This is mainly because I want to work with my fylgia more often, and I didn’t know what other day I could fit this in. What exactly I’ll do still needs to get figured out. Then after that it’s going to the gym, working on grading papers, and so on for the rest of the day. I have a feeling that Bear will especially like going to the gym. He likes physical activity much more than I do.

Tuesday is Tyr’s Day, and is one of the days where I’ll be gone all day. I don’t really have much of a relationship with Tyr, though. I’ll have to leave my house around 8 am and won’t be home again until around 10 pm at night, so this day I might just have a quick meditation in the morning and then off to work.

Wednesday is Odin’s Day, and Odin is my main god, so it’s important for me to honor him on this day. After my morning meditation, I’ll put on my new Valknut, spend some time with him (maybe give an offering, maybe pull some runes, I’m not sure yet), and then off to do the rest of my daily tasks like the gym and grading papers. This is probably an especially good day to work on my lesson plans, because I associate Odin a lot with my job being a college professor.

Thursday is Thor’s Day, and my other long day at work. I like Thor, so I want to be sure to honor him somehow before rushing off to class, and I’ll be sure to always wear my hammer on Thursdays at least.

Friday is Frigg’s Day, or maybe it’s Freya’s day. It depends on who you ask. In the past I’ve gone either way, but right now I’m going to honor Frigg on this day, because I’m actively trying to get in that goddess’s good graces (which deserves a post of its own). In addition to my usual tasks, this would also be a good day to get some housework done. Hopefully I’ll get enough grading done on Monday and Wednesday to give me time to do that.

Saturday is Saturn’s Day, the day they didn’t change to the name of a Germanic god, and kept the Roman god instead. I don’t know why. I’ve heard from more than one Heathen that they use Saturday to honor Freyr or the Vanir in general, because Saturn is also an agricultural deity. Freyr is my second-favorite god after Odin, so I will give him this day. I won’t go to the gym on the weekend, and instead Saturday will be my day to work in my garden, which I already usually do on that day anyway. I think Freyr will appreciate that. Freyr’s day would also be a good day to focus on spending time with my husband (if you know what I mean).

Sunday is the Sun’s Day, and my husband and I already have the routine of going on a hike Sunday mornings with a local group. It seems appropriate to keep spending Sunday outside under the Sun.

I think that looks good. Hopefully I can at least keep it up for this semester. I’ll have to change things when my schedule changes next semester. I do have bigger problems I need to tackle, but I think that doing these things first will help me accomplish the bigger things later, once I get these routines down. Doing these things should make me a healthier, more effective person, and will make the big problems seem less overwhelming. At least that’s the plan.

So I’m posting all this here for the whole internet to see! Hold me accountable!