Saturday, January 2, 2021

Black-Eyed Peas: A Comedy in Three Parts

There are a few things you should know about me.

I don't do TikTok challenges.

I don't vote Republican.

I don't eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.

The first two are self-explanatory: I want to leave a better world for the children, which precludes voting to sustain a patriarchal, wealth-based oligarchy in the latter case and filming myself doing weird shit in yoga pants in the former.

The black-eyed peas are a bit more complicated.

Part 1: The Tradition

Growing up in the Midwest, it was traditional to eat pickled herring for good luck on New Year's Day. Or maybe it was New Year's Eve. It doesn't matter, as there is no day in the calendar year on which I'm going to eat pickled goddamn herring. I never saw the correlation between good fortune and consuming half-liquefied fermented fish out of a jar. In fact, to everyone who did this on New Year's Day last year, I would just like to gesture expansively at literally the entirety of 2020.

I rest my case.

I've now been living in Texas for my entire adult life. For the most part I love Texas food. If I were a Lone Star-themed Statue of Liberty standing proudly on the shore of White Rock Lake (work with me here), the words engraved on my pedestal would include "Give me your chili (no beans), your brisket, your chicken-fried steak smothered in white gravy, your deep-friend corn dogs but with ketchup not mustard because I have my limits, people..."

Yet black-eyed peas are a Texas staple whose appeal has alluded me. My background in beans (because black-eyed peas are deceptively-named little bastards and are in fact beans) is in the baked or pork-and varieties. I like my beans tomatoey and/or molassessessey. I was always a little suspicious of a pot of watery spotted legumes cooked with a few hunks of salt pork and not much else. They just seemed so...naked to me.

More importantly, eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day wasn't a tradition I was brought up with (up with which I was not brought...forget it). I was never introduced to it by a Southern friend or by the Texan side of my ex-spouse's family. And because the alternative in my childhood was eating the aforementioned goddamned melted stinkfish, I didn't have any food-based good-luck rituals in my life at all.

Until this year.

Part 2: Spam

According to the good people at Hormel, the potted meat product SPAM should always be written in all-caps. This seems slightly pretentious to me, like the way Ted Allen on "Chopped" refers to Twinkies as "sponge cake snacks," and also my pinkies are going to get tired if I have to hold down the shift key that much. So for the purposes of this post, I'll risk the wrath of the purists by using Spam henceforth.

So. How did we go from black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to Spam? Actually, it was the other way around.

Until January 1st, 2021, I had never in my life eaten Spam. The reasons are similar to the reasons I had never eaten black-eyed peas, so I won't repeat them. If you've already forgotten or are in the habit of only skimming what I write, hoping something interesting will eventually catch your eye (did you think I didn't know what you were doing? pfffft), go back and re-read Part 1. Slacker.

OK, so I already knew that Spam was going to be on the menu at Casa Baudelaire this weekend. I knew that my darling Drummer Boy has been in the grip of a mild Spam mania recently and had purchased several cans of the stuff to "cook" at my place. 

I don't know exactly where his sudden interest in Spam came from. It's healthy to preserve some unplumbed depths in your partner's psyche, I guess? I also didn't know just how many varieties of the spicy, fatty, ostensibly meaty processed foodstuff are available.

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam spam...

Yeah. That's a lot. 

So on New Year's Day, Drummer Boy brought over a can of this:

Because boy, if there's anything that a can of uber-processed, salty, fatty, nitrite-filled meat needs added to it, it's BACON.

But I was game. New year, new me. Same old colon, which clearly was about to be subjected to a workout it had never before experienced and wasn't asking for now. Still, nothing wrong with a little indulgence to kick off 2021. I haven't eaten a burger in nine months, my colon should be clean as a whistle and ready to cut loose. Slice it, fry it, eat it up, that's my motto. It works in a surprising number of situations. You should try it.

Anyway, then shit got real. From inside his cooler (the man travels with a cooler, he doesn't screw around), Drummer Boy pulled out this:

Not gonna lie, I felt ambushed.

Part 3: The Recipe

Once I decided not to unceremoniously kick the man I love to the curb for this blatant abuse of my trust, I threw up my hands and said, "Whatever, dude." It's that spirit of compromise that has carried us through the tough times. 

Actually, we basically broke up for several months during 2020, because fuck the pandemic, but we patched things up and emerged stronger than ever, also because fuck the pandemic. But that's a story for another time. I'm here to talk about goddamned black-eyed peas right now.

So Drummer Boy started doing things in my kitchen. He sliced up the Spam.

He fried it up.

And then, just as I was getting comfortable with the whole thing, he added...cocktail weiners.

If you're going to try to kill your girlfriend with unhealthy meat products, you should just go all the way. That apparently is his motto. I can't really recommend it.

Then he added chopped onion. Pro-tip: If you loathe the disgusting crunchy texture of onions, as I do, keep some on hand in the freezer. When they cook up, they turn quickly to undetectable mush while retaining their flavor-enhancing, um, flavor.

Can't have onion without garlic, so in it went.

I gotta admit, so far this pan full of fried meat was cooking up pretty damn tasty. But the Spam and Li'l Smokies concoction was not destined to remain on its own. It was time to add the namesake ingredient.

Am I the only one who heard Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho just then? No? Skip it.

By the way, per Hillshire Farms, the correct nomenclature is "Lit'l Smokies Cocktail Links." I don't know what Ted Allen calls them. He never returns my calls, although he did like one of my tweets one time. 

I LOLed.

Moving on. In a big old pot, Drummer Boy simmered up some broth (Better Than Bouillon, half-chicken and half-vegetable) seasoned with a secret blend of herbs and spices. "Secret blend" sounds better than "I wasn't paying attention." There was definitely black pepper. And maybe, I don't know, nutmeg? Probably not nutmeg. If you make black-eyed peas you surely know how to season them. Knock yourself out.

So he let all that cook down for a while. And then - game changer - he removed some of the beans and liquid to a bowl and went to town with my immersion blender. OK, this is actually a super-common technique for thickening soups and other dishes, so not really a game changer. There's only so much dramatic tension I can create from a goddamn recipe. Play along.

Anyway, Drummer Boy poured the warm bean slurry (which is totally the name of my 00s alt-rock playlist on Spotify) back into the pot and stirred it all together. 

You guys. It was delicious. I mean, obviously a dish consisting mostly of salt, fat, prayers to the cholesterol gods and also tangentially black-eyed peas is going to be delicious. But damn.

Sloth-tested, sloth-approved.

I now feel lucky, punk. Seriously, I am going to look 2021 in the eye and punch it right in its stupid face while singing showtunes and dressing inappropriately for my age. That kind of lucky.

And it's all thanks to a pot of black-eyed peas that, honestly, I would have wanted no part of had it been brought to my attention ahead of time. Oh, and had it not been cooked by that guy who keeps coming around and telling me he loves me for reasons I can't entirely fathom.

The love of a good man and food ambushes. It's all I need this year.

Oh, and some of that dismantling the patriarchy and remembering the lives lost to Covid-19. 

Those beans have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

Good luck, Drunkards. Let's have a happy fucking New Year if we can.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know Texans were cannibals.

    I didn't know there were enough rappers named after vegetables to go around even once, forget every 1st January.

    And the only spam I get is from Nigerian princesses with fortunes stashed away in safe deposit boxes in Burkina Faso, who are for some reason desperately in love with me.

    I doubt they are edible, either.


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