Still following the star


In our house, the Wise Men, on the move since July through the rooms, hallways and porch, have finally arrived at their destination: the manger dad fashioned so long ago out of scrap lumber.

They settled in for a short stay with the Holy Family, the shepherds, the livestock and the angels. On Sunday, they’ll be moving back into their spring quarters for a well deserved rest while the other figurines and indeed, all the Christmas treasures are packed up for a longer snooze.

Usually we make a pretty big deal of Epiphany, savoring the sense of  Twelfth Night with family and friends. Children are especially welcome in the house for sweet treats and celebration as the traditional chalk blessing is inscribed on the wall over the sliding glass doors and we bid the Christmas season adieu.

This year, though, Epiphany for us was preceded by a night fraught with  upset and sleeplessness.  Nephew Patrick Anselm Rogers, on his way to volunteer for a non-profit agency in Delhi, India, was among the thousands of passengers detained for hours in Terminal C  Sunday night at Newark Airport as a search was conducted for a nitwit (or worse) who was spotted going in the wrong direction through a secured area.

Any plans for a lively Epiphany went by the way side.  After tense hours of waiting, his mom, our good sister-in-law Kate, was able to track the plane over the internet and kept us informed of its progress. But we still held our collective breaths till Pat called home the next night to say he was safely ensconsed at a YMCA in Delhi.

Tonight we’ll try to reorient ourselves to the season by applying the ancient chalk blessing: 20 + C + M + B +10 to the wall which stands for “The three Holy Kings, Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, in the year of Our Lord, 2010”. As  scholars will point out, the letters C,M, and B are also thought to stand for Christus mansionem benedicat which translates to “Christ bless this home.”

This tradition of blessing the doorways is said to symbolize the family’s commitment to welcome Christ into their home on a daily basis through the year.

When it comes to a recipe, I’ll have to share one we were planning to dish up. It comes by way of dear friends and former long-time Toms River residents Pat and Jack Eckstine who have taken up residence near Charleston, SC and become enamored with Southern customs and cuisine.

This dish is called “Hoppin’ John” and if consumed around the Jan. 1, it’s supposed to bring good luck in the New year. This recipe has been adapted from The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee for easier shopping in these northern climes by substituting bacon for smoked hog  jowls and chicken broth for pork broth.

The Lee brothers write that people familiar with this dish seem to crave it during times of stress or on mornings after a late party. Nutritionists say that’s because peas and rice mixed together contain all 14 amino acids needed by our bodies to form a complete protein.

Hoppin’ John

Ingredients: 1 cup dried black-eyed peas or field peas; 4 slices thick-cut bacon; 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped; 6 cups good quality chicken broth; 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper; 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes; 1 tsp salt; one 14-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes; 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice.

Directions: Wash the peas in a strainer, place them in a medium bowl and soak them for 4 hours in fresh water to cover. In a 4-quart pot over medium heat cook the bacon on both sides for about five minutes and render the fat it leaves for another five minutes. Add the oinion and cook until softened, approximately five minutes. Add the broth, black pepper and red pepper and salt and bring to a boil.

Let the broth boil vigorously for 10 minutes then add the drained peas. Boil gently over medium-high heat uncovered until the peas are tender but still have some bite – about 25 minutes for black eyed peas. Add the tomatoes and rice to the pot, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer vigorously for 20 minutes, until most of the broth has been absorbed but the rice and peas are still very moist.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the Hoppin’ John to steam, covered until all the liquid is absorbed – about five minutes. Remove the bacon.

Fluff the Hoppin’ John with a fork. Transfer to a serving dish and serve.

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