Pavlov and Peas

A new year began, heralded by (among a symphony of other noises) the click of the water coming to a boil in my new electric kettle.

I bought the kettle a few weeks ago, when the first truly cold nights of the winter were upon us. A shiny stainless steel number, it sits on my kitchen counter, a convex mirror on the chaos of my cooking space, the garlic skins and cutting board reflecting distorted along the steel curve.

The kettle was intended to help me more easily fill the hot water bottle that Kate gave me last year. During the cold nights in December, I had fiddled with funnels and boiling pots of water on the stove; generally, more water ended up on my counter than in the hot water bottle.

I also wanted it for the tea facilitation. At work, there is a coffee making device that, with the press of a lever, dispenses hot water for my tea-drinking pleasure. At home, my heavy and spout-less cast-iron pots stand stubbornly between me and a better cup of tea.

What I did not expect was for this shiny kettle to bring me an instant mood-lift whenever I turn it on. After filling it with filtered water (Norman water has always had a problem with arsenic, and now also has a problem with the delightfully radioactive chromium 6) and clicking it into place, the characteristic roar of an electric tea kettle brings a song to my heart. It hits a boil and the click of the kettle switching off shouts, “Soon everything is going to be better!”

Soon you will be warm, inside or out.

Soon you will be comforted.

Soon there will be tea, or a hot water bottle to snuggle.

Yes, I seem to have developed a Pavlovian response to the click of my electric kettle.

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New Year's Breakfast (eggs with ketchup, bacon, toast with chocolate almond spread) on the table that Brian and I built.

This morning dawned bitterly cold, so I did what one does in these situations: I made a cup of tea. I brewed it in the translucent porcelain of one of the coffee mugs my grandmother gave me for Christmas. It is blarney porcelain from Ireland, decked in holly and shamrocks, and this morning I paired it with plain black tea instead of Pomegranate Oolong. I drank it, alongside my breakfast, at the dining table that Brian and I built this week.

Brian and I took our evening meal on the sofa, though. We spent the day cleaning and rearranging furniture, and when suppertime rolled around we were too weary to move the various articles blocking us from our new table. Instead we sat side by side on the ridiculous eight-foot-long couch that I procured from Craigslist a couple of years ago, which has finally come to a rest before our front window. Together we munched through a meal of black-eyed peas, balsamic-glazed kale, and goat cheese, delighting in every chewy bite.

I think it might have been the first time I have ever relished black-eyed peas. They’re what you’re supposed to eat on New Year’s Day in the Southern United States: combined with a dark leafy green, they’re especially lucky. (Dark leafy greens being symbolic of money to come in the New Year.) I do not like superstition, particularly, but this one has been so ingrained in my psyche that I feel anxious whenever the first of January passes without a pea parting my lips. Even as a child, my mother insisted that I eat at least one spoonful of black-eyed peas on the first day of the year. I balked, I whined, I complained. I drowned them in ketchup. And I ate them anyway, swearing that when I was a grown-up, I would never eat them.

Today, however, upon discovering that my carton of fresh black-eyed peas was infested with mold, I experienced a moment of panic. How would Brian and I fulfill our obligations to our respective mothers? (His mom called today, specifically to make sure he had eaten some.) How would we make our nod and wink to luck or tradition or whatever it is that is guiding the hands of fate?

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New Year's supper in progress

I grabbed the last bag of frozen black-eyed peas at the grocery store, and cooked them in chicken stock and beer, before sauteeing them with kale, bacon, and garlic, and glazing the whole mess with a splash of ten-year-old balsamic vinegar.

It was delicious.

It was also a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit. Ever wonder why black-eyed peas are considered lucky in the South? It comes from after the Civil War, after the Union army had decimated the landscape with total warfare. No crop was left unburned…except the black-eyed peas, which were considered inedible for anything other than livestock.

Those unburned fields of black-eyed peas saved many in the post-war South from starvation.

While the package of peas I procured this evening did nothing so dramatic as to save me from starving, they did at least fill my tummy and soothe my superstitious anxiety. As my father says, “It’ll hold body and soul together.”

It was a comfortable start to a new year. May 2011 bring us all challenges to make us strong, adventures to keep us engaged, and some happiness, peace, and prosperity to bind it all together.

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Pavlov and Peas

2 thoughts on “Pavlov and Peas

  1. Kate says:

    As you know, in Scotland there is no problem that cannot be cured by the cup of tea. Maybe this is to do with the act of the kettle, the distraction of the steam or the comfort of the process. Even if you are in a cafe, you still get to wait for it to brew and pur it from the pot. You remind me that we should rejoice in our everyday rituals rather than despair about what we are not doing. Coffee drinkers miss out on this process, to an extent, I wonder if there is a correlation to life contentedness.

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