While his unexpected accent was what first drew my attention to the man who would become my husband, I rarely think of him as an “immigrant.” But for the first time in our twenty years together, after our recent trip back to his village in Trinidad, that is how I’ve been thinking of him. Back home, he was more relaxed, at ease… happier than I had seen him in a long time. We navigated the potholed roads and dirt paths of his village; he shared seed pods with our little girls, and showed them how they’d pop when exposed to water (“this was what Dada played with when he was a boy.”) He and his brother laughed as they recalled the spontaneous combustion of petroleum in the field behind their house, leaking from the pumping jacks that seeped oil from their own backyard– of which they owned only the surface. He happily explored the jungle of plants in the yard, which boasted an unimaginable bounty of tamarind, mangoes, bananas and papaya. He laughed and joked as he asked after friends he hadn’t seen in decades, his memories of high school pranks as fresh as if they were yesterday.
I was saddened by the ruins of the house he had grown up in, eaten away by time, the elements, and vandals; but he smiled as he pointed at the hand-painted exit sign over the door of the rum shop that adjoined his family’s general store. (I didn’t know that he had poured rum as a teen.) There were traces of discontent as he encountered some of the inefficiencies of island time– unnecessarily long waits in line, improbable excuses for promises not kept. But despite it all, for the first time, he wondered aloud, what if he had stayed?
Our journey back to San Francisco included delays and mixups in Newark, followed by the shock of a high-speed drive on the freeway. The warmth of the tropics dissipated too quickly. Reality check. “It was vacation,” I told him. “You wouldn’t want to really live there and work. You’d be frustrated by island time, island life.” He was unconvinced. “How do you know?” he asked. Unlike his compatriot, V.S. Naipaul, who in his mind and his ascot is more English than the English, my husband is always proud of his heritage.
I can’t bring the Trinidad of my husband’s happy childhood memories to San Francisco, but I can do my best to recreate its flavors. For New Year’s Eve, which itself is called by a different name in Trinidad, Old Year’s– I made him Black Eyed Peas. This is a traditional dish eaten for good luck on Old Year’s in Trinidad. In life, you win some, and you lose some. And sometimes, you get to keep both.
Trinidadian Black Eyed Peas for Old Year’s and New Beginnings
The “green seasoning” (herb blend) and the optional pig tail are what give this version of black eyed peas its Caribbean flavor.
1 lb dried black eyed peas, soaked in water for 8 hours, rinsed and drained
1 ham hock or ham bone (I used the latter, from our Christmas ham) or, if you want to be truly authentic, a pig tail*
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Caribbean “green seasoning” (minced fresh thyme, chives, chadon beni (culantro), Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper)
8 cups water
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
*Note: if you wish to make a vegan version, hold the pig parts and substitute a half teaspoon or more of pimenton (smoked paprika) for smokiness
Accompaniment: cooked rice (parboiled or Uncle Ben’s rice is most common in Trinidad)
1. Pour a tablespoon of oil into a pan and cook diced onion over medium high heat until translucent.
2. Add the ham bone and garlic and cook for a minute or so.
3. Add drained pre-soaked beans, water, and all seasonings except salt and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes or until desired tenderness. Add salt and adjust other seasonings as desired, and simmer for another 5 minutes.
4. Serve over rice.
This post is my contribution to #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter with participants from all around the world. Please check back later for other posts on this month’s theme of “first times/new beginnings”. I wish all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
Annabelle’s Brown Butter Creamed Greens at Glass of Fancy
Grace’s Matcha Green Tea Yogurt at Hapa Mama
Jill’s Heavenly Angel Cake at Eating My Words
Lucy’s Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies at A Cook and Her Books
Lisa’s Da Bombe Alaska at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Nancie’s Vietnamese-style Chicken with Lemongrass at NancieMcDermott
Pat’s Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
Rashda’s Parathas at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Sonja’s Beetroot and Fetta Varenyky at Foodnutzz
Thank you so very much for coming by! If you enjoyed this, I’d love your comments and invite you to share this with your friends.