black eyed pea soupNew Year's would not be complete without the traditional foods that celebrate the start of a new year in a somewhat superstitious way. Many cultures eat foods that are symbolic of luck, progress, prosperity, and wealth. Ham and pork are often eaten because pigs root forward with their snouts. Stay away from chicken, because they scratch backward. Legumes double in size when cooked and thus represent prosperity. Lentils look like tiny coins. Leafy greens resemble paper money and symbolize wealth. Even if these food customs seem superstitious, they are rooted in culture, tradition, and history.

In the American South especially, black-eyed peas have a history that is important to remember. The legume has been grown in the South since Colonial times. It was originally domesticated thousands of years ago in Africa and arrived in America on slave ships. Black-eyed peas are a staple in soul food. Typical Southern New Year's foods include such dishes as black-eyed pea cakes and Hoppin' John, which is a combination of peas and rice with smoked pork. Boiled ham hocks and cooked greens, such as collard greens, mustard greens, or kale are also eaten. This simple soup holds true to tradition to include a bit of each symbolic food.

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fancyladies.jpgI spend a great deal of my life working functions that exceptionally wealthy people go to. My official jobs have ranged from handing out escort cards to rangling opera singers, to making emergency Staples runs, to standing and looking pretty. I’m especially good at that last one.

But my unofficial job is where I really excel: soothing the savage rich lady.

Actually, I’m pretty great with rich old men as well, but soothing the savage rich man sounds like the subject for a whole other blog, by a writer who isn’t me, and you need to buy a subscription to read it.

If any of you are considering entering into the exciting field of nonprofit fundraising, you need to learn one thing: rich ladies like it when you like their blouse. Ok, or their jewelry or their hair or their bag, but blouse is a funnier word, and relates specifically to one unfortunate such occurrence I experienced recently.

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roastedchicken.jpgWho doesn't love roast chicken? It's one of my favorite things to eat mostly because I can't get enough crispy skin. But getting the skin to crisp can be one of the hardest parts of roasting a whole chicken. That's why I prefer roasting the chicken in parts, particularly the breasts, which can dry out when roasted on the whole bird. Pan-roasting is one of the easiest and most rewarding methods for cooking chicken breasts.

First, they are seared skin side down in a pan on the stove-top to ensure the skin is golden brown and crisp. Then they are baked in the oven to cook the meat through. The result is exceptionally moist and succulent breasts with bronzed crispy skin. It's mouth-watering chicken even better than a steak. To make this dish complete, I roast carrots alongside the breasts in the same pan. This way an entire meal comes together very quickly.

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the-happiness-project“I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”-Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

On Friday night, my co-worker joked that I had to take my glass half-full outlook and check it at the door. Then on Saturday afternoon, while wearing my yellow sunglasses, I purchased a pair of yellow pants, blue running shoes, an orange cardigan, and pink Bermuda shorts. That’s what I call optimism—but we can always have more—and we can always be happier.

In fact, when Gretchen Rubin took her bus ride and had her great epiphany on her yearlong quest for happiness—she was already happy—she just knew she could be happier.

Selfishly, I had picked up Rubin’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, from Barnes and Noble just a few weeks ago because I was looking for inspiration and tips in regards to my own book project: one that also involves a yearlong quest—to become a professional amateur.

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roastchicken.jpgFor me there is no food more appealing than roast chicken. I'd be happy to subsist on it all the time. Instead of roasting a whole chicken, which can take an hour or more, I prefer roasting chicken in pieces. It's so much faster especially for a weeknight meal. I love roasting chicken breasts, sometimes a whole bunch at one time. This way I have leftovers for dinner the following night or I can enjoy it for lunch atop a salad the next day. For dinner though, especially when I'm pressed for time, I like to make simple sides. And there's nothing more simpler than roasting vegetables alongside the chicken. Plus with this recipe the chicken and the vegetables both finish at the same time. Now that sounds like a simple supper.

For this recipe I chose to roast carrots and kohlrabi. Their flavors concentrate and sweeten from the high oven heat. Kohlrabi, a turnip-like vegetable with a broccoli flavor, which many people would most likely pass in the market without a second thought, is actually one of my favorite vegetables. I love them in soup, but this roasting method makes them taste even better. With only seven ingredients, this is probably the least fussiest recipes you will ever find. And the end result is so rewarding that you will want to make it again and again. With so little preparation spent in the kitchen there's more time to kick back, relax, and enjoy a glass of wine, perhaps a Chardonnay, to toast the mellow evening.

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