Smoked Ham Hock and Green Eye'd Pea Soup with Wild Rice..making sure we bring in good luck for the New Year

As we wrap up the holiday season here, we're squeezing the remaining days for the last bits of relaxation, nearing the end of munching carelessly on spiced cookies, and slowly letting our minds drift towards the reality that it's time to move into the new year's obligations.

We had a holiday filled with laughter, much needed contemplation, long dreamy walks, and good and satisfying meals.  Riley and I journeyed home from lovely Oregon, followed by Madeleine after soldiering through final college exam week, and then family made their holiday pilgrimage to help us pay tribute to the holiday spirit.

Smoked Ham Hocks give a delicious flavor to this hearty soup

As a child growing up in southern Louisiana, it was a tradition to be served black eye'd peas and shredded cabbage salad on New Year's Day.  We would grimace with wrinkled noses wondering how best to swallow the minuscule thimble-sized portions that sat on the edges of the plates.  But, out of fear of missing out on the good luck hidden deep within the oddly colored beans and the wealth symbolized by the shreds of mayonnaise coated green cabbage, I would quickly abide the strange flavors and swallow the bites of yearly ritual without delay...fearful of the potential consequences!    

Bottom Left:  beautiful sunset out the front door

It's been a wonderful holiday break for all of us.  The kitchen was humming constantly and rounds of dough were either being kneaded, quietly rising in a tucked away corner or filling the house with the yeasty aroma of freshly baked breads and rolls.

From crispy roast duck to tender red wine soaked braised short ribs, I delighted in the chopping, slicing, stirring, and whisking of each holiday meal around the table.  

Geen Eye'd Peas and Wild Rice

One highlight of the holiday week was all of us piling into the car to see a round of movies at the theatre.  We would leave with something braising or roasting in the oven and return to the wonderful smells of a sumptuous dinner waiting to be enjoyed.

"Saving Mr. Banks" was one of the films that charmed us all.  The story of the relationship between Walt Disney and the author of the beloved children's classic Mary Poppins created a rich story that gave all things Disney new perspective.  This movie made for a wonderful family holiday outing that touched on a wide range of age groups.

We're turning now toward my  seasonal lineup of soups.  I realize I tend to follow a yearly pattern in the kitchen. Soups help deliver meals that renew better health as well as offer cozy wintertime lunch and dinner options. Here they are always accompanied by loaves of thickly crusted bread and possibly a dollop of sweet fig jam.

I saw these smoked ham hocks in the market the other day. In the same trip, there were sacks of fresh lovely pale green hulled peas from a local farm.  Smoked Ham Hock and Green Eye'd Soup sounded like it would feed our crowd nicely.

I made this soup the day before we all enjoyed it.  The ham hocks simmered at the bottom of the soup pot giving everything that wonderful smoky ham flavor.  The green eye's peas along with wild rice make the soup hearty and very satisfying as a complete meal.  

The next day, I reheated the soup, cut off the smoked ham from the bone and we all enjoyed the delicious flavors that became deeper, smokier, and richer after a day of simmering.

December birthdays can be tough to keep track of in our family.  Off of the top of my head, I can count five or six family members whose birthdays are intertwined with the holidays.  We even have two Christmas day birthdays.

But, my poor mother-in-law has her birthday on January 2.  Typically, we have all celebrated and enjoyed the holiday festivities and are then waving goodbye to her as her special day arrives.  

Fortunately, this year, she would be with us through her birthday. No way was her special day going unnoticed by us this year.  Everyone deserves one unique day of attention, so Patrick and I arranged a particular birthday meal for her to enjoy...completely unrelated to anything to do with the holidays.

Patrick rolled out thick pastry crust, chopped potatoes, and sauteed vegetables and beef to make his special version of "Shepherd's Pie".  

I stewed some ruby red cranberries in sugar and puree'd them into a fruit sauce to spoon onto a simple but flavorful yogurt and almond cake. 

We adorned the table with gifts, passed around slices of birthday cake, and commemorated this winter birthday girl's special day...(although it remains a mystery to us as to which numbered birthday we were celebrating...Mum is the word).

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