Cook With Haley

Tips, tricks and culinary know-how for home cooks, entertainers and gourmets.

What Happened, 2017?

As a new year commences and I reflect on the events of the last a single thought puzzles me. That thought is, “What on Earth happened?” If I ruminate too long on the question my mind begins to race and my heart rate rises. The truth is, life happened and I found myself standing in front of calamity followed by hardship followed by adversity. Each month as I soldiered through one thing I prayed that the next thing wouldn’t be so bad. I curled up with my support blanket of friends and family to get through the roughest patches. Flipping that coin, I also experienced the most shining moment of joy, love, and connection that a heart could ever hope for.

Around this time of year people tend to make lists of things. I’ve read “best dishes we’ve cooked this year” articles and I have seen commercials for television shows recapping the (numerous) most unbelievable moments of the year. I have no intention of providing a list of all of the unbelievable things that have occurred in my life simply because it would be too unbelievable. You would start to doubt my credibility. “You’re making all of that up,” you would say. “All of those things couldn’t possibly have happen to a single couple in the span of nine months,” you might add.

Sometimes you see a movie, read a book, or hear a story that is so profound that it stops you in your tracks, makes you pay attention and think about your own life and how you fit into reality. The story stays with you for weeks, months, possibly forever. On numerous occasions in 2017 I felt like I was living in the movie. So many times I found myself awestruck at the enormity of the events that occurred. “This is important,” I would think. “I need to remember this. I need to pay attention because these changes, these hardships, are the path to growth of some kind.” Simultaneously, I was terrified of how “out of my hands” it all was, and disturbed at how powerless I am at the feet of life.

At the moment, though, the details of 2017 seem unimportant. They were just that, details. The things that occurred to get to this point, right now. Indeed, it is what I do with these details, strung together like pearls on the necklace of 2017, that seems more significant in the schema of the big machine that is life.

What have I learned from this year? How will I use these stranger-than-fiction experiences? How will I help someone else with them? What will I pack into the stream (or the rushing white water) of life now that I’ve managed to keep my chin up long enough to make it to the shallows of the other side?

A Few Things I’ve learned

I can experience joy through pain.
At times it seemed like the whole world was crumbling around me. Between the insane political drama that unfolded daily, the natural disasters that destroyed so many peoples homes throughout so much of Texas (including my hometown of Orange, TX) and other states and territories, and countless other unbelievable events that took place during 2017 it seemed we were riding a collective rollercoaster that never reached a valley. And my personal life seemed to mirror the downward tailspin.

But through it all, I realized that bright, shining moments of complete joy and wondrous light are possible. Moments so unbelievably beautiful that they will exist as a bright mark on my spirit forever. I chose to join my life with my loving, adoring, supportive, incredible husband, Derek, in 2017. In June, we were married by a dear friend, on a beautiful ranch in the Texas hill country dressed up like a rainbow wonderland surrounded by the love and support of our closest friends and family. This was the moment in 2017 for which the word “grateful” is not powerful enough to describe my feelings. The moment that made everything else in 2017 just a detail.

I am not alone.
I was (and am) without question supported and bolstered by a network of people, and 2017 has proven that. The closest family and friends as well as complete strangers have been placed in my life to help me through it and to even help me be successful. Does that mean these people said exactly what I wanted to hear to make me feel better or constantly fed me a stream of sweet honey while everything crumbled? Absolutely not. Some of my best friends are the people who were and are true enough, real enough, and  confident enough to question my choices, intentions, and motives as I’ve pushed on through life. As Dumbledore would say, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

I need those people, those friends. They are my guides. It is impossible, especially when I am juggling so many things, for me to see every perspective, every possible choice, every possible outcome. I’ll never have all the answers on my own. I need help. People say it takes a village to raise a child. I agree completely. I would add it takes a village to get through adulthood as well. I am so unbelievably grateful not only to have people in my life who want to help me, but also that I’m now able to accept that help with as much humility and grace as I can muster.

I’ve been polished, not crushed.
On several occasions, 2017 brought me treacherously close to the brink of my existence, a threshold from which I may not have returned in years past. But with the help of my friends and family and others who support me, and a power greater than myself, I was able to walk through the hard times as gracefully as I could and I realized that I am better for it. Did I do it perfectly? Certainly not. But I learned a long time ago that there have only been two practically perfect people in this world. One is Mary Poppins, the other is JC himself, and I am neither of them. So I shoot from progress over perfection.

At the end of it, I am a little older and a little more worn around the edges, but I have come through it with a new understanding of myself. A touch closer to the version of me that I was intended to be. 2017 did not crush me, rather, it cut down some of my sharp edges and left the good stuff for me to polish up a bit.

This year you can expect more real writing from my heart and more real food that I feed my family and myself on Cook With Haley. We have plans for this year and to start I will be more careful about the food I put into my body for the sake of any future bodies that may share it. In my family we have ham, black eyed peas, and cabbage (or collard greens) on New Year’s Day. I hope you’ll enjoy these Slow Cooker Black Eyed Peas and they bring us all what we may need to become a truer version of ourselves in 2018.

Enjoy

Slow Cooker Black Eyed Peas

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4-5 hours
Serves: 8-10

  • 2 1/2 cups dried black eyed peas, soaked in cold water over night
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, halved widthwise
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 1/2 cups stock of your choice or water
  • Salt to taste

Throw everything, except for the salt, into a slow cooker. Cook on low for four to five hours. When beans are tender, but not mushy, season with salt. Serve with pork chops, ham, collard greens, or braised cabbage.

Chicken and Kale Soup

This soup was originally posted last year, but I’m re-posting the recipe today because it’s finally Fall in Austin, Texas and this soup is perfect for cold, wet weather. Enjoy!

~Haley

I have a cold, but fortunately I made plenty of Homemade Chicken Stock before I got sick so cooking up this Chicken and Kale Soup is not terribly labor intensive.

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Haley’s Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be of service at the Episcopal Student Center on the UT campus. We made dinner for the students and I used this as an excuse to do one of my favorite activities:  BAKE COOKIES!

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Weeknight Slow Cooker Chicken and Corn Enchiladas

One of my favorite culinary challenges is figuring out ways to turn complex multi-part recipes that would normally take several hours to create  into meals that can easily be pulled together on a week night to feed the starving masses. And that is exactly what this enchilada recipe does.

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