Dorian Webb

Musings

A Prosperous New Year

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Expectations are high. Intentions filled with optimism have been set, and thanks to a self-imposed period of cocooning at home after Christmas, they are matched by a renewed energy level that is almost visible. Despite a track record of spotty resolution execution: 1.2 lbs. lost instead of twenty; three bestselling documentaries purchased, dutifully attempted and set aside (while any trashy novel captivates me like a shiny, irresistible object), I remain resolutely optimistic. This will be THE year. 

And it will be, for the things that matter. My life will be filled with abundance on each of its 365 days. I happily take this fact for granted, knowing that I have done my part. On January 1, 2019, I, along with countless African Americans, ensure a successful year by connecting to our ancestors and partaking in our holy trinity: black-eyed peas, pork and greens.

Black-eyed peas are said to bring luck. Whether these legumes derive their power from the belief that they were all that slaves had to eat to celebrate on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, or from the same sentiment that fostered the centuries-old tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with their consumption, black-eyed peas on the first day of the year are a must.

Pork connotes prosperity. Pork, and its “lesser” cuts – pig’s feet, ham hocks, chitterlings – are staples of the traditional African American diet. On New Year’s Day, they are symbols of abundance and progress, similar to that of roast pork and pork dumplings in other cultures. The idea of a pig signifying forward thinking due to its inability to turn its head without turning its entire body, is one that makes me smile.

Greens attract green. Perhaps the most literal of all the holiday’s iconography are leafy, late-season greens. The inclusion of greens on the table (cabbage in many cultures), portends easy access to wealth in the new year. If, unfortunately, you missed the lucky window for 2019, worry not. Even if they may no longer guarantee $1,000 earned with each mouthful eaten, greens are a wonderful treat, no matter when they are enjoyed.

 

Dorian’s Greens

3 bunches of kale or other greens

Quart (32 oz) box of unsalted chicken stock

Small yellow onion, diced

½ cup brown sugar

⅛ cup white vinegar

Red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

A 1” x 2” strip of fatback (optional)* or a dash of olive oil

Sauvignon blanc or any white wine you have on hand (optional)

Heat half the chicken stock in a large pot. Boil fatback in water until tender – approximately 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into small pieces. Rinse greens well. Separate leaves from tough center spine and cut into small pieces with kitchen scissors. Add to boiling stock. Add onion, brown sugar, vinegar and fatback. If not using fatback, add a dash of olive oil. Sprinkle red pepper over pot. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir. Greens will cook down considerably. Add half of the remaining chicken stock. Continue to cook, adding stock as necessary. If you run out of stock, add wine. Proportions should be greens with some liquid (pot liquor, the best part!) not a soup. Taste, adding salt, pepper and adjusting seasonings to taste. Greens are done when they are easily chewable, about 20 -30 minutes.

*Since fatback is not always readily available, I ask the butcher to put it aside for me a few days before I need it. It is doubtful that you will be able to find a piece that small. Fatback lasts for 3-6 months in the freezer when well wrapped.

 

Creating A Table full of Color, Conversation and Community

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While the thrill of standard gift giving and gift getting may have peaked years (decades) ago, the comfort of community has not. For the best, I think, our newly shortened days force us to make tough choices about our time: what we spend it on, and whom we spend it with. And how. Anything else becomes irrelevant.

I choose home with family, friends and that interesting person whom I happened to strike up a conversation with in the local grocery store. As my favorite writer and poet, Elizabeth Alexander said recently, “Family is porous. Family is accepting and welcoming. Family always has space and makes room for another.”

As a designer, I think that that feeling of inclusivity should be reflected not only in actions, but also in objects that create an environment for those actions to thrive.  Growing up, we rarely decorated for the holidays, with minimal decorations dwindling over the years to nothing. I don’t know if I ever really missed it though- our house was always alive with color, conversation and community.

While many things have changed for me in the last few decades- moving to the Bay Area, getting married, taking long hikes in the middle of the workday - my love of color has not. Perhaps it has something to do with my African American heritage and the long line of people before me making something wonderful out of disparate bits and pieces, but I am most at ease surrounded by vibrant splashes of color and patterns and textures of all sorts. I am energized by the polyrhythmic layering of tones, shapes and sensations. THIS is what excites me.

I believe holiday table setting should be as stimulating as the conversation you expect to flow above it, so I spend the night before every dinner party happily preparing for my guests. Each gathering is inspired by the guests themselves, but five elements remain a constant.

1. White tablecloths are jettisoned for fabrics I have found in my travels. Sometimes a soft cotton scarf, printed with shells that I brought back from Italy acts as backdrop, other times a shimmery green, gold flecked shawl from Delhi makes an appearance.

2. Sets dishes are mixed within one place setting, piling hue upon hue and housewarming presents with travel finds. Conversation starters to be sure, but also pragmatic. In this way, I can easily accommodate additional arrivals with the same level of casual elegance and exuberance that I do for expected guests.  Family always has space…

3. Candles dot the table. They are a cityscape of soft lights that create intimacy and a flattering glow.

4. An unusual centerpiece crowns the table. Sometimes it is a small scale, overlooked sculpture rescued  from a bookshelf that is given its star turn for the night, other times it is constructed just for the evening, using a glue gun and whatever is handy.

5. In low juice glasses (to encourage cross table chatting) I gather seasonal flowers from the local farmers market, and intersperse them with fragrant sprigs of rosemary cut from our hedges, or vibrant red stalks of protea to give a sense of moment and place. These small individualized bouquets are gifts to my dinner guests, as a small memento of our time together.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with color and creativity!