Bless Your Spoon — Watch Night a part of Christmastide

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024

By Stephanie Williams Dean

A new year is underway — a time for reflection and anticipation.

A friend shared her new theme for the upcoming year — “More in 24.” At first, I thought, that was a perfect one. We all want more of what life offers — the good stuff.

New Year’s Eve rolled around, and I rang in 2024 in celebratory fashion. But there weren’t any hand-held sparklers or colorful fireworks. There were no toasts or rings of crystal champagne glasses to welcome the year in drunken revelry.  Instead, there was gospel-flavored music infused with energy, with bits of spirited preaching thrown in. With grateful reflections and hopeful attitudes, the congregation simmered in a soul-rockin’ service.   

On the eve, my niece, Quinton, and I sat amongst God’s people. We nestled ourselves among the Black American congregation at St. John Baptist Church in Williamsburg for a Southern, sit-down supper in the fellowship hall. Amongst our brothers and sisters, we feasted on a buffet of tasty chicken options and savory sides.  Offerings, including both country fried and hot chicken, were perfectly paired with tangy green beans, homestyle potato salad, and piping-hot, fluffy, homemade yeast rolls. Hopeful for good tidings, the cooks made sure there were plenty of well-seasoned, black-eyed peas to go around. The supper was a taste of life’s good stuff — Southern soul cooking.

After supper, the congregation ushered in the New Year amongst the Spirit of God, a significant watchnight service that included church bells, jazzy piano renditions and gospel songs. A watchnight service is a late-night, Christian service held on the 7th day of Christmastide. Not only grounded in Biblical scripture, the night had special meaning for Black Americans. 

Earlier that day, we’d attended an early morning, formal service at historic Grace Episcopal Church in Yorktown — a festival of “Walking in Love and Welcoming All.” The service bulletin read “Merry Christmas” — giving nod to Christmastide. Also known as Twelvetide, the 12-day period runs from Christmas Day through Jan 5 when the wise men came.  It is our calling to keep the Christmas Spirit and story alive throughout the days of the Christmas season and beyond!

During the service, profound words written by evangelist Rev. Billy Graham’s prayer were read aloud. “And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need.”

A verse from the carol, “Canticle of the Turning,”  stirred every heart. “The hungry and poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.”

As I reflected on the theme, “More in 24,” I questioned — more of what? 

More faith. Love. Kindness. Dedication. Devotion. Compassion. More food for the hungry, more hope for the downtrodden  and more quality time spent with the lonely?

An appropriate theme might be, “Less is More in 24” — less prejudice, hatred, condemnation and judgment — a time when everyone is celebrated for their uniqueness.

If you’re reading this today, no matter how difficult your life may be, rest assured you’re safe in the loving arms of an everlasting God. He hears your prayers.

I returned home and settled upon my theme for 2024 — one of “Together in Spirit.” We all need to come together to love and care for one another.

Brothers and sisters, it’s in that Spirit I wish you a blessed New Year!

Black Eyed Pea Soup

• 4 cups seeded, chopped, fresh tomatoes

• ¼ cup cider vinegar

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1 tsp. salt

• 3 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 bunch chopped green onion (whites)

• 1 Tbsp. minced garlic

• 6 cups cooked black-eyed peas

• 2 cups chicken broth/stock

• 1 cup julienned country ham

• 1 Tbsp. fresh chopped thyme

• Chopped green onion (greens)

In a saucepan, slow-cook tomatoes with cider and sugar for 10 minutes. Season with salt. Cover and keep warm. In a large soup pot, heat oil and cook the whites of onions with garlic for 2 minutes. Add in cooked black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes and however much chicken stock you need for consistency and taste. Bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more broth or seasoning. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Before serving, stir in country ham and thyme. Sprinkle a little chopped green onion (greens) on top. 

Sassy Birds

• 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• All-purpose flour

• 3 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• 1 juiced/rind fresh orange

• 3 tsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 Tbsp. Texas Pete/hot sauce

• 3 Tbsp. orange marmalade

• 1-2 Tbsp. dark rum

• Fresh lemon (optional)

Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Evenly roll in flour. In a skillet, melt butter. Sauté chicken for 10 minutes until evenly browned. In a bowl, juice 1 orange and grate and reserve the rind. To the juice and rind, add mustard, Texas Pete, marmalade and rum. Adjust the mixture of sweet and spicy to your taste. Add fresh lemon juice if too sweet. Add sauce to the chicken, cover the skillet, and simmer 20-25 minutes until chicken is tender.

Savory Beans with Mushrooms

• 1 ½ pounds trimmed fresh green beans

• 3 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

• 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

• 1 Tbsp. thinly sliced green onion

1/3 cup Wesson vegetable oil

• 1 Tbsp. white vinegar

• 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

• 1 tsp. dried savory

• 1 tsp. each sugar and salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

• 4 slices, cooked, crumbled bacon

In a pot, cook green beans uncovered in 1-inch of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cover and continue cooking 5 minutes over medium heat. Drain. In a skillet, melt butter and cook mushrooms and green onions for 5 minutes or until tender. Toss with the beans. In a saucepan, combine oil, vinegar, lemon juice, parsley, savory, sugar, salt and pepper, and crumbled bacon and bring to a boil. Pour over the bean mixture and stir to evenly coat.

Kickin’ Fried Chicken

• 1 frying chicken, cut into pieces

• salt

• Whole milk

• 2-3 Tbsp. Texas Pete/hot sauce

• 6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 6 Tbsp. salted butter

• 6 Tbsp. melted Crisco shortening/oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, place chicken pieces and salt them. Cover the chicken completely with milk. Add hot sauce to the milk. Allow to soak at least several hours or preferably overnight. Remove chicken and roll each piece in flour. In a cast iron skillet, melt butter and oil until hot. Place chicken in hot oil, skin side down and fry until well browned. Turn and brown on the other side. Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and allow it to crisp up in the oil. Drain on paper towels.

Tapenade Potato Salad

• 4 peeled, quartered, diced large Idaho potatoes

• ½ cup hot whole milk

• 4 cloves garlic

• 2 Tbsp. anchovy paste/mashed anchovies

• ½ cup olive oil

• ½ cup pitted black/green olives

• Freshly ground black pepper

• Fresh lemon juice

• Salt/freshly grated black pepper

In a saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Dice half the potatoes and mash the remainder. In a processor, add garlic cloves, anchovy paste or anchovies, olive oil, olives of your choice, freshly ground pepper and a squeeze or two of lemon juice and puree. Whip the puree into the mashed potatoes and then combine mixture with diced potatoes. Season to taste. Serve hot.

Streusel-topped sweet cornbread

• 2 ½ cups self-rising buttermilk cornmeal mix

• 2 eggs

• 1 cup whole milk

• ¼ cup sugar

• ½ cup chopped corn kernels

• ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• 2 Tbsp. Karo dark corn syrup

Streusel

• ½ cup softened, salted butter

• ½ cup light brown sugar

• 1 ½ Tbsp. honey

• 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

In a mixer bowl, combine cornmeal mix, eggs, milk, sugar, corn, cheese and syrup. Mix well, and pour into a greased and prepared cast iron skillet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the streusel topping. For the streusel, combine soft butter, brown sugar, and honey and whip for 1 minute or until smooth. Add flour a little at a time until well blended. Add the crumbled streusel topping, and bake for 10-15 additional minutes or until done.

Buttermilk Pound and Lemon Sauce

• ½ cup softened, salted butter

• 1 cup Crisco shortening

• 2 ½ cups sugar

• 4 eggs

• ½ tsp. soda

• 1 Tbsp. hot water

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. lemon extract

• 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• 1 cup fresh buttermilk

Lemon Sauce

• 1/2 cup hot water

• 1 cup sugar

• Juice and rind of 2 lemons

In a mixer bowl, cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Dissolve soda in hot water and add salt and lemon extract. Stir into creamed mixture. Add flour to cream mixture while alternating with buttermilk. Beat well after each addition. Pour batter into a well-greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. While still warm, punch holes in cake with toothpick. Spoon lemon sauce over cake. For the sauce, in a saucepan, bring water, sugar, juice, and rind of 2 lemons to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes.