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Dissertating Mom: Soul Food for the Soul Weary

By: Future Dr. Krystal Rawls

It was one cold Halloween night in California, I was having quite the stereotypical dissertating mom meltdown. I was tired. The wildfires were raging, the schools closed, and the kids moping, as kids are want to do. A post on the Doctoral Mom Facebook page showed a few folks having some holiday fun and I felt exhausted just thinking about holiday fun much less participating. I dejectedly posted about my depressing night.

My immediate thought was, they can have fun but I need to figure out dinner before I get sick. I was trying to review data, keep an eye on the news, and somehow grade papers when I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. As the idea of holidays blended with food in my tired mind, I decided I needed soul food.

Do you have memories of the smell of smoked meat simmering half a day just before New Year’s? The slightly acidic smell of collard greens daring you to steal a taste, only untouched so you don’t spoil your appetite for the feast that was to come. I do. It meant the black-eyed peas, meant to represent prosperity for the New Year, were just about done and the next thing I would be smelling would be the golden cornbread. These delightful smells would definitely be accompanied by other goodies however this trinity was meant to ensure the prosperity of the eater, the greens representing money, the beans representing plenty, the bread representing sun shining days (or literal gold depending on who’s telling the tale). This meal typically prepared to bring in the new year, reminds many people of family gatherings, loved ones, and contentment: items graduate students can often miss out on during their academic journey. Are you hungry just thinking about these treats? Me too, soul hungry. I miss moments with my family. I certainly don’t have time to cook all day and New Year’s is a few months away yet. I’m not sure if the thought was fully formed but my need for sustenance was playing with my emotions since I knew I didn’t have time to make a good solid comfort meal…or did I?

I needed a meal that could feed my soul, remind me of the family moments to come, and the reason I was on this academic journey: the fruits of my labor would enrich my community. I needed the richness of those smells and the comfort of a satisfied belly. Just when I had convinced myself that I was going to eat another bowl of top ramen before I melted into my bed in defeat, I remembered my daughter bought me an Insta Pot. These things are supposed to cook anything fast and tonight, I needed to test that theory.

I headed to the kitchen to see how close I could come to a good meal. I know there are always black eye peas in the pantry and after rummaging a bit I found I had some Farmer John Spicy ground pork sausage, a few red and green mini peppers, garlic cloves, and some leftover collards. What happened next, is what I hope will happen for all of you after you read this essay. I was uplifted. I jumped online to investigate this slim possibility of making something soothing with my items.

I quickly found a recipe for cooking black eye peas in 35 minutes! I couldn’t believe it but I was teetering on madness at this point, so I started sorting beans. In my head, I couldn’t help but think ‘BUT THEY NEED TO SOAK!!” even though the recipe explicitly said no soaking needed.

I sorted 1 pound of dry black eye peas and washed them thoroughly. The greens were already cooked and about 1 and a half cups.

I chopped up 5 mini peppers (2 red, 2 orange, 1 yellow), 4 garlic cloves, 1 small onion. I didn’t have any celery, but I had some mini carrots, so I threw about a dozen on the counter and chopped them into bite-size pieces.

I sautéed the peppers, onions, and garlic for 3 minutes. I added the ground sausage until it was crumbly and brown. All the time, I was skeptical but, on a stress, induced mission to have black eye peas and greens this night! My prep took about 20 minutes. Then it all went in the Insta Pot with 3 (14 oz) cans of low sodium chicken broth. I added sea salt, cracked pepper, smoked paprika, a bay leaf, and I used the automatic setting for beans which promised only 35 minutes. I’d be lying if I said I measured my seasonings but let’s say about 2 teaspoons of each.

Could this really be happening? It was. Meanwhile, in the Doctoral Mom Facebook group, the admin reached out to offer some support. She reassured me that life would normalize and I’d feel better soon.

It did! In 35-minutes the timer ended, and I let it rest according to the directions for 10-15 minutes. Then I released the valve which allows the steam to escape. My skepticism was being erased by the smell…the smell was familiar, and I was starting to be quite hopeful. I ate those beans and greens. Soul food for the weary soul was just what I needed. I think I’m ready to face that data again.

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