by Tara Davis

Not to be cliche, but it’s a conflicted time of year, isn’t it?  A lot of us struggle financially, and just in the day to day stress of it all.  Emotions run high. The holidays, the year drawing to a close, they can bring into focus things we somehow manage to sweep into the corners of the rest of our lives.  Maybe we miss loved ones, feel family strife, social guilt or bigger than usual surges of compassion.  Maybe the stress of busy schedules and making ends meet gets to us.
How did we get here?
I don’t pretend to really know.  But I know it is an annual reality for a lot of folks.  Why am I bringing up any of this?  This is a recipe column, isn’t it, not some social commentary opportunity?  I assure you, if you stick with me, the recipes are coming. But they are not of the same frivolity this week.
Last night, I walked into my upcoming storefront, and saw the pilot lights on my equipment had been lit.  The gas was on.  The space was officially alive.  It’s a tiny thing, really.  But I remember few times in my life in which I have felt so overwhelmed with emotion, and so very blessed.
It brought back to me all the things I have to be grateful for, and why.  It breathed into me the memories of hard times past, and making something out of nothing when necessary.  It specifically reminded me of a time I worked 3 jobs and slept 3 hours a night, and had practically nothing in spite of it. Exhausted, I shuffled home at 2 am. looked in my kitchen, and all I had was 1 egg, 1 sweet potato, a can of black beans and some expired dried seasonings.  No exaggeration.  That was it.  It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t great.  But I was, in that moment, so overjoyed to have some reasonable combination of things to work with and actually eat, it energized me!  The revelation of one meager meal carried me through the week unlike anything in the months previous.
It also brought to mind other meals of desperation from times before I cooked professionally. Some of them were less sad, but also less inspiring.  In college, friends and I had an arrangement where we would each bring one or two components to contribute to a group concoction, or we would bring our own protein to throw on the grill and just spend the time together.   Very “Stone Soup.”  And very important as a life experience. There were weeks one or more of us couldn’t contribute more than boxed mac and cheese or half jars of pickles. But that was ok, because those were somehow always the weeks the rest of us had more to offer.
This week, please find a way to know that whatever you bring to the table is still a valuable contribution, and whatever you have can be transformed into something sustainable.   Be it of food or spirit.  May we all find ways not only to bless others, but to feel blessed ourselves.
A couple of my hard times recipes:
Sweet potato cakes- per person, boil one medium, peeled sweet potato. Mash with one drained can black beans.  Mix in 1 egg, 1 tsp each onion and garlic powder, salt, dried thyme, chili powder and pinch cayenne.  Form into one inch balls, then press into patties. Brown on both sides in a pan on medium high heat. Use oil in that pan if you happen to have it.
Tuna patties- serves 2.
Drain 1 can tuna in water. Mix with 1 egg, 3 Tbsp flour, salt and pepper to taste.  Brown in a pan on medium high heat, top with cheese if desired
Pasta surprise – serves 4 hungry people.
Cook and drain one bag pasta of choice (mine is bowtie) according to the package.  Grab anything in your fridge and cabinets that sounds pretty good, and throw it in a casserole dish with cooked pasta. (Mine typically has onion, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, some kind of cheese and spinach- if I’m lucky.  But there are no rules here!  Canned corn? Sure! Frozen broccoli? You bet. That weird jar of preserved peppers or something someone left at your house? Put em in there).  Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted