Collard, black-eyed pea and pepperjack dumplings

Collard and black-eyed pea dumplings with pepper jack

At the beginning of the year Malcolm had to fill out some sort of worksheet to introduce himself to his new teacher. What does he want to be when he grows up? A mailman! Wot? I thought, not famous artist or rock star or astronaut? “Mailman” seemed like such an unlikely answer for a ten-year-old. Obviously, it’s a good, solid job, with benefits, and one anybody should be proud to hold. But our Malcolm is not a practical man. He’s zany and disorganized and fantastically impulsive. Sometimes it seems as though he’s got more physical and creative energy than can be safely contained in one human being. The more I think about it, though, the more I love his answer. I like the idea of having a sort of regular, down-to-earth, ordinary job (like, ahem, waitressing, say), and having the rest of your life be the outlet for your creative energy. I believe that it’s grounding. I believe that working with people and serving people is inspiring and that anything you do, creatively, benefits from the sort of warmth of understanding you achieve when you feed a person or ring up their groceries or deliver their mail. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that artists are a refined class unto themselves, with supersensitive souls and a delicate constitutions. Everybody, human and animal alike (I believe) is possessed of a potentially rich and receptive sensibility, if they take the trouble to open themselves up, and the time to notice. And plenty of well-known artists have had very ordinary jobs. T.S. Eliot worked as a teacher and a banker, and apparently scribbled his poems on matchbook covers. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. (And I’m sure there are plenty of other examples, if anybody else would like to chime in, here.) Obviously, it would be wonderful to have a rewarding career, creatively and financially, and find everything you need in one package. But that’s not a reality for many people. For me, the important thing is not what you do for a living, or how much money you make, but how you occupy your mind while you’re doing your job. I can just see Malcolm, walking from house-to-house, his mind a-buzz with crazy schemes and inventions. (In fact, he once described a scenario in which he worked as a mailman, and as well as people’s mail, he’d deliver trash from house to house. He’s a big fan of trash, and likes to make new things out of it. So he’d deliver one person’s cool garbage to somebody else who could use it to make something they need. One person’s trash is another person’s inspiration.) I believe this applies to motherhood as well. It’s so hard to be a mom sometimes – you’re criticized for working, criticized for giving up work to stay home. It can lead to real feelings of failure! (Which, in turn, makes you a worse mother, which makes you feel like more of a failure, and on and on…) Whether you stay at home or you’re out of the house building a career, you can always have something that you’re working on, in your head or on paper or on canvas or on film. You can delight in your children as your creation, and celebrate their imagination.

The very act of cooking dinner in the evening can be an expression of your artistry! And you’re sustaining your family! Double plus bonus points!! This weekend at work I didn’t make very much money, but I was allowed to take home some leftover cubes of pepper jack cheese. Score! And we got some collards from the farm. I’ve been dreaming about making some sort of savory pastry – crunchy outside, soft and warm inside, with lots of melting cheese (it’s started to get very cold here!). I love secret melted cheese! So I decided to make a cornbread crust, and inside have a layer of collards and black-eyed peas surrounding a big soft melty bit of spicy cheese. I thought these were so delicious, I was quite proud of them, and gobbled them up. They were fun to make, too. And as David pointed out – black-eyed peas and collards are both considered lucky foods!

Here’s a song David discovered that’s been stuck in my head (in a good way) ever since he played it for me. I find it quite moving! It’s Neneh Cherry and the Thing with Dream Baby Dream.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup corn meal
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 – 1 cup warm water

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder in a big bowl. Pour in the olive oil, and work it in with your fingers until it’s like coarse, sandy crumbs. Add enough water to form it into a workable dough – 1/2 to 3/4 cup should do it. Knead for a few minutes, and then set aside while you make your filling.


1 can (15 oz) black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
1 medium-sized bunch collard greens(about 1 1/2 cups cooked)
2 T olive oil
1 shallot – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
1 t oregano
1 t smoked paprika
salt and plenty of black pepper

8 – 10 1-inch cubes of pepper jack cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the collard leaves, and remove their spiny stems. Drop them into the boiling water and leave them for about half an hour, till they’re quite soft. Remove and drain. Chop quite fine.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook a few minutes till it starts to turn brown. Add the garlic and oregano, and cook a few minutes more. Add the beans. Stir to coat with shallots, garlic and spices, and cook for a few minutes. Then add the collards and paprika. If the pan is very dry, add a few tablespoons of water. Cook till everything is warmed and combined, season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400, and lightly butter a baking sheet. Break off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. On a lightly-floured counter, roll it to be about 1/8th inch thick and 5 inches wide. Put this circle of dough on your hand. Place a large tablespoonful of beans and greens in the center. Bury a cube of cheese in the beans and greens. Fold up the edges of the dough all around the filling, and press lightly to seal. Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. If the dough tears, patch it with an extra piece and make it a little thicker next time you roll it. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the tops of the dumplings starts to turn golden brown.


40 thoughts on “Collard, black-eyed pea and pepperjack dumplings

    • Jeannie – I think you’d like collards. They’re flavorful but less assertive than kale. I can’t get enough of them lately! You could always use spinach instead, though.

      Thanks so much for the super-8 viewer! It’s super-cool! It’s actually quite rare to find super 8 rather than just regular 8 – I can actually use this one.

      • So glad you like it. I often see things at the flea market that I would like to send to you, like sour sop, or jack fruit or dragon fruit, but I don’t think they will arrive in good condition. Hoping you can come visit sometime soon. You would love the produce section of the flea market.

  1. The poet Wallace Stevens was the head of the surety bond department at the Hartford Insurance company and I’ve heard that the composer Charles Ives also worked in insurance. (Hey, I worked in insurance too!)

    My mother’s cousin Charles worked for the post office. He worked nights sorting mail and at one time worked on the mail train between St. Paul, Minnesota and Seattle-Portland. He was an artist who did wonderful impressionist paintings as well as kitschy commercial art and greeting cards. He was a fabulous musician and had a Bosendoerfer piano. He loved trains and model railroads and excavated a tunnel in his basement and set up a really neat layout for his trains to run in and out.

  2. William Carlos Williams – doctor
    Herman Melville – something, but can’t remember what
    Henry David Thoreau – worked in a pencil factory most of his life
    Lots of college professors.
    Spike Lee – directs commercials.
    There are a lot more, if i can think of them.

  3. I can only think of Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of The Scarlet Letter) who worked in a Massachusetts customs house. D.H. Lawrence was working as a teacher when his first novel (The White Peacock) was published.

    • Interesting about Hawthorne. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Lawrence – he’s one of those who seem to claim super-sensitive status. I could be wrong though, I haven’t read him in a while.

  4. Philip Larkin, who refused the Poet Laureateship, held his job as librarian at Hull University.
    Primo Levi, author of the world famous If This Is A Man, also held his job as a chemist in a Turin paint factory.
    Nathaniel Hawthorne was appointed American Consul to LIverpool after the publication of Tanglewood Tales.
    Sir Peter Blake, prominent pop artist and designer of the sleeve of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, worked as a lecturer in the Royal College Of Art. Taught Ian Dury.
    It’s more difficult for musicians to hold down a job because they have to tour.

  5. Hi Steenbeck, sorry for never dropping in here. I should because it’s a wonderful looking blog – but I’m short of time these days.

    IRRC, Sonic Youth often worked in temporary jobs between touring and recording. And I’ll go slightly off topic now and point out that Jenny Wilson recorded “Love and Youth” as an unemployed single mother with financial support from the Swedish Council of Cultural Affairs. And over in Finland, Burning Hearts “Extinctions” was recorded with financial support from Svenska Kulturfonden. Without that aid both artists would have been forced to go to work to before they had the money to record their music. As it is, both artists are now repaying the faith of those institutions with a fair amount of commercial and financial success.

    A lot of people over here hold down regular jobs while being involved in some sort of art project that they expect little or no financial return from. Tomorrow I’ll go to work at the same office as the guest vocalist on Jori Hulkkonen as Third Culture – “Options” feat Harri Falck.



      • I’m well. Hope you are. Looking at the food I’m sure you are.

        Support for the arts! I know. Just imagine Burning Hearts made an obscure pop album themed around the relationship of human beings to the natural world. If only more people had such opportunities.

        BTW. I was listening to Cats on Fire (Finland’s Smiths) today and I remembered the comments of fans who’d gone to check out the band only to find themselves watching their chemistry teacher and music teacher. Check out the comments in the video.

  6. Franz Kafka worked in an insurance company most of his life. I’m sure there are many other examples, thinking now…
    Of course, with indie bands and musicians, a day job is very much the norm. Laura Veirs, just to name one… you could have her giving you guitar and banjo lessons for not a lot of money if you were living in her area (at least, until a couple years ago, that I know). The Wrens’ bandmembers used to work in advertising (Charlie Bissell, later into guitar teaching too… bit of a pattern there), pharma companies, financial services enterprises, and so on…

    • Franz Kafka is a good example. And I actually have friends who are musicians who work in pharma companies! I guess they’re good with the equipment in the audio-visual department.

  7. All the members of Hearts Under Fire (…yes, RR regulars, here we go again…) work in ordinary jobs. Guitarist Nicky Day and drummer Lexi Clarke have office jobs. At the moment the band are booking their holiday days on Mondays and Fridays and using the long weekends to tour the UK. During the week, they’re working 9-5 and then going to Lexi’s place to write music (they’ve had several all-night drinking/writing sessions over the past few weeks).

  8. The Russian composer Borodin was a physician and chemistry professor and only composed Prince Igor in his spare time. I think Rimsky Korsakov had to help him with some of the orchestration.

  9. I remember cutting and pasting this from an article a couple of years ago:

    In Denmark, for instance, 275 artists are granted an annual stipend of ­between 15,000 and 149,000 Danish krone (£1,750 to £17,000) every year for the rest of their lives. In France, public funds are awarded through regional bodies not unlike our arts councils, ­except that the range of awards is much greater: artists in the Ile-de-France ­region, which includes Paris, can, for instance, claim up to €7,500 (£6,545) specifically to equip their studios.

    I think *sigh* is the only response.

    But I want to do exactly as I please with my designs – not have them watered down by group think … so that means I have a job that goes under the title of ‘I.T. Hygienist’ (I believe that means cleaning machines) along with my job title of designer/scibbler/printer/photographer/clown.

    My old take home pay (when I didn’t have responsibilities) was more in a day than I make in two weeks now and I ended up with nothing to show for it.

    Weird how the world turns, composer Philip Glass wasn’t able to quit his jobs as a plumber and a taxi-driver until the age of 41. I wonder if I ever will.

      • “Joy Division’s Ian Curtis worked in an unemployment office until 1979, well after the band had released their debut EP” I find that sentence quite satisfying for some strange reason.
        I’ve missed the boat with 41 too – but we’ll do it Claire – and we’ll do it our way.

  10. I’m trying to respond to every comment, but my computer is getting all fussy, and they keep disappearing. Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone! It’s very encouraging, I think!

  11. Was going to mention Kafka as an obvious one; I think T.S.Eliot worked in a bank for a while as well. Partly depends (a) on how you define “normal” and (b) on how far removed the job needs to be from the creative activity. One of my favourite writers, W.G.Sebald, kept up the day job as a professor of German at the University of East Anglia while writing deeply sad and haunting books, but that’s not such a contrast – though more so than being a teacher of creative writing as many modern poets and novelists become.

    Actually this was always my Plan B, if the academic career hadn’t worked out: get a relatively mundane job that wouldn’t deplete my creative energies, and get on with music and writing. The problem with academia is that it does need lots of creativity, but without being as wholly satisfying as – I imagine – writing a novel would be…

  12. Guy Evans is the drummer for Van Der Graaf Generator and teaches music technology at a 6th form college in London, so VDGG only tour in the school holidays

  13. Pingback: Roasted brussel sprouts with castelvetrano olives and walnuts | Out of the Ordinary

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