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Stirring up memories


More Than One Lucky Day
December 31, 2002

 The Romans picked the right name for the month of January, calling it after their god Janus, the keeper of gates and doorways.  These are both entries and exits, so Janus had two heads to keep up with both the comings and the goings.  Often the backward face was that of an old man; the forward-looking fellow was young.  So it is at New Year’s, as we look both forward with anticipation and backward with gratitude.   We sing “Auld Lang Syne” as we remember days gone by and good friends, then we welcome the New Year as an innocent babe looking for new adventures.

            It seems universal that at this time of year, folks not only celebrate new beginnings, but also look to ensure good outcomes with lucky rituals.  We want to be sure young Janus has a smiling face. 

An aunt of mine insisted that all the girls and women in the house hem a new dishtowel. This was to ensure a prosperous future.  I wouldn’t know how to find an unhemmed dishtowel today, if I wanted to hem one.  I think this must reach back to when most of the kitchen linens in the house had once graced a feed sack.  A houseful of girls and women could just about hem a year’s supply of tea towels on a cold pre-television afternoon, after they’d cleaned up after the black-eyed peas and greens.

                        As I finished my Christmas shopping last week, I spotted some dishtowels at a real bargain price.  So in honor of my Aunt Alda, I bought an armload.  Once home, I headed for the dishtowel drawer and pulled out all the sad frayed ones.   One was a 1990 calendar, another one, tattered beyond saving, celebrated the marriage of Charles and Diana.  Out they went.  New Year’s will find me with spanking new dishtowels—even if someone else hemmed them.

Almost every country has a lucky dish the way we have black-eyed peas.  Seems like food is the best way to bring good luck.  In Holland and some other European countries they eat doughnuts since the round shape is considered perfect.  Many traditional New Year’s foods seem to be about money. In many countries people eat some sort of bean or legume.  One fairly common explanation is that beans look like little coins.  In Italy and much of southern Europe, the bean of choice is the lentil.   A flat cabbage leaf symbolizes folding money—in Hungary, stuffed cabbage rolls are a celebration favorite.

 Not everyone is worried about money.  In Asian cultures, particularly China and Japan, long life is the focus.  The family gathers for a platter full of long noodles and sees how many unbroken strands each can consume. The longer the noodle, the longer the eater will live.

The more I read about these lucky foods, the more I think one day is not enough.  This year I plan to serve various ones of these dishes to bring luck, joy and fun to all of Janus’s month and all year long.




Lucky Long Life Asian Noodles


Prepare as directed one package of soba (buckwheat) noodles from the exotic foods section of the grocery store.  Linguine may be substituted. Toss with steamed chopped broccoli and this tangy sauce.

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

red pepper flakes to taste


Combine and stir well.

Call in the family and tie on bibs or tuck dishtowels (perhaps some of those frayed ones) in shirt necks.  It’s going to be sloppy.    See how many noodles each person can slurp down without breaking one.  

Be Double Lucky

            Add toasted sesame seeds or chopped cooked pork (maybe from your New Year’s Day pork chops) to double up on your luck.

            This sauce recipe is sufficient for about eight ounces of soba or linguine.  It can be increased for a crowd.  I quadruple it (go easy on the garlic) and keep it in a squirt bottle in the refrigerator.  It livens up steamed broccoli, asparagus or green beans (or a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables).  Add some leftover chicken or turkey and a hurry-up dinner is served.



Last week I gave a recipe for spicy benne (sesame seed) cakes.  Here is a sweet version.

Sweet Benne Wafers

(adapted from Nathalie Dupree’s Southern Memories)


6 tablespoons softened butter

¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup flour

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

            Preheat oven to 325°.

            Spread the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and bake for five to ten minutes stirring occasionally and watching carefully until they are toasted golden but not brown.  Cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Add the sesame seeds and baking powder to the flour and mix this into the butter mixture.

            Drop about ½ teaspoon of dough two inches apart onto a parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet.  (No joke about the two inches; these cookies are going to spread out.) Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

            Cool on a rack. As soon as the cookies begin to separate from the paper, remove with a metal knife or spatula.  They get crisp very quickly.

 Store in an airtight container.  These too may be frozen.

            I had to try three times to get these right.  The first time the dough was too thin, and I did not believe the instructions about spacing.  I ended up with a runny, sticky, yummy cookie sheet full of what?  Benne flat cake?  Still, it tasted great. I tried again but overdid it on the flour.  The cookies were good, but not as nutty and interesting as the sticky mess.  The third time (I feel like the Three Bears here) was just right.  These are a bit of trouble, but the ensuing wafer is brown on the edges, chewy in the middle, and altogether satisfying.

            Southern Memories is a great cookbook, and you can check it out of the Southwest Georgia Regional Library as soon as I check it in.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network