Vegan cassoulet from 29 Palms Inn

This past weekend I finally visited southern California, a place I’ve avoided for a very long time. Initially, when the first of many friends moved to L.A., I didn’t want to visit. Because I was certain I would hate it. Then, when I broke down and planned a trip, things didn’t work out because of the Rodney King riots, which resulted in LAX being closed the day I was to arrive.

Joshua TreeOver the years, as more and more friends moved out west, I have spent time in Northern California, which I love, and Seattle, a place I would eventually like to call home. Yet my affection for these other west coast cities, livable places full of air and space and nature, somehow only hardened my conviction that L.A. was not for me.

Eventually, that belief became part of my identity. I was a person who disliked L.A. Until recently, during my reevaluation of, well, everything. At some point in the last few months I realized that my beliefs about L.A. were based on nonsense, a vestige of old, unhealthy patterns. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what I think. There are people I love in L.A. It’s sunny. There are gorgeous beaches. Matador Beach, MalibuAnd the food is supposed to be great. So I booked a ticket. And I’m posting after spending a long weekend there. I didn’t fall in love with the city. But I liked it just fine. And the nature that surrounds the city is amazing. I will definitely return.

Although my first trip was pretty quick, I managed to pack a whole lot in. On the first day, I went to Matador Beach, in Malibu. I would say that the beauty is indescribable. Except I have photos. So you can see for yourself. Matador Beach, Malibu 2Stunning, right? The photos don’t catch the sound, though, which was mesmerizing. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, a soft background noise that lulls you, gently invites you to come into the water, this sound took over from the outside, strong and assertive, crawling inside my mind, body, until I was empty of everything except the rythmic beat. I laid on the sand for an hour or so, absorbed by sound of ocean hitting rock, over and over, taking over thought and leaving room only for being. There was no need for me to go anywhere or do anything. It was like a gong bath. But more visceral.

Unfortunately, the only dark spot of the entire weekend followed directly after that marvelous experience. When we left the beach, planning to head home and then go out, my friend Maria and I got caught up in the fabled L.A. traffic. It’s so, so much worse than I imagined. Because at the time I had not yet seen Chris Burden’s Metropolis II. (http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/metropolis-ii) Metropolis IIArt does indeed reflect life. Within the first ten minutes of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, all of my pride at newly acquired ability to breathe through anger and irritation was shown up as nothing but veneer.  I managed to stay calm, did not become moody or difficult. But it took tremendous effort, leaving me with nothing much left to give. That meant we wound up staying home Saturday night instead of heading out to the bbq we’d been invited to. I wanted to go. I just didn’t want to drive. Or have to make an effort with people I didn’t know. It was sad. And, Maria assured me, completely typical. This was L.A.

On the upside, the earlyMaria 2 night at home made it super easy to get up the next day. The plan was to go to yoga and then to another friend’s house for a bbq. I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I’d never been to one of Maria’s classes. (http://www.yogaworks.com/en/Locations/California%20-%20South/Los%20Angeles/LarchmontVillage-CFY.aspx?tab=teachers&staff_id={FB54B179-3A37-484E-A64C-B90400C00383}) Nervous because I’ve never practiced Ashtanga. She assured me there was nothing to be nervous about, though. Which turned out to be true.

In addition to being a great friend, Maria (pictured left, in Joshua Tree) is a wonderful teacher, calm and thoughtful, pushing each of us to make the effort, to give everything without getting lost in struggle. This is an image of her that we shot in Joshua Tree. So gorgeous! I still am not a convert. The rigor and discipline of Ashtanga don’t draw me in. But I admire it. And I am no longer afraid.

After class, we made a quick stop at Whole Foods in Pasadena, where I nerded out on the bulk section of heirloom beans. Then we headed to East L.A. for another friend’s bbq. What followed was about 30 hours of pure joy with people I absolutely love.

First, we spent a few hours at the hostess’s awesome house, eating, drinking, laughing, and listening to music.Me and David It was perfect. My joy is apparent in this photo. Yes? But, at some point, we disbanded that part of the day. It was time to leave for Joshua Tree. The drive was delightful, full of more laughing and talking and reveling in friend love. The four of us hadn’t been together in 12 years, so there was a whole lot of catching up to do. Before I knew it we arrived at our hotel, the 29 Palms Inn (http://www.29palmsinn.com/). We checked in and then headed to the restaurant for dinner. I’d heard mixed reviews, so wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was hoping for the best. After all, they had their own farm. How bad could it be?

desert cassouletCassoulet isn’t something one typically associates with the desert. Or Southern California. But in addition to white beans, the menu promised garlic, greens, and tomatoes from the garden. Which sounded great after the bison burger and various forms of carbohydrates and dairy I’d eaten for lunch. When I overheard the table next to us ask for the recipe, I knew it was for me. And I was not disappointed. This reimagined version of cassoulet was fresh, vibrant, and deeply satisfying. So I, too, asked for the recipe. Here’s what the chef told me to do.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

Because I have not yet had a chance to try this recipe, I’m not sure what to tell you about the amounts. And I probably won’t for a little while. Because I just found out that I have to find an apartment, pack up the condo where I’ve lived for the past ten years, and move, all in the next two weeks. Which will not permit much time for cooking or, probably, blogging. But I look forward to trying this cassoulet soon, once I’m settled in my new place, what and wherever that is. If you get around to it before I do, please let me know!

Cherokee beans

Cherokee beansI got these beans a while back, when I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a hog butchering class. (If you missed it, here’s the blog post I wrote about that, photos and all. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/24/inspiration-and-bacon-from-the-underground-food-collective/))

The beans have been sitting around so long because, honestly, I didn’t know what to do with them. Indeed, I didn’t even know what they were. It was obviously a mix of beans, but what kind? I had no idea. I trusted that they would be delicious, though. Because I’m pretty sure that everything the Underground Food Collective touches is delicious. They are magicians with food. (http://undergroundfoodcollective.org/)

I wanted to do something special, something to honor the source as well as whatever it is about these beans that made the vendor decide to label them Cherokee. After all, who doesn’t associate the idea of anything Cherokee with everything awesome in this world? Including the Cat Power song by the same name, which I still haven’t tired of despite listening to it (and the rest of Sun) more than one morning a week while getting ready for work. Yeah, I probably need to get some new music. But it’s so good! If you don’t believe me, see here. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDbPrOuXq2s)

But back to beans. I thought, with time, I would become inspired. That something would leap out one day and shout that this was it, this was exactly the right recipe. That happens sometimes, especially with food. And writing. A moment of creativity in which everything makes sense without any effort. A fully-formed idea comes into your mind and you know that it’s exactly right. But not this time.

Finally, this past week, I decided to stop waiting around for inspiration. After all, there was no one I needed to impress. So I would cook the beans simply. With a little bit of bacon. Which also came from Underground Meats and has been in my freezer, waiting. For this super simple pot o’ beans. Which turned out to be completely delicious. And included a moment of inspiration in the spice department, when I realized I was out of ground cumin and didn’t feel like cleaning out the coffee grinder…

2 cups of mixed small beans
2 thick slices of smoked English bacon
1 sm. onion, diced
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/2 t. coriander seeds
1 T. whole coffee beans
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
freshly ground black pepper
1 dried red chili pepper, crumbled
water to cover by 2 inches

1. Slice the bacon, cross-wise. Place in an unheated cast-iron skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high and fry until crisp. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, until the onion is soft. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and remove from heat.

2. Rinse the beans and pick out any pebbles or bits of chaff. Transfer the rinsed beans to a pot or the insert of a slow cooker. Grind the cumin, coriander, and coffee in a coffee grinder. Add the spices to the beans, together with the kombu, chili pepper, and onion mixture. Add water to cover by 2 inches. If you’re cooking on the stove top, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 hours, or until the beans are tender. Check the water level occasionally to make sure the beans are submerged. If you’re using a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. When the beans are tender, salt generously (about 1-1/2 t) and allow the beans to cool in the liquid.

I ate these beans with tortillas and sliced avocado. But you could also serve them over rice, for a gluten-free meal. They would probably also be good without the bacon, for all you non-meat eaters out there. The bacon is really good though. And I love that it takes so little to make such big flavor. The longer I stretch it, the fewer pigs die for my pleasure. Thank you, pig. I am grateful.

The heart of the matter: Healing through Kundalini chakra yoga

I am sharing this blog post because it made me very happy. It has absolutely nothing to do with beans. But everything to do with dreams. Enjoy.

Birdsong Readings

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A friend of mine started offering a chakra immersion series in Pittsburgh. Today was all about the heart—something I tend to neglect. I’m no stranger to chakras, especially as a Reiki practitioner and an intuitive. It doesn’t matter what you call them, but when that energy is blocked, anyone can feel the effects. These blocks can manifest as depression, lethargy, confusion, lack of motivation, lack of direction in life and a host of other frustrating and sometimes baffling circumstances and emotions.

The heart chakra is the mid-way point between the ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ chakras. It is the energetic space that connects us to our divinity and to love, which as Marianne Williamson and A Course in Miracles says, is all that is real in this universe. That may seem counter-intuitive these days as we read the news or watch TV. Fear seems to be running rampant and even if fear…

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Ribollita

Ribollita, a vegetable soup made with beans and thickened with stale bread, is classic Italian peasant food, nourishing, practical, and delicious. I discovered it years ago, during a semester that I was lucky enough to spend studying in Florence. My student housing was a hotel, the Hotel Globus, which provided a light breakfast (thinly sliced cheese and prosciutto on a roll) but left us on our own for all other meals. So as soon as I discovered ribollita at a trattoria around the corner from my hotel, I had it for lunch at least twice a week. Because this nourishing soup was inexpensive, delicious food that sustained me, body and soul.

Despite my love, for some reason I’ve never made this deliciousness at home before today. Indeed, until last week, I don’t think I’ve eaten ribollita even once since I left the Hotel Globus. So last week, when I ate lunch at Publican Quality Meats (http://publicanqualitymeats.com/), there wasn’t much trouble deciding what to order. Full of gigantic runner beans, hearty greens, thick slices of meat, and cubes of toasty bread, my first non-Italian ribollita was soul-satisfying good.

Even so, a couple of days after that lunch, thinking about the soup, I found myself craving the taste of my memory. Because while the rich, meaty ribollita at Publican’s deli was absolutely delicious,  it wasn’t the simple peasant fare I remembered from Italy. I was somehow left wanting more. And therefore decided it was finally time to make my own.

I started, as I always do, by looking for and reading recipes, all of which were pretty similar.ribollita In the end, I made a version inspired by two recipes: the brilliant Skye Gyngell’s recipe in My Favorite Ingredients (http://www.amazon.com/My-Favorite-Ingredients-Skye-Gyngell/dp/1580080502), and a recipe from Food52 (http://food52.com/recipes/14464-ribollita). The result maybe didn’t match my memory, because, well, that would have been impossible. But it was really good. Here’s what I did.

2 c. dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (for digestion)
3 quarts cold water
3 T. olive oil
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 dried red chili peppers
2 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 t. dried sage
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
4-6 slices of Tuscan bread, torn into pieces
Salt and pepper

1. Drain the beans. Place them in a deep, heavy pot with the kombu and one of the chili peppers, crumbled, then add water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours or until tender. Add 1 t. salt and allow to cool in cooking liquid.

2. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions, the other chili pepper, and about 1 t. salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring on occasion. Add the garlic. Cook for another minute then add the carrot and  celery and cook for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the potato and tomatoes, turn the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes longer.

2. Drain the cooked beans, remove the kombu, and add them to the vegetables along with the kale and one quart of cold water. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for an hour or so, until the vegetables are very tender. Remove from the heat and allow the soup to stand for a couple of hours in order for the flavors to meld. Reheat before serving and taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary

To serve, divide the bread among the serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread, drizzle with olive oil, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. This will still be pretty good without the cheese if you want to make it vegan.  If you’re gluten-free, try substituting a grain. Gyngell’s recipe calls for farro, which does contain gluten, but buckwheat might be nice. As a side note, here is an interesting discussion about gluten-free grains. (http://eatingfriendly.blogspot.com/2011/07/going-gluten-free-know-your-grains.html)