Dryland bean farming and five national parks

Amazing as it is, in Dove Creek, Colorado, the “self-proclaimed Pinto Bean Capital of the Wophoto 9rld,” there are bean farmers who practice “dryland” farming, which means that they don’t use any form of irrigation. Despite the fact that they are farming in the desert. This blows my mind. In a good way.

I stopped in Dove Creek during my whirlwind National Park tour, on the way from Moab, Utah, to Cortez, Colorado. The quote is from a magazine article, The Ballad of the Drylander, which I picked up at the Adobe Milling Company. (http://www.anasazibeans.com/).

The Adobe Mphoto 3illing Company processes and sells beans grown by the very same dryland bean farmers who are featured in the article. I wasn’t able to talk to any farmers. But, from what I gathered in a brief conversation with a couple of people who work at the Adobe Milling Company, the farmers put the bean pods into a silo. The beans then go through some additional process to separate the seeds (edible part of the bean) from the pod. Finally, the beans pass through a chute and are packaged for sale.

From the looks of things, the bulk of Adobe Milling Company’s business is mail order. But they alsphoto 13o have a store. Where they sell many varieties of beans. Also many varieties of hot sauce, which I heard are delicious. But, since I had to fly home, I limited myself to beans. Many beans. Specifically, Anasazi, Colorado River, Mortgage Lifter, Pink Eye, Pinto, and Zuni beans. Of course pinto beans are readily available without being imported from Colorado, but I couldn’t come home from the Pinto Bean Capital of the World without some pinto beans. Right? That would have been crazy. At least if you’re me. No. For me, the only sane move was to bring home as many beans as I could fit in my suitcase. Which turned out to be a lot.

So far, I’ve cooked just one variety, the Colorado River beans. Great as they were, the folks at Adobe Milling Company didn’t have any advice beyond telling me that none of the beans I bought (except the Mortgage Lifters) needed to be soaked prior to cooking. These beans are fresh, you see. But I found some useful information at this site (http://consciouscookery.vpweb.com/Heirloom-Heritage-Beans.html), where I learned that Colorado River beans are also known as “Mayflower” beans. Apparently they’re very good for baked beans. However, I decided to use them for vegetarian chili. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/07/slow-cooker-vegetarian-chili-adapted-from-the-gourmet-vegetarian-slow-cooker-by-lynn-alley/)

I’m delighted to report that the experiment was a total success. Acting on the advice of the woman who sold them to me, I did not soak the smallish beans, yet they held their shape perfectly after 10 hours of slow cooking.

Eager as I am to start cooking the rest of the beans, it may be a while before I get around to it. Between work, trying to settle into my new apartment, finalizing the upcoming program on prison reform, and trying to generate material with my improv ensemble, I haven’t had any creative inspiration for beans lately. And I’m trying to be okay with that. Trying to trust that it will come when the time is right. Breathe.

The funny thing is that most of the time I know everything will work out as it should. Yet, there are those moments when I fall back into old patterns, fretting and fuming, spinning myself into a mass of anxiety and nerves, so worried about what I’m not doing that I can’t do anything.

For example, pretty much every day since I returned from my vacation I intended to write this post. I wanted to write about Dove Creek, and dryland farming. But I also wanted to write about what a wonderful time I had on vacation, spending time with my best friend and seeing what I believe may be the most beautiful part of our country. Now that I’ve gotten the first bit down, I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip, even though it isn’t about beans. Because I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to hear about a trip to five national parks. They’re stunning.

Mesa Arch, CanyonlandsWe started at Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah. (http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm) This is one of Beth’s photos, of (and through) Mesa Arch.

The next day, we went to Arches National Park (http://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm), where Beth and I embarked on our first real hike of the trip, a three-mile walk to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch 2The hike wasn’t difficult, but it was hot–91 degrees! So worth it, though.  And we befriended a very nice man, a retired professor from Germany. He was in excellent physical condition. Nonetheless, the fact that we kept pace with him is probably telling.

After the hike to Delicate, we drove to Colorado, for the visit to Bean Country and to visit Mesa Verde National Park. (http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htmCliff Palace Here’s a shot of the largest of the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace. Apparently the ancestral Puebloans built and then abandoned this city within three generations. There’s plenty of speculation about why they left (probably drought, although Beth and I hypothesized that it was just too damn cold down there), but no one really knows. It’s a  great mystery. Cliff Palace 1

While we didn’t get to spend as much time in Mesa Verde as I would have liked, this may have been my favorite of the parks we visited. Our original goal was to spend some time in the park that afternoon and then return in the morning. Unfortunately, however, the park closes at 5. So we didn’t get to see as much as we’d hoped. But I will go back to Mesa Verde one day when I have more time. It is a special place.

The next stop, and the place we spent the most time, was Zion National Park. (http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm) This is Beth’s favorite place, which she was eager to share with me. And I can see why. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Angel's LandingThe plan for our first full day in Zion was to hike Angel’s Landing, which Beth and her husband climbed earlier this year. Here’s a shot she got on this trip. Gorgeous. Yes? And terrifying. After reading about the hike in one of their guidebooks, I was nervous. “Not recommended for those afraid of heights,” the book said. It sounded scary. But I’m not afraid of heights. Not really. And I didn’t want to miss out on something so spectacular. So we went.

If possible, the reality was even more remarkably awe-inspiring than the photos. Yet, sadly, my anxiety was justified. As it turns out, I am afraid of heights. At least this kind. In the beginning I was fine. Beth going up to Angel's LandingBut when we reached this point, I was literally shaking, with sweaty hands. It was awful. Truly. Can you imagine trying to hold onto a metal chain with sweaty hands, trying to stay grounded while your entire body is trembling? I’m absolutely certain that if I’d known what it would feel like, I wouldn’t have gone. Not that it’s over, though, Ichains‘m so, so glad that I did.

At one point, when we reached the first plateau after the chains, I wanted to turn back. Or at least part of me did. We stopped and sat down while I worked it out. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Beth isn’t always the most patient person in the world. At that moment, though, mid-way through this climb, when it mattered, she waited patiently, without judgment, emanating unconditional love and support, while I worked through my terror.

At first I was just breathing. Then, next thing you know, I was sobbing. Fear manifested as tears. This lasted maybe 5 full minutes. After which I was still afraid but ready to go on. view from the top of Angel's Landing

Here’s a view from the top, where I sat next to this very brave tree and peered over the edge. I still can’t quite believe how beautiful it is. That said, to me, the accomplishment was not getting to the top in order to take this photo.

The accomplishment was the fact that I kept going, that I overcBeth going down from Angel's Landingame my fear and kept going. One step at a time. Because I knew that if I turned back, I would regret it. Always. And because Beth was there, believing that I would be okay. So we finished.

My reward was that contrary to my fears, the way down was much easier. It doesn’t look it, though, does it? Just seeing the photo right now makes me a little nervous

The next day, our last full day, was pure pleasure. We hiked The Narrowsthe Narrows, a slot canyon where you hike in the river. It’s hard, as you are walking on boulders through fast-running, ice-cold water.

Beth in the narrows 2But it’s quite remarkably beautiful. And so much fun!!! At least, as long as you have the right gear. Some people were hiking in shorts and tennis shoes. But we rented boots, pants, sticks, and a drypack from Zion Adventure Company. (http://www.zionadventures.com/zion-narrows/). The boots and pants made lifemore hoodoos at Bryce comfortable. And the stick is essential. On the final day of our trip, as we headed home, we  drove to Bryce Canyon. It was cold and kind’ve rainy. So we didn’t do any hiking. Instead, it was a classic American tour of observation points. You can see a lot of hoodoos from the side of the road!! They’re amazing. As was everything. I still can’t quite believe this stuff exists, that you can simply get in your car and drive to these places, that we humans got it together enough to preserve such wonder for ourselves and future generations. It restores my faith in us, at least temporarily. Indeed, being immersed in such splendor makes me almost believe in the notion of God. At the same time, though, I find myself even less tolerant of the notion of religion. With all of this to worship, what need have we of churches?

This morning, back in Chicago, when I was lying in my bed, I finally felt ready to write this post. It was raining. Which sparked a connection between my life right now and the idea of dryland farming. Because yesterday I finally planted some seeds in my garden plot. (http://www.petersongarden.org/) Now, because it’s raining, while I may go by the garden today, I don’t have to. Nature is watering for me. Unlike the farmers in Dove Creek, I am not dependent upon the rain for my water. At least not in the same immediate sense. But I feel the connection. It is good.

Curried couscous with almonds, raisins, and scarlet runner beans

This dish was inspired by the curried chicken salad from Whole Foods, which I tried to buy one evening last week. My plan for that evening had been to unpack and wash dishes, and at least start organizing the kitchen of my new apartment. But I’d had a difficult work day. I was starving, super tired and overwhelmed by the chaos of moving. And it was beautiful outside. So, even though it isn’t very close, I decided to walk to the store.

The walk was a great idea. At first, still stressed, my mind was spinning. But gradually, I slowed, started enjoying the evening. My nervous system calmed down. When I finally got to the store, I took my time, filling a basket with carefully selected food for the rest of the week, including several bulk items and a small container of the curried chicken salad. Then I went to pay. But, to my great shame, I could not remember the PIN number for my debit card, which had just that day been replaced after a fraud attempt. So I had to leave, walking home empty handed, still starving, and mortified. Could they even put the bulk food back in the bins or would it have to be thrown away? Ugh. I felt like a complete ass.

On the way home, I tried to think about some upside to the experience. But there wasn’t one. I mean, it was kind’ve funny, sure. But there was no lesson. I didn’t learn anything. It just sucked. And man, what was I going to eat for dinner?

curried couscous with almonds, raisins, and scarlet runner beansI wound up eating leftover Cherokee beans from the freezer, which, by the way, were absolutely delicious. Before I got there, though, I dreamed up this dish. Which I just turned into reality. You should too–it’s so good! And easy. This recipe make enough for 2 servings.

1/3 c. Scarlet Runner beans, soaked overnight
1/2 c. Israeli couscous
1/4 c. almonds, sliced and toasted
1/4 c. raisins
1 tsp. curry powder
1 T. olive oil
1-2 T. honey
salt to taste

1. Cook the beans for 1-2 hours, until tender. Add curry powder, olive oil, honey (more or less, to taste–I used about 1-1/2 T), and salt to taste. Let cool.

2. Bring 1 cup of water to boil. Add the couscous, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Add the beans and raisins to the couscous, stir, and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or, in summer, chilled. Add the almonds just before you’re ready to serve.

Slow cooked ragu with pork ribs and white beans

kitchenThis is my next to last day in the condo I’ve lived in for the past ten years. Here’s the partially dismantled kitchen, with my beloved, giant refrigerator/freezer. My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I bought the condo just before we married, which makes the move complicated and fraught with feeling. So many hopes and dreams are bound up in this place. At first I found myself incapable of packing, paralyzed. Thankfully my friends rescued me. Now, the day before my move, I’m still not ready. But I will be.

Last weekend, while we were packing, one of my friends recounted the David Sedaris story about his brief stint working for a small moving company. When they showed up for a job, the movers found the client in the kitchen, cooking pasta, having packed absolutely nothing. Ha! So funny. So not any of us, we laughed. We continued packing, my friends efficiently, me sporadically, safe and secure in the knowledge that I would be ready when the movers arrived. But later that night, after my friends had gone home, I started thinking about that story, this time empathizing with that girl.

Until then, I’m not sure I was capable of empathy in this situation. I’ve always been a person who does what needs doing.  Absolutely not the person who lies around waiting for someone else to take care of her, oblivious. Cooking pasta while your belongings remain strewn about your apartment? That would never be me. Because such behavior would be inconsiderate, rude, wasteful. Crazy. I definitely have my crazy side, but historically it has never manifested as an inability to act. At least not in my adult life.

No. My crazy has always been too much action. When in doubt, do, that’s my motto.

Until now.

Now, suddenly, when faced with this huge change, one that I’ve known about for months, I’ve somehow emerged into this new form in which I’m incapable of acting on my own, without help. It’s absolutely terrifying. Yet, in some strange way, also liberating. Because, somehow, I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from people other than my family. Which is kind’ve amazing. It is a gift of intimacy and friendship that before now I’ve mostly seen only from the giving side. Yet receiving is just as important. It allows for others to express their generosity, their love.

On my way to recognizing this gift of receiving, I started to see that maybe the girl in David Sedaris’s story refused to pack her belongings not because she was lazy, or selfish, or inconsiderate, but because she was simply incapable of doing what she was supposed to do. I saw that because I could see it in myself. I didn’t know where to start with packing. And then I felt guilty. So I used avoidance techniques like television. Or sleep. Until my friends came over and saved me. Then, after they left, I felt capable of taking on surmountable tasks. Familiar, known tasks that I can control, things that I know how to start and finish them, by yourself. I understand this now because that morning, once I decided to cook, I lost the lethargy, felt like myself, relatively calm and in control. The contrast was illuminating.

I started by looking in the freezer. Most of what was left–various flours and other dried goods–can be moved. But I still had the ribs from my hog butchering adventure in February, as well as pork stock that I made from the rib roast. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/24/inspiration-and-bacon-from-the-underground-food-collective/) I had initially planned to do something with just the ribs. But, while I’ve never made ribs and white beans before, I had seen recipes. And it seemed like the most practical option: and easy, nutritious (if not exactly healthy), one-pot meal that I could eat all week.

In normal circumstances, this is the point where I would spend some time with my cookbook collection. I’m old-fashioned like that. I love nothing better than to lie in bed, reading about food, and then fall asleep daydreaming about individual recipes, food combinations, and menus. This time, though,  I had no cookbooks, because they were the first things to get packed. And I didn’t really have a lot of time, because I’ve been weirdly exhausted. So, after a quick online search to get a general idea, I decided to wing it.

ragu with pork ribs and white beansWhat I wound up with is not at all what I planned. It far too much tomato for a one-pot meal. But what I wound up with is a terrific ragu sauce over pasta, hearty and satisfying. I will definitely make it again. Here’s what I did.

1 lb. pork ribs, cut into 3-rib sections
1 c. dried white beans (I’m using navy beans, but any white beans will be fine), soaked overnight
1 sm. onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
3 c. chicken or pork broth
1/2 c. red wine (optional–I had some in the freezer)
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed (or diced) tomatoes
1-3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (sea vegetable, for digestion)
pasta

1. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Rinse and dry the ribs. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the ribs until brown, 3-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to the slow cooker, on top of the beans.

3. Add additional olive oil to the skillet if necessary. Saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute for another3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste. Saute for another minute or two, stirring. Then add 1/2 cup of red wine or broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any browned bits, and turn the heat to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and remaining broth, cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the beans are tender. Fish out the bones and the kombu, and salt to taste.

4. Boil pasta, drain, and top with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.