Finally the weather has broken in Chicago. Today’s high is expected to be a silky 76 degrees, temperate, sane. This comes after what feels like a lifetime of mind-numbing heat that left my long, sun-drenched apartment stuck on high. I couldn’t cook, not really. And, while I tried to write, I had no energy, no creative spark. There was only languor, and longing for something else. But I had to eat. So, at the start of one of those days, before the kitchen became unbearable, I spent five minutes cooking a pot of black beans.
There is no photo for this because I never intended to write of something so plain. Indeed, this simple pot of beans is not a recipe. You simply wash and pick through however many dry beans you wish to cook (I used one pound, a single bag of Goya brand), place them in the insert of a slow cooker, add a 3″ piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that tenderizes the beans and thickens the cooking liquid), and cover with about three inches of cold water, ideally filtered. Cover, turn on the machine, and cook for 10-12 hours. Salt liberally and allow the beans to cool in their cooking liquid. Then use them however you wish. One evening I used the beans as a filling for tacos with sauteed strips of poblano peppers. Another day, I had them for lunch over rice. And once, when I got home late at night, tired after rehearsal with my young ensemble, I had them plain, in a bowl all by themselves. Each of these variations were delicious and surprisingly satisfying.
I decided to write about this non-recipe recipe because, while simple, this method of cooking brings black beans to perfection. The result is tender, yet perfectly intact beans with an abundance of flavorful cooking liquid that is delicious in its own right. Infinitely better than a can of beans. And, at $1.69 plus water and electricity, far more economical. You just need a slow cooker. And time.
A slow cooker and time. That combo feels like some sort of metaphor right now, directions for how to live a good life. Slow down, let things happen, trust that it’s all going to work out. Despite my best efforts, I cannot seem to learn this lesson. I constantly find myself pushing to do, to be something more, something else. And I wind up in struggle. Anxious, afraid. Winding up with (metaphoric) under or overcooked beans, beans so hard as to be indigestible or soft and mushy, completely devoid of character. I do this even though I know better.
So what’s the answer? I think it’s practice. I just need to create a new pathway, a new habit. The essential difference between the now version of me and the me of a year ago, is that now, when I find myself in struggle and overcome by anxiety, I notice. If I find myself in an old pattern of self-laceration, berating myself for being anxious, for pushing too hard, I simply notice and try to breathe. It’s true that my breath often gets stuck in my chest in these moments. Which is not all that helpful. But I’m slowly learning that if I simply notice, without getting frustrated or angry, my body opens up. Eventually my breath moves down, reaches the lower abdomen, and my heart rate slows. Life ceases to be an emergency. It’s not suddenly perfect, of course. It takes time. Patience. And perfection only comes in moments. But those moments are everything good.