Vegetable “ceviche” salad with fresh cranberry beans

ceviche saladI made this last night, both as dinner for a dear friend who is visiting for the weekend and as a test for the dinner party I’m hosting next weekend. Which I’m both excited and terribly nervous about. Because, as I realized yesterday, this will be my first solo dinner party since I was in my twenties. Which means there’s no one to help clean or entertain people while I’m cooking. For all his flaws, my ex-husband was a perfect dinner party co-host. And while I seemed to have no problem hosting large, elaborate dinner parties on my own before I hooked up with him, I’ve changed since then. I’m now keenly aware of stress and anxiety, working to feel my way through whatever comes up instead of hiding in drugs and alcohol, distracting myself from what’s actually happening in my body. Which is a lot. But I also have yoga now. I try to meditate. I have tools to deal with anxiety. So even though part of me is scared about this first dinner party on my own as this person I’ve become, I know everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but fun. And when I woke up this morning I felt a million times better knowing that after weeks of uncertainty about what I want to make I’ve started to finalize the menu. Which will most definitely include this salad. Because it’s SO GOOD!!! Also beautiful and summery and easy and can be made in the morning for eating at night. Plus it features one of my favorite parts of summer: fresh cranberry beans.

Admittedly, the original recipe (from Food & Wine) doesn’t call for cranberry beans. Instead it’s more of a riff on succotash, with fresh lima beans. But the cranberry beans were delicious. So, if you find yourself drawn to huge piles of these beauties at your local market, I definitely fresh cranberry beansrecommend this salad is a great way to use them up. (In case you wind up with more beans than the few needed for this salad, here are some other ideas for fresh cranberry beans.) That said, I think any shelling bean will work equally well. And the same is true for other ingredients. For example, I used plums instead of nectarines, because the plums were ripe and the nectarines weren’t. And instead of a jalapeno pepper, I used a pepper from my garden. Because I had a pepper in my garden. Finally, in my riskiest departure, I used Romanesco cauliflower instead of avocado. That one was because when I was at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, the tiny head of green cauliflower was so gorgeous that I had to get it. Then, because it was so pretty, I had to add it to the salad. Which, happily, turned out to be a very good idea.

Here’s the recipe, which reputedly serves eight. I would say that depends on what else you’re serving. If this is a true side or starter, it’s probably enough for ten. But you could also add some greens (as my visiting friend suggested, it would be good over chopped kale) and make it the main course, in which case I think four people would be very happy with their servings. Now. Recipe. For real.

1 c. fresh cranberry beans (from about 1-1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 t finely grated lime zest
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 hot pepper, jalapeno or other
Sea salt
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (from two ears)
1 plums or nectarines or other stone fruit, not too ripe, halved and thinly sliced into wedges
1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of types and colors is nice)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, shallot, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine then season with salt. Bring two or three cups of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the beans. Cook for 17 minutes, then add the cauliflower. Cook for another three minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the dressing. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Cover and chill for at least two and up to eight hours. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if necessary. I used quite a bit.

Advertisements

Herbed Mediterranean frittata, adapted from “The Medicinal Chef”

It’s Sunday morning. Which is, traditionally, supposed to be the very epitome of leisure. But I’m about to go to work. Because, well, just because. Too many uninteresting reasons to spend time writing about here, now, when what I want to do is tell you about this delicious, easy, beautiful, and nourishing frittata.

fritatta

Today is, I think, the third time I’ve made it. Because, like every other recipe I’ve tried from Dale Pinnock’s The Medicinal Chef, this frittata is terrific. But today differs from the other times because today I added beans. Yup. Cannellini beans. On a whim. Because I had some left after my most recent batch of cassoulet.  And it was so good that I decided to share the recipe, which differs from the original only in the addition of yogurt, beans, and feta cheese, which I also happened to have in the fridge, and a few details about how to cut the onions. Some people buy shoes. I buy groceries.  Then stress about how to cook and eat everything before it goes bad. Sigh. This morning, when I was cooking, it occurred to me that I probably should have had children. Or maybe I should live in a commune. But, well, I really like living alone. So I guess I’ll just keep on as I am. It will work out. Okay. Now. Here’s the recipe.

 

Herbed Mediterranean fritatta (serves 4, or 1 with leftovers)

1 t. olive oil
15-16 cherry tomatoes (fewer if yours are large — mine are tiny!)
1/2 red onion, sliced into 1/2 – 3/4″ wedges
10-12 pitted black Kalamata olives
1/4 c. cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (optional — canned are fine)
6 large, free-range eggs
2 T. full-fat yogurt
2 T. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
salt and pepper
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, minced
1/4 c. fresh basil, minced
1/4 c. fresh spearmint, minced

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for a couple of minutes, reduce the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and garlic, and saute for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the olives.

Whisk the eggs and yogurt together in a medium-sized bowl, season moderately with salt and pepper (the olives and feta cheese are both pretty salty, so you don’t want to overdo it), then add the herbs. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet.  Move the tomatoes and olives around so you don’t have a clump of one ingredient. Add the beans and cheese, if using, to fill in the blanks.

Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking on the stove for another 5 minutes, then transfer to the oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the top has puffed but before it browns. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes. Transfer to a plate or serve directly from the skillet.

Fresh Summer Cassoulet w/ Gluten-Free Bread

More than a year ago I wrote this post, in which I talked about a vegan cassoulet I had at 29 Palms, in Joshua Tree. The chef gave me directions, which I documented with every intention of giving it a shot. But then life intervened. First I had to move. Then the summer was insanely hot, so that the very last thing I wanted to do last summer was spend time in the kitchen. Finally, I was me eating cassouletalways rehearsing.

All of that seems like it happened far more than a year ago. Wow. So much has changed. For example, I cut off my hair. See, there I am, last night, just about to dip a piece of gluten-free bread into the cassoulet. With really short hair. And not yet knowing whether the food had turned out as planned or was going to bomb. Nervous. Hopeful. Happy to be with people I love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cassoulet. Bread.

Until a couple of weeks ago my plan of recreating that delicious vegan cassoulet had fallen completely out of my mind. But I remembered it I was trying to figure out what to make for a dinner party I was co-hosting with friends who live in Evanston. Since Evanston is a bit of a hike from my place, I wanted to make something with ingredients that would be easy to carry. Also, affordability is always a consideration these days. Plus I have this new gluten-free thing. And, we were having the dinner party in honor of a friend who was visiting from California and is someone who really appreciates delicious food. (If you like to cook as much as I do, that’s an important quality in friends.) So I was super excited when I remembered the cassoulet. The only trick was coming up with a decent gluten-free bread. Which has been much more difficult than anticipated.

Indeed, during my relative silence of the past few months, I’ve actually been cooking a lot. But in addition to my generalized lack of creative energy (apparently I’m one of those people whose creativity is fueled by angst. Now that I’m no longer so unhappy, I’m not feeling the need to create. It is sad. But I like being happy.), I also haven’t been writing about it because there have been a lot of failed attempts. Specifically, with gluten-free bread.

I know, I know. Gluten-free bread does not involve beans. But, as I’ve mentioned before, bread is an essential component of a bean-based diet. Not only is it good for dipping into delicious sauces, bread adds an important textural variation. Here, it is necessary for both reasons. So, breath held and fingers crossed, I tried out yet another recipe promising delicious gluten-free bread so good that even people who can eat gluten will love it. And lo and behold, this recipe delivered! gluten free breadMaybe not the most beautiful loaf ever, but definitely, recognizably, bread. (The weird shapes happened because my dough was a lot more runny than it was supposed to be, so as it settled into the parchment paper, it took on the crinkles in the paper instead of being strong enough to straighten them out.)

This bread is a bit more dense and moist than regular bread, but totally and completely delicious. Indeed, last night a friend who habitually reached for the baguette wound up deciding that she preferred the gluten-free bread. Finally!

This version, which I think is the fourth recipe I’ve tried, was adapted from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, by Daniel and Shauna Ahern. I love this cookbook. I love them. And I love this bread. Here’s my version. The cassoulet recipe follows.

GLUTEN-FREE BREAD

  • 1-1/4 c. tapioca starch (The original recipe calls for potato starch. I subbed because I didn’t have any on hand and it was pouring out. Given what happened with my version, you should probably use potato starch.)
  • 1-1/4 c. almond flour
  • 2/3 c. oat flour (certified gluten-free)
  • 1/2 c. millet flour
  • 1 T. active dry yeast
  • 3 t. psyllium husks
  • 1-1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/3 c. warm water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/6 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil for the bowl

Combine the flours in the bowl of a standing mixer, if you have one. If not, just combine them in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add the yeast, psyllium husks, and salt. Whisk again. Pour the warm water, eggs, oil, and honey over the dry ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment (or a spoon) until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. At this point, the original recipe tells you that it will be soft and will slump off the paddle/spoon. But my mixture was a very runny, slightly grainy batter. Whatever you wind up with, oil a large bowl and scrape (or pour) in your dough/batter. Cover with a clean cloth and let it rise until doubled and bubbly. For me, that took about three hours. The original recipe says two.

sliced breadAt the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 500 and put a covered cast-iron Dutch oven in to come to heat. (The original recipe suggests either a Dutch oven or a pizza stone. My dough would never have worked for a pizza stone, as it was far too runny. But maybe you will have better luck. I hope so!) After the Dutch oven has been heating for thirty minutes, remove it from the oven and place a large piece of parchment paper on top, using an oven mitt or kitchen towel to push it into the container. Drop in the dough. If you like, top with a swig of olive oil and some sea salt. Then fold the parchment paper over, put on the lid, and return the pot to the oven. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least thirty minutes.

 

 

FRESH SUMMER CASSOULET (serves 4)

The original directions for this cassoulet are as follows: 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.

As you can see, the only ingredient with a specified amount was the wine. So what I wound up with last night was complete guess work, which I did not measure or document except in this photograph.cassoulet, uncooked Also, I used two separate skillets in order to feed 8. Therefore, what follows is my best guesstimate for what I did in a single batch. Which I may do differently next time. And which, if you try this out, I hope you make your own. This recipe lends itself to that sort of cooking. I hope you try.

  • 1-1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 3 T. halved, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 c. sliced Swiss chard
  • 4 c. cooked cannellini beans
  • 2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram, minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring, until richly fragrant. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for another minute or two of five. Then add the chard and herbs then cook, stirring a little, until carmelized. Add the beans and wine. Continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit and it smells so good you have to eat right now. Serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!

 

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

blackeyed pea salad with celery, mango, and peppers

black eyed pea salad with mangoThis is my version of a salad someone brought to the Easter party I attended this year. Which is hard to believe was just last weekend. It’s been one of those world shifting weeks. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you about the salad. Because (a) I want to write it down before I forget what I did, and (b) I’m starting to realize that I should always put the recipe first. That way people who just want the recipe won’t have to wade through a bunch of words about whatever else I’m interested in. So. Here’s how I made the salad. And trust me. This is one of those dishes that tastes a whole lot better than the crappy photo makes it out to be. Really. It’s delicious.

1 cup blackeyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Bring  four cups of water to a boil, add the peas, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, adding about a teaspoon of salt in the last 15 minutes. (They may take a bit longer. Cook until tender but not so long they turn to mush.) Remove from heat and let the peas cool for a while in their cooking liquid while you prep the mango, celery, and pepper. Once everything is chopped, transfer to a large bowl. Then drain the peas, put them on top of the chopped produce,  and drizzle the olive oil, vinegar, and honey on top. Stir to combine. Taste and add salt, more vinegar, and honey as needed.

This is best at room temperature. But on a hot summer day I bet it will be pretty damn good right out of the fridge.

Now. On to the world-shifting week. Right now, as I write this, I’m in Tallahassee. I had to come down all of a sudden because my aunt died last Saturday night, in a car accident. I found out first thing Sunday morning. Which made for a weird, fragile, surreal Easter.

On the one hand, I was happy. A relatively new friend had invited me and another relatively new friend for Easter. I love spending time with both of these people. So I’d been looking forward to the party for weeks, feeling grateful for the direction my life has taken and thinking about what I could contribute. After I finally decided what to bring, I spent much of Saturday making pickled red beets and red onions, to complement the hostess’s lamb heart salad, something that sounded simultaneously brilliant and revolting. They turned out really well. Beautiful. Delicious. (I’ll write about them soon.) I was excited to share them with people. And ever since the class with Ana Forrest a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working really hard to not fixate on how I think I should be feeling and instead just feel whatever is actually going on without judgment. So, on Sunday, I couldn’t just stop the happy feelings in their tracks.

On the other hand, I was in shock and, at times, overcome with sadness. My Aunt Alice, who married my mom’s brother, was a stay-at-home mom with two boys. Our two families grew up next door to each other. While I haven’t seen her much in recent years, she was a huge part of my life and someone whose presence I foolishly took for granted. She has always been there, a constant for my entire memory. And while I’m sure she sometimes wished I would not come over quite so often, I think m y aunt, who I adored, also loved having a niece who was almost like a part-time daughter.

All of this combined for a weird Easter Sunday. While I waited for it to be time to go to the party, I made a cake. This cake. honey ginger cakeIt’s a honey spice cake without gluten and refined sugar. Again, I’ll post sometime soon with the recipe. For now, it’s enough to say that I couldn’t have planned a more perfect way to spend that time. It was perfect because Aunt Alice was the one who taught me to bake, letting my cousin and I break eggs, showing us how to measure flour, separate the whites and yolks, and do all the things one does to transform individual ingredients into cooked food starting when we had to stand on stools in order to reach the counter.

Originally, that’s what I meant to write about. About the cake and about Aunt Alice teaching me to bake and about loss and life and grief and a million things. Hoping to articulate this as well as some of the ways in which my life has changed in the last year. But there wasn’t time to try. I had to go to the party. Then it was Monday. I had to work. Cope with the reality of my aunt’s death. Find an affordable plane ticket. Come to Tallahassee. Attend the funeral. See my cousin and the rest of my family. Grieve.

Now I’m here in my hometown, surrounded by my family and immersed in this nature that is so much a part of who I am. I’m breathing in the humid Florida air. Listening to the crazy loud insect symphony. Feeling the reality of all these feelings. Without analysis or cataloging. Just feeling. Somehow finding that there isn’t so much to write about. Instead I’m busy trying to live well. Spending time with people I love.  Doing my best to be grateful for every minute. And trusting that here will be time to write more later. For now, namaste.

Kitchari with cauliflower

I woke this morning to snow. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Spring has finally come to Chicago. Slowly and cautiously, true, but it’s here. I can tell from the constant birdsong outside my open bedroom window, and the slow greening of ground I saw peeking through the thin veneer of snow when I left home this morning. Thank god. It has been a long winter. I’m tired of wearing snow boots and coats and tights.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually rather enjoy winter, with the slow cooked foods and nesting. Few experiences comfort me as much as being home, all cozy and warm, during a snowstorm. And yet. I also love being able to leave home without having to spend ten minutes gearing up for the outdoors. The feel of air on skin. Skirts.

This transition may seem odd, but when I first heard of kitchari, from a friend out in L.A. who thought I might want to blog about it, the name made me think of skirts. Because there is a similarity of sound. In fact, however, according to Haley Hobson, “Kitchari is a traditional Ayurvedic dish that’s known to assist in detoxing the body and balancing all three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Kitchari provides awesome nutrients while cleansing the toxins out of the body. It’s a great way to cleanse the body and soul in a gentle way.” (http://bit.ly/1gqpwce)

Almost a year has passed since my friend first sent the link about kitchari.  At the time, I was completely scattered, still shell shocked from the end of my marriage, only just starting to get used to living alone, and preparing to move. I was a bit of a wreck. And I thought I was fine. Cleansing probably would have been helpful. But it didn’t happen. This year, though, I’m in a completely different space. I’m happy. More grounded than I’ve been since childhood. And slowly beginning to understand that the idea of external stability is a myth, that real stability must come from within.

These days, my life is all about this choice I’ve made to live every minute from a place of love, to dive down into the murky waters of the unknown, kick off, and start swimming. With no destination. Except that of course I’m hoping, expecting, to hit land. To find a shore. To not keep swimming forever. And that’s the thing: this swimming is forever. I will never land. That’s the illusion. My landing is inside, in yoga, the life I make. There’s no external island of safety, where someone else is going to take over, make things alright. It’s all only me. Maybe a partner, one day. But maybe not. And even if there is someone else, I now know that a committed relationship does not create certainty. Nothing is ever forever and certain. Life is fluid. And as scary as that is, it is also okay. I’m learning to be grateful for what I have now. Which is pretty wonderful.

In addition to many incredibly rewarding relationships, my life is wonderful because I have the constants of work, cooking, and yoga. Lots of yoga. Exciting yoga. Especially two weeks from now, when I get to take a workshop with Ana Forrest. (http://bit.ly/1c9ZnMG) I’m looking at it as a trial run for teacher training. So, to that end, I did a little research. I learned that there are all sorts of requirements for teacher training with Ana Forrest. Including dietary restrictions. Like no coffee. WTF?!

kitchari

The thought of no coffee is daunting. I can already feel the headache of withdrawal. Which makes me think I should probably do a trial cleanse before the upcoming workshop. Starting with Kitchari. So I made it today, adapting the recipe that that Hobson shared in the link, above. While I wouldn’t serve it at a dinner party, it’s actually quite tasty. And supremely comforting. Here’s what I did.

4 T. coconut oil
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
1 T. black mustard seeds
1T. mustard seeds
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 T. turmeric
1 heaping t. ground cumin
1/2 t. cardamon
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. coarsely ground black pepper
1 c. dry green mung beans
1 c. brown basmati rice
5 c. water
1″ piece kombu
1 T. pink Himalayan (or kosher) salt, or to taste

1. Rinse the beans, place them in a bowl, and cover with warm water. Set aside to soak.

2. Heat 1 T. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Spread a layer of cauliflower florets in the skillet, leaving room around the pieces, and cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until lightly browned. You’ll probably need to cook the cauliflower in two batches. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan if it starts to get too brown.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining coconut oil in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the seeds and heat until they start to pop. Drain the beans. Add the ginger, herbs, beans, and rice to the mustard seeds in coconut oil and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the herbs are fragrant. Add the water and kombu. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add the cauliflower, cover, and cook for approximately 40 minutes. Stir in salt. Serve!

Greek lima beans

greek lima beansThis recipe is adapted from one I found in The Great American Slow Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. (http://bit.ly/1ee8Aji) The original recipe is named “gigantes beans with tomatoes and dill.” Although my version is pretty close to theirs, I changed the name, because that’s what these beans are to me, a favorite side at some (although not all) Greek restaurants. Tangy, velvety smooth, and deeply satisfying, I’ve loved them since my first taste, probably 15 years ago. But they aren’t a sure thing. And I’ve had trouble finding a recipe that works.

Here’s what I wrote when I first made these beans: While this version is okay, even good, it isn’t perfect. The beans are a bit too sweet.

At the time I thought that was an accurate assessment. But last night, when I tried these beans again (I froze a few servings from the original batch), I realized that in fact they are absolutely wonderful. Sweet, yes. But in the best way, completely delicious. I had them for dinner with bread, nothing else, and at the end of the meal the bowl was literally unmarked. Because I scooped up every last drop of sauce.

That said, this version is not what I hold in my memory as the perfect Greek Lima Bean. And maybe there never will be a perfect. Because over the years I’ve tried several recipes.There was one that came close, which I made pretty regularly for years. I’ve meant to post about it. But I haven’t made it since I started blogging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I associate that version with a version of myself I’m glad no longer exists, the perfectionist version who made trial runs of everything before dinner parties and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t exactly right. That version of me had great dinner parties, it’s true. My food was always perfect. But back then, in my marriage, I was always too anxious to relax without at least two glasses of wine. And I didn’t really have much fun. I pretended, I think fairly well, but honestly I preferred for everyone to leave me alone while I worked. I was far too stressed out to enjoy a conversation, even with people I loved. Which is sad.

The good news is that lately I’ve started to think about dinner parties again. Real dinner parties. With more than two guests. Where I will have fun. For these dinner parties held by this now version of myself, I plan to be okay with cooking food that might not be perfect. Because what matters is that I’ll be relaxed. Have fun. Maybe even make food ahead of time so that I can devote full attention to guests. Which is what I’m doing now, with these beans. Sort’ve.

I say sort’ve because, while I’m starting to think about real dinner parties, it’s not happening just yet. But I am having a good friend over tomorrow. She offered to give me Reiki and I offered to give her dinner. Cooking for the people I love gives me about as much joy as anything. And I’d be fine cooking with her here. No anxiety in cooking for one or two people. Still, I’m cooking ahead of time because tomorrow another friend somehow convinced me to take a Bikram class, followed by brunch. Which is both exciting and terrifying. I dread Bikram, am convinced I’ll either vomit, faint, or both. However, I promised. So I’m doing it. And therefore I’m cooking today. Ahead of time. Being okay with imperfection.

Of course, while I’m happy to have lost the perfectionism, I hope my food is still good. Because, well, who wants to eat–or serve–bad food? Not me. So. Here’s hoping everything turns out. This is the recipe for the beans:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped (or diced)
1 lb. dried gigantes (or giant lima) beans
1-3/4 cup white wine or vermouth (I used white wine because I don’t have vermouth)
1/4 cup honey
3 T tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large cast iron (or other) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.

2. While the onion is cooking, pick over and rinse the beans, drain, and add to the slow cooker insert. Stir in the wine, honey, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, and kombu. In case you don’t already know, kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/1fgkJ6Z) Cook on low for 5-7 hours.

3. Stir in the dill, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to ensure the beans are fully submerged. But don’t add too much–you want a thick, rich sauce.

In case you’re interested in the rest of the menu, most of which I’m making today, we’re having these beans with a kale salad (http://bit.ly/1cKY6aE) and potato-celery root latkes (http://bit.ly/1dD8dC2). I’ll try to remember to comment to let you know how it all goes together. Bon appetit!