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.

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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!

Vegetarian variation of Rick Bayless’s “Classic Mexican Fried Beans”

refried beansIn his classic guide to Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, Bayless writes of this recipe, “this is one place where pork fat makes an enormous flavor difference.” It’s true. Like most things in life, these beans are even better with some bacon. But this version, made with pinto beans cooked in the slow cooker with kombu, is quite good. Thick, rich, and, well, meaty. Yet clean.

In fact, my original plan for this weekend’s post included meat. I had planned to make  an elaborate steak chili based on one that an intern in my office made for the fall pot-luck. (Yes, my office has a pot luck. I am very, very lucky.) But then I noticed that my bank balance was a bit off after my first post-divorce, new federal filing status paycheck.  Less than it was supposed to be. Apparently the single-person tax is higher. So I now have even less money. Which isn’t great. But it could be worse.

I don’t always appreciate everything that I have. Because I’m a hopelessly flawed human. Usually, though, if given sufficient time to ponder, I manage to come up with something reasonably positive. At least in writing. It’s my strategy for avoiding misery. So. The upside to my new financial reality.

First, I really like beans, which are notoriously affordable.

Second, while I would prefer to have more money, I still have enough. And I have so much more than many, a fact that I’m reminded of every day that I spend out in the world. I may not be wealthy, but I am not poor. Indeed, I’m quite insanely over-privileged. And grateful.

Third, this little shot of reality forced me to be flexible. Which is something I need more of. Yesterday morning, in yoga, the intention was to explore what happens when we let go, go with the flow. Anne used another word, which despite persistent efforts, I have not been able to remember. And, sadly, she did not record this class, so, unlike many of her other classes it’s not posted on her Soundcloud. But, while I may not be able to remember the specific word that Anne used, I got the gist.  Oh, and as an aside, Anne has been posting a whole bunch of her Forrest yoga classes, for free! She’s an incredible teacher.  Generous, creative, and wonderfully clear. Her adjustments are also out of this world, so you should really try to see her in person. But these classes are a nice second best. Check it out. (http://bit.ly/1akRqxh)

Getting back to now, the lesson I’ve been learning, the lesson Anne emphasized yesterday, is to allow space. To do this, I’m learning to listen to my body. Separating experience into individual components–thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I’m starting to be able, in moments of overwhelm, to focus on sensation. Stay in my body. Which permits everything else to slow down and shifts the experience into a process of allowing rather than forcing. Eventually I come back to thought with a new calm. The power of mindfulness is not overrated. (http://bit.ly/5YxQvx)

Of course, this process is a lesson I am only just now beginning to learn. It is very new. So I fail, again and again. Yet each time I fail, I do so with more grace, as I slowly learn that this is what it means to live. To breathe into and from the space in between moments, letting go of the illusion that anything is ever under control. The reward is resilience. Quickly realizing that it’s okay to not make the steak chili. There’s always another option. Just don’t freak out. And, if you do freak out (I always freak out), don’t freak out about freaking out. It will be okay.

The cool thing is that now, almost a year after I went from once or twice a week yoga to a more regular practice of 3-7 days a week, I generally live in a more resilient place. So it was pretty easy for me to let go of the steak chili, think about what food I had, and decide to keep it super simple. So, yesterday morning, even before I went to yoga, I started the beans.

I cooked them in the slow cooker with a 3″ piece of kombu. In case you don’t already know (if you do, please forgive the repetition), 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/reIsZA) Note that the Weston Price article that I just linked to calls for pre-soaking for optimum digestion. My digestive system is pretty well acclimated to beans, so I don’t bother. But if you decide to soak, note that the beans will cook faster. Also note that the beans may fall apart a bit after long cooking. For this recipe, that’s a bonus. But if that’s a problem for you, try brining. (http://bit.ly/1hEnp2Q)

Assuming you are neither soaking nor brining, start by sorting through and rinsing one pound of dried pinto (or any variety of) beans. Discard any that are broken or discolored, rinse, and put in the insert of your slow cooker. Cover with about three inches of cold filtered water, add a 3″ piece of kombo, place the lid on the insert, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the beans are tender. You want them to be on the soft side, so if you aren’t sure, cook a little longer. Once they’re done, salt liberally and allow to cool. The cooling period lets the salt fully permeate the beans. This amount will be enough to double the following recipe. If you’re making less, freeze the extra beans, making sure they’re covered by cooking liquid, or reserve for another use.

Now for the recipe. The following amounts make about 2 cups, enough to serve 1-2. Feel free to double if you’re cooking for more.

1 T. butter, olive, or vegetable oil
1 sm. yellow or onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 c. undrained, seasoned cooked beans, ideally slightly warm to facilitate mashing (if you’re using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
salt, if necessary

1. Heat the fat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or two, and then add approximately one cup of beans, using a slotted spoon. Mash the beans coarsely using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. When they’re mashed to your liking, repeat with another spoonful. Continue until you’ve incorporated all of the beans.

2. Once all the beans have been mashed, add about 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid or, if you’re using canned, water. (Bean cooking liquid alone is enough reason to make your own beans. It’s so good!) Stir the liquid into the beans and continue to cook until the beans are just a little more soupy than you want them to be. They will thicken once you take them off the heat.

refried beans and eggsSalt to taste and serve, either as a side for fried eggs, as I did this morning, as a filling for burritos, or as a side. Or, if you’re feeling incredibly lazy, eat them as is, with tortilla chips, as I did last night. It’s true that this doesn’t rate super high on the scale of excellent single person self-care, but, well, there are more shameful suppers.