Intentions

Today marks exactly one year since I started this blog. A year of not being afraid to fail. Or, rather, trying despite the fear. Because despite what Yoda said, trying is doing. (http://bit.ly/18Zte7X)

A year ago I started out full speed, overflowing with energy and ideas and expectations about how things would be. Daily posts lasted, what, a month? Or maybe it took less time than that for me to slow down, eventually being lucky to post weekly. Although I could, I’m not going to look it up right now. Because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I accomplished the larger goal. Dreamsofmyfava exists. You read it. A fact for which I am deeply grateful every day. Truly.

I’m not cooking today.  And I’m not going to post a recipe. Because (a) my freezer is full of food I’ve made over the past month; and (b) I want to spend time hanging out with two of my dearest friends, who are in town for a very short visit. So my plan for today is to pull some buckwheat waffles with pecans out from the freezer (http://bit.ly/1g0Eimk) and relax with my friends until it’s time for them to leave. Then, afterward, maybe practice yoga on my own. Set some intentions for the new year. Eat some more food from my freezer. Above all, whatever the days holds, to stay present in each moment, as it is. Open.

Although I’m not cooking or posting about food today, I decided to write anyway, while they’re still sleeping, because I wanted to thank you for helping me make this happen, for reading what I write, trying out the recipes, sharing in this process. This year my plan is to follow through on the idea that started this project and write a cookbook. Make something tangible, a compendium of recipes and information about cooking and eating beans. That will maybe also be about some of my experiences over these past couple of years, things I’ve noticed as I went through a divorce, got serious about my yoga practice, started improv, and started to open up.

Honestly, I’m not sure how that’s going to happen. It may not. We’ll see. What I am sure of is that the process of trying is what matters. That I will learn something along the way, that I will grow. Which is, as best as I’ve been able to figure out, the point of being alive. Doing your best, day after day after day. Happy Near Year. I hope 2014 is good to you. That you love and are loved until your heart cracks wide open and stays that way so that you are overflowing with  and in love. Life is good that way. Even when it’s hard. Peace.

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Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!

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.

22 days of gratitude

This post has nothing to do with beans. Or cooking. I’ve been missing my blog, and had planned to write about black bean brownies today. Because I made some a couple of days ago, for my birthday. Not because I wanted them, but because I wanted to have something to blog about. But they didn’t turn out well and, when I tried to write a post, that didn’t turn out well either. So, after a long walk, on which I spent some time swinging and a little more time sitting (actually standing) with this Buddha headBuddha head, I decided to abandon that idea and go with this. I will write about black bean brownies sometime soon, though, when I have time to do a proper job. I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Just not workable for this week.

Instead, I decided to post about my gratitude project, which consisted of what was meant to be 44 Facebook posts ( either lost or failed to post one) for the 22 days up to and including my birthday, which was this past Friday. 10/4, good buddy. So. Here is the completely unedited list. I think it will speak for itself. But I will say that the execution of this idea was both more difficult and far more rewarding than I imagined when I dreamt it up. The difficulty was mostly in feeling so exposed, day and day after day. Because oftentimes what I was grateful for wasn’t something I would ordinarily post. Then I would go into struggle mode, trying to stay true to myself while also guarding (or trying to create) healthy boundaries. Also, during the course of this time I finally got officially divorced. That is a good thing, yet complicated. It added an element of difficulty to this project. But, overall, the good far outweighed the bad, at least from my end. I hope you like it. Here’s the list.

September 13, 2013

22 days from now I will be 44. Which, while I know absolutely nothing about and am highly skeptical of numerology, seems somehow significant, if only because of the lovely mathematical symmetry. And because I really like the number 11. So. To mark this day, and the days between now and 10/4, I’m going to celebrate by creating a daily ritual of posting two things for which I’m grateful, one upon waking, the other just before sleep. This morning I woke up filled with gratitude for this time alone, and the space I’ve been given to start trying to figure out, on my own, how I want to be in the world.

Embarrassment of riches in the gratitude department right now. Harmonizing with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts for Crimson and Clover? Gwar? The letter a friend sent that cut through my emotional fortress and went straight into a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was still there? Yes, I am grateful for all of those things. But the thing I’m most grateful for right now is that I have all of my teeth. Many people don’t. And they’re super useful for things like eating delicious sausages. Which I did tonight, at Riot Fest. So thanks, parents, for all the excellent dental care, and to the universe for letting me stay lucky thus far.

Grateful to be able to pet my (or any other) cat for as long as I like without suffering a rash, or an athsma attack, or any other allergic reaction.

Tonight’s gratitude is for the magic friend circle that happened today with Shaune, Michelle, Dana, Johnny, Dawn, Ken, and Connie. And also for affirmation that my high school obsession with the Violent Femmes was not misplaced.

3/22, am: grateful for all the second chances.

3/22, pm: foot massage. grateful doesn’t quite cut it.

4/22, am: grateful for waking up to the sound of house guests, laughing and rehashing perfect weekend, which included the Replacements.

4/22, pm: grateful that I did not have to use a port-o-poddy today.

5/22, am: grateful for this opportunity to start my days out by considering subjects of gratitude. Totally meta.

5/22 pm: grateful for the sound of wind in trees, and that I can still hear it.

6/22, am: grateful to wake up with a different perspective.

6/22, pm: grateful that the latch on my back door is fixed. And a trifle embarrassed that I hadn’t yet gotten around to doing it myself.

7/22, am: grateful for choices.

7/22, pm: grateful for my new air popper, popcorn, butter, maple syrup, and salt. Also that I was not born as a factory farmed chicken.

8/22, am: grateful for this moment, in which my cat is sleeping next to me with his paw stretched out, touching my leg, and I have just begun the most perfect cup of coffee.

8/22, pm: grateful to be letting go, and for how things always work out.

9/22, am: grateful for sunlight refracting off the glass blocks in my living room and the way in which it evokes mornings at the beach on St. George Island. And today is International Day of Peace, which is super cool. Maybe people can stop killing each other for a little while.

9/22, pm: grateful, generally. Today was pretty awesome.

10/22, am: grateful for the ability to change.

10/22, pm: grateful to be on the bus with Good Lookin’ Bill, who sounds exactly like Screamin’ Jays Hawkins.

11/22, am: grateful to be able to take so very things for granted.

11/22, pm: grateful that my sense of humor is so very, very dark. It comes in handy when reading articles like this one.

Pull quote: “He isn’t hopeful humans will rise to the challenge and save themselves. ‘Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things,’ he says.
‘Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.'” (http://www.oceansidestar.com/news/web-of-life-unravelling-wildlife-biologist-says-1.605499)

12/22, am: grateful, despite everything, including my sometimes paralyzing fear about what’s happening to the environment, that the planet will run out of water, and horror at the myriad ways in which humans continue to be awful to one another, to have been born into this time. Because it also feels full of love and amazing opportunities for connection, growth. Today I’m going to focus on that.

12/22, pm: grateful for clear answers when they come.

13/22, am: grateful that my numbers have passed the stage of looking like a date. Also, that the longer this project continues, and the deeper I have to reach to figure out what I’m grateful for, the more rewarding it becomes. At least for me.

13/22, pm: grateful that I’m almost finished with monster brief, and that it includes a version of the argument I fought for.

14/22, am: grateful for breath and stillness, and the way in which they are pathways to change.

14/22, pm: grateful for the smell of rosemary and for kitchen dancing by myself.

15/22, am: grateful there’s a yoga class with Anne Paulson at 6:30, because it makes this otherwise completely sucky insomnia seem like a gift.

15/22, pm: grateful for my brain’s ability to summon the taste, sound, smell, sight, and feel of the Gulf of Mexico, right now, there.

16/22, am: grateful to wake up believing that things will work out as they should.

16/22, pm: tonight I’m generally grateful for Chicago’s theater scene, and specifically for getting to see Beyond Therapy, which was great. Disconcerting at times, but great.

17/22, am: grateful to have found such a good apartment. I like it here.

17/22, pm: [completely tired of the word] grateful for this day, which started with more than 2 hours of yoga to celebrate the birthday of one of my teachers. That was the high. But there was also a perfect blue sky, and San Francisco-style crispness to the air. That was good. And a long walk through the urban utopia that is Sauganash, where apples are literally falling to the sidewalk from a tree planted along the side of the road. The low point, which was also great in its intense weirdness, was coming across a giant repository for garbage somewhere near Hubbard and Damen. There literally was a pile of rotting waste sitting in a huge warehouse, fouling the perfect air so intensely that I had to hold my hand over my nose. Hence no photo.

18/22, am: thankful for the way this project is wearing a new groove into my brain, so that more and more I think about what I have, what is good, rather than focusing on the lack.

gratitude project, day 18 of 22, pm: pizza delivery, pajamas (or close equivalent), and television. Also I’m pretty sure I finally nailed the argument I’ve been struggling with for far too long. Which means I may escape probation at work.

gratitude project, day 19 of 22, am: When I thought about what I wanted to post this morning, the first thing that came up was photographs. Photographs both as art and as a means to feel connected to people and places and animals are and always have been deeply meaningful for me. My life without photos would be much smaller. Because of my incredible fortune, there were several possible posts for this morning. I decided on this one when I saw the attached story. While the idea of solitary confinement fills me with despair, projects such as this one remind me of the good. (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/30/photo-requests-fromsolitary.html)

gratitude project, day 19 of 22, pm: so lucky in my friends. Thank you for being there for me, today and always.

day 20 of 22, pm: I am full of gratitude for the flexibility of my work schedule, which meant that without any advance planning or notice to anyone I was able to leave early today. Which in turn meant that I was able to spend hours outside on what was quite possibly the most perfectly beautiful day ever. Good.

day 21 of 22, am: grateful for my cat’s round teddy bear eyes, loud purr, and boundless, unconditional love. (I could do without his nibbling and awful breath, but, well, trying to focus on the positive.)

day 21 of 22, pm: incredibly grateful that there’s only one more day to go until I can stop doing this.

22/22, am: grateful for the dream I woke from this morning. My bedroom was the same except it had been built to accommodate a very large tree. So there was this one branch that went through the whole top of the room, like a giant elbow. And it was an apple tree. With fruit. I opened my eyes after sleep, looked up, and saw several perfectly ripe apples. Because it was a dream, one magically appeared in my hand. I ate the fruit.

22/22, pm: grateful for music. It makes life better. And love, which makes life possible. Thank you all for sending me so much of it today. I am seriously lucky.

Perfect slow-cooked black beans

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.

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.

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.