Congo bars, adapted from Terry Walters’ Eat Clean Live Well

Today, as I cooked and then, while I cleaned the kitchen, wrote this blog post, and still now, when I’m getting ready to walk to a friend’stulips house for dinner, it rained. Steady, relentless rain. For hours. It could so easily be depressing. Many days that’s what would happen. I would permit myself to be ruled in a negative way by something completely out of my control. But today, in addition to supporting the Spring’s new growth, I somehow managed to use the rain as fuel to reinforce all the things in my life that seem right: this morning’s an amazingly deep yoga practice with several people I love a lot; preparing to teach my first public group yoga class on Monday; my sweet cat asleep on the couch, still Benalive and reasonably healthy despite being just a few weeks away from turning 17 years old; the coziness of my apartment; a perfect mix of music that included this song, which has been playing in my head ever since I saw Morgan Geer’s Drunken Prayer open for Freakwater this past March and which I don’t own; and being awake to the luxury of this time alone, being in my home, cooking, and appreciating all that I have instead of focusing on what is not. I’m not sure why the rain was uplifting today instead of being depressing, if this is just grace or if it’s the result of a decision I made yesterday to be happy even if it wasn’t coming naturally. Probably both. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. With so much gratitude for all that I have, including the ability to choose happiness and have it work.

Congo barsI don’t suppose I can compare all of that to these Congo bars. Or maybe I can. They’re quite special. And while I don’t suppose any dessert that tastes this good will ever qualify as being actively healthy, this one comes damn close, especially when compared to other sweets. If you try the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. And, if you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. It’s best eaten warm but cold is good too.

Congo Bars, adapted from Terry Walters’s Eat Clean Live Well

1/2 t. virgin coconut oil
1 c. teff flour
1 c. almond flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. natural applesauce (I use the single-serving containers)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. cashew or sunflower butter
2 t. high-quality vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350; use 1/4 t. coconut oil to grease a square baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the applesauce, maple syrup, honey, nut butter, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Mix in the nuts and coconut. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, smooth the top, and draw four long trenches across the batter.

Melt the chocolate and remaining 1/4 t. coconut oil in a small pot, either on the stove or in the oven, being careful not to let it burn. Once the chocolate has melted pour it into each of the four trenches. Use a table knife to create a swirl (or, like mine, swirls and a splotch) across the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

If you can manage to wait, allow the pan to cool for at least a half hour before you dig in. The bars are delicate and likely won’t hold together if they’re too warm. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt.

Enjoy!

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Tonglen for Thanksgiving. Also, a ham and links to many recipes.

Early this morning, after starting water for coffee, I put a ham in the oven. For Thanksgiving. Which I’m celebrating this year at home, in Chicago, with a small group of dear, long-time friends.

I have so very much to be grateful for. The group of friends who are coming for Thanksgiving, the core of my urban family. My biological family in Florida. Satisfying, interesting work. Exceptional yoga teachers. Robust health. So much that to list it all would take my entire day, which I need to spend in other ways.

So maybe for now I’ll just focus my gratitude on Slagel Farms hamthis ham. It’s from Slagel Farms. I’m hoping it had a pretty good life. And I’m certain it will be delicious both on its own and then later, when I use the bone for some form of bean soup. This sort’ve ethical (I eat meat with qualms) ham was also affordable, because a friend from yoga invited me to join her and another friend in ordering directly from the farm–we all agreed that 15 dozen eggs divided among the three of us was not crazy. At least not right before Thanksgiving, a holiday that for me is almost entirely centered on cooking a traditional feast that calls for large quantities of eggs.

As I’ve said here before, there is little that makes me happier than cooking for people I love. Therefore yesterday, as I made cornbread for dressing, gluten free pie crusts for pecan pie, and cranberry orange relish, and while I rubbed salt and organic coconut sugar and black pepper into the very expensive organic turkey that another friend and I bought through the food co-op that I hope one day will form here in Chicago, I danced in the kitchen. I felt joy.

Side by side with the joy and gratitude, however, upwelling into unexpected spaces, I also felt, still feel, grief and anxiety.

I feel grief because the man I’m in love with is no longer in my life, because one of my sisters died far too young, and because I’m in the process of releasing so many delusions about who I am, what my life is, how I fit into this world. I feel grief about the state of our world, for all of those who are suffering untold horrors. For the contemptuous ways in which we humans too often treat each other and ourselves. And I feel anxiety over who knows what. The state of the world, yes, but also for some nameless unknown. In my life, anxiety comes in tiny waves that roll relentlessly through my small self, constant stories about this and that, him and her, me, them. It is the background music of my life.

Looking back, I think I’ve always been anxious. Indeed, at my sister’s memorial service earlier this month someone who knew Valerie long ago told me that her (this woman’s) babysitting career ended because of me. Apparently I would not stop crying no matter how she tried to comfort me. I was too young to remember that particular episode, but I have countless childhood memories of curling up with various pets, finding solace from the storm of feelings that I did not know how to handle and that no one around me was equipped to understand or resolve. It was the 70s.

As a young adult I found relief from anxiety in marijuana, which I smoked for years and years. It worked in a way. I was able to function in social settings, I was able to relax and feel normal. Have fun. But I believe that smothering my anxiety with drugs also choked off my ability to grow into the person I wanted to become. Because contrary to everything I learned as a child and young adult, anxiety is not something that needs to be pushed away. It is an invitation.

For the past month or so I’ve been doing an online meditation class through Dharma Ocean. Like Forrest Yoga, the form of meditation taught at Dharma Ocean is an embodiment practice. But meditating is for me much more challenging than yoga. There are no poses. There’s just you, on the cushion.

When I practice yoga I know I’m supposed to be feeling my body. And sometimes I do. But usually, despite continual attempts to stay in my body, I live primarily in my head and mostly in the future. Worrying, planning, thinking. I know that the solution is to practice yoga each morning at home, to meditate. And every day I have the best intentions. Then, most days, I make coffee. I write in my journal. Time passes. I have to go.

This is my life.

It’s happening again now. If it were a regular Thursday I wouldn’t mind too much because I would go to Gwen’s 4 pm class at Yoga Now. But today is a holiday. There is no class. I’m on my own. I want to meditate, I want to practice yoga, to have ceremony for and with myself on this day, to show up and do the things I know I should be doing to be fully alive and able to be my best self. Instead I’m here, in my head, trying to work this out in writing, to share my experience with all of you. Which is important to me. I’m not sure why. Lately I think maybe writing is yet another way in which I distance myself from my feelings, another distraction, another defense mechanism. But, at least right now, I think that’s okay.

Last night, lying in bed, I picked up one of the books on my crowded nightstand.bedside books Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It is one of the books I have to read and write about in order to reach Level Two certification for yoga teacher training. Like so many of those books, I’ve read it before. And I can’t seem to get it together to do the rather daunting homework. So instead, as with the other books, I pick this one up on occasion, open it at random, and read a few words here and there, usually before bed.

Last night I opened to chapter nineteen: Three Methods for Working with Chaos. The second method is Tonglen, which Pema Chodron describes as follows:

“When anything difficult arises–any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful–instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in…. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in–not just the anger, resentment, or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame–it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe it in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.”

In reading this I realized that while I might not have made time to meditate or practice yoga, I could easily practice Tonglen throughout the day whenever I felt grief or anxiety. I started right then, in bed. Breathing in the sharp pain of missing people I love who I will not see again in this lifetime. Allowing the feeling to permeate my body. Softening around the feelings, enfolding them with compassion for myself and all the others in the world feeling those same feelings. Exhaling a hope that we might all be free from suffering. That seems a good wish for today, for always.

Today I certainly won’t practice yoga. I doubt I’ll make time for formal meditation. Instead I am going to cook and clean a little in preparation for my guests. Then I’m going to spend time with them. Between now and then, though, I am going to practice Tonglen. I shall be sending out hope that all beings be free from suffering. Including you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for reading this. May you be well. May you be at peace. May you be kind to yourself. May you accept yourself as you are. And may you have a Thanksgiving that is happy, whatever happiness means for you. For me, sometimes happiness comes in feeling sadness. It is the happiness that comes from knowing I am alive. I am grateful.

chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut

Five days from now, at least the now in which I am writing, I will be one day into yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest. !!! I’ve been planning this for more than a year, saving vacation and practicing yoga and trying to learn how to be as comfortable with myself as I can be. Yet now that it’s here I somehow feel surprised. Sort’ve. Another part of me knows that I’m ready. I am ready. Especially now that I finished making these.chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut Which taste much, much better than they look. And are here, in my freezer, ready to go without any need to plan or prepare or purchase. Healthy, homemade vegetarian food (we aren’t allowed to bring non-vegetarian food into the studio. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to eat garlic or onions. Or drink coffee. Lots of rules.) that will be fine spending a few hours in my bag and will be nourishing and strengthening without being heavy. Or so I hope. Because there’s no way to know now about what life will be like then. Sigh. Hopefully the training will help me get a bit more comfortable with this truth. Which applies to everything, always. Sometimes I like to pretend otherwise. But I know.

Perhaps that is why I so love to cook. Because it is a way to have control in this wold of constant change. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just that I love food? Probably a combination. I used to love cooking more for other people to eat, as a way to express love. Lately, as I’ve spent most of my time alone, I’m learning that I like cooking for myself too. It feels good to take care of myself. But, again, perhaps it comes down to control. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it later. For now, here is the recipe for these homemade protein bars, which I first learned of from a friend at yoga, then finally made by adapting a recipe I found here.

Chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut
–3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and with as much skin removed as possible
–2 cups dried figs, soaked in water for one hour then drained
–1/2 cup nut butter (I used a mix of almond and sunflower seed, both to finish off a jar and to up the calcium)
–1 snack-sized container of applesauce–about 1/3 cup? (I know. This is not very environmentally responsible. But the full jars kept molding.)
–1 tablespoon high-quality vanilla extract
–pinch of sea salt
–1/4 cup coconut flour
–1/4 cup almond flour
–1/4 cup sesame seeds
–1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flours. Mix again, scraping down the sides as necessary. The batter will become very thick–you will probably have to scrape a lot. Add the sesame seeds and coconut. Mix again. You may have to finish by hand with a wooden spoon.

Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish (smaller is also okay) with coconut or olive oil. Press the dough into the pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool then cut into squares. I  laid the squares out in a rectangular container and stacked, separating the layers with wax paper, then put the container in the freezer. Allegedly they’ll keep in the freezer for two months. I don’t think I’ll have them that long. I will let you know. One day. Because I know that I seem to stay away from my blog longer and longer. But I always come back. Thank you for reading.

Also, here are a few photos from a walk I took this morning along the Chicago River. Note the bee. And doesn’t this tree resemble a person doing a standing split? Sort’ve? Except way more beautiful than the most beautiful person could ever be. Or maybe just different. Still. Quiet. Exactly as it is without needing to be anything else.

Maybe in yoga teacher training I will learn how to be more like a tree. Probably not. But maybe.

bee on flowerfavorite tree

mushrooms on treeyellow flowers

buckwheat zucchini muffins

This recipe is adapted from Erin Scott’s Yummy Supper, a gluten-free cookbook I checked out of the library last week. I haven’t tried any of her other recipes, but this one is great–the muffins are what you want in the morning, sweet but not too sweet, dense and filling but unobtrusively so, leaving you satiated but not full. And, oddly, buckwheat zucchini muffinsthese benefited greatly from being made ahead and frozen. I made them the other day and thought they were just okay. Yet, as I told a friend, while I didn’t think the muffin was the best tasting thing I’d ever eaten, I couldn’t stop eating it. And afterward I felt terrific, happy and full of energy. Nourished with zero crash. But the thawed version I ate yesterday morning, after yoga and before a visit to the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin (!!), Kettle Moraine, Nordic Trailwas delicious. The flavors somehow deepened and softened, becoming one. I highly recommend. And you will note that this recipe contains no beans. I’ve been thinking about rewriting the “about” section of this blog. Because, really, I might post a lot more often if it wasn’t mostly about beans. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, though, here’s this recipe.

Buckwheat Zucchini Muffins (makes 12)

2/3 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup millet flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse seat salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, at room temperature (use the best eggs you can find and afford — it makes a difference)
1/3 cup honey (again, use good honey, ideally local. Good ingredients make good food.)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted (sub olive oil if you dislike coconut)
1-2 Tablespoons molasses (optional–I used about a teaspoon because it was all I had)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, use high-quality vanilla extract. It’s easy to make your own!)
1-1/4 cups packed grated zucchini, squeezed dry in a towel, paper or kitchen
1/2 cup cacao nibs (original recipe called for walnuts, but I was out)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin tin with coconut or olive oil. You could also use butter. Whisk first six ingredients together. Whisk eggs either in a separate bowl or with the paddle attachment in f a standing mixer. Add honey, maple syrup, oil, molasses if using, and vanilla, until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Add the zucchini and cacao (or walnuts), and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Thistlep.s. This is the flower of a thistle. It made me think about Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed about foraging, and wish I’d taken notes. Or brought a guide. Because I bet there were a lot of edibles out there. Next time. This time, though, while we didn’t forage for wild food, we did stumble upon a remarkably great farm to table restaurant. The Black Sheep in Whitewater, Wisconsin. It was so good! Nourishing and delicious and creative. And every ingredient is Black Sheeplocally sourced, even the flour they use for their gravies and sauces, not to mention desserts. My friend and I split the cherry cobbler. It was delicious. But full of gluten. Yet I did not get sick. Food for thought.

Boston Baked Beans

Once again, it’s been a very long time since my last post. Dreamsofmyfava is languishing. Yet I am thriving. Living. Slowly learning how to be in the world more fully as I am. Which maybe isn’t the same as being the person I wish I was or could be. It’s all very interesting. At least to me. I’ve also been very busy with big projects at work. Indeed, I think maybe all my energy for writing has been directed there. So that I’m now writing this blog post only because on Friday I finally finished the reply brief in a really big case I’ve spent huge amounts of time and energy on in the past year and won’t start work on a new case until Monday. Mental space is crucial.

view from the gazebo at Pete and Anna's cabinBut this post is meant to be about Boston Baked Beans, which I made yesterday. I was inspired by my recent trip to New England. I was there last weekend to visit a dear friend and her husband, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We spent a little time in Cambridge, but mostly we were in their family’s cabin in New Hampshire.

The cabin has no electricity or running water. Which maybe sounds terrible. But instead it was lovely. I’d been there once before, for their wedding several years ago. This time was different, though, because it was just the three of us and their dog, surrounded by and immersed in nature. And probably because I am so different now from how I was then.

My friend’s parents built the cabin thirty years ago, and have gradually added a million thoughtful details. Like this handletree handle on the screen door to the gazebo. Or the handwashing station next to the outhouse, which I didn’t photograph. So you’ll have to trust my words to convince you that it somehow managed to be more luxurious than any bathroom I’ve ever visited. An outhouse that smelled of wood and air.

I guess it smells of wood and air because there are trees everywhere and not much else. Except a few large stones, because the area was formed by glaciers.

As for the man-made aspects, another standout, which I again failed to document, was the garden, where one could easily get lost in meditation while ostensibly choosing and picking herbs and leaves for sandwiches, salads, eggs.

The cabin itself seems to have arisen organically, as if it was grown rather than built. Because there are so many considerate touches. Like the candleholders that are placed here and there and everywhere, so that they’re just where you want them, including one with a handle, and others that have been mounted to the wall in the back bedroom where I slept. That bedroom also held a basin so I was able to wash up a little inside just before bed and in the morning.

More extensive wash ups come with swimming outside in “The Pond,” which is apparently the New England word for “lake.” Whatever you called it, this pure body of water is deep and cold and still. Diving in you feel completely alive. And somehow extra clean.

Pone in the morningI think it was the lack of electricity that rendered the world of the cabin so special, so healing. My breath was deeper, like the way it is after yoga before I emerge into the clamor of city during days here in my normal life. Such a contrast from the cabin, where I felt like I could hear everything inside and out, uninterrupted by the noise I’ve become so accustomed to in Chicago. It was amazing. At one point, I even imagined I heard the trees speaking, not in words but with unmistakable meaning. Clear, direct communication.

During this moment when I believed I heard the trees speaking to me, my friend and I were in the gazebo. It had just rained, was raining, with alternating bouts of gusty wind and soft, barely audible patters. I was attuning her to Reiki, level one. (Because I’m a Reiki master now. Which is pretty cool.) I felt a deep sense of connectedness, with the trees and the stones and the rain and the gazebo and also with my friend, her husband, their dog, everything as one. And suddenly the trees were sending this message about how much they cared about my friend’s well being, recognizing her goodness, her beauty, the feeling they had of her belonging there, with the family, in that place. The trees were expressing their support for what we were doing. Which is cool. Because the trees are such a big part of everything there. It view from gazebofelt good to know or at least believe that we had their support and what felt like their love.

Now, writing this, I fear that maybe I sound a little crazy. Or, at best, eccentric. Whimsical. Like my imagination has gone overboard. Which very well may be true. But what I realize now too is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that feeling. Because the feeling, whether objectively true or not, creates an opening. And with that open heart I allow the world to come in. Then, in that opening, I’m able to come out of myself with a deep faith that things are ultimately good.

Which brings me to the recipe. Finally.

Boston Baked BeansFor a long time baked beans were the only kind of beans that I liked, especially the kind that came in a can with heavy, syrupy sweet good sauce and awful chunks of fatty salt pork that I would fish out and cast to the side. As a kid growing up in the South I would doctor cans of Campbells beans by adding dijon mustard, brown sugar, and a little ketchup, then I’d bake them until the sauce was thick and bubbling. I liked to scoop them up with potato chips as a side for burgers.

When I was married my then-husband and I graduated to Bush’s baked beans, which tasted without doctoring similar to those beans of my childhood. I ate them the same way, scooped up with chips. Although he preferred plain Lays to my beloved Ruffles. The consequence of his strong personality and definitive taste combined with my insecurities was that I, too, learned to prefer plain Lays. (Now that I’m divorced I like both. Chips, which are gluten-free, may be my worst vice.)

Nowadays, when I’m trying to avoid anything with refined sugar, I eat almost no processed food. (Except chips. Damn chips.) This means I no longer buy any kind of canned baked beans. But I still love them. So, when we stopped at Calef’s County Store on the way home from the cabin, I was super excited to see these beans.Calef's Beans Then, last Sunday, lying in the guest bed in quiet, quiet Cambridge, I searched my friend’s extensive cookbook collection for baked bean recipes. And I decided on this one, an adaption from Slow Cooker Revolution. It took a really long time and wound up having to finish in the oven. But the flavor is perfect. I recommend.

Boston Baked Beans

2 oz. diced bacon
1 onion, minced
4-1/2 cups water
1 pound (2-1/2 cups) dried navy beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup molasses (I used blackstrap but recipe calls for mild)
1/4 cup maple syrup (subbed for brown sugar)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 Tb cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

If using the oven, preheat to 350. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer them to the slow cooker insert or a dutch oven. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the fat has rendered. Add the onion and cook another five minutes or so, adding the mustard and cloves for the last minute. Add the onion mixture, molasses, maple syrup, and bay leaves to the beans. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for ten hours, or on high for seven hours. If using the oven, cover and cook for a couple of hours. Check occasionally and add water to cover if necessary. When the beans are soft, add a teaspoon or so of coarse sea or kosher salt. Stir and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and bubbling, and the beans are tender but not mushy. I wound up using the oven to finish because the sauce didn’t thicken in the slow cooker. But I will try again. If you try this out, please let me know how it goes. And good luck!

chocolate cupcakes with black beans (and no gluten)

I kind’ve can’t believe this recipe worked. But it did. black bean cupcakesThese pretty little things actually taste as good as they look: like rich, chocolatey, totally sinful cupcakes. Except without icing. Because while I seem to have no problem convincing myself that it’s okay to cook cupcakes just for myself, destination-free icing feels like it would be crossing the line into something deserving of diagnosis. Or at least several therapy sessions entirely devoted to my eating disorder.

As is, I’m feeling pretty good about my recent food intake. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written. But I’ve been cooking–and eating–plenty, including beans. I just haven’t felt inspired to write about anything. Until now.

This recipe is adapted slightly from Nancy Cain’s gluten-free cookbook, Against the Grain.

1/3 cup coconut oil
2 cups cooked black beans, drained
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line 12 cups of a standard muffin tin with paper lines or grease with coconut oil. (I did the former this time then found myself a little angry about all the delicious cake that the paper liner stole. Next time I’ll grease.)

black bean cupcake batter2. Combine the beans and coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, scrape the sides, and blend again. The batter will be very stiff.

3. Add the eggs and sugar, and blend until the sugar has dissolved, scraping the sides as necessary. Then add the baking soda and continue blending until it’s mixed in.

4. Divide the batter equally between the muffin cups. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. black bean cupcake2Devour with ice cream, if desired. Lately I’ve been into a plain vanilla version of this one. Which is from a paleo website. Obviously I’m not into the whole paleo thing. They prohibit beans. I love beans. We are incompatible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the good.

Speaking of beans, note that Cain’s original cupcake recipe calls for a can of black beans. You can definitely do that. But I prefer to use beans that I’ve cooked myself from dried. First, this ensures maximum nutritional value. Second, it’s more economical and, to my mind, has a smaller environmental impact.

For this recipe I cooked a pound of dried beans. Although I usually add kombu, I decided against it for this recipe. So I just rinsed the beans, soaked them overnight, then rinsed, transferred to a pot, and added cold water to cover by about an inch. I then brought the beans to a boil, reduced the heat, and cooked until tender. It took a couple of hours. At the end I added about a teaspoon of salt and let them cool on the stove. In addition to what I needed for this recipe, it made enough to eat for breakfast with eggs and tortillas with about a cup extra, which I put in the freezer for later.

 

 

 

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!