Sauteed chicken thighs over cranberry beans and kale pesto

Ten days back from vacation, and I am still feeling the positive effects. Which is remarkable. Because I returned to a Chicago that lived up to its status as a cold, windy city. It could not be less like Florida. Yet the city has its own beauty. The bare trees that line my street are outlined in snow, slow dancing stick figures clothed in white. Ethereal. They are no less mysterious and wonderful than the  beaches, the pine forests, and the cypress swamps of Tallahassee that I love so deeply. Just different. And colder.

Thankfully I have a warm coat. And a home. Where I enjoy cooking hearty, long-cooked food. Like this  recipe, which  is very similar to my beloved cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil (http://bit.ly/1bEQWT9), and, like that recipe, is adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients.

The chief differences between this version and the original are that I substituted chicken thighs for Gyngell’s squab, and, as in the other cranberry bean recipe I stole from her, cooked the beans in a crock pot. cranberry beans with sage, garlic, and tomato If you make this, use the best, most high-quality chicken you can find. It makes a difference.Oh, and I just realized that I accidentally used twice as much kale as I was supposed to. Happy accident that was facilitated by kale being on sale that day. Next time I will probably use less and will likely try it with frozen beans, as I did for the cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta. (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9s) This time the beans were mushy and not very pretty. But the flavor was terrific. So good that  as she took her first bite, one of the two friends I was cooking for, a serious foodie,  pretty much melted into flavor ecstasy. Which I totally agreed with. Even if it wasn’t humble.

This recipe is also nice in that it’s gluten-free, affordable, nourishing, and, while not the most simple dish ever, quick enough to make for a week-night dinner. Here’s the recipe, which will serve six. Or, if folks are really big eaters, three.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cranberry Beans
2-1/2 cups dried cranberry beans
1 (12-oz) can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of sage
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 dried red chili pepper
1 1″ piece Kombu (for digestion–check out this recipe for a fuller explanation (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9))
1/4 cup olive oil

Kale and kale pesto
4 pounds Tuscan Kale (or less if you wish)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 good-quality canned anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 dried red chili pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. To cook the beans, pick over to remove any that are discolored or broken, rinse, and place in the insert of a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, sage, garlic, olive oil, and kombu. Crumble the chili pepper over the top then pour cold filtered water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. When tender, salt generously and allow to cool in the cooking liquid while you prepare the chicken and kale.

2. For the chicken, wash if you like (despite the warnings about spreading bacteria all over your kitchen, I still wash my chicken) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the fat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the chicken. The short time at room temperature will season the chicken and make it cook a bit faster. (Note that this is my completely untrained opinion. Also note that so far as I know, my food has never poisoned anyone. That said, if you’re concerned, please keep the chicken in the fridge. You’re better off avoiding anxiety.)

3. For the kale, bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. (When I think ahead, as I did this time, I fill the pot with tap water in the morning and let it sit all day. My theory is that this will allow the chlorine to slowly rise out of the water instead of all at once. I do this because of some talk I heard a million years ago while visiting a friend in Bolinas, CA. I don’t know if it’s true. But it made sense at the time. So I do this as one of my small ways to ameliorate guilt about being a human and living a modern life here on earth.) Wash the kale leaves and strip them off the stalk. I do this by holding the end of the stalk with one hand, while grabbing on with the other and sliding it down the stalk. When the water is boiling, transfer the kale to the water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and dress the leaves with the olive oil while they’re still warm.

kale pesto3. To make the pesto, transfer half the kale to the bowl of a food processor. Or, if you decided to go for 2 pounds of kale, transfer all of the kale to the food processor. Add the butter, garlic, anchovy fillets, and chili. Process until smooth, using a spatula as necessary to push down the sides. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper.

4. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if you like (I like to freeze and use it as a substitute for broth) and discarding the garlic, sage, and kombu. Place the beans in the cooking pot and stir in the pesto. Add the whole kale as well if you decided to go for the full amount. Cover and set aside.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, place the chicken thighs in the skillet, skin side down. Saute for 7-10 minutes, until the skin is crispy and brown. Turn and saute for another 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the thighs sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Cut into the thickest part of the largest thigh to make sure they’re cooked. (I didn’t do this. My thighs weren’t all the way cooked. It is a testament to the graciousness of my two friends, and probably the past year of intensive yoga, therapy, and over-the-top fixation on good self-care, that I did not freak out even a little bit. We cooked them longer. It was fine. But if possible, I’d like to spare you–and your guests–that experience.)

chicken with cranberry beans and kale pestoTo serve, spoon about a cup and a half of the bean kale mixture into a shallow bowl or a plate with a decent lip, and top with a chicken thigh. We also had an arugula salad and fennel. Originally I planned on two thighs apiece. But we were all completely full with just one thigh. Beans are hearty! If you try this, I hope you enjoy. And that you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself during the holiday season. xo

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.

Lentil stew, slow cooker style

Yesterday morning, when I made this, lentil stewI planned to post about lentil soup. Basic, nourishing, plain lentil soup. A sort’ve gateway into the world of legumes. And something that really should be on this blog. But, despite my best intentions, it’s still not here. Because in my rush to get it done before leaving for work, I added too many lentils. Or, depending on how you look at it, not enough water. Probably the latter, as I made this with the intent of giving a large quantity away to a friend who is in the middle of a move.

The upside is that while the end result has almost no liquid, and therefore does not qualify as a soup, the flavor turned out exactly right. So I’m sharing the recipe, which I adapted from Diane Phillips’ “Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever.”

1 lg. onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. brown lentils, rinsed
6 c. water
1 2″ piece of kombu
3 T. olive oil (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Combine everything except the salt and apple cider vinegar in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Add salt to taste (I used 1 T. of kosher salt) and apple cider vinegar, if desired. The stew was good without the vinegar. But I think the vinegar adds a welcome depth.

Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar with kombu, it is a sea vegetable. While I do not bother with the presoaking that is recommended for optimal digestion, I always cook my beans with kombu because it “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://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/putting-the-polish-on-those-humble-beans)

I wish I could write more. But I must run. Go to work. Where I shall enjoy lentil stew for lunch. xo

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.

Vegan Slow Cooker Baked Beans

My love affair with baked beans began as a child, well before I understood–or cared–about the connection between food and health. I just liked them because they tasted good. Simultaneously sweet and savory, a necessary accompaniment to grilled burgers and chips, the tastes of summertime.

As a kid lucky enough to be given free rein in the kitchen from age eight or so, I used to make them from a can of Campbell’s pork & beans, which I poured into a square Pyrex baking dish before carefully picking out every trace of the white salt pork and adding ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. This concoction, a classic “recipe” comprised of various processed foods, was baked at 350 for about an hour, until it was bubbling, brown, edges starting to caramelize. It was so delicious that sometimes I made it even without burgers, using it as dip for chips.

Later, as an adult, I discovered Bush’s baked beans. Full of sugar and all kinds of savory spices, they, too, are delicious. And I will definitely eat them in a pinch. But I’d rather not. I’d rather make my own. So, yesterday, I did. baked beans version one

I’ve actually made baked beans from scratch before, a little over ten years ago. The rehearsal dinner for my wedding was a big bbq at my oldest sister’s house. One of her friends smoked a pork butt, and my sister made a bunch of other awesome food. She drew the line at baked beans, though. Which was reasonable. We could have bought canned beans, of course. But I was trying to save money. Plus I wanted it to be special. And vegetarian. I was on my own.

Back then, the first time I made baked beans from scratch, I came up with something good after weeks spent scouring the internet and making several test batches. My former husband was a great test subject, enthusiastic and appreciative, but unafraid to say when something wasn’t right. In the end, what I made was spicy and rich and perfectly cooked. But I kept no record. Which is just as well, maybe. After all, that was another lifetime. I’m moving forward as this new and improved version of myself, alone. There’s plenty of good from my past that I’m taking with me into this new life. But the baked beans that I made for my wedding party? Like the paint choices in my condo, which I seriously loved, there are some things that should be left behind.

So. Starting over. Yesterday morning, I sat down over coffee and thought about what I wanted to achieve. I realized that my goal was simple: a vegan slow cooker version of baked beans without any refined sugar products. After looking at several recipes, I settled on three from these cookbooks: How To Cook Everything VegetarianMark Bittman; Southern Sides, Fred Thompson; and Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman.

All of the original recipes I looked at contain at least one refined sugar product (molasses, brown sugar, ketchup), two out of three call for chicken broth, and Fred Thompson’s drool-inducing recipe includes bacon. But I was undaunted, in part because of Mark Bittman’s directness about the absence of bacon being a problem, which he resolves by using kombu. As he says right at the start of his recipe, “[i]t’s tough to find a vegetarian version of baked beans with bacon, with that creamy texture and delicate balance of sweet and smoky flavors. Enter kelp, also known as kombu…. Kelp contains a natural acid that tenderizes the beans as the seaweed itself melts away, leaving behind a luxurious sauce with complex flavor.”

Armed with this promise from the trusted Mr. Bittman, as well as various other tips and ideas from the two other recipes, I got started. And I was happy, chopping onions to Jeff Buckley and  singing along with the New Pornographers while I sauteed the onions and watched the tomato paste begin to caramelize. By the time I finished and left to go about my day, I was totally excited, anticipating the aroma that would fill my apartment when I got home, eager to test what could only be the best beans ever.

But no. I’m sorry to say that even today, after the flavors have had a chance to develop, the end result is almost pallid,  lacking in character and borderline mushy from the baking soda. On the upside, I’m pretty sure the baking soda cut the cooking time considerably. I used older grocery store beans that were not presoaked, yet the dish took less than six hours, start to finish. And these beans are not a complete failure. They taste fine and are quite healthy. I think they would be terrific for kids. But they are not special. Not what I’m looking for. Work remains to be done. More research. Testing. For now, here’s what I did in round one.

2-1/2 c. navy beans
1 5″ piece of kombu
1 dried red chili
1/4 c. grapeseed oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. tomato paste
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. brewed coffee
2 t. dried mustard
3 springs thyme
pinch of baking soda
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. apple cider vinegar

1. Pick over the beans and discard any that are seriously discolored or broken. Rinse, drain, and place in the insert of your slow cooker.  Crumble the chili into the beans, add the kombu, and cover with 1-1/2 or 2 inches of filtered water. Cover and turn the heat to high.

2. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and saute for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the garlic, stirring, for another minute. Then add the tomato paste and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until deeply aromatic and shiny. Add about 1/4 cup of water, stirring to get any stuck parts off the bottom of the pan, and add to the beans together with the remaining ingredients except salt. Turn the heat to low and cook for 4-6 hours. Add the vinegar and salt to taste (I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons).  Turn off the heat and let the beans cool for a bit so the salt can sink in. Serve with chips.

Slow cooker chuck roast with Mortgage Lifter beans from Adobe Milling Company

pot roastThis is so much better than you’d think it would be. Honestly, I added the beans just because I wanted to find some way to use them and thought this might be good. I had no idea it would elevate the dish into something so spectacular. I mean, true, it’s just pot roast. Not something you’d expect from a real chef at a fancy restaurant. But for an at home dinner on a Monday night, a dinner that mostly cooked itself while you’re at work? Can’t beat it. Plus, on a whim, I decided to add turmeric, something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my diet. Because it’s supposed to be really, really good for you. Here, it was not only delicious, it also imparted a wonderful golden hue to the broth. The end result knocked my socks off. And it was super easy. Here’s what I did.

First, I cooked the beans. I used Mortgage Lifter beans, an heirloom Indimortgage lifter beansan (Native American) bean that I picked up at Adobe Milling Company, in Colorado. (www.anasazibeans.com) The woman at the store recommended pre-soaking these enormous beans. I soaked one package (2 cups) overnight, rinsed, and then cooked them in a slow cooker covered with about 1″ of water and a thumb-sized piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that helps with digestion). It took about 4 hours. When the beans were tender, I added about a teaspoon of salt, turned off the heat, and let them cool in their broth. The salt penetrates the bean during the cooling process, seasoning them through. When they were cool, I refrigerated the beans overnight. Although you can add more if you like (handy to stretch the dish to feed more people), you will only need about two cups of cooked beans for this recipe. I froze the rest to use later. If you go that route, just make sure the beans are fully submerged in their cooking liquid.

Second, this morning, I made the roast. The recipe for that is slightly more involved, but not much.

1 3-lb. chuck roast
2 onions, sliced medium
6 carrots, cut into chunks
2 T. cold water
1 T. kuzu (another kind of seaweed) or cornstarch, for thickening
1-1/2 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked mortgage lifter or cannellini beans, homemade or canned (if canned, drain and rinse)

Combine the water and kuzu (or cornstarch) in the insert of your slow cooker. Add the onions, carrots, and turmeric. Stir to combine. Wash and dry the roast, then rub the salt and pepper into both sides. Place the roast on top of the vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. About an hour or two before you’re ready to eat, use tongs to turn the roast and add about 2 cups of cooked, drained beans. Just ladle them around the sides. When you’re ready to eat, taste for seasonings. And that’s it! Super simple.  Surprisingly delicious. And a nice way to sneak some healthy beans and turmeric into your diet.

Slow cooked ragu with pork ribs and white beans

kitchenThis is my next to last day in the condo I’ve lived in for the past ten years. Here’s the partially dismantled kitchen, with my beloved, giant refrigerator/freezer. My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I bought the condo just before we married, which makes the move complicated and fraught with feeling. So many hopes and dreams are bound up in this place. At first I found myself incapable of packing, paralyzed. Thankfully my friends rescued me. Now, the day before my move, I’m still not ready. But I will be.

Last weekend, while we were packing, one of my friends recounted the David Sedaris story about his brief stint working for a small moving company. When they showed up for a job, the movers found the client in the kitchen, cooking pasta, having packed absolutely nothing. Ha! So funny. So not any of us, we laughed. We continued packing, my friends efficiently, me sporadically, safe and secure in the knowledge that I would be ready when the movers arrived. But later that night, after my friends had gone home, I started thinking about that story, this time empathizing with that girl.

Until then, I’m not sure I was capable of empathy in this situation. I’ve always been a person who does what needs doing.  Absolutely not the person who lies around waiting for someone else to take care of her, oblivious. Cooking pasta while your belongings remain strewn about your apartment? That would never be me. Because such behavior would be inconsiderate, rude, wasteful. Crazy. I definitely have my crazy side, but historically it has never manifested as an inability to act. At least not in my adult life.

No. My crazy has always been too much action. When in doubt, do, that’s my motto.

Until now.

Now, suddenly, when faced with this huge change, one that I’ve known about for months, I’ve somehow emerged into this new form in which I’m incapable of acting on my own, without help. It’s absolutely terrifying. Yet, in some strange way, also liberating. Because, somehow, I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from people other than my family. Which is kind’ve amazing. It is a gift of intimacy and friendship that before now I’ve mostly seen only from the giving side. Yet receiving is just as important. It allows for others to express their generosity, their love.

On my way to recognizing this gift of receiving, I started to see that maybe the girl in David Sedaris’s story refused to pack her belongings not because she was lazy, or selfish, or inconsiderate, but because she was simply incapable of doing what she was supposed to do. I saw that because I could see it in myself. I didn’t know where to start with packing. And then I felt guilty. So I used avoidance techniques like television. Or sleep. Until my friends came over and saved me. Then, after they left, I felt capable of taking on surmountable tasks. Familiar, known tasks that I can control, things that I know how to start and finish them, by yourself. I understand this now because that morning, once I decided to cook, I lost the lethargy, felt like myself, relatively calm and in control. The contrast was illuminating.

I started by looking in the freezer. Most of what was left–various flours and other dried goods–can be moved. But I still had the ribs from my hog butchering adventure in February, as well as pork stock that I made from the rib roast. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/24/inspiration-and-bacon-from-the-underground-food-collective/) I had initially planned to do something with just the ribs. But, while I’ve never made ribs and white beans before, I had seen recipes. And it seemed like the most practical option: and easy, nutritious (if not exactly healthy), one-pot meal that I could eat all week.

In normal circumstances, this is the point where I would spend some time with my cookbook collection. I’m old-fashioned like that. I love nothing better than to lie in bed, reading about food, and then fall asleep daydreaming about individual recipes, food combinations, and menus. This time, though,  I had no cookbooks, because they were the first things to get packed. And I didn’t really have a lot of time, because I’ve been weirdly exhausted. So, after a quick online search to get a general idea, I decided to wing it.

ragu with pork ribs and white beansWhat I wound up with is not at all what I planned. It far too much tomato for a one-pot meal. But what I wound up with is a terrific ragu sauce over pasta, hearty and satisfying. I will definitely make it again. Here’s what I did.

1 lb. pork ribs, cut into 3-rib sections
1 c. dried white beans (I’m using navy beans, but any white beans will be fine), soaked overnight
1 sm. onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
3 c. chicken or pork broth
1/2 c. red wine (optional–I had some in the freezer)
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed (or diced) tomatoes
1-3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (sea vegetable, for digestion)
pasta

1. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Rinse and dry the ribs. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the ribs until brown, 3-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to the slow cooker, on top of the beans.

3. Add additional olive oil to the skillet if necessary. Saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute for another3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste. Saute for another minute or two, stirring. Then add 1/2 cup of red wine or broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any browned bits, and turn the heat to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and remaining broth, cover, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the beans are tender. Fish out the bones and the kombu, and salt to taste.

4. Boil pasta, drain, and top with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.