Cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta with Parmesan

I haven’t had time to cook in the past week. The sketch comedy show I’m in is happening this weekend, so we’ve been rehearsing almost every night. The one night off I went to two yoga classes, back to back, trying to find my center again. I had gotten super stressed, just a ball of anxiety, feeling guilty because I wasn’t excited about the show, kinda hated this group of people who I ordinarily love without reservation. It was a difficult week. But one upside is that I had prepared by cooking and freezing food. Including these beans. Which I ate yesterday. And OMG–I still can’t believe how good it is. For reals. This time I skipped the polenta, because it was just me, and instead had the beans and sauce over sausage. Specifically, the black pepper sausage from Big Fork, a local company that makes sausage right here in my neighborhood. It’s delicious. Highly recommend. Here’s the link for more info. (http://www.bigforkbrands.com/) Okay. Now off to meditate, try to get as calm as possible before more rehearsal and then a performance. Eeeeek!!!

dreamsofmyfava

I made this last night for a very small dinner party with two trusted friends. cranberry beans with tomato fennel sauce over parmesan polentaA safe environment for a gamble, in case it didn’t turn out. The photo is terrible because we didn’t eat until late, after talking for two hours while drinking wine, so the photo was an act of duty, without regard to aesthetics. But omg — all I can really say is yum. Which is what I said at least three times while eating. Because I was trying to restrain myself. It is, after all, somewhat unseemly to freak out over the goodness of your own cooking.

To balance things out a bit, my praise was not entirely self-directed. Unfortunately, this is not an original recipe. I got it from theKitchn, who in turn took it from Rancho Gordo. Here’s the link. (http://bit.ly/17RQGQ4) And here’s the recipe, which I followed almost slavishly. My only departures were…

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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.

Cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta with Parmesan

I made this last night for a very small dinner party with two trusted friends. cranberry beans with tomato fennel sauce over parmesan polentaA safe environment for a gamble, in case it didn’t turn out. The photo is terrible because we didn’t eat until late, after talking for two hours while drinking wine, so the photo was an act of duty, without regard to aesthetics. But omg — all I can really say is yum. Which is what I said at least three times while eating. Because I was trying to restrain myself. It is, after all, somewhat unseemly to freak out over the goodness of your own cooking.

To balance things out a bit, my praise was not entirely self-directed. Unfortunately, this is not an original recipe. I got it from theKitchn, who in turn took it from Rancho Gordo. Here’s the link. (http://bit.ly/17RQGQ4) And here’s the recipe, which I followed almost slavishly. My only departures were these: I used frozen borlotti/cranberry beans, I didn’t add butter to the polenta, and I didn’t add parsley or extra cheese to the finished plates. Oh, and I used 1 small yellow onion instead of half a medium onion as in the original recipe. A friend recently suggested that cut onions absorb all kinds of nastiness if stored in the fridge. This appears to be mere rumor. (http://bit.ly/JWhiqo) But, just to be on the safe side, and also because I have been cooking less and therefore never seem to use the other half of a cut onion, I’ve started buying the smaller ones.

Okay. Now. Recipe. It’s seriously worth your time. The individual textures of the diced fennel, the tomatoes, and the beans remain distinct, creating a pretty exciting mouth feel, while the flavor is a delicate balance of sweet richness. The savory polenta is the perfect balance. I highly recommend. It made for an entirely satisfying and delicious vegetarian, gluten-free main course. You could make it vegan by subbing oil for butter and eliminating the cheese. But man. That would be a bummer. The dairy is good here. Enjoy.

Serves 4 to 6

Tomato Sauce
3 T. unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and diced medium
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes or plum tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper

2 cups drained, cooked cranberry/borlotti beans
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Polenta
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the oregano,  red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Grate the carrot directly into the pot, stir, and saute for another minute or two before adding the tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt and stir for a couple of minutes to break up the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2-1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made up to this point 1 or 2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate.

frozen borlotti beans

For the beans, I highly recommend fresh or frozen beans if you can find them. Indeed, the reason I decided to make this dish was my recent discovery of frozen Borlotti beans at my favorite local grocery store, HarvesTime Foods. (http://bit.ly/ecrXBw) Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans, which, as I’ve posted about before, are my favorite beans. (http://bit.ly/19Kknpx)

To cook them, bring a pot of water to a boil, salt, and add the beans. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse, and add them to the tomato sauce after it’s finished cooking and sitting either off heat or in the fridge. They’ll absorb the flavor of the sauce. Extra deliciousness.

About 45 minutes before you plan to eat, make the polenta. (It will be okay if it winds up being more than 45 minutes, as happened last night.) Boil the water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir in the Parmesan and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm. 

About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, warm the beans and tomato sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well.

I served this with my favorite simple salad: arugula with thinly sliced fennel and shaved Parmesan, lightly dressed with walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was crazy delicious good.

black bean tacos w/ sauteed kale, chevre, and tomatillo salsa

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about space. For example, so far my favorite of the sketches I’ve written with my comedy ensemble is almost entirely silent. This despite countless hours of writing and rewriting and working on other, more densely worded pieces. The space of silence. And I’m pretty sure the reason my garden isn’t as productive as it should be is because I filled every single square. The plants don’t have enough space to reach their full potential.

Of course, as seems to be the norm of my life lately, the place where the concept of space has been most profound is yoga. One of my teachers has also been fixated on the concept lately. I don’t know if I got it from her or she got it from me or if we both came to it separately in the way that ideas float around the universe and land on people who are in the same place. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is this realization that growth requires space. I’m slowly learning that the insistent pushing and tight control I’ve always thought was necessary actually inhibits growth. Instead, it happens when I stop trying so hard, when I let go. Which does not come naturally, at least not at this point in my life.

Yesterday I finally unpacked the last of the boxes left over from my move, including the ones marked “random,” which I’d left so long because I just couldn’t deal. Up til now my tendency has been to hold on. Not obsessively. I am no hoarder. But I find it difficult to let go, both physically and emotionally. So, yesterday, as I faced the boxes full of journals and photos and letters and a million tiny fragments of who I used to be and lives I used to have, I decided to practice this new concept of space by getting rid of everything.

Of course, because I’m me, that didn’t happen. I had to go through it all first to make sure there was nothing essential. Which meant that my unpacking of these few boxes wound up being an all-day trip. I traveled through time, looking at snapshots and reading journals and letters that spanned decades.  I succeeded in letting go of some things, but I kept a lot. And by the time I finished putting everything away I was spent, definitely not up to cooking. Yet I needed real food, something nourishing. Not cheese and crackers or chips and dip.

My original plan for the day was to make frittata. With cauliflower and Swiss chard, something that I eat very, very happily every couple of weeks. Because It’s super easy and delicious. But, when the dinner bell rang, I had no taste for eggs. And no desire to cook. Although I had beans in the fridge, that was not what I wanted. Because, as much as I love them, one can only eat so many beans in a week. It’s true that I haven’t written much lately, which could be interpreted to mean that I have not been cooking and eating beans. But my silence means only that I have not cooked or eaten beans worthy of writing about.

So it was with great reluctance that I pulled out some beans. Black ones. Then, behind the black beans, I found a small container of leftover kale that I’d sauteed a couple of days before and forgotten. In a flash of inspiration I remembered that on a whim the day before I’d picked up chevre. And suddenly, just like that, I was totally excited about dinner. In the space of letting go of my plan, I made up something new. Which turned out perfectly.

black bean taco w kale, goat cheese, and tomatillo salsaThe amounts listed below make a single serving. Multiply as needed.

1/2 cup cooked, drained black beans (canned are fine)
1/2 cup sauteed kale
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
chevre
2 flour tortillas
1 T. grapeseed oil
salt to taste

1. Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. (If you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, rub a tiny bit of oil on the skillet before you heat it up) Warm the tortillas, turning, until lightly browned. Roll the tortillas together, put them on a plate, and cover with a kitchen towel or another plate so they’ll stay warm.

2. Add the greens to the skillet for a few minutes, until they’re hot. Put the greens aside and wipe out the skillet.

3. Return the skillet to the heat and add the grapeseed oil and a couple of tablespoons of water. Let it heat for another minute, then add the garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the garlic is very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add more water if necessary. When the garlic is soft, add the black beans. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans. Stir, adding a bit of water to keep the beans from drying out, until heated through, another 3-5 minutes.

To assemble the tacos, divide the black beans between the two tortillas. Add the greens. Then top with goat cheese and tomatillo salsa. You could certainly make your own salsa, and perhaps one day I will post a recipe. But this time, being lazy, I used a jarred version. Frontera. It was good.

Many bean soup with a heap of kale

heap of kale 2Traditionally, summer is not the height of soup season. But I love soup. Plus I had an emergency situation. A friend invited me to raid her garden while she was out of town. So I came home with what seemed like a modest amount of kale.  At least, it seemed like a modest amount in comparison to what I left untouched. She has a lot of kale. So, when I was next to the plants, the single bagful seemed like maybe enough for a couple of salads. When I got home, however, my scale slid back to reality. The bag full of kale I’d picked, thinking I was being so moderate, was probably the equivalent of 5 or 6 bundles from the grocery store. And I’m one person. What was I going to do with it all?

Suddenly I was overwhelmed.  It was Friday evening and I was home relatively early, looking forward to a rare night at home. I still had enchiladas in the fridge and didn’t feel like cooking. And yet. I had picked the kale. I had a responsibility to eat it. But my next seven days loomed as a series of full days followed by full nights, with no time to cook. Whatever I was going to do, I had to do it now. I settled on kale chips.

Exhausted, but determined, I dutifully washed the dirt off, removed a couple of slugs, and stripped the leaves from the stems. So far, so good. Then, suddenly, I stopped. What was I doing? I was not having a good time. I didn’t want kale chips. And not only that, but I didn’t want to turn on the oven. It was going to make the perfectly temperate kitchen hot. Plus I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to do anything. What did I want?

As I stood in the kitchen, surrounded by kale, it hit me. I’m a single person with no children or anyone at all relying on me. Sometimes it is heartbreakingly lonely. I’m often terrified by the future, so different from what I expected, what I used to have. There’s so much loss. But there’s also an amazing freedom in this life I’m building for myself. I have no one to please except myself. Which means, if I’m so inclined on a Friday evening at home, I am free to do nothing. I just forgot for a minute. Which is pretty funny given the amount of time I spend doing yoga, trying to breathe and focus on being present. I love yoga. It makes me happy. But all that yoga is meaningless if my happiness is limited to the time I spend on the mat.

Bemused, I forced myself to put the washed, stripped kale away, stuffing it all into a gallon-sized ziplock bag, feeling good about taming the mass into such a neat package. Then I retreated from the world for the next few hours. I laid on the couch, went through Netflix, and wound up watching the very funny romantic comedy, Kissing Jessica Stein. Purged by laughter, I went to sleep at peace.

The next morning I woke up super early. I planned to go to yoga before putting in a full day at the office. So I went to grab some food from the fridge, for lunch. And I noticed that the kale looked a little too green, wetter than it should be. In my eagerness to package it up the night before, I’d not thought about longevity. It was already starting to decompose. If I didn’t do something, all the kale would be wasted. I checked the clock. I had a half hour. That was enough time to throw something in the slow cooker. But what? I looked up kale in Not Your Mother’s Slowcooker Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1558322450) and found a recipe for many bean soup with kale. I didn’t have the prepackaged soup mix. But I had something better: an entire cabinet full of beans. Problem solved! And so it was.

The downside was that of course it took more than a half hour. Which made me late for yoga. Late enough that although I went to the studio, I couldn’t force myself to interrupt the class by walking in so late. But it all worked out. Just not the way I’d planned. A lesson that maybe I’ll learn one of these days. Maybe. For now, here’s the recipe for the soup. It turned out well. many bean kale soup

2-4 bunches of kale, curly or lacinato 1/4 c. olive oil (use less if you like)
1 onion, diced
2 T. tomato paste
1 c. white beans
1/2 c. brown lentils
1/2 c. Scarlet Runner beans 1 1″ piece Kombu, broken into pieces
4 c. chicken broth
4 c. water

1.  Wash, destem, and slice the kale thinly.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium cast-iron (or other) skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion. Saute for 5 minutes or so, until the onion is browning, then add the tomato paste. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, stirring, then turn off the heat.

3. Pick out any discolored or broken beans, rinse, and place in the slow cooker insert.  Nestle the kombu pieces down in the beans then add the kale. It will seem like a lot, possibly coming up out of the slow cooker. Scrape the warm onion mixture over the top of the kale and use tongs to gently mix the onion into the top of the kale. The heat should help it shrink down a little. Cover with the chicken broth and water, and, using the tongs (or a big spoon), mix things around a bit so the kale is coated with the cooking liquid and beans are under liquid. Cover and cook on low for 10+ hours.

The final dish is pretty kale intensive, so that the broth tastes almost like pot liquor from collard greens. I think it’s delicious. But a little goes a long way. Happily, it’s pretty filling…

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.