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.

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22 days of gratitude

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

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

September 13, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/22, am: grateful for choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…