Adventures in Cooking: The Black Bean

I became a vegetarian just over a year ago and one unexpected benefit is a renewed interest in trying new recipes. A month ago I bought dried black beans. I had no idea what the difference was between the canned version I usually bought versus soaking and cooking them myself, but I thought it time to give it a try. 

SAMSUNG

A few days ago I did an internet search to find out what the process was.  As usual, there were hundreds of people who wanted to tell me how go from dried bean to deliciousness. Step 1: Sort the beans. The instructions acted like I knew what this meant.  Sort them into what? Piles of ten? I closed out of that page and opened someone else’s instructions. “Remove any stones, twigs, malformed or discolored beans.” Stones? Twigs? How on earth does one harvest beans such that there are stones and twigs among them? I had no idea, but I knew if I used Google to find that answer I would never get to the task at hand. Back to the beans it was.

I dumped a half-cup of beans into a bowl and sifted through them. I pulled out maybe fifteen things I thought shouldn’t be in there. If I had poured my beans onto a tray I could have pushed to one side all the good ones, but I wasn’t interested in going to all that trouble.  Besides, I wasn’t going to serve them to anyone else, so if a stone slipped in it was only my tooth that would be damaged.

Next I added an equal amount of water.  It didn’t seem like enough. But I followed the instructions. “Let them soak for six hours.” Six hours?! It was six p.m. So much for having black beans and rice for dinner. “Overnight is fine.” Well, overnight it was going to be then, as I was not about to get up a midnight to care for my beans.  I like to cook, but I like a good night’s sleep just as much, if not more.

I pushed the bowl of beans aside and opened my fridge to see what else I could have for dinner.

After dinner, I peeked into the bowl. Those beans were taking up more space and had soaked up most of the water. I made an executive decision to add more water.

The next day they were looking pretty good. If overnight was fine, I figured 24-hours wouldn’t hurt. I could eat them that night. But I forgot about them until the next morning when I padded into the kitchen and smelled something funny. It took me a minute to remember my beans. Thirty-six hours was a little too much for them apparently.

Round 2

This time I only did 1/4 cup of beans.  No need to waste anymore of them if this didn’t turn out well.

Who screws up soaking black beans? Me. Ha. Who knew how difficult  I could make throwing beans and water into a bowl.

I pulled up a third set of instructions. I zoomed past sorting. After telling me to add water, this one mentioned that “in hot-weather kitchens, it is best to put the beans in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation.” Ah. I knew what fermentation was. It’s a stinky process that can happen when a woman leaves a bowl of black beans and water sitting on the counter in an un-air-conditioned cabin.

This time I started the process at 9 a.m. on a  cool and cloudy Saturday. I could soak these guys and have them for dinner tonight.

By afternoon the clouds cleared and I was off to meet friends at the pool. Upon my return, I read my next steps. Note to self: read instructions fully before embarking on cooking adventures. I know this, but really how much could there be to soaking some beans? Well, there could be an additional 45 minutes of simmering. Really? I was hungry. So I put the beans on to simmer, and made myself a frittata for dinner.

Finally, after I was sufficiently satiated and the dinner dishes were done, I deemed my beans done as well.  I drained the water, poured them into a Pyrex, and put them in the fridge. Tonight, my friend Courtney and I will eat them mixed with quinoa, salsa, and cilantro. I hope she doesn’t break a tooth.

Changing My Mind

I am very good at completely changing my opinion on something – sometimes in the space a few seconds, sometimes in a few years.

Example #1: In college I remember thinking, “I could never date a vegetarian.  I wouldn’t know what to cook for him.”  A dozen years later I’m not dating a vegetarian – I am one myself.  And can come up with plenty of great things to cook on any given day.  But I reserve the right to change my mind again: A year from now, don’t be surprised if I’m a meat eater.  Or a vegan.

Example #2: I thought for a while I wanted to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  One hundred twenty-eight square feet.  On wheels.  I even went to see one.  With my parents in tow.  And shortly after that decided I couldn’t live in one.

Or did I?  One year after seeing my first Tumbleweed, I took a class called Building A Garden Shed.  Because there’s a book that says you can build a Tumbleweed with just fourteen tools.  So I thought I’d get an idea of framing and such.  In class, I learned I have no interest in physically building it myself. God has given me many gifts.   Working with wood is not one of them.

But I still find myself tempted to own a Tumbleweed.  Especially when I read Tammy Strobel’s blog. She started by moving to smaller and smaller spaces, eventually transitioning to her one hundred twenty-eight square foot house on wheels.  Think it’s too small for one person?  Well, she lives there with her husband.

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Yesterday I walked into a friend’s studio apartment.  The bathroom is normal size.  The main room is about double the size of the bathroom.  I loved it.  The closet thing threw me though – one was filled with the washer/dryer, the other with the hot water heater and such.  Zero room to hang anything. I laughed when I realized a Tumbleweed actually has more storage space than this apartment.

Will I move to a Tumbleweed one day?  Who knows.

There are a lot of people going smaller.  Some of them then change their mind.  And thanks to them, I can spend hours perusing Tiny House Listings.

The Joy of Blogging: Grandma and the Camino

Before my parents took off for the weekend, they asked if I could do them a favor and drop something off at my grandmother’s house.  I agreed – not just to maintain my #1 Daughter status, but also because I was moving in less than a week and visiting Grandma was something I needed to do before I left.

Time with Grandma, however, wasn’t on my checklist. I had to pack for my move.  Call the editor of Busted Halo with a decision as to if I would again blog for them. Answer the fifty e-mails sitting in my in-box in my quest to get down to zero before I left. 

Instead of doing any of that, I sat on the internet looking up delicious-sounding vegetarian dishes.  I switched over to BustedHalo.com.  I perused the other articles, trying to figure out how/if I could fit in and what angle I would take.  I went to the posts I had written earlier, and that’s when it hit me.

I started to print all the posts I’d written about the Camino (on white paper) and the comments (on yellow paper).  When I was finished, I called Mom and Dad to find where they stored a three-hole-punch.  I punched all the pages and put them in a black one-inch thick binder.  Then, I headed to Grandma’s.

As I walked toward the front of her building, I saw her and one of her friends heading out.  “Where you going?” I asked.

“Oh – I completely forgot you were coming!” Grandma said.  “We’re going to pick up Chinese.  Why don’t you come?”

Getting in a car driven by my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  I was a little slow on the uptake and agreed – later wondering why I didn’t just offer to drive. Off we went.  I tried to look out the side windows, or at the speedometer hoping she wouldn’t go too much faster than I would have.

The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Probably because the Chinese food place was less than a mile away and only required right turns. We brought the food back to her house and sat down to eat.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’ve eaten anything other than Italian food at my grandmother’s home.  I felt a little like I was in another dimension.

She asked about my trip and, as happened frequently since I’ve returned, I stumbled over where to start, what to say.  But I had a book of words I had written along The Way.  I don’t think Grandma fully understood what the binder was when I handed it to her, but she promised to look at it before I came back two days later for the traditional Sunday meatballs.  (Note: Sunday would be the first time I headed to Grandma’s and would not eat meatballs as I’d become a vegetarian three months earlier, but I wasn’t going to get into that yet.)

That evening, back at Mom and Dad’s, the phone rang.  I don’t usually answer their phone as I don’t really live there and the calls are not usually for me.  But the caller ID said it was Grandma, so I picked it up.

“I just had to call,” she said.  “I’m three-quarters of the way through your book and I just can’t put it down!”  Well, apparently she could since she had to put it down in order to call me…but that’s beside the point. “This is just so amazing.  I feel like I’m right there with you. I can’t believe you did this.”

Though I had printed out the comments more for me to relish in later than anything, Grandma loved those too. She was amazed, like I was, that total strangers wrote responses to my posts.

During this conversation, it struck me that the best part of writing for Busted Halo while I was on the Camino was this: that I had a book my grandmother could read to understand a bit more about what I had just accomplished.

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Epilogue:

On Sunday, I went to Grandma’s and turned down meatballs explaining I was a vegetarian.

“Well, at least have some of the sauce,” she said.

“I can’t eat that either.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because you cooked the meatballs in the sauce.”

“Really?” She scrunched up her face, thoroughly mystified.

She scoured the refrigerator.  Like any Italian grandmother would have, there were plenty of other choices in there. She breathed a great sigh of relief when I accepted her offer of roasted red peppers.