Thursday, April 30, 2009

Beans are Cooking

I just took this pot of beans out of the oven. I love the variations in colors. I'm using my friend Karen's method, which I reproduce below (I didn't have bacon grease, so I omitted that):
I found that the best method for cooking beans is as follows: put beans in a large ceramic pot, add plenty of water, a tablespoon of bacon grease, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil on the stove top. Cover and place in a preheated 325 or 350 degree oven and set the timer for 1hour. Check beans in an hour, stir and add water if needed. Cover and cook according to tenderness of beans to finish, usually another hour or less. Now you have beautifully cooked beans ready to be made into soup or other dishes. It is foolproof and defeats the problems I have had in the past with our hard water. No soaking and it can be done while you are doing things in the morning.
These beans were soft and meaty but not mushy after 1-1/2 hours. I am going to add this tomato and chili mixture below and cook them together for another 1/2 hour or so just to blend the flavors.
I tried her method the other day with garbanzo beans, which always seem to cook and cook for hours and without getting tender. I did soak the garbanzos overnight first, because I doubted that her method could conquer garbanzo beans. But after the soaking I followed her instructions exactly and they were soft and ready to eat after ONE HOUR in the oven. So now I am a believer and will go cold turkey with no soaking next time. My Spanish cazuela makes a good vessel for this and I like to think it adds a certain yo-no-se-que to my Spanish recipes. I made a garbanzo and vegetable soup with some of these garbanzos, and a pasta with garbanzos with the rest.

Speaking of garbanzos, on Monday I heard Spanish chef Jose Andres on NPR describing how to make his soup, Garbanzos con Espinacas (spinach). You can read this irresistible and economical recipe (part of a series of recession-busting recipes) here or, better yet, listen to his rich Spanish accent and dream of Spain. Over the years I've collected several Spanish garbanzo recipes but I always shrink from making them because of long cooking time. I'll be making Jose Andres' Garbanzos con Espinacas next, but using Karen's cooking method. Maybe a plate of good Serrano ham on the side...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Things that Bring Me Joy

In the last few days I have been concentrating on things that give me joy. Maybe you could even say, things that make me glad I'm alive (see previous post).
Here are some recent ones:
-Notes that say "I love you" from my son
-Snuggling with my husband
-Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies on top of Mt. Davidson
-Seeing my son win both the 1600 and 800 races--easily--at a track meet
-The wondrous birdhouse/treehouse constructions of Patrick Dougherty woven out of willow trimmings on top of the trees at SF Civic Center Plaza across from City Hall
-Red worms in my compost

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Car Crash

This is where the front of my car hit the guardrail on Hwy 280 yesterday. Someone was merging onto the freeway and clipped my rear bumper. My car slammed into the guardrail on the right and then slid across 4 lanes of traffic to stop against the center divider, blocking the left hand lane. I'm ok, just some bruises on my arm from the seatbelt and some ambivalent feelings about driving on the freeway. But our car is considered a total loss by our insurance company, which has not yet decided what we will get for it. The strange thing is, the damage above is about the worst of it. Yes, there are scratches and dents all along the passenger side where the car scraped the guardrail, a messed up rear hatchback door, and a crunched back fender where the SUV hit it. But you wouldn't think it was "totalled."

I am very very grateful to all the people who stopped to help me, especially the sheriffs' dept. guys who stopped right behind me about 15 seconds after I did and turned on all their flashing lights to warn oncoming drivers before I had even dialed 911. They may have saved my life. Then the tow druck driver who stopped about 30 seconds after that, also shielding my car, and tried to help me get my car started again, and the highway patrolman who arrived a few minutes later and took total control of the situation, got us off the freeway, and started the police report. Also the witnesses who waited by the side of the road to make sure I was ok and told the whole story to the officers. And even the driver of the SUV, who also stopped and waited, apologized to me, and cooperated fully with the CHP. I am so glad to be alive.

Friday, April 17, 2009

April Garden Report

The sugar snap peas are 4-5' high now, dominating the raised bed. (I like how it looks like the two vines above are holding hands.) Time to start picking peas! And time to plant something else. My transplanted beets are stunted little things; I think I will plant more beets, carrots, and lettuces. Over the last month a bunch of volunteers popped up, from either seeds or runners from last year's plants: camomile, mint, bee balm, tarragon, sweet peas, and sunflowers. The sweet peas need staking since they are beginning to sprawl. Here's the sweet little columbine flower, nestled with some mint:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A 5-Pound Bundle of Joy

Meet the newest member of our family, baby Ireland. My 8th grader's teacher assigned everyone in the class a 5-pound bag of flour to haul around for a week and treat like a baby. You 've probably heard of this assignment, designed to give teenagers a glimpse of what having a real baby would be like. Before I knew it, I was making Ireland a sling and asking my son how baby Ireland slept last night. It was kind of spooky how easy it was to slip into the role of Grandma. My son took on fatherhood with grace. He made a little diaper for Ireland out of construction paper and a plastic bag, and wouldn't even leave the baby alone downstairs while he did his homework. On the ride home from school on Monday, he and his friend made sure Ireland had a seatbelt around him. In math class, the kids put all the flour babies on a table together for a "playdate," and they worked out a complicated genealogy for the babies among their friends. Later in the week, they were going to have to wake up at 3-hour intervals and email the teacher to verify their "feedings."

But today, my son came home without baby Ireland. His science teacher had called off the project. Apparently some mean boys got hold of the babies and destroyed 8 of them, creating a big mess in the hallway with the 40 pounds of flour. They were caught, fortunately, and had to clean it all up. My son was disappointed, but resigned, almost as if he found the boys' behavior inevitable. There has been an epidemic of egging incidents at schools so I guess he wasn't surprised. I find the idea of boys destroying the babies disturbing and discouraging, but I treated it lightly with him. For him, it was a game anyway, and he took away from it what he was supposed to: if you're not mature enough to take care of a 5-pound bag of flour, you're not mature enough to take care of a baby.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Unique New York

I took a lot of photos on our one week trip to New York, but this is one of my favorites, in the East Village. The weather was wintry--cold, windy and wet--but the trees were blossoming and there were daffodils and tulips in all the little pocket parks. My sons had never been there (okay, the older one had when he was 18 months old) so the trip was really for me and my mom and her husband to show them the city. If you've spent time in New York, you have your favorite things about it that you want to show someone else. But ultimately the greatest experience in New York is to discover it for yourself. Thus the highlight of my sons' trip was the afternoon when they took off on their own with their Metrocards, cell phones and maps. I'm still not sure exactly what they did, but I know it involved criss-crossing subway rides, a walk through Central Park, running into one of their teachers in Grand Central Station, and buying knock-off sunglasses from a street vendor. The rest of their afternoon remains private to them, but I like to think that some time in the future they will get to show someone else something they discovered that day.

We were supposed to stay in a penthouse apartment in Chinatown but through some unfortunate events at the last minute we ended up in the West 50s off 10th Avenue. The new place was much less luxurious than where we were supposed to stay--and half the price--but we took advantage of our location to explore 9th Avenue, which has a ridiculous number of good restaurants for extremely modest prices. I actually spent less on meals than I had expected! Also we turned out to be a few minutes' walking distance from the U.S.S. Intrepid (which was high on my younger son's list of sight-seeing attractions), Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. So, as my younger son would say, "It's all good."

I had time to think about some of my own experiences living in New York more than 20 years ago, especially since I insisted we visit my college. It doesn't really feel like "mine" anymore, and yet I was surprised at how much I remembered about navigating the city and the subway. New York has changed, but the things that make it unique really haven't changed that much.