November 18, 2009


So, I guess it’s come to this. Its 3:00AM and I’m posting something. I don’t have anything at all to write about. Quite the contrary. But I’m so done sharing a car, and I think the only way DH will take the BART enough times to realize he’s done, too, is if I go to bed at 4 or 5 AM and he therefore feels bad about waking me for work. Fortunately, I don’t have to even show up for work tomorrow, all the people who would miss me will be away from the office. Did you hear me? Done. I’m not evil, its just DH has these meetings until 9:15pm, and I get so done with work by about 8:30pm that my poor co-workers have to witness the return of self-frenchbraids. It would be amazing if I could hop in my high-mpg vehicle and escort myself home at, oh, about 7:00pm, when I’m done but not yet crazy. DH has so far seemed to enjoy crazy, hey, he gets a ride home; but tomorrow maybe he’ll get a little taste and understand. Yes, I know, it’s not frugal, but I’m seriously winging out over here. Its been two months since I gave up any personal space or freedom I may have once enjoyed. That's the number of months since I drove to or from work by myself, since I went grocery shopping alone, since I had control of the remote, since I got to spend Saturday mornings watching the Food Network instead of playing it in my head while I cooked and cleaned, and its a bit of a transition for me. I miss old me a fair bit right now. I could really do with a run. Too bad the car situation limits me to exactly 0 early morning state-park runs a week. UGH! I hate being so bitter. That's why I'm up at 3am. I'm protesting being bitter. And lobbying for a "new" car.

November 13, 2009

The Wonderful, Versatile, and Above All Inexpensive Bean

There’s a certain stigma associated with beans. People who have been dirt poor look back on those days and say things like, “yeah, we were dirt poor, we lived on beans and rice!” or worse, “we were poor, but not so poor we had to live on beans and rice.” People who aren’t vegetarians tend to look down on beans as a “meat substitute.” We’ve all either been the kids or had to put up with the kids singing the ditty, “beans, beans, the miracle fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot.” (Why do we lose our enjoyment with such ditties as we age, anyway, we toot more, we should appreciate it more! Just saying…) On top of all this, to really get the economic benefits of beans, you should buy the dry kind, instead of the canned variety, and many people think making a pot of beans is simply too challenging.

I suggest that it’s time we reevaluate our position with regards to beans. Yes, they are cheap. Hallelujah, don’t we need some cheap sources of tasty protein? Yes, vegetarians use them as a “meat substitute,” but can’t we appreciate them for what they are instead of comparing them to a nice filet mignon? There may be some truth to that children’s ditty, but that’s only because beans are high in fiber and sudden onslaughts of fiber to a weakened digestive system tend to do that (okay, there’s more to the story, but we’ll pretend that’s the whole truth for now). Besides, fiber is good for you, get used to it.

The point I’d like to address today is how EASY it is to make dried beans into tasty food. You may need to invest up to a full half hour of your time into making them the first time, but once you get the hang of it, it will be more like 15 minutes total. Can you invest 15 minutes a month into having a wholesome, fiber rich, protein rich, virtually fat-free, incredibly inexpensive food on hand? I can. Here’s the steps, with the amount of time invested:

Step 1: 5 Min. I prefer to do this on Friday night before brushing my teeth for bed.
Open bag of dry beans, any type except lentils, which are a fast-cooking food. Pour said bag into a bowl. Add water. Swirl around with your clean fingers. Pick out anything that doesn’t look quite right: a particularly off-color bean, a small rock, anything that doesn’t look like good eats. Drain off water. Repeat the swirling and picking one or two times. After you’ve done a batch or two, you’ll figure out whether you need more attention at this step or if you can virtually skip it – some areas get more rocks and bad beans in their bags than others. Cover the beans to about twice their depth in water, cover with a plate or towel, and stick it on the counter-top. While we’re in the kitchen and since we’ve only used about 4 minutes of our allotted 5 min, why not find a decent dutch oven or stock pot that can hold a gallon or so of water (and has a lid) and put it on the counter next to the beans. Now go brush your teeth, you dirty person!

Step 2: 5 min. I prefer to multitask and do this Saturday morning while breakfast is cooking.
Drain the water off the beans, and since we’re all fresh, why not wash them one more time. Dump the beans into the cooking pot, fill it with water, add a healthy pinch (or chunk, if your salt is like mine) of salt. Put on the stove on high. Stir it occasionally (after unloading the dishwasher or setting up the coffee maker or making a martini, hey, we don’t judge here) until it comes to a decent boil. Reduce heat to grandma-low, cover, and walk away. Go eat some breakfast, read in the garden, do some errands, whatever you like to do on a Saturday morning. Check on the pot when you go back into the kitchen, and maybe give it a stir every so often. This is something you mostly want to be around for the first time you make beans – there’s nothing quite like finding out your stove is remarkably different from mine and that “grandma-low” wouldn’t cook beans in a year or that “grandma-low” turns your beans into an incredibly stinky burnt mass of nastiness while you’re at soccer practice (or the bar, again, not judging, but maybe you should at least wait until after 2pm!).

Step 3: 5 min. This usually happens Saturday afternoon after lunch.
When you can easily mash a bean against the side of the pot with a spoon, they are tender enough. First, label some quart-sized freezer bags “Date, 2 c black beans.” Ladle some beans into a 2-c mason jar (or a pint glass, anything will do). I try not to include much cooking liquid, but I’m not too careful about it. After all, we’ve got a pound of beans to get through in five minutes, we should try to move fast. Open a quart freezer bag, invert it over the mouth of the jar, and dump the beans into the bag. Press out air, seal, put in freezer. Repeat until you are done.

Yay! Now we have several bags of incredibly cheap protein in the freezer! Now how do we use them?
  • Southwestern lime style: Pull a bag of beans (I prefer black beans for this) from the freezer. Empty into microwave-safe bowl. Add hot sauce, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and lime juice. Microwave on high for a few minutes. Stir, taste, adjust seasoning, and microwave again until hot and tasty. Serve with rice and tacos, on tortillas with lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes, or all by themselves in a bowl with a little sour cream and black pepper. Yum!
  • Bean patties: When you want something a little more hearty, combine in a bowl some chopped onion (1/2 c), some bread crumbs (1/2 c), an egg, a couple tablespoons sour cream, buttermilk, or mayo, and spices (1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 2 tbsp chopped jalapeno, 2 tbsp dried cilantro; or go Indian with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, chilis, and turmeric, or go, well, anywhere you want, its your spice rack!). Put the beans in a colander and rinse until they are thawed. Add beans and maybe a can (or cup and a half) of corn. Mash with a fork until you have a decent paste going. Form into patties, and fry in a little oil over medium heat about 4 min a side until cooked all the way through. Serve with a sauce made from mayo mixed with hot sauce. Yum!
  • Bean stew, soup, etc: For a super-easy bean stew, combine frozen bags of various beans in a soup pot with some canned tomatoes with chilis, some corn, a few beef bullion cubes, and enough water to cover. Add whatever spices make you happy. When it’s all nice and hot, taste test and add beef bullion until its salty enough. You can puree for a nice smooth soup, or serve chunky with lots of grated cheddar. Alternatively, if you enjoy this sort of thing, peel and dice up a couple of carrots, some celery, and an onion, and sauté with some minced garlic. Add in diced uncooked chicken, and sauté until browned. Add water and chicken bullion, a few tbsp rice, and a package of frozen beans. Simmer until rice is soft and enjoy!
  • Beans and rice: I’d prefer to not even go here…. But I feel I must. Saute a chopped onion, some celery, a chopped bell pepper, and some Cajun sausage in a little oil in a stock pot until the veggies are tender. Add a couple packages frozen beans, enough water to cover, some hot sauce and Cajun seasonings, and simmer. Cook some rice according to package directions. Put rice in a bowl. Top with beans. Tell family, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” It’s actually pretty tasty, for all my whining about it.
  • Share your recipes in the comments section – there are so many good ways to use beans that I didn’t even mention: chili beans, baked beans, refried beans, stir fries, etc!
Well, while I hope I’ve convinced you that dry beans are an excellently easy way to lower your food bill, I realize that I could’ve emphasized their nutritional greatness a bit more. Do your own research, and I’m sure you’ll be a convert soon, at least to the beans, if not the rice!

November 11, 2009

Good Intentions.....

Ugh. I had such good intentions for this blog. For my life, as well, I might add. However, I’m at the breaking point. There has not been much time that DH has been home that has not been accompanied by accommodating DH’s schedule (the carpooling). Before DH, I worked long, hard, and efficient during the week. Now that he’s back, we work long, hard, inefficient, and either he steals the car both days of the weekend to go in to work or I waste 3-5 hrs of my time driving him to, waiting for him to get done with, and picking him up from work. Feel sorry for me! My weekends are ruined! Either I get no days off, or I wallow in guilt about leaving DH to take the BART and still get no days off. I miss my once-in-a-blue-moon (which is next month, by the way) trips to LA. I miss early morning fishing. I miss running in my favorite state park. I actually miss living on an impossible monetary budget, compared to impossibly budgeting my time. I say, to DH, I will buy you a “new” car. I will get us a new place. Here are the leads, here are the addresses, here are the phone numbers, and here are the notes (I already called the phone numbers). I am met by resistance and chocolates on every front. He honestly thinks chocolates will make everything better. Since I never got chocolates before, I want to reward this chocolate-giving behavior with praise and treats. Seriously, though, he can’t surprise me with chocolates when we have only one car, and I can’t provide him with decent meals on even the most lavish of budgets when I can’t freaking get to a grocery store because he has the car all weekend. I’ve gained 5 lbs already from my lack of state-park-running. The kitchen is a disaster – even I won’t cook in it (and my standards are low, folks). I can’t work in my living room, because piles of laundry in front of my face gives me a nervous twitch. Not because piles of laundry are bad, mind you, but piles that have intruded into your living room and have encroached upon every available surface are clearly of demonic origin. I rant too much. I hope DH doesn’t read this. I hope he does and turns chocolate giving into a car-finding sport. I don’t even know what I hope anymore except that nice little house-elves that mend shoes, wash dishes, do laundry, and most of all repair cars visit us soon. We have lots of fresh milk in the fridge, help yourselves! (Oh, and btw, the image I wanted to post above is about the only image I’ve created with Excel lately. Unfortunately, I'm too exhausted (its 3AM here!!), and various programs are not cooperating, so you do not get to see said image. The Excel tutorial has been placed on hold almost indefinitely at this point. I hope you understand.)