Black Beans and Rice

January 15, 2017

I made this dish back in May 2013 and loved it. With a gap of over 3 years it was high time to make it again. I originally found this recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated pay site but it is also available on the companion site America’s Test Kitchen (bummer: I just realized this now a pay site too). I created a short hand recipe for my use you can find here.

Let’s get started. Some people hate green bell peppers – I don’t like them raw but in this recipe that grassiness fades away and you don’t have to contend with big chunks if you aren’t a fan.

Ingredients for black beans and rice

Ingredients for black beans and rice

The beans are the star of the show here. After brining the beans overnight we cook them in water, [home made] chicken broth, half a green bell pepper, half an onion, a couple of bay leaves, a bit of salt  and lots and lots of garlic – a whole head minus a few cloves minced for later use.

Prepping beans for their simmer.

Prepping beans for their simmer.

Into Old Blue they go for 30 to 40 minutes.

Black beans simmering in preparation for black beans and rice.

Black beans simmering in preparation for black beans and rice.

While the beans are simmering we have time to prep everything else. Turn on the oven to 350° and chop stuff. Chop the remaining onion and bell pepper into large chunks then into a food processor for a few pulses (or just cut them into 1/4″ chunks by hand).

Onion and bell pepper chopped up for black beans and rice.

Onion and bell pepper chopped up for black beans and rice.

Thoroughly rinse the rice. I learned this trick years ago at a bento place we frequented when I worked at Portland Community College. I asked the owner/cook how he got the rice perfect. He told me the trick was to get rid of all that grainy, starchy stuff on the outside.

When the beans are tender drain and reserve the liquid – then taste that liquid. Oh, it is just divine. Just getting a taste of that ambrosia is almost worth making this dish. We’ll use that liquid later. Gently sauté the diced salt pork. I sauté salt pork and bacon very gently to render the fat without burning; bacon and salt pork will go from golden brown to burned in a flash. Pull out the salt pork with a slotted spoon, add a bit more olive oil and sauté the onion and bell pepper, fresh oregano and cumin. When the vegetables are soft and thinking about browning, toss in the  minced 5 cloves of garlic we pulled out of the heads before simmering the beans. They just need to be sautéd less than a minute to bloom the flavors.

Toss in the rice and stir to coat, then add back the beans and reserved broth, some vinegar for brightness and salt if needed. Cover and place in the oven until the rice is tender. Fluff the rice and serve. I work with a woman, Carolyn,  who comes from Hong Kong and she taught me to fluff that rice and let it rest before diving in. There you have two secrets to great rice: rinse thoroughly and fluff before eating.

Plate it, top with some chives and dig in.

Black beans and rice.

Black beans and rice.

You can’t have rice and beans without cornbread can you? I didn’t think so. I cooked some cornbread in the oven with the beans and rice. The corn bread wants a little hotter oven – I compensated by baking it a bit longer – it was great.

Dinner is served: black beans and rice

Dinner is served: black beans and rice

When I made this before I rated it a full 5 stars. The beans are just that good. I think the amount of rice overwhelms the dish just a tad here. But just a tad. I think I’ll make just the beans sometime soon and serve them as a side dish or as part of a rice bowl: serve over rice and top with Kalamata olives, tomatoes, avocado, shredded cheddar cheese and, if you live in the Portland area, Yumm! sauce. If you don’t live in Portland  I pity you. But search the web for Yumm sauce and you’ll find some alternatives and recipes.

Rating: ★★★★

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My Year of Reading – 2016

Creating this summary each year is very helpful in reminding me of my reading adventure of the past year. Looking back, 2016 was a very good reading year; my average rating was a tad over 4 stars and I had a run of four five star books in the spring.

2016 Goals

Here is what I laid out as my reading goals for the year.

  • Read at least 1 theology book. Status: Accomplished. I read two: How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian by John Dominic Crosson (one of my favorite authors), and Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy by John Shelby Spong.
  • Read at least one American history book on the period between Reconstruction and World War II or the depression. Status: Accomplished. I read American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 by H.W. Brand. I’m impatiently waiting for the Oxford History of the United States volume on this period.
  • Read another of James Shaprio’s books on Shakespeare. Status: Accomplished. I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. It turns out there is a lot of controversy over Shapiro’s analysis.
  • Finish the book I started on the Sony A77II camera. Status: Accomplished. Actually, midway through the year I bought a new Sony camera – the Sony A7r II. I read The Complete Guide to Sony’s Alpha A7r II by Gary Friedman
  • Read a non-recipe cookbook. Status: Failed. I read plenty of non-recipe stuff on-line and in some books but I did not read a book cover-to-cover
  • Indulge my Southern fiction love by reading a William Faulkner novel. Status: Failed. I tried to read The Sound and the Fury but just couldn’t continue after the first section. Stream of consciousness was my jam in college but I just couldn’t make it through.

Favorite Book of the Year

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Not even a close second. This is the best book I’ve read since I first read Lonesome Dove in  1985. A young girl has been murdered and she looks down from her heaven at the havoc it has raised in her family’s life.

Favorites Non-Fiction Book of the Year

Pacific by Simon Winchester. We saw him speak  earlier in the year – he is the real “most interesting man in the world”.  He’s a great story teller and outlines what is going on in the world through 10 events which have occurred  on or near the ocean since 1950.his books shows by President Obama pushed a pivot to the east.  I got new insights into North Korea as well as China’s foray east into the Pacific ocean as they expand their influence.

The Complete List

Here is the list of books I read this year. I’ve continued to struggle capturing the spreadsheet in a format WordPress, HTML, and I will be happy with. I took the shortcut this year of taking a screenshot of the list. I wish I could provide links for each book so you could read my detailed review and get a link to purchase. You can see my reviews by picking the Category “Reading”from the right hand column of my blog. Or you can just click here: https://2for66.com/category/reading/

reading-list-2016

Goals for 2017

This year I set an unpublished goal of two books a month. I met the goal but I put too much pressure on myself. I read sometimes when I would have rather played doing something else. So – no numeric goals for this year.

I’m going to let my fancy dictate what I read as the year marches on. So no goals here either.

 

 

 

 

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Snow Day!

We’ve had plenty of winter this winter – school kids have missed five days already – not counting today. As I drove home from work last night the first few snow flakes were dropping. As we ate dinner and went about our evening routine the snow continued to come down. We had more than a couple of inches at bedtime. When we awoke, there was a lot of snow (for Portland) and it was still snowing. By my calculation (see photo below) we had five inches at our house. This is a big deal for us. While it’s not unusual to get snow once or twice a winter, to get half a foot in one storm is rare.

I didn’t go into work because the roads were all but closed and the bus I would take was cancelled. So, after a second cup of coffee I headed out to grab some pictures from the neighborhood. You can get larger size of the photos if you click on them.

Snow in the neighborhood

Snow in the neighborhood

Snow in the neighborhood

Snow in the neighborhood

Our house in the snow.

Our home in the snow

Our home in the snow

Our home in the snow

Our home in the snow

As I walked along the right side of the house to get to the back yard and deck I brushed up against those snow-covered trees and got a nice snow ball or two down my neck.

Here you can get an idea of the depth

Snow depth

Snow depth

Then I pulled out the ruler

Snow depth

Snow depth

The green space behind our house is beautiful and reflects the seasons so well. We are so lucky to have found this house (with the help of our friends the McD’s) back in 2000.

Snow in the green space behind our house

Snow in the green space behind our house

Snow on our back deck

Snow on our back deck

The snow covered branches are amazing

Snow covered trees

Snow covered trees

Here is the line of back yards

Neighborhood back yards

Neighborhood back yards

Enough of that; I had to go shovel the side walk

I shoveled our walk

I shoveled our walk

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Tuscan Bean Stew

December 17, 2016

You’ve seen a lot of posts from me this week! It’s snowy and icy and “Portlandy”. We don’t really handle snow and ice here very well; the town we live in (Beaverton) doesn’t even own a snow plow. Which makes sense since we really only get snow once every two years or so.  But when it does snow, getting around can be very difficult. When the first flake fell on Wednesday a work friend and I jumped in my car in Portland and headed for home. As it turns out we were at the end of the bunch of cars that made it home in a reasonable time; as we headed up Sylvan Hill on Highway 26 traffic was beginning to bunch up so we took the next possible exit and headed home on the back roads.By the time we crossed 217 traffic was backed up for miles. I dropped off my friend and got home in about 45 minutes. People who left after us were stuck on the roads for four or five hours! Kids in the local high schools had to stay at school because the busses couldn’t navigate the ice and the traffic.

So, I stayed home from work (did I tell you I went back to work part time a few months ago?) a few days and with the forced idleness I resumed my joy of blogging – working even part time really cuts into my fun time.

A year or so ago I found a recipe for Tuscan Bean Stew that I wanted to try – it is like the White Bean and Kale recipe I made a couple of years ago with two big differences. First, this is not vegetarian – I used six ounces of pancetta! Second we use the slow cooker rather than the pressure cooker – this allows us to not have to soak the beans overnight. I followed this Cook’s Country recipe (it is behind a pay wall). The free sister site America’s Test Kitchen (requires sign up) has a version that brines the bean and simmers the beans in the oven; you can find it here. My short-hand recipe that I used is here.

We start off with some great vegetables including the usual mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery).

Tuscan Bean Stew ingredients

Tuscan Bean Stew ingredients

On the left side a a quart of home made chicken stock. I won’t lecture here today, but really, make your own – it’s probably the single best thing you can do to improve your recipes and it is so easy (okay I did lecture a bit).

We spend a few minutes chopping.

Tuscan Bean Stew mis en place

Tuscan Bean Stew mis en place

And we start to cook. First we gently sauté the pancetta in some olive oil (olive oil and pork fat! I’m in heaven!). I say gently because pancetta can go from golden to burnt in 30 seconds if the pan is too hot; so I spend a few more minutes with the heat on medium low to sneak up on the magic point. Then remove the pancetta (we’ll use it later) and add the mirepoix and sauté in that gorgeous fat until they are lightly browned.

Sautéing pancetta and vegetables for Tuscan Bean Stew

Sautéing pancetta and vegetables for Tuscan Bean Stew

At the end toss in the 8 cloves of smashed garlic until the room smells fantastic, then throw (well, gently place) everything but the tomatoes, kale, rosemary, and pancetta in a slow cooker. Because the beans were not soaked overnight we’ll need to cook for a long time; and to keep that heat on the beans. Place a cut piece of parchment paper on the surface of the liquid. You make the inner cover by tracing the inside rim of the slow cooker lid on the parchment paper and cutting inside the lines. We got a late start so we cooked the soup for six hours on high; alternatively you can cook it for 8-9 hours on low.

When the beans are tender remove and discard the parchment and stir in the kale, tomatoes, and sprig of rosemary. Turn the heat up to high, cover with the lid and cook for another 30-45 minutes.

Tomatoes and kale freshly added to the stew

Tomatoes and kale freshly added to the stew

At this point I realized corn bread would be delicious with this. We didn’t have corn meal but we did have masa harina, which is very fine and may have some lime in it. I Googled a recipe.

Corn bread ingredients

Corn bread ingredients

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another then combine,

Corn bread batter

Corn bread batter

Put in a buttered baking pan and after 20 minutes in a 450° oven, voilá.

Corn bread made from Masa Harina

Corn bread made from Masa Harina

Honestly it didn’t turn out that great; it tasted like slightly raised tortillas. I think the masa harina isn’t as good as corn flour for this recipe and maybe our baking powder has lost some of its oomph. It was good – just not great. Next time I’ll plan ahead a little better.

Mash a few of the beans on the side of the slow cooker and mix with the stew to thicken it up a bit. Then, dish up the stew, top with a few crunchy, salty bits of pancetta and drizzle with olive oil and dinner is served.

Dinner is served: Tuscan Bean Stew

Dinner is served: Tuscan Bean Stew

In this photo the pancetta is getting absorbed into the stew. I had things lined up for the picture but my flash picked that moment to run out of battery power. By the time I replaced the batteries and re-synced the flash with the sending unit the pancetta was sinking into the stew. It still tasted great.

Ranking: ★★★★

This recipe is perfect if you want bean stew but forgot to soak/brine the beans overnight. When I make this again I’ll brine the beans then cook in the pressure cooker for about 20 minutes on high, then add the kale, tomatoes, and rosemary and cook for another 5 minutes on high – basically the Kale and White Bean soup I linked to above adding the pancetta. Or if you really want to go crazy, try the version with andouille sausage I cooked up in 2010 (the pomegranate syrup is definitely optional). Options are good.

 

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A Christmas Carol – A Hero Journey

Many years I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens during the run up to Christmas. Search for it here on my blog and you’ll find references to my write ups on the story. In the past I’ve seen it as a wonderful story of redemption – which it is – letting us know it is never to late to change. But earlier this week as I was falling asleep thinking about the story it dawned on me that it is a Hero Journey story. Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he described the “monomyth” of a hero’s journey that shows up in virtually all cultures and traditions.

A hero journey story is one in which

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press 1949 p 29].

I read the book before there were such things as blogs so I can’t point you to a blog post; but this Wikipedia page provides an excellent overview. The journey can be summed up in an image (which I took from the Wikipedia page).

320px-heroesjourney-svg

In an earlier blog post I’ve pointed out that the Wizard of Oz and the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel are hero journeys.

Reading the definition and examining the diagram it is obvious that Ebenezer Scrooge’s night with Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future is a hero’s journey.

The Call to Adventure

We first see the parsimonious Scrooge rebuking his nephew, the men who ask him for a donation, the boy who calls “Merry Christmas”, and of course in his treatment of his clerk Bob Cratchit.  Then, once he returns home, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who warns Scrooge of his coming trials. The hero often refuses the call as does Scrooge who protests that a good night’s sleep would be better. Scrooge has a sleepless start to the night before he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost acts as the supernatural aid who, bearing but a touch of Scrooge’s hand upon the ghost’s breast, leads Scrooge across the threshold into the world of adventure.

The Road of Trials

Hero’s challenges often come in sets of threes – as does Scrooge’s with the three ghosts.  Once he meets the Ghost of Christmas Future he comes to the Abyss where he faces death. He knows that the dead man in the apartment – who died alone – is him; finally he comes to his grave and has the realization that if he changes his ways he can reach a different end. It is in this revelation that he conquers death and is transformed to the new Scrooge.

Return

Scrooge wakes up in his own bed and is overjoyed for his second chance at life. He immediately starts to bestow boons on his fellow man. He give a generous tip to the boy who fetches the poultry man; delivers a huge turkey to the Cratchit family and finds the men seeking donations and gives a generous amount and ask them to come visit him. Finally, to the astonishment of Bob Cratchit, he gives the clerk a raise and invites him to build up the fire.

It is clear then that Ebenezer Scrooge has traveled to a supernatural world and was transformed, returning to bestow treasure upon his fellow man.

Even though I’m often on the lookout for the hero stories, this realization blew my mind. It is so clear and yet I’ve missed it for years.

Whatever the reason – the story of redemption, Dickens’ marvelous prose, or the hero journey – I urge you to pick up a copy of this tiny book and read it this last week before Christmas. I think the Kindle version is free on Amazon . When the kids were young we read this out loud over the five nights leading to Christmas ending on Christmas Eve.

A strong second option is to watch the 1984 version with George C. Scott playing Scrooge. I think it is closest film version to the book, taking much of the language directly from the page.

 

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Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

November 9, 2016

I apologize for getting my recent posts out of chronological order – life happens. Back in November we headed down to Arizona for my niece’s wedding. We went a few days early to visit my uncle and aunt who live in Cottonwood – just a few miles from the famous Sedona. We watched the election returns and were stunned along with the relatives – it sometimes seems as though they are about the only Democrats in their county. Carla and I decided to go for a hike to clear our heads the morning after. We were able to find the trail we went on a few years ago – Broken Arrow Trail. Here is  a write up from the National Forest Service – and here is a link from the Sedona Hiking Trails Site. And here is a screen capture of part of the map.

Broken Arrow Trail overview

Broken Arrow Trail overview

When you take this hike you can end up at Chicken Point, which is the same destination when you start from a different spot and take the Little Horse Trail. We’ve done that hike a couple of times, you can read about one of the hikes here.

At any rate, we turned off state highway 179 onto Morgan Road and drove until the pavement ended and there was a little parking lot. We got our gear together and headed up the trail.

Broken Arrow Trail Sign - Sedona

Broken Arrow Trail Sign – Sedona

A picture is worth a thousand words – let me simply leave you with a few thousand words worth of pictures from the hike. Click on the pictures (please click on the pictures) to get bigger and better versions of the images.

View from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

Panoramic View from Broken Arrow T Trail - Sedona

Panoramic View from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

 

View from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

Hoodoo just off the Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

Look at that little stack of rocks on the edge of the Hoodoo – like a cairn marking the way?

As you get up to the overview of Submarine rock you really get some great vistas. Here is Carla as we look over the valley into the Munds Mountain Wilderness.

View from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

View from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

This view is the reason people come from around the world to hike in the Red Rocks.

Panoramic view from Broken Arrow Trail - Sedona

Panoramic view from Broken Arrow Trail – Sedona

We didn’t want to spend too much time away from my uncle and aunt so we headed back to town, stopping along the way for breakfast. We had not come to terms with the election (and still haven’t over a month later) but we try to appreciate the beauty of the world around us.

 

 

 

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Christmas Lights

December 15, 2016

Our neighborhood goes all out with Christmas lights; our “thing” is to wrap green lights around the trunks of the curb trees and string white lights up in the canopy. I’ve been wanting to get pictures of them for a while so when it snowed 3 inches yesterday I knew I had my chance. Um, I should have taken the photos last night; snow started to melt today leaving a glaze of ice. But maybe better late than never?

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

 

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

Christmas lights in the neighborhood

 

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