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This story has been waiting in the wings, and I guess tonight is the night to tell it.  It's about rice and beans, and if you are remotely connected to the MK family , you know it already.  You are forgiven if you go back to stare at the apple cake instead. 

Last year for Lent, Yancey suggested that our theme be "eating simply."  Like rice-and-beans-every-night simple.  He also said he wanted to eat more low-calorie and low-fat, and that's the part that made me cry.  I went into histrionics about how he didn't appreciate my cooking.  He didn't understand how hard I worked to be creative at the end of the day.  Maybe he should just start doing all the cooking.  That sort of thing.

After several fights about it, I finally realized what had touched a nerve.  Having rice and beans for 40 days meant that I couldn't cook every night, and that's what scared the crap out of me.  For the first time in my adult life, I began to really understand what a creative outlet cooking had become, how happy I felt in the kitchen.  The thought of heating up the same old pot of beans every night was almost too much to handle. This meant we had to do it--there was something the universe wanted to teach me.

We let ourselves off the hook on weekends, but Monday-Friday for seven weeks, we heated up that same old pot of beans--sometimes black, sometimes pinto. We went through a 20 pound bag of rice, and I learned that the best method for heating up day-old rice is to put it in a plastic tortilla warmer and microwave it.  

And I learned so much more.  I learned I am addicted to the choice I have in my life.  When I go to the grocery store with my list, I love to throw in some expensive cheese if I want.  I learned I hadn't been eating mindfully, really appreciating the variety and beauty of what was in front of me.  I learned I'd been eating way too much fat and too many calories--again, quite mindlessly.

Yancey lost 20 pounds and I lost 10.  We had much more time at night to spend with the kids and with each other because we weren't cooking and doing dishes.  We appreciated our weekend meals immensely.  And we still have rice and beans all the time. It's our delicious default.  Sometimes, if I know a busy or stressful week is coming up, my menu plan will say "rice and beans" and there will be an arrow through the whole week.  I give myself permission to donate that bandwidth to other things.

I should mention that, though we did not have them with cheese during Lent, we did allow ourselves various non-dairy toppings, which is how we usually eat them now.  Tonight's was topped with avocado, cilantro, tomatoes, serrano peppers, sour cream, lime juice, and Tapatio hot sauce.  Not too torturous.  

Obviously, we are back to the bounty, but my relationship with food was altered in a permanent way.  I appreciate it more now and eat rich foods in much smaller quantities.  I know that connection and companionship come with being together over a meal, no matter if it's the same thing night after night (after night after night).  One danger in speaking so glowingly of this experiment is that you will want to try it and have no need for my recipes anymore. It changed my life so much, though, that I'd wish it on anyone.

Rice and Beans
1 lb. rinsed black or pinto beans (about 3 cups)
1-2 ts. salt
2 bay leaves
1 ts. cumin
cooked rice

I usually do my beans in a crock pot--soak them overnight (my crockpot requires this), then throw everything into your crockpot with enough water to cover the bean about 1 1/2 inches.  Turn on before you go to bed. This will make enough to feed a family of four for at least 3 nights if you eat them with rice.

If I don't use my crockpot or don't presoak the beans, I'll sauté an onion and garlic in olive oil in the bottom of a big stockpot, then throw in the beans with everything else and cover with a couple inches of water.  Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook until tender, at least 1 1/2 hours.

To serve:  Warm beans in a saucepan and cook some rice (I always use my rice cooker, which I absolutely could not live without.  I got my first one at Goodwill for $1.99).  Layer rice, then beans, then desired toppings. Things we use in our house:  Avocado or guacamole, red onion, cilantro, pickled or fresh jalapenos, shredded cheddar or crumbled queso fresco, shredded cabbage ,romaine, or spinach, tomatoes, salsa, lime juice, crushed red pepper flakes, sour cream, crunched-up tortilla chips, green onions.

P.S. You could also just open a can of black beans and heat them up.  They are so delicious and comforting when you cook them yourself , but I always have canned beans around.

Reader Comments (10)

i appreciate our kindred love for the table and who it brings; i also appreciate the pleasure you possess for what is served there. we don't take this for granted.

April 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjordan

In Cuba they call rice and black beans "Moros y Christianos" (Moors and Christians). Another name was "Con Gris". They spice up the beans a bit, mix the rice and beans and it turns out to be a national staple food. When I was there I ate it every day.

April 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjohn v

Remind me again, what is a complete protein? hahahahahahahahahhahaahahha.

I'm sure nobody found that funny but me. That's ok. I like me.

May 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpds

Hey Sarah, hello by the way of Priya and Jordan. I'm subscribing and I've decided to read your blog for the witty writing and commentary on life, even though I can't bring myself to read about cooking or recipees. I always thought it would be cool to like cooking, know it like and art form, but the truth is I'd rather just be told what and how to chop and slice while having good conversation with friends. I like to consider myself Priya's sous chef. I really do love to slice and dice and treasure my good kitchen knives!

I do love the concept of the blog, and your reinvention of "the frugal gourment!"

Anyway, about this beans and rice (and complete protein) thing.

This is something my family did for at least a few years of my childhood, when I was around the age of 10.

We had black beans and brown rice for dinner 3-4 times a week for YEARS. I'm sure this was partly out of food budget needs, but my dad always puts the idealist spin on it. People around the world eat this every day! This is a complete protein! People in America wouldn't know what to eat to survive, and go hungry while buying potato chips! Good lord, my mom is a good sport.

Once a week we would have cheese with the meal, as a luxury item.

By the way, Friday nights were always family hamburger nights. There was almost always cornflakes rolled into the beef to stretch it, and the potato skins were ALWAYS left on the hand-cut french fries. That's where all the vitamins are, of course!

Anyway, once I was out of the house it was at least 6 years before I started eating beans and rice again.

By the way, God gave me children that don't eat - LITERALLY - so I suppose that was a good fit for my lack of desire to cook.

Cheers! Hope we get to meet in real life someday.

May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

Naomi (aka Nazz), you're killing me with this!

I miss our community meals as well. It's so much more fun to cook with/for people. I love that you're being so honest about it all because I think most people are probably where you are. I watch cooking videos on youtube in my spare time. Who does that?

Anyway, you and Sarah would make great friends. And she has kids around the same age as the boys. In fact, there is a high probability that you've run into her at the community center already.

Miss you friend. We'll eat together soon.

May 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpds

I'm a little confused about how long to soak beans and cook them. You say soak overnight and then turn on the crockpot before going to bed. I think that means soak for about 8-12 hours and cook for about 8 hours in the crockpot?? Can you clarify? I'm hoping to have them for dinner tomorrow night as part of my Sarah M-K week. So far I have not been disappointment by anything! We tried the chocolate chip cookies, apple cake, salmon with grains & greens, and pizza dough. Everything has been delicious!

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Haferbecker

Hi Jenny! If I'm using my crockpot, it requires me to soak my beans. If I'm cooking them on the stove, I don't always soak them. On the stove, they'll take at least two hours to cook. If you cook them in your crockpot, they should be in there overnight, or about 8 hours. Does that help?

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

Sarah--I have put this post in my mind since I read it many, many months ago. And now on Mardi Gras/Carnival day--I am pulling it back up to see if this is what our family needs. I feel like this rings true to what is in our family. Giving up those pleasures simply because, "I can" and being able to be reflective on everything else. So out of most of your posts, I feel like this is the one that resonates the most with me. What did you do for lunches & breakfasts?

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKamille

Sarah, my family is doing the rice and beans for Lent and I have found it to be the most freeing thing I have done in a very long time! Thanks for the idea here! It has been such a great reminder about the blessing of CHOICE that we have, but also that food and gatherings shouldn't be about the stress I usually build up in planning and prepare everything (on time and on budget, so to speak). BTW, I'm modifying the purist R/B diet slightly to allow the addition of veggies and/or sauces to our R/B dishes. So far we've done black beans (w/ avocado+salsa), pinto beans (w/sauteed collard greens), and cranberry beans (from Spain/Italy so I added pasta sauce/roasted zucchini that night).

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Hallgren

Kristin, I'm so glad you're finding that freeing. We modified, also, with lots of veggies, and definitely hot sauce and salsa. I hope you and your family continue to have a meaningful Lent.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

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