In Praise of Monotony (and Buttermilk Cornbread)

cornbread and beans

Didn't I threaten that you were going to see these beans again?  Not an idle threat, clearly.  Tonight, my favorite cornbread, warmed beans, fried eggs, salsa, and chunks of avocado.  Oh--and a bit of sharp white cheddar.  I love to see Wyatt scarf this cornbread.  He could never be on the Atkins Diet.  I often make cornbread when we're in the middle of a big batch of beans because the kids love it and it breaks up the monotony a bit.

But I'm praising monotony today.  My friend Kerri, an AMAZING mother who's raising three girls by herself, was telling me how much dinnertime stresses her out.  She's gets home from a really demanding job, her kids are hungry, and she feels a lot of pressure to put something creative, nutritious, and novel on the table.  I told her to let her worries about variety go.  Her kids are happy and well-fed and she's got enough to think about.  And then I told her about the refugee families in Chad.

On vacation, I read the amazing book Hungry Planet.  Hungry Planet photographs 30 families from around the world with all the food they eat in a week--a refugee family in Chad with a bag of sorghum and some dried tomatoes, and a Texan family with more processed food than they can fit in their kitchen.  A Bhutanese  family that grows or tends every single thing they eat and an urban Aboriginal family that  subsists on McDonald's. But mostly I keep thinking about that refugee family, eating small rations of gruel three times a day for as far into the future as they can imagine.  Sometimes a little dried meat if they're lucky.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want to glamorize that life.  It's sad, depressing, and wrong that they are suffering while lots of us sit around reading food blogs looking for new ways to prepare our farmers' market veggies.  I don't want us to stop eating diets full of freshness and variety, but I do want us to be thankful for it and also know it's alright to eat the same (healthful) thing day after day.  It gives us some solidarity with people who do it without choice, and gives us more appreciation for a perfect peach or decadent dessert.

I also read Christopher Kimball's Kitchen Detective on vacation, and found this lovely tidbit from him:

Most cooks I know are constantly looking for new recipes the way some folks are constantly on the lookout for antiques, clothes, computer software...There is nothing wrong with living life vicariously through recipes--we all do it to some extent--but the problem with most home cooks is that they have too many recipes rather than too few...Like good musicians, good cooks [realize] that restricting one's repertoire has great advantages:  It allows one to focus on the underlying technique instead of just a new set of notes...So, my suggestion is to start with shortlist of 25 recipes that you make most often, and stick with them for a bit.  As you get better, slowly increase  your range.


So, in the spirit of sameness, here's the cornbread recipe I've made a million times.  Sometimes they're muffins, other times it's bread in a square pan, but I can do this in my sleep.  5 minutes for mixing, 15 or 20 minutes in the oven while Wyatt sets the table and  I warm that same old pot of beans (for which I am very grateful).

My Favorite Cornbread
From Epicurious.

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 12 regular (1/3-cup) muffin cups or an 8" square baking pan. Sift cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and egg in another medium bowl; whisk in melted butter. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; stir just until incorporated (do not overmix). Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (or pour into pan). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15 minutes for muffins and 20-25 for bread. Cool for 10 minutes.