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Rice and Beans for Lent

What is Lent, anyway? If you don't practice in the Christian tradition, it must be REALLY confusing. People walking around with ashes on their foreheads, giving up coffee, chocolate, or alcohol (and probably moaning about it).

Growing up, my Dad drove a 1959 Rambler American with a continental kit on the back. We called her Dumplin'. I remember a little magnetic reminder stuck on the dashboard: Live simply so others may simply live. That's what I think of when Lent comes around--how can I remind myself, in a daily way, that suffering is part of life? How can I focus my longings less on food, entertainment, and consumption, and more on justice, love, and sharing?

If you've been reading for any length of time, you know that our family as a method for this. Rice and beans every weeknight for the 40 days of Lent. I don't preach that everyone should do it, and it's not a perfect method for engaging this season. But, if you're interested in the rationale or logistics and thinking you might just follow along, here's the 411:

  • Once or twice a week, I'll cook a batch of rice (white or brown) and a big pot of beans (pinto or black). We reheat these every weeknight for dinner. You could certainly experiment with other beans (lentils, red beans, etc.) but the point is not to spend a bunch of time hunting down exotic beans. It's to free your money, time, and energy up for other things.
  • We'll often have a simple salad as well--just greens with a little vinaigrette.
  • Salsa, cilantro, chopped onions, and sometimes cheese accompany the rice and beans.
  • Weekends are exempt because it's too hard to control if we'll be home or not. But we usually end up eating rice and beans at least once on the weekend, too.
  • The kids are down with this. They like having more time to spend with us in the evening, and they happen to love rice and beans. I'm sure it would be harder if they complained, but I'd do it anyway. This lesson is as much for them as it is for us.
  • It's tempting to make up for the monotony with lunch, especially when I'm on my own, scheming about how to have work meetings at my favorite restaurant, for instance. I really, really try to resist this and eat simply at other meals as well.
  • This starts on Ash Wednesday--two days from now!

My hopes for our family this Lenten season is that we will deepen in gratitude for one another and for everything we have. I hope we can give the money away that we would have spent on a more varied diet, have more time to play together in the evenings, and recognize the millions of people in the world and in this country who are intimately familiar with suffering.

So what will this mean for In Praise of Leftovers? There won't be many recipes going up, but I plan to still write. Part of what can be so transformative about Lent is seeing things in new ways. I've got my camera, my never-ending thoughts, and I imagine those will make their way here. If you decide to try this in any form, I would love to hear about it and learn from you.

Lenten Loretta


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Reader Comments (21)

that sweet face of loretta's just brightened my day.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

sarah your home is so beautiful with those little reminders I often see in your photos. And of course the priceless gem in the last picture. we did rice & beans last year for lent after reading about your family's experience the previous year. I loved how much it freed me from dinner prep and allowed for me to embrace time with my littles.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkamille

an absolutely beautiful awe-inspiring tradition.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoel

What a beautiful tradition, Sarah. Hmm ... I have a day to consider doing it too.
P.S. That Loretta. What a doll.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan Cooley

I thought she must be a little beauty from China and that the sprigs were cherry blossoms. I've been captured. So sweet.
I've begun to think about the rice & beans. Still captured. Thank you.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEsther Sandberg

Beautiful - those photos, the blossoms, the season, and the writing. I'm abstaining from meat and sugar again this year and adding daily sun salutations. Daily meditation hasn't been happening as consistently this past week(s). so I hope to be (re)grounded by the ashes and the services and the little daily reflection book I might find at Seattle U's chapel on Wednesday. I love this season of our tradition. When I was at Riverside church this fall the guest preacher said that he thinks most of us get Micah 6:8 turned around in that we like to do kindness and love justice instead of seeking justice and loving kindness. Appreciate your reminders about seeking and finding, even small, ways to participate in justice and at the very least mindfulness. I remember that Trudy eats only rice on Fridays during Lent as an act of remembering that for millions that is the daily meal no matter what the season. xo

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEm

You are so inspiring, Sarah! I opted out of a religious tradition, but am still struggling to find my own version of faith, and daily tenets.
I can't use rice and beans as a way of freeing up time, since 2 out of 4 times I've cooked dry beans, it has taken DAYS to cook them. Not a time-saver, and I still haven't figured out why. No salt, no sugar, nothing but aromatics, but they never got tender. I may end up blaming it on bad beans. And I may end up practicing beans more this spring, as an accompaniment to the joy of watching spring unfold- I love seeing the buds pushing up these days!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Of course I'm on board, what started out to be "you're crazy, I'd never do that" has turned out to be one of my favorite practices that I look forward to. Lent ends up gifting me every year with a new perspective through the simple discipline of learning to live with less. I wouldn't miss out on it for anything. Not cooking in the evening is really the hardest thing I give up for Lent, since it is the thing that brings me the most comfort and pleasure. Time to shift my focus. Thanks Sarah, for lifting the banner, and reminding us again of all its benefits.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermfm

It's hard to believe there's suffering in the world when I look at Loretta's sweet face. But maybe rice and beans will help even her identify with those who find it hard to smile.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPapa


March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEm

Reading your comment makes me think of turning to new/old places for comfort and pleasure. Thank you, Peg.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEm

Thank you again, Sarah and Yancey, Wyatt and Loretta, for the sharing of your beauties, perspectives and your illuminations! You are such gifts, and part of my Lenten reflections will now always be based on your wonderful rice and beans tradition! Big hugs, big thank yous, and my respectful and admiring considerations go forward with you!!! I'm glad it became so apparent that there's a HUGE amount to be learned, loved, and appreciated from your generation----thank you, God.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn M

This is my second Lent of conscious attention to its quiet, inward preparation, as I'm back to my Catholic roots after a four-decade absence. So this post, this community of resonant sounds, echoes like an old Tibetan bowl chime, calling out to me to give this season its due. I'm concentrating on routine--creating a space for things that too many times I've failed to create. How old this business of rice and beans! We are told Esau let go his inheritance to Jacob for a bowl of red stew--bread cooked with beans.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercate

I just talked with my husband about the rice and beans/grains for Lent tradition and he loved the idea :) I was raised Protestant and he is a devout Catholic, and tends to be far more introspective than I am. I am looking forward to a Lent that is focused on family, rather than the rush of our day to day lives. We eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and have decided to go back to completely veg for Lent (easy with rice and beans, but including the weekends as well). We are expecting our third child in July, and we can for sure use this time to bond more as a family and create the emotional space for our newest addition. Thanks for a wonderful idea!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

My Catholic husband (my hunting, carnivorous, camo-wearing, beans-don't-make-a-meal husband, mind you) read this post with me and now is ready to take the beans and rice Lenten challenge! I'm...shocked. Excited. And then happily shocked again. I loooove rice and beans, so game on! But I'm with mfm - not cooking may be the hardest thing for me to give up. Thank you for the inspiration!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRhubarb and Venison

Wow, Beth. From reading your blog these last two years, I think I might have a little idea how hard this will be for your husband. And for you, who loves to cook. I hope you find these next 40 days to hold lots of discoveries for you. Let me know how it's going...

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

Another taker! I'm noticing a lot of "I talked to my husband..." It's true--if the rest of the household isn't on board, it will be awfully hard. Good luck, Kathy!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

I'm a little surprised at the enthusiastic response to this post--it just shows the high quality of my readers :) I would love to hear how it's going during these 40 days--what you learn, what frustrates you. Here we go!!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarahmk

Sarah, reading your blog is a religious experience for me! I'm only half-kidding. I enjoy reading such words of love and kindness from you and your readers. Inspiring, to put it mildly.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZip

I am so glad you said you would do the rice and beans whether or not the kids would complain. When we do it at Bethany one parent complained mightily that his kid did not like rice and beans and I asked that he explain why we did it. In frustration I finally said "Please do as my mama would have and bring a piece of fruit to tide the kid over and tell him to wait till he gets home. It's one meal in 99 in a month and the kid is not a toddler or so young that he cannot wait" It seemed so important to explain to kid why we eat simply- to put it in a context - so that liking it would be less important. Still I put out bread and peanut butter for the younger kids in case they couldn't get behind the rice and beans either, after that.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

Nora teases me for my frequent "Sarah" references. :) I chatter about your granola, your biscuits, your rice & bean salad, your citrus & chocolate loaf, your stirfried rice... on and on. And now, the Lenten rice & beans challenge! Yes, we are trying it too. Only on weeknights. Last night, the first night, my 5 year old protest-eth much! But it opened up a conversation about how Lent is a time to REFLECT, to be GRATEFUL, to be THOUGHTFUL, to be SIMPLE. We talked about how some kids don't get to tell their mom they want a very particular kind of snack or meal, but maybe they get to ask their mom if there is any food at all. And my little guy did eat some beans. I'll still stick with my "any fruits or veggies that you can find are up for grabs" rule in addition to the nightly rice & beans. And I'm guessing there may be after dinner pantry raids for a while. In addition to the child push-back, one unique challenge we have is no microwave. And no rice maker. So working out how to do the rice every day will be interesting. So I'll check back and update you again... but that is where we are for now! Thanks again for the inspiration.

March 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeattle Sun

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