Delicious Default

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.