Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip

Black bean, feta, and roasted yam dip

My motto for myself for the last few months has been, "Out of the juicer and into the cup."

I got a juicer for my birthday, and I let everything swirl together in the cannister before I open the cap and watch it splash into a glass. Crazy mixtures of bright things--fresh tumeric, tangerines, ginger, carrots, apples; beets, beet greens, celery, cucumber, lemon. Stuffing all that produce down the shaft, it occurs to me every time that too much input will result in a big mess. And no juice to drink! At some point, all that beautiful, bright juice has to be let out. 

And, as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her new book, letting out what's inside us, unleashing the "big magic," isn't about being a virtuoso in something. It's not about quitting our day jobs. It's about befriending our fears but never, every putting them in the driver's seat. 

For me, one of the clogs in the juicer lately has been writing. The more writing I consume in books--articles, on Facebook--the more I labor under this seductive, false idea that I don't have anything to say. That it's all been said. Wow. That really lets me off the hook. Meanwhile, that juicer is spinning, and the liquid is getting dangerously close to exploding all over the place. So here's to letting it pour out. To my health, and yours!

Meanwhile, if I'm aware, my eyes are always open to the moments and people in my life who are figuring out how to let their juice fill the cup.

My friend, a single mother of 3 special needs kids, has taken in another needy young adult who's been abandoned and needed someone to love her and show her how to do laundry. Another case of that universal reality, that those with the least are often those who give the most.

Our new 4th grade neighbor girl (Loretta is in heaven--girls in the neighborhood!) who, after meeting Loretta, wrote her a card and made her a gift: Can we have a play date sometime? (Ladies, we have a lot to learn from this. Risk. Vulnerability. Letting women know we LIKE them.)

Cristina, who bravely moved to start a new job and listen to her calling even though it meant change and uncertainty all over again. (The silver lining for me, though I miss her terribly, is that my mailbox has been full. My love language, for sure.)

And my mom, who retired from her job of 24 years and knew when it was time to go. I see so many folks who malpractice, who stay somewhere much longer than is good for them and their patients, clients, students, co-workers, customers. I had a party for her, and 50 (mostly) women from the home store she's worked at over the years were at my house. We had a toast for her, and half the room was crying. (Me first, of course.) So energizing to see how she's continually paid attention to and loved those around her, and what beautiful juice has filled the cup.

I made this dip, and I've made it a few other times, too. A few weeks ago, I was on my way home, remembered I had to bring an appetizer somewhere, did a mental inventory of my pantry and fridge, and had this concocted by the time I walked through the door. It turned out to be a keeper. And I love it when that happens.

P.S. Here's a poem I wrote putting fear into the backseat where it belongs.

Get Started

Who am I to do this?
Who am I to find the burning bush,
and then to step closer?
To dare conversation with God,
take off my shoes,
tell the story of deliverance?
You try ignoring
a burning bush. 

Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip
You could easily leave the cheese and sour cream out of this. If you do that, add a little more lime juice, olive oil or water to the bean mixture to make sure it's smooth enough.

2 cans refried black beans
1 tb. olive oil
one large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c. sour cream 
juice of one lime
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) chile powder
1 c. shredded white sharp cheddar
1 very large or two medium yams or sweet potatoes, skin on and diced into 1/2"
more olive oil 
2 Tb. interesting seeds (chia, amaranth, buckwheat groats, sesame, poppy, flax)
handful chopped fresh cilantro
1 large or two small avocados, diced

Preheat oven to 375.

Toss diced yams with olive oil and a little salt. Spread out on a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake until just tender, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, sauté sliced onion in olive oil until caramelized (or almost.)

In a 9x13 baking dish, mix beans with caramelized onion, sour cream, cumin, lime, chile powder, and salt to taste. Spread evenly into the bottom of the dish.

Top bean mixture with shredded cheese and roasted yams. Bake in the oven until the whole thing is warm and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with seeds, cilantro, and avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Cooking a Pot of Beans


Yesterday I sat in my spiritual director's office and cried for an hour.

I told her I'd been wanting to cry about Oklahoma all week, and then the I-5 bridge collapsed. Yancey and I both cross that bridge several times a week, and we'd been on it Wednesday morning. 

I won't be scared to cross bridges in the future or scared to drive. But I am thinking about the fragility and unpredictability of life. I'm thinking about the illusion of control I love to nurture and how much comfort I take in my plans. 

And then I hear Jack Kornfield saying:

"The unawakened mind tends to make war against the way things are."

Things are messy, unclear, unfair. They're unpredictable and often beautiful. Things are sad, violent, and hard. They're also heartbreakingly tender and full of possibility. And the challenge for all of us (especially for my orderly self) is to accept what is. Our home has not been devastated by a tornado, but our commutes to work south of us may be increased by several hours a day for a year until the bridge gets fixed. My spiritual director said, "What if you think of the bridge collapse as the collapse of your ideas about God and yourself that aren't working for you anymore?" 

I've found I haven't had bandwidth this week for much beyond daily tasks and feeling sad. I haven't felt motivated to blow through my to-do list or start anything new. Instinctively, I knew this week was a "pot of beans" week. When I dumped the pinto beans into a bowl to soak, just the sound of them falling out of the jar was comforting. I know exactly what to do with them, I know my family will be nourished for days, and I know we'll be able to devote our energies to things other than cooking for awhile.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know my attachment to dried beans. I'm a huge fan and seem to have endless energy for cooking them and advocating for them. I always come across folks who need an introduction, though. They've never cooked them before and are unsure how those hard little legumes become soft and flavorful. So I thought I'd stop saying, "Oh, just soak 'em and boil 'em" and give a little more instruction. (I love you "measure-twice-cut-once" folks. I'm not one of you.)

The most common way my family eats beans is pinto beans over rice (or roasted potatoes or corn bread) with condiments--shredded cheese and cabbage, salsa, finely chopped onions and peppers, chopped kale, hot sauce, crushed tortilla chips, sometimes a fried egg . I set all the condiments in the middle of the table, and we each do it our own way. Wyatt mixes his rice and beans together, then adds salsa and sometimes cheese. Loretta keeps her rice and beans separate and puts hoisin sauce on her rice. Yancey and I take a lot of vegetables and keep the whole bowl layered. And we'll eat this for several nights in a row until the beans are gone. My kids have never tired of it.

Pot of Beans
This "recipe" is from Mark Bittman. Since I've never followed any instructions for cooking beans, I didn't trust myself to describe it properly! He gives lots of options for soaking or not soaking, which is the biggest question people seem to have. The reason for soaking is simply to decrease the cooking time. I do it when I've thought ahead. When I haven't thought ahead, I don't soak. Some people say it decreases the flatulence factor of beans, though I can't say I've found that to be true. If your tummy has trouble with beans, there are at least 3 remedies. The first is, don't undercook your beans! They won't taste good and they'll be hard for your body to digest. The second is to eat beans more often. Your body will get used to digesting them. And the 3rd is to take an enzyme like Beano.

If you buy your beans in bulk at a co-op or other place where they have high turnover in their dry goods, they will be fresher and will cook more quickly. If you buy them in pre-packaged and labeled bags at the grocery store, they will likely be older and take longer to cook. They don't go bad or taste worse--they are just more hard.

1 pound dried beans, washed and picked over (any kind but lentils, split peas, or peeled and split beans)
Water, salt, and pepper

Soaking: You can soak your beans overnight if you think of it. Or "quick soak" them by putting the beans in a large pot and covering them with a couple inches of cold water. Bring the beans to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let them soak for 1-2 hours. Or you can not soak them at all. They'll take a bit longer to cook.

Cooking. If you've soaked your beans, drain them, and cover again with 2 inches of cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, then adjust the heat so the beans bubble gently. Partially cover and cook, stirring every now and then, checking the beans for doneness every 20 minutes or so, and adding more water as necessary. Small beans might take as little as 30 minutes and older, larger beans up to 90 minutes. 

Seasoning. Add salt and pepper when the beans are just turning tender. Stop cooking when the beans are done the way you like them and taste and adjust the seasoning.

Storing. Here you have a few options. Drain the beans (reserving the liquid separately) to use them as ingredients or salads or other dishes where they need to be dry. Or finish them with one of the ideas below. Or store the beans as is and use with or without the liquid as needed. They will keep in the fridge for days and in the freezer for months.

Adding Flavor. You can add a bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme sprigs, parsley leaves and stems, chili powder, or other herbs and spices. You can sauté chopped onion, carrot, celery or garlic until soft and fragrant and add them in. You can add a cup of beer or wine. Or cook your beans with a ham hock, pork chop, beef bone, or sausage. Fish it out after cooking, chop up the meat, and stir it back into the beans.

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


Roasted Yams with Black Beans and Chipotle Crema

Roasted Yams and Black Beans
A pet peeve of mine is when food bloggers apologize for not writing. Unless they are paid to write (which I am not), the apologies seem very unnecessary. The only way I've been able to sustain this blog is by NOT apologizing and going weeks at a time on the rice and bean regimen. You may think I'm exaggerating: That's a load of crap. She doesn't REALLY feed her family rice and beans for weeks. Go ahead. Ask them. If I were a You-Tuber, I'd get Wyatt up on here to testify. It's true. And I don't feel one bit bad about it.

I think I might be getting ready for a little variety, but between work, getting sick, and an overall turn-it-up-a-notch in the MK household, I have been so thankful for my pressure cooker and my rice cooker. God bless those appliances. And my family, who never complain when they see the same thing for the fourth night in a row. If there are any moms out there  beating themselves up for not being more creative in the kitchen, I implore you to spend that energy on something else. Your children will be fine. And they might even be learning some important lessons, like, "My Mom has a life, too," or "Our family gets by even when things are pretty boring."

Here's yet another variation on rice on beans. I really love yams, and think they're underused even with more press in the last few years. You, dear readers, keep me going in so many ways. Thank you for letting me be my plain old self.

Roasted Yams with Black Beans and Chipotle Crema
Serves 4. Preheat oven to 425. Wash 4 yams and cut them into 1/2" dice. Toss with kosher salt
and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and pour the yams onto the sheet. Bake until soft and blackened in places, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, warm a few cups of black beans up in a saucepan (canned or ones you've cooked) with a bit of salt, fresh garlic, and a splash of water. Mash a bit at the end if you want. In a small bowl, stir 1/2 c. sour cream with a tablespoon or two of canned chipotles in adobo, finely chopped. Serve black beans atop yams with a spoonful of chipotle crema and a squeeze of lime.

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Nothing new over here in the Leftoverist household. How can it be? That nothing changes in my life, but I am so full of things to say? And soup again? That's really nothing new. If I were to document all the soups produced in this kitchen, you'd really grasp the full meaning of "leftovers." And you might not keep reading.

But stay tuned for this one. My mother-in-law has been making this for a long time, and it easily wins the prize for easy, fast, nutritious, and mass appeal. Chalk another one up for beans.

P.S. I follow a lot of food blogs. One thing I notice (and participate in) is lots of sweets and side dishes. Or main dishes with too many steps (or too many expensive ingredients in "30-minute meals"). When I find something like this soup, I hang onto it. With everything I know about food, I'm still desperate to answer that perennial question--What to have for dinner tonight?!

P.S.S. I'm thrilled to announce that I am now regularly featured on The Christian Science Monitor's food and culture page, Stir it Up! I'm honored to be part of this venerable news source and spreading the Way of Leftovers even further.

Mexican Corn and Bean Soup
Another plug for Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. Delicious! Cheap! Regular frozen corn will do just fine, though. And if you've cooked up some beans yourself, you can, of course, use those instead of canned ones.

2 Tb. olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. chili powder (ancho is my favorite)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tb. sugar
coarse salt
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can kidney beans
1 14 oz. can pinto beans
2 cups frozen corn
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
sour cream, diced avocado, crushed tortilla chips, and more cilantro for garnish

In a large stockpot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and sugar with a couple tablespoons of water to form a paste. Add paste to onions along with tomatoes, beans, and corn. Add enough water to cover by 1", bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 20 minutes, until flavors meld. Taste and add more salt if you want.  Add chopped cilantro at the end and serve with garnishes.

Firsts and Lasts and Rice and Bean Salad

rice and bean salad

Two events this week--one that feels major for our little family, and one that's devastating for lots of people in my community.

First, Wyatt and I are separated for five days. He's staying with my parents and going to camp. He's having the time of his life, calling every night with reports of going pedal-boating, eating ring pops from the camp candy store, and being spoiled by his grandparents. I opened my Mom's fridge to find a cup of blackberries with this note sticking out the top. I've never been away from him this long, and it's made harder by the fact that I'm especially infatuated with him right now.  I miss his helpfulness, his little routines around the house, standing over his bed and watching him sleep. This is ridiculous. He'll be home Friday night.


And my dear friend and colleague Bud passed away on Sunday night. I can't really get my head around it yet. My heart aches for his wife and my friend Kathy, for all of us that loved and knew him. I'm so grateful for his life, for the love and generosity he showed to me, and that his community will be together soon to celebrate him.

Bud's death has made these last few days seem especially poignant and fragile. I haven't wanted to let Loretta out of my sight, and dragged myself to my meetings today. What is this life, if not precious? We are all born to die, but I manage to skirt that reality quite a bit most the time. Right before I got the dark news, Loretta asked, "Mom, how do persons die?" And tonight she said, "Well, that's okay if you and me die. We just won't have bodies anymore." But right now, we have these bodies, and the only thing to do with them is love. I plan to do it more fiercely than ever.

Postscript: Here's a salad I've made twice this week. Once for Jordan's homecoming picnic, and today to drop off for Kathy. Comings and goings, firsts and lasts. Chalk another one up for the comfort of the kitchen. At the very least, it's something to do with our hands when nothing else makes sense.

grilled zucchini

Rice and Bean Salad
This salad is great to take to potlucks or to grieving households. It's vegan (though you could add some crumbled feta or queso fresco), gluten-free, and quite sturdy. It can sit in the fridge and be picked at for lunch or dinner, or can be piled on top of greens with some grilled chicken for a main dish. Or you could deliver it with some torillas, shredded romaine, and chipotle crema to make roll-ups. It might not garner a bunch of oohs and ahs at first glance, but the garlicky cumin dressing will hook people. This makes a very large bowlful. Halve it if your life is slightly less full of potlucks than mine has been.

2 1/2 c. brown basmati rice
2 15 oz. cans black beans
4 small zucchini
2 c. fresh corn kernels or Trader Joe's roasted corn, (sold frozen)
couple big handfuls chopped Italian parsley or cilantro
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 c. raw pumpkin sides for garnish

For dressing:
1 Tb. coarse salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ancho chile powder
Fresh ground pepper
Juice of two limes
2/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Cook your rice. I do mine in a rice cooker, then let the whole batch cool in the fridge overnight, breaking up clumps when I dump it into the bowl. However you do it (lots and lots of water on the stove would be another way), your grains should emerge separate, not all stuck together, and you'll want the rice down to cool down a bit before proceeding.

Grill the zucchini (I used my grill pan). Cut each zucchini in half crosswise, then cut each half lengthwise into four 1/4" flat strips. Toss the strips with a bit of olive oil and salt, and grill for about 2 minutes/side. Cool a bit, then dice.

If you're not using Trader Joe's amazing frozen roasted corn kernels (my new favorite thing), you can just use raw corn if it's really sweet and fresh. If it doesn't fit that description, toast it in a skillet with a tiny bit of olive oil and salt for a few minutes just to take the raw edge off.

Gently toss rice, zucchini, corn, and all other ingredients together.

To make dressing, combine first four ingredients, then whisk olive in to emulsify. Gently toss salad with dressing, and top salad with pumpkin seeds.