Thursday, November 29, 2012

for when there is no refrigerator

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on November 7, 2012.

With Hurricane Sandy threatening our electrical stability, I fixed an enormous pot of red beans, just in case. I thought of the beans because when my husband and I lived in Nicaragua, I learned that cooked beans could be left at room temperature for days, even in the hottest weather. If the power went out and I’d have to keep the refrigerator door shut, at least we’d have beans to eat.

However, the storm hardly affected us at all. After a couple days of waiting for something to happen, we finally emptied our jars of water and righted the trampoline from where we had chained it, upside down, to the swing set. I stopped obsessively flushing toilets and keeping the sink dirty-dish free.

However, it looks like our family with be facing a steady diet of beans in the near future. Starting in January, we will be living in the Central American countryside. From our previous time in Nicaragua, my husband and I already know a little bit of what we’ll be getting into. We are excited to introduce our children the barebones lifestyle, the chicken buses, the colorful clothing, the plate-sized tortillas cooked over wood stoves.

It’s an impoverished area where we’re headed, up in the highlands. At the boarding school where my husband and I will be teaching, we’ve heard that some of the students are too poor to pay the admission fee; instead, they pay their way with beans and corn from their families’ farms.

Like I said, we’ll be eating a lot of beans.

Now we are scrambling to figure out insurances and plane tickets, raise funds, collaborate with the renters, gather a year’s worth of clothes, wrap up our current projects and commitments, and give the kids a crash course in Spanish. It’s wild and scary and wonderful, all at the same time.

Starting now, I will be taking a hiatus from this column. In the meantime, until we return home in October, whenever you cook up a big pot of beans, think of us. For from a thousand miles away, we’ll be doing the very same thing.

With love,

Pot of Red Beans

1-2 pounds of tiny red beans

Rinse the beans with cold water. Put them in a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, unlidded (or the water will boil over). Reduce heat, place the lid on sideways so some of the steam can escape, and simmer gently for several hours, adding more water as necessary.

When the beans are partially cooked, add the salt. When they are completely tender, taste and season. Serve hot with scrambled eggs, salty cheese, thick corn tortillas, and a cup of sweet coffee.

For when there is no refrigerator:
Boil the beans, eat what you want, remove the serving utensil and bring the pot of beans to a boil again to kill all the germs. Place a lid on the kettle and let it sit at room temperature until the next meal rolls around. By the third or fourth boiling, the bean broth gets thicker, richer, a bit saltier, and the beans become deliciously tender and flavorful.

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