Tuna pesto sandwich with radishes and avocado.

I’ve been eating a lot of tuna salad lately.  Mostly for lunch, though occasionally for breakfast instead.  I’m not sure this is a good thing, given the mercury and the fact that I’ve begun a diet and it’s not exactly a waist-friendly lunch, but I’ve also been working out good and hard at the gym and may even go to a meditation class tonight (to clear my head of this mercury, I hope) so it all evens out.

And it’s really just too good to give up.  In it, there’s a homemade spinach pesto that I made the other night for a mozzarella salad; pesto is one of those ingredients that you forget how valuable it is until you make up a batch, then realize you can make miracles out of any ol’ sandwich, or salad, or egg, or anything for that matter—homemade pesto is what miracles are made of.

And this pesto is so easy, and imprecise, that you don’t need a recipe.  Take a few handfuls of fresh spinach, locally grown if you can find it (and I know you can in New Jersey), zap it in the microwave for about a minute, then squeeq out all the water you can to make it as dry as possible.  Now throw that in the food processor with a small handful of pine nuts, another small handful of roughly chopped parmigiano cheese, and a grating of lemon zest.  Whirl it up and once it’s starting to meld, drizzle in some olive oil until you get a smooth paste.  Season with salt and pepper and ta-da: delicious.

Now that you’ve got the pesto, anything’s possible.  I’ll give you my example of goodness, because I’m quite fond of it—tuna pesto sandwich with radishes and avocado—but please do send me some of yours.

Tuna Pesto Sandwich

serves 2

  • 1 can tuna, preferably sustainably-caught and packed in oil
  • 1 heaping teaspoon homemade spinach pesto (see above)
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon pickle relish
  • small handful of radishes, sliced thinly and roughly chopped
  • half an avocado
  • 4 slices grainy bread

In a medium bowl, combine tuna, peso, mayonnaise, relish, and radishes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound tuna salad on two slices of bread.

Scoop out the avocado flesh from the peel and mash it into a paste.  Slather avocado on other two slices of bread.  Create two sandwiches with both a tuna and avocado half.  Eat up.

Scallops with mustard and balsamic, on a bed of arugula.

When winter starts to turn, spring changes my kitchen.  Asparagus slithers in, artichokes make a big entrance.  Strawberries begin to take the place of oranges and, most importantly, I start serving practically everything on a bed of greens.  Lamb chops, pork, canned tuna, even steak.  Peppery, spicy arugula is my green of choice, but butter lettuce, spinach, young kale, and even a mesclun mix can find its way to the bottom of my plate.  I almost feel sorry for it—always underneath the protein, like the overweight girl on the cheerleading team, having to lift up the stupid thin, blonde ones, with their bird legs and super-cute boyfriends and well-managed ponytai—not that I have any personal experience or anything…

But unpleasant high school memories aside, I’d like to give the bed of spring greens its due.  They are, for me, the best part of the meal.  Greens make the perfect bed for protein—they can be dressed with a pungent dressing, too strong for a salad, because the protein’s fat and juices will even everything out.  I like that it gives me a chance to wield heavy amounts of mustard, or use a tart balsamic vinegar with nothing else—I’m not sure why, but I like that.

This meal uses both mustard and balsamic, and they both—spicy and tart—compliment sweet scallops like nothing else.  Scallops need a bit of muscle in the way of flavor, in my opinion, because their sea-scented sweetness, while great on their own or with cream, can become too much without any contrast.  And as delicate as they look, a scallop’s flavor can stand up to the strongest mustard sauce.

But I’m inclined to say, all would be nothing if not for the arugula.  Its peppery flavor is almost as strong as the mustard and vinegar it’s dressed with but it adds a new dimension—vegetal, fresh, biting greenness underneath it all.  Kind of like spring, and the green grass that has been seemingly right under the snow and dirt all winter, that is just now peeping into the world, gearing up for the season.

Scallops with Mustard Sauce and Balsamic, on a bed of Arugula

Serves 2

  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • drizzling of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 dry sea scallops, abductor muscle removed
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a small handful of sliced scallions, optional

Arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle balsamic vinegar over leaves, without mixing and dressing them.  Get a nonstick pan very hot, adding a bit of olive oil.  Once the oil starts to sputter, place the scallops onto the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are browned, then flip so that you can brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove scallops, arranging them on top of the arugula.

Add shallot to the pan.  Stir to heat them and then add the white wine.  Let the wine reduce by  half, then turn off the heat and add the water and mustard.  Reduce a little bit more, so the sauce begins to thicken, then add the butter piece by piece, whisking or swirling the pan so that it eases into the mustard and creates a thick, creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over scallops and arugula, mixing everything together to get the sauce and balsamic to lightly coat everything.  Sprinkle with scallions.  Serve.

*Arugula can be arranged on platter and drizzled with balsamic a few hours a head of time.

New beginnings.

It doesn’t feel like so long ago when I was last having new beginnings.  It seems that graduating from college and facing the big-people world works that way.  You get a job, any job, and then realize you don’t want any old job.  You work for a while, gain some confidence and start looking for the next challenge.  You may then, even, find your perfect place, a nice Mom and Pop of a school, perfect hours, summers off, and wonderful people all around.  Ok, that’s unlikely, though it was what I had.  But, like the rest of the world, things fall apart. Companies get sold, disgruntlements ensue, and you start wanting to begin again.

So that’s where I stand now.  A part-time job and a fledgling personal chef business.  It’s exciting.  And scary.  And lovely… unimaginably lovely.  Kind of like this soup, really.  The whole time I was preparing it, from breaking down the garlic cloves to passing it through the food mill, I was scared for what was to come, but pretty thrilled for it.  Four heads of garlic?  Garlic soup?  It sounds like something out of True Blood, but there’s no vampires to fend off here.

You don’t need to be warding off blood-suckers to love this soup anyway, because it’s hardly pungent, almost indiscernibly garlic—that is until someone tells you it’s garlic soup and you become altogether terrified that someone who hasn’t eaten the soup will kiss you tonight.  Not that they would notice.  Or care.  (Because who doesn’t need a kiss, anyway?)

You won’t notice the thyme much either, though it’s not the same without it.   Fresh thyme is best, and it’s the same for garlic.  Don’t make this soup with brown-bottomed, half-dead garlic bulbs—make sure they are fresh, resilient, and either white or purple.  Check the roots because (not that I want to get into the whole nature/nurture discussion) brown spots at the root is bad news.  Luckily, finding good garlic is the hardest part.

Just break up 4 heads of garlic, brushing off the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel the cloves.  Throw them in a pot with 12 or so sprigs of fresh, fragrant thyme.  Splash in a quart of roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water, and simmer away until the garlic yields to the gentle pressing of the back of a spoon.  Run everything through a food mill with a fine grater (or take out the thyme twigs and blend) and then add the juice of one lime.  Serve piping hot with a slice of good, crusty bread, or all by itself for a warming first course.  It tastes exciting and different from any other broth soups, and is invigorating enough to sustain you through a long kissing session afterwards.

Garlic and Thyme Soup

adapted from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups

serves 4 in small bowls

  • 4 heads good garlic
  • about 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 quart roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
  • 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Break down garlic heads into cloves, brushing away the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel.  Wrap the thyme into a bunch.  Add both to a 3 qt pot and cover with 1 quart of the vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water (I use roasted vegetable stock and it is lovely here.)  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the garlic cloves are soft and yield to a fork, about 40 minutes, depending on your garlic.

Run the soup through a food mill fitted with a fine grater, or take out the thyme sprigs and blend in a blender (if you blend, you’ll need to pass your soup through a sieve afterwards.  Add the juice of one lime to the soup and taste for seasoning, adding a little salt or pepper if you like.  Serve in warmed bowls.

Black-eyed peas.

A while back, when I decided not to be religious, I realized superstitions wouldn’t jibe with my newfound atheism.  I had, afterall, never quite believed in throwing salt over your shoulder (it made such a mess) or not letting a black cat cross your path (I had one named Midnight); it had all felt very half-hearted.  Nonetheless, there are a few superstitions that stuck with me; I’ll always take a sip after a cheers, I tend to knock on wood—and I eat black-eyed peas for the New Year.

Not quite on the New Year however; I can’t seem to get myself to eat beans on a day that I associate with my last holiday calorie-filled hurrah.  I’ll buy the peas for New Years, sometimes with an honest intent to make them, but never do, giving in to roast chicken and potatoes, or braised pork.  I’m weak-willed.

Though when New Year’s Day is over and the diet begins, black-eyed peas help me with the transition.  They remind me that fat- and carbo-loading isn’t the only way towards delicious.  Especially this recipe, coming from Daniel Boulud, which pairs the earthy peas with (the herb I now consider its true love) dried oregano.  Bacon is added because, come on, it’s a transition to health—not a nosedive.  And finally, most importantly, a good dose of hot sauce keeps things exciting.  Without that, you’re just full of beans.

Southern-style Black-eyed Peas with Bacon

from Daniel Boulud’s Braise

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 5 ounces slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

The day before you plan to serve this dish, put the peas in a bowl, cover with water by at least 2 inches, and refrigerate.  The next day, drain well before using.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Place the bacon in a small cast-iron pot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes.  Add the drained peas, bay leaves, salt, and 6 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the peas are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes*. Stir in the Tabasco, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

*For my taste, it was closer to an hour and forty-five minutes.

When soup ain’t cuttin’ it.

I had started out making Manhattan Clam Chowder, the tomatoey, sea-scented soup that’s far removed, and much healthier, than the cream version from Bahston.  After all that pork belly (I had a few bigger-than-average sized portions over the weekend), I had put myself on a diet. I wanted something flavorful, spicy, and light.  I was even planning to leave out the potatoes.

But as my diets go (why-oh-why do I think starving will work?), I hadn’t eaten a thing past a banana with black coffee for breakfast, and when it got around to dinnertime, I was famished.  What had I been thinking?  Clams?  Vegetables? Tomato broth?  Why didn’t I buy those potatoes?  I hadn’t even bought a loaf of bread for dipping.  I needed substance.  Or I would starve. (Stop rolling your eyes, ok, ok, I can be a little dramatic.)

Thankfully, I remembered I had some egg pasta in my cupboard. Manhattan Clam Pasta was born and, like most inventions created by necessity, it was even better than the original chowder would have been.  The egg noodles added a buttery-starchy component that is usually absent in the chowder, thickened only by potato starch.

Being that the soup was already made and simmering (sans clams) on the stove-top, I cooked the pasta right in the liquid.  Perfect, I thought as the pasta soaked up some of the liquid, making the remaining less of a soup and more of a sauce.  Sometimes (however rarely) things just come together in my kitchen.

And while I’m sure I wouldn’t have starved on the clam chowder alone, I sat down to my plate of crisp bacon, buttery noodles, salty clams, earthy celery, carrots and onions, and sweet, acidic tomatoes knowing that I’d be sleeping well that night.  It filled my belly but didn’t leave me stuffed—the perfect combination for a healthy diet.

Manhattan Clam Pasta

serves 4

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound good, fresh chopped clams (Whole Foods sells a good brand)
  • 1 (14-oz) can whole San Marzino tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 sprig or two of fresh thyme
  • a good pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 pound egg noodle pasta
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Drain clams, reserving liquid.

Add bacon into a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Once bacon fat has rendered, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve on a paper towel.

Add celery, carrots, and onion to the dutch oven.  Saute until translucent and beginning to brown.  Add reserved clam liquid, tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Add egg noodles and cook until tender.

Add chopped clams, reserved bacon, and parsley.  Simmer for another minute or two.  Serve.

Peach Puff Pastry Pizza

I’ve been feeling better great lately. I’m still sore in my lower back/hip area, but mostly after I work out, and hardly enough to get upset about. And yes, I’m even working out. This, for me, is a happiness that has me giddy—when you write a food blog that features bacon on more posts than not, working out is an important part of your life. You may have also noticed, I’ve been busy. Since starting my new site over a week ago, I’ve been scouring the web for drool-worthy food photography, reading endless articles on food, and spending way too much time in front of my computer screen—it’s been a blast.

I’ve met great new people with gorgeous blogs, I’ve formed relationships with bloggers who I knew of but hadn’t spoken with before, I’ve emailed more people in 5 days than I have ever emailed in my life. I’ve gotten compliments, hate-mail, encouragement, and deterrents. It’s been a roller-coaster. And I haven’t cooked anything that takes more than 20 minutes.

This is not to say, however, that I didn’t eat well this week. For one, I went to Bouley Upstairs, and had some phenomenal sushi that was accompanied by a burger (the charm of this place is that you can order both.) And, I had this pizza.

This peach puff pastry pizza to be exact, with locally grown arugula, red onion, and fresh goat and fontina cheese. To say it was delicious would be an extreme understatement. It was superb—gobbled up within minutes. The peppery arugula cut through the buttery puff pastry and creamy cheeses, the red onion was sharp and clean, and the peaches added a sweet level that transcended the meal way up above your ordinary delicious.

And it was easy. Like, you’ll never want to eat fast food again when you can have this, easy. A piece of week-night perfection.

Peach Puff Pastry Pizza

  • 2 peaches, cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 pound of arugula
  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup safflower oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 package puff pastry, thawed and flattened with a rolling pin so it is about as big as your sheet pan
  • 3 ounces fontina cheese, grated
  • 3 ounces fresh goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Marinate the peach, arugula, and onion in oil, salt, and pepper while you thaw and prepare your puff pastry

Roll out your puff pastry and set on a greased baking sheet, rolling the very edges to make a crust. Spread the marinated mixture on the puff pastry. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle on the fontina cheese and then crumble the goat cheese over that. Put back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes so that the fontine cheese melts (goat cheese will never really melt.) Let stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving. Goes very nicely with a good Sauvignon Blanc.

Forever lentils.

All winter long, I ate lentils. I made them often and ate them greedily, thinking, for some reason, that winter is the only season for lentils. Of course you could have them a few times in the late fall, when the weather starts to get blustery, and even once or twice at the very onset of spring, when it’s still freezing out. But, when you did that, you’d be eating the dish out-of-season.

Towards the end of winter, I began feeling blue over this. I had been nourishing my little family of two (with some leftovers for the dog) for the whole winter. Lentils provided many substantial dinners, lunches, and even breakfasts. I had made lentils of all kinds—red, green, black, yellow—and every dish was different then the last; lentils are infinitely adaptable.

What was I going to do for all those upcoming seasons? Sure, I consoled myself with thoughts of berries, green veggies, lettuces, and tomatoes, but I couldn’t shake the sadness over losing lentils. And then, after weeks of this edging melancholy, I realized, like duh, why can’t lentils be made for any season? Of course! Just because you are making a lentil stew, that doesn’t mean you need to fill it with canned tomatoes and mustard greens. There’s no need for smoky pimento or turnips or squash. I had spent the entire winter fooling around with lentils and I never even thought about how far I could go—switch up the other ingredients and you can do anything with lentils!

When the weather began to turn up the heat, I was ready with a few notebook pages full of spring lentil ideas. This one encapsulates the beginning of spring—mint, peas, and carrots. It’s the perfect side dish for pork or lamb—a touch sweet, a bit salty, and very green. While it’s still a hardy dish (great for this fickle weather), the peas and mint are redolent of all the light, brightness of spring

Spring Lentils with Peas and Mint

serves 6

3 slices bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 bunch carrots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bouillon cube
2 cups lentils, french
8 oz. green peas, frozen, not thawed (or fresh if you find nice, young ones)
1-2 tablespoons mint, fresh, chopped
a big pinch of salt and pepper to taste

Render bacon fat in a large dutch oven. When crisp, remove bacon and reserve on paper towels.

Add onion and carrot to dutch oven with rendered fat. Let cook until beginning to color. Add garlic.

Meanwhile, bring lentils to boil in a small saucepan with water. Let cook 15-20 minutes or until barely tender. Drain lentils.

Add lentils to dutch oven with bouillon cube and 3 cups water, simmer for 5 minutes. Add peas and let cook another 10-15 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked and a lot of the water has been absorbed. If you like, blend some of the lentils with an immersion blender for a few pulses to thicken. Season with salt, pepper, and mint.

Saturdays are for staying in your pajamas all day.

This is the first weekend—in what feels like many weekends—that I have nothing to do. No one to visit. No doctor’s appointments to keep. No festivals to attend. No dinner parties. Nothing.

I don’t even have a book I’m close to finishing that, hence, would take up all my time. No crazy, laborious recipe scheduled into my weekend. No real reason to even make a blog post. But hey, lets not go crazy. I’m not going to forget about my ol’ Cav and Cod just ’cause I got a case of the lazies.

So here’s a recipe for your lazy weekend—and if you live in the Northeast, with all this glum and gloom weather today, you know what I’m talking about. Go ahead, get into your pajamas. Sit on the couch with a cup of tea. Do nothing today. I promise it will feel great.

And then, when you do feel like getting off the couch for a few minutes, throw together this salad. It’s quick, it’s colorful, it’s amazing. The mangos are a perfect component to erase any ill-feelings you have about tomatoes right now (because oh, my, god, when is it ever going to be tomato season again, it should be now!) and they work so harmoniously with watercress’s stringent quality. And, even if you think that the dressing seems just a bit too intense to work (1 tablespoon fish sauce!) or that there’s too many herbs, follow the directions exactly and trust me—it works.

Mango and Watercress Salad

serves 2-4//adapted from Gourmet

For Dressing:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1-2 tablespoons sugar
2 dashes hot sauce such as Tabasco
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

For Salad:
3/4 lb watercress, coarse stems discarded (about 6 cups loosely packed)
1 3/4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (from 1 head) *
1 (1- to 1 1/2-lb) firm-ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup coarsely grated carrot
1/4 cup torn fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves

Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl, then whisk in salt to taste.

Gently toss all salad ingredients together in a bowl. Add just enough dressing to coat, then serve immediately.

* The easiest way to do this is with a mandoline. Set it to the thinnest slice and the cabbage slices will be the perfect thinness.

Vegetable Soup? It’s freakin’ 80 degrees out there!

It’s getting hot in here. Well, not in here—this series of tubes that we call “the internets”—but out there, on the other side of my window, where tulips and blossoms are beginning to bud under the warm New Jersey sun.

Tomorrow’s temperature may reach 80, there’s a warm breeze blowing through the blossoming trees, and the kids at my school have a terrible case of Spring Fever. There’s no denying it—Spring has sprung.

So, why in the world would I give you a hearty, warm, comforting vegetable soup? I could make up excuses that I’m trying to reach out to those poor saps in Canada or wherever it is that snow is still on the ground. Or I could tell you I’m sick and that’s why I made it. That, thankfully, is not true (I’m feeling quite great, actually, and so is Jim.) I could tell you that the vegetables that went into the soup were so good, so irresistible, that I just had to post the soup. That, also, would be a lie.

In truth, the vegetables in this soup had been hanging around the bottom drawer of my fridge for quite a while. I bought them, used some, and left the rest to twiddle their thumbs in the frigid air. I had good intentions, mind you, of lots of vegetable spring dishes. And then I got lazy this week, falling back to our old standards—red lentil dal, risotto, dishes that have me going to the pantry more than the vegetable drawer. I almost forgot about all those sad, bored veggies, and I would have let them wither and die had I not decided, with spring-cleaning motivation, that I would clean out the fridge.

We’re going away for the weekend, to attend Jim’s uncle’s photography show’s opening in East Hampton. I’ll plan it out so that we do next week’s shopping on the drive home on Sunday and making room in the fridge is the last thing I’ll want to do when we finally get back to the apartment.

The best way to use up all your idle veggies is a pot of vegetable soup. The more, the better—I used leeks, onions, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and potatoes. You don’t even need a recipe, just chop everything up, render some bacon in a big pot (or simply use olive oil), add your vegetables, saute them until fragrant and golden, and then add enough water to cover. The vegetables will flavor the water to make a rich, delicious stock. If you are using potatoes, add them in about 10-15 minutes after adding the water. Simmer until all the vegetables are done. Ladel into bowls and top with a bit of salted butter. Pretend it’s cold outside and enjoy with a good French baguette.

Blackness.

I’m sorry but this post is pretty dark. I’m about to go on a cranky ramble and I just can’t help myself. I’m even going to give you beans, beans as black as my outlook on life today. Luckily for you, they taste great.

So what’s my puss all about, you ask. Well, I got a steriod injection in my SI joint yesterday. Two weeks after my doctor put in for the shot’s approval by my insurance company. Those two weeks were so crucial because, during the time, I was actually starting to feel significantly better. Not that I could work out, or go for a run, or stand or sit for too long, or really do much of anything other than go to work, cook dinner, lie around and sleep—but at least during work, dinner, laying, and sleeping I wasn’t in pain. This gave me serious happiness after over two months of consistent pain, no matter what I was doing. However, the no-working out or doing anything that could potentially burn a calorie or two was starting to bother me (and my waistline). I still couldn’t move my leg in any way other than a straight-forward-stepping movement without it hurting, and if I made the thoughtless mistake of doing something outrageous—like walking my dog—I could be laid out for a day or more. So my doctor suggested I have an injection, to bring the swelling down, alleviate some pain, and put me on the path to total healing. I agreed to it, jumping for joy (not literally, of course.)

And then the bane of my existence, Traveler’s Auto Insurance Company of New Jersey, told me they needed to “confer” with “their doctors” before approving the shot. These “doctors”, who have never examined me and who I seriously doubt even exist, are allowed, by law, 72 hours before they approve anything. Traveler’s, by sluggishly bad work ethics, make sure to use every minute of this 72 hour period—or, as I was soon to find out, they disregard all sense of the law and humanity and won’t do anything in the way of approving medical treatment for two weeks. And then, two weeks later, when you finally get the haughty woman of an insurance agent on the phone and she puts you on hold to go ask “the doctors” if they’ve approved anything and then comes back and cheerily says “looks like we’re going to let you get that shot” and you, through gritted teeth, ask her why Traveler’s feels that they need not adhere to the rights of people to get the health care they need within the legal limit of 72 hours and she replies, still goddamn cheerily, that “she doesn’t know,” your outlook on life becomes rather bleak.

But I did a little meditation after I hung up the phone, repeating to myself over and over that I am on the path to total healing. I went to the doctor’s and he tells me if I’m feeling better I could decide to hold off on the shot for another week to see if I improve even more on my own but by that time I feel like I had to wage war for the damn thing and I tell him, in a crazed, crackling voice, that it’s mine and he better give it to me. He forgets to mention that it will hurt like all hell. And he also forgets to mention, until after the shot when I’m lying bare-assed on his table crying and woozy from pain, that the initial pain of my accident may come back in full force for a day or two, adding (cheerily, of course) that the pain is a good thing because it shows us that we put the shot in the right place (your SI joint is too small for any significant injury to show up on an MRI). I look at him with all the contempt I can muster against a man who had been tirelessly trying to help me for the past few months but who nevertheless just stuck a huge needle into my bones. I go home, hoping for the best.

And of course, by today, the best is out to lunch, and the worst has certainly set in. I’m aching from above my hips to my ankles. I can’t move. I’m stoned on painkillers that make me feel nauseuous. I’m cranky, depressed, and, oddly, very hungry. Thankfully, instead of running for the hills to get away from me, Jim made me some black beans. He did the brunt of the work on these hardy, savory beans, and even helped me limp to the stove when I insisted on putting in the flavoring—balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, chinese chili paste—by myself.

These beans are perfect in their simplicity. They’re neither spicy nor mild, not sweet or salty. The best way to describe them is “beany”—pure black bean flavor that’s not mucked up by anything and only enhanced by the drops and pinches added in towards the end of cooking. While they are perfectly delectable alone as a side, a green garnish—I used pea leaves for their snappy bite and photogenicness—and a big dollop of sour cream make them a meal. Though they may look (and I may feel) abysmal, they taste bright, sharp, and delicious!

Simple Black Beans

adapted from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/238086

  • 1 lb dried black beans (about 2 1/3 cups), picked over and rinsed (but not soaked)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons dry Sherry (or more to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot Chinese chili paste (or more to taste)

Bring black beans, onion, garlic, oil, water (8 cups), and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours (depending on age of beans). Thin to desired consistency with additional water or thicken by simmering uncovered. Stir in Sherry and remaining teaspoon salt, then soy sauce, vinegar, and chili paste to taste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.