[Sunday, San Francisco, March 2012.]
Today: a glowering, gloomy sky with rain in the forecast. Last week was the rainiest it’s been here in months but it’s hard to complain about getting wet whilst to-ing and fro-ing because the mountains have finally received their usual carpeting of snow and the reservoirs are filling up. Here’s hoping a bit more comes our way, even if if makes for a soggy commute.
Last week was also a week of activity in between the rain drops: a drinks meet-up satiated my wish for a sazerac (verdict: delicious), I finished off a fairly major project that’s been brewing for awhile, garnered some new writing assignments and stewed over yet more ideas, bought a car (my first-ever — what??), squeezed in two yoga classes, plotted summer travels, and had a blowy, beautifully sunny – if chilly – picnic at Baker Beach (though, full disclosure, we left soon after I took that photograph).
And today is suddenly the first day of spring! which incidentally coincides with the anniversary of my move 6 years ago to the Bay Area. Wow. Six years. I remember that time keenly though it feels quite far away from my current life: the first month it rained nearly every day; we lived in a temporary apartment with the thinnest of walls for too long; I often frequented the Civic Center farmers market; I worked a part-time, pretty awful job (though was grateful to have a job); I ran a lot as I was training for the 2006 San Francisco Marathon (which later turned into the half-marathon, with my best time ever of 2:03); despite some angst I was utterly happy to be here. Looking back I don’t know why it took me so long to return to my beloved California, but DC was good to me too … it’s so long ago now it doesn’t much matter.
(I wrote about moving few years ago on the four-year anniversary much better than this.)
Something I cooked a lot in those days was red beans and rice. Why? I’m not sure, but I distinctly remember ‘rewarding’ myself with this dinner when I’d gotten a new job or completed a particularly long run in good time: red beans and rice or a baked potato with sour cream, one of those deliciously salty Gardenburger ‘riblets’, and a dish of ice cream to finish. I was often alone though I’d moved here with a boyfriend, and it was always a little melancholy yet thrilling at the same time to feed myself exactly what I wanted when I wanted it (I’m sure I cooked red beans and rice for him too but when I ate alone I savored my dinners while watching episodes of ‘The Sopranoes’ my dad had taped for me and it was the height of decadence).
These days I usually always have supper companionship and I have no complaints. My beloved has his own penchant for red beans and rice so I’ve been cooking it a lot since we returned from vacation (a whole month ago already – sob!). Yesterday was a cold and breezy Monday (plus it was Monday) so of course the only thing to do was to make red beans and rice for dinner.
A I diced carrots and sliced celery and made a pot of brown basmati rice with the phone pressed to my ear in conversation with my friend Kate, I remembered Banana Yoshimoto’s book “Kitchen”, about a girl who moves in with a friend after the death of her grandmother. She sleeps on a couch in their living room near the kitchen, where she feels warm and comfortable — safe. The novella details a coming to terms with loss and life change, and centers around food — so of course I loved it immediately.
While I simmered my beans-and-vegetables to that perfect blend of mellow spiciness yesterday eve, I realized I tend to gravitate first to the kitchen when I come home from a long day (yesterday was no exception). Usually I’ve mentally checked-off the things I have in the fridge and already have an idea about what I’d like to put together for dinner (last night: half a leftover onion and lots of garlic cooked on low heat until soft with a little tomato paste and red wine, and a can of drained organic kidney beans and bits of faux sausage; a big salad; the roasted cauliflower I cannot seem to get enough of). Though my kitchen is quite tiny, it is my favorite spot to be in our apartment. And unlike like others I’ve inhabited, it’s open on both sides which, while it’s still only a little larger than a postage stamp, makes it much less claustrophobic.
Lately I’ve felt a bit in a rut — work grinds along, did I mention the rain?, plane tickets East are awfully expensive, and I haven’t been to the farmers market in weeks, nay, months (quelle horreur!)! I fight these unpleasant feelings by planting myself firmly in my minuscule, light-filled kitchen, even if I’m feeling sleeeeeepy, especially when the rain falls down outside. The cares of the day quickly fall away as I slide a tin of Guinness-chocolate cupcakes from the oven (ahem, for belated St. Pat’s) or stir a pot of soup. Cooking becomes not only a pleasure but a balm.
It is also an accomplishment, and infinitely satisfying. I think Yoshimoto would agree.
[Vegetarian] Red Beans and Rice
I love this topped with sliced avocado and/or a dollop of sour cream.
Makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 carrots (if organic leave skins on), peeled and diced
1/4 cup red wine
2 ribs celery (optional), sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 red pepper, halved with seeds removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 can tomato paste or 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 can organic kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Vegetarian sausage (I used 1/2 package of Gimme Lean sausage; about 1/2 teaspoons rolled into balls)
salt, pepper, and dried oregano to taste
Make the rice: place 1 1/2 cups rice in 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until water is absorbed.
Make the beans: Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until very soft. Add the carrots, celery and red pepper. Add the tomato paste or tomatoes, red wine, and a bit of water. Saute about 2 minutes and add the beans. Add the sausage and cook until heated through. Add the salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook on low, simmering until a rich sauce has formed and your rice is ready.
Serve with a salad, roasted cauliflower, or other green vegetable.