Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recipe: Black Beans Like You Get in Miami

I grew up in Miami, Florida. We didn't eat black beans at home but we would get them at Cuban restaurants and there were LOTS of those around! I no longer live in Miami but there are restaurants nearby where we can pick up a to go order of black beans and rice, so the kids eat them frequently. Black beans are, in fact, the only bean The Wild Child will eat. I decided to try my hand at making black beans from scratch and asked The Wild Child to help me. He told me flat out while we were working on them "I'm not going to eat these". Sigh. I forged ahead anyway, knowing that he doesn't kid about these things, and there is no way on this earth that I'm going to get him to eat these black beans. They soaked all day and simmered all evening. I added all sorts of seasonings and yummy flavors, and they turned out to be pretty good. Guess I picked up how to make them by osmosis, because I made up the recipe as I went along. Martha Jr. proclaimed them better than the ones we get for take out. In fact, we all liked them... except for The Wild Child, who will not, Sam I Am, eat green eggs or black beans.

Here's the recipe I came up with. It's probably pretty similar to other black bean recipes since they taste like... black beans. Please excuse the inexact measurements; I'm a throw things in the pot and see what happens kind of a cook.

Black Beans From Scratch

1 package dry black beans
Olive Oil, about a tablespoon
Bay leaves, 3 or 4
Pepper to taste, about a teaspoon (or a few grinds of the pepper mill)
Garlic powder to taste, about a teaspoon

Salt to taste, or about one to two teaspoons (the bouillon cube will add some salt so don't go too crazy)
Vegetable bouillon cube, 1 large
Butter, about a tablespoon (optional)
Cumin, about a teaspoon or to taste
Garlic, two cloves, crushed and peeled*

Sort through the beans and rinse. Soak for several hours in a covered container with water covering the beans by at least an inch or two. Add more water if needed so that they stay covered; they will expand a lot. When the beans are ready to cook, drain and place them in a pot with a lid and cover with water once again by an inch or two. Add olive oil, bay leaves, pepper, and garlic powder. VERY IMPORTANT- DO NOT ADD SALT UNTIL BEANS ARE TENDER. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook (stirring and testing and checking that there's enough water in the pot every now and again) until tender, probably about an hour. (But I didn't time them, I just checked on them every time I walked through the kitchen. You can tell when you stir if they are still hard or not by the way the beans hit the spoon as it goes around the pot, so that's a good indication of when to start checking them.) Add more water as needed, but not too much at the end of cooking time so you don’t thin the broth. When the beans are soft add the rest of the ingredients. Continue cooking at a simmer until the bouillon cube is dissolved and the flavors are incorporated. Serve over rice.

*I added the garlic cloves with the salt and other ingredients after the beans were tender only because I thought of it then. You could probably skip the garlic powder and add the cloves when you first start cooking the beans.

According to one cooking show you can also stop cooking as soon as the beans are tender, drain them, and store them in the freezer for later use. I haven't had success with this yet but it's a great idea. (I've only tried it once with a different kind of bean and I think I failed because I cooked them too far past "just tender"; they were mushy and difficult to work with.) With the BPAs lining all of our canned goods now it's a good idea to cook beans from scratch, and if you have a stock of them in the freezer that makes it just as convenient as canned. Plus a lot cheaper!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Funny Link

I wish I could write like this!!!

Book Reviews: Swamplandia!, Bossypants, Living Oprah

I've read three books recently that I'd like to tell you about. The first is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. This book was getting a lot of buzz and I thought it looked interesting so I suggested it to my book club. They chose it for this month's selection and I got started reading. The beginning was OK but as I started to get further in things took a very dark turn. Now, there may be people out there who like dark books but I'm generally not one of them. There are exceptions for me, of course, but not this time. I hated it. I only read the whole thing because I suggested it to my book club, but I waved them off with a "don't read it" e-mail. (They tend to not like really dark books either.) We talked about it a little at our meeting yesterday and I apologized profusely for suggesting a book I hadn't read first. I fell for the hype. It did look so promising, though. It's set in Florida and it looked quirky, two things that are usually a good omen. The writer also follows the plot style of creating this idyllic world (which she tells you about in flashbacks) then destroying it completely. This isn't a fantasy book but that's a common plot from fantasy novels such as Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy- the characters live in this lovely world (Middle Earth/Swamplandia) then it is ripped apart. The fantasy novels I'm thinking of come to far more satisfactory ends than this book, however. I can't say much more without spoilers, and if you like books of this nature I don't want to ruin it for you. (I will also add that if you have any history of sexual abuse you might find it upsetting. It is not cathartic in any way and there are no lessons to be learned.) I will repeat- I hated it.

I've also just finished Bossypants by Tina Fey. DH started reading this and loved it so he bought me a copy too. (He has it on his Nook which he didn't want to share since I was all germy with my cold and stuff, so he bought me a hard copy from Costco.) She's funny, the book is funny, don't read it in bed next to your significant other if they are trying to sleep 'cause you'll wake them up when you laugh and shake the bed. She writes about her career path and how she got to be who she is. She writes a little about playing Sarah Palin. She writes a little about her time with Saturday Night Live, and she writes a little about 30 Rock. She uses, umm, colorful, shall we say, language, so if that bothers you consider yourself warned. I like her brand of feminism. She dealt with a lot of misogynistic creeps in the comedy world but she just kept going and wound up on top. That aspect is probably my favorite part of the book, more so than the comedy. DH liked the comedy and says if she comes a knockin' I'm in trouble. ;)

Finally, I read Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk by Robyn Okrant, another non-fiction book. This was also light with several funny bits, another one not to read in bed next to a sleeping spouse. The author decides to chronicle her experiment to follow ALL of Oprah's advice for one year to see if, indeed, she will find her "Best Life". The results are mixed, but the journey is funny and fascinating. The way she interprets some of what Oprah says to do got me chuckling; she's very resourceful. I got the book on my Kindle, my black and white Kindle, and missed out on the full effect of the pictures at the end of each chapter. The charts were legible if you set the font size to the smallest setting. (Which you are advised to do somewhere in the book description.) If I see a hard copy of the book in a bookstore I'll thumb through it to see what I missed, but I don't regret getting the Kindle version.

Both Bossypants and Living Oprah are light, fun reads, which I needed to erase the trauma from reading Swamplandia!. Now I just have to figure out what to read next. Any suggestions?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Where is Your Self Respect????

I had to go see the eye doctor today. (I have a cold and it morphed into pink eye, lucky me!) While I was there I was stuck in a waiting room with a TV tuned to MTV, unfortunately. I could not BELIEVE what I was watching! There was a young 20 something on the show talking to her boyfriend and complaining that he never compliments her enough. She must have asked him "am I pretty?" about a zillion times in the 5 minutes I was watching. She also said something about how she had a boob job just for him and he never seems to be impressed by that. The next scene is in her plastic surgeon's office where she's asking for a new face. Thank goodness the plastic surgeon had enough sense to tell her she wasn't seeing herself the way others see her. (She was, actually, pretty.)

I was gagging! I mean really? Women out there are really that shallow? Women out there are so afraid that all they have to offer the world is how they look? Wow, feminism has failed BIG TIME if that's the case. I mean, why couldn't this girl talk about anything other than how she looked? Why couldn't she go and, I don't know, read a book or something and talk about that? Or watch the news and form an opinion about something? And why, why, why are shows like that on the air? Well, I know why it's on the air, it's because people watch it. So then the question actually is why, why, why are people watching that drivel?

I don't get it. I also don't get why people buy magazines like the "National Enquirer", either. Everyone knows they lie and make up the most horrific, ridiculous stories they can possibly come up with. They hurt people. Stars and celebrities are people, too; what, you don't think reading lies about themselves hurts? Oh, sure, there's probably a subset of people who act out just to get the coverage, (no publicity is bad publicity, or something like that) but then why would I want to read about them, either? And when you're talking about those magazines hurting people, look at Princess Diana.

I believe in voting with my dollars and, I am proud to say, I have NEVER, ever, ever in my life spent a dollar (or any other amount) on one of those grocery store rags. I also don't watch "Jersey Shore" or any of those other shows that thrive on making a group of people look low class and rude. I tuned in to "Jerseylicious" once just to see what the fuss was about. For about 5 minutes, then I couldn't take anymore and changed the channel. I'm sure there are people out there who get a kick out of those shows, and more power to them, but the problem comes in when you let shows like that shape your values.

My biggest beef with the current generation and their values (and to my friends who've heard me rant about this before, please forgive me for the repetition) is this thing that the young girls have now about cheating boyfriends. They don't blame the boyfriend, they blame the girl he's cheating with and get all up in arms and want to beat her up. I mean, really, physically beat her up. Honey, if he cheats on you with one girl, it's not the girl's fault, it's his. If you kick her butt he'll find someone else. Do you think you can beat up all of the other girls in the world? Um, no, you can't. The only option is to kick HIS butt, right to the curb. A cheater is a cheater and will never be capable of a loving, monogamous relationship, so do yourself a favor and let him go. Have the self respect to dump him, because HE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU! Plus he's probably getting off on seeing you get all upset and trying to fight with the girl he's cheating on you with; it's a big ego trip. Don't let yourself be manipulated like that, for Pete's sake.

And now I'm done ranting. My eyes are still dilated and I can't look at the computer anymore!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I am reminded of a song from my youth that goes something like this:

Gloom, despair, agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all,
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

Or something like that. It was from "Hee Haw", which my parents watched when I was a kid. There were like, 3 channels at the time, OK??? Not a lot of choices. But I digress. The reason this song comes to mind is that I have a cold. Not a minor, trifling cold like other people get, it's a mean, nasty, evil cold with aches and pains and agony and all that stuff. Coughing, sore throat, clogged up nose and all sorts of horrible things. It's so bad DH has even jumped ship; he's sleeping on the guest bed in another room so my thrashing about and snuffling and snoring at night won't keep him up. (Traitor. What if I need him to get me something, like medicine or a thermometer or a drink of water or a shotgun?)

I typically manage to catch a cold about once a year; drives me bonkers when I get one. I get out my tea bags and drink lots and lots of hot tea with honey and lemon. I consume tons of Riccola, to the point that I don't know what's worse- the coughing or having to suck on yet another cough drop. A friend recommended gargling with vinegar; sounds promising but I haven't gotten around to trying it yet. My grandmother swore by warm salt water gargles, which I also haven't gotten around to yet. (I keep forgetting to take the salt and a cup to the bathroom.)

Mainly, I try to rest. The Eldest just finished her classes so I don't have to drive around picking her up. Martha Jr. had a class today but it's close by so The Eldest drove (I still had to go since she's only got a learner's permit) and walked her into the building. I was able to sit in the car, which was a lot easier than my typical Thursday rush. I was supposed to host a Girl Scout meeting with Martha Jr.'s troop on Tuesday but I canceled that, which I hate to do, but I don't think the moms would appreciate it if their daughters were all exposed to my germs; blech.

And now I am going to go rest some more. That's been typical- I get up and do a few things around the house, then I get wiped out so I go to bed. On the down side, the house is a disaster since the few things I manage to do are not nearly enough to keep up with the messes this family can make. On the plus side, I've caught up on my DVR viewing. I'm at 54% available space!! See- there's always a silver lining.