Skip to content

The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Category Archives: Beans

Didn’t think we’d be eating at home tonight – there were readings in Manhattan and openings in Bushwick to go to and the family was splitting up in the various boroughs. But then I decided to ditch my reading and go with everyone to the art opening and so we had a quick camping dinner in the back yard: hot dogs, coleslaw, baked beans and potato chips! Like everything else this week it was last minute and worked out just fine.

Tags: , ,

Making the beans tonight and thinking about the corn avocado and mango salsa I was going to make up myself, got me thinking about memorizing. I basically know how to make the beans because I’ve memorized the steps. Lately I’ve begun trying to memorize recipes because it dawned on me when I memorize a recipe it teaches me not only how to make that dish, but how to cook. Memorization is a form of internalizing knowledge so that it becomes part of you in a way that you don’t really realize until, say, you go to grad school and someone points it out.

Last week in my literature seminar, the instructor was horrified to learn how few of us (myself absolutely included) had any prose at all memorized. When forced, I could come up only with the opening lines to Dante’s Inferno, in italian, which I misquoted horribly. The correct lines would have been: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, or, In the middle of the journey of our life / I found myself in a dark wood. We won’t go into what I actually said, we will settle for the fact that it was a fitting two lines of poetry for a middle-aged woman feeling out of her depth.

But my instructor was not appeased. “What will you do if you’re thrown in jail?” he inquired of us with genuine concern. He was right. What would I do? But more importantly, how could any self-respecting grad student such as myself not have made it a point to internalize the very best of the language I purported to write in? And so he set us the task of memorizing an entire page of prose which is much harder than it sounds. Easier, were the two lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay I’d wished I’d remembered in class: Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand / come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

I am still working on the prose, the opening to Man in the Holocene, by Max Frisch. “It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread…” I am hooked now, on memorizing prose, hoping that it will do for me creatively on the page what memorizing recipes is doing for me creatively in the kitchen.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’m not sure how we’d get through the week without mexican food. Mole was the first spicy food the kids liked and when they did, we knew we could live with them for a very long time. We are dedicated to La Poblanita, a brand of mole sold in deli containers at our local bodegas. We usually buy the traditional chile & chocolate mole but recently we saw that they also sell Pipian – pumpkin seed mole. Pipian is something we already eat – the super market brand, Doña Maria. The bodega variety is much easier to use, it starts out the consistency of a very thick smoothie and slips right into the slow cooker. The Doña Maria starts out like a rock – I have to dig it out of the glass jar with a spoon and dissolve it in boiling water in order to get it to turn into sauce before I can put it in the crockpot. Turns out the two Pipans taste quite different. The La Poblanita was much spicier and had an almost citrusy flavor. I sort of messed it up by adding too much stock to the crockpot so the sauce was too thin in the end. Next time, I might do it on the stovetop. I could even bake the chicken first…

We had black beans & rice to go with it. The beans area wonderful recipe that my husband John created. I measured out the spices so I could include the recipe. Normally I just shake! Very natural cook of me.

Tags: , , , , ,

Camping for dinner: hot dogs, baked beans & coleslaw. Nothing about this day matched the spirit of the food at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. When we first started camping with the kids they were only about four and so getting camp set up involved lots of yelling. We’d arrive late, have to get the car unpacked, the tent up, start the fire, keep them away from the fire, make dinner. Finally we’d eat and everything would settle down. So if I think about those days, then yes, camping for dinner may have been an appropriate meal for my cranky, snappy, self.

My mother used to say that my favorite book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day. Nothing very bad or horrible really ever happened to Alexander; it was just lots of little things went wrong. He got the middle seat, his ice cream fell of the cone, he had to wear his train pajamas. His mother would say to him, “Some days are like that.” She was a wise woman.

Tags: , , , ,