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Cooking a pot of beans

Bean are as comforting as they are simple. And sometimes that's the best kind of meal you can prepare for your family.

By In Praise of Leftovers / June 9, 2013

A simple meal is pinto beans over rice (or roasted potatoes or corn bread) with condiments such as, shredded cheese and cabbage, salsa, finely chopped onions and peppers, chopped kale, hot sauce, crushed tortilla chips, sometimes a fried egg.

In Praise of Leftovers

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Recently I sat in my spiritual director's office and cried for an hour.

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In Praise of Leftovers

Sarah Murphy-Kangas is a cook, writer, mother, teacher, and group facilitator. She lives with her family in Seattle, Washington. She started her blog, In Praise of Leftovers, as a way to share her kitchen exploits with friends and family and further explore her obsession with food. Her favorite challenge is to make something out of nothing.

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I told her I'd been wanting to cry about the devastation in Oklahoma, and then the I-5 bridge in Washington collapsed. Yancey and I both cross that bridge several times a week, and we'd been on it the day before. 

I won't be scared to cross bridges in the future or scared to drive. But I am thinking about the fragility and unpredictability of life. I'm thinking about the illusion of control I love to nurture and how much comfort I take in my plans. 

And then I hear Jack Kornfield saying:

"The unawakened mind tends to make war against the way things are."

Things are messy, unclear, unfair. They're unpredictable and often beautiful. Things are sad, violent, and hard. They're also heartbreakingly tender and full of possibility. And the challenge for all of us (especially for my orderly self) is to accept what is. Our home has not been devastated by a tornado, but our commutes to work south of us may be increased by several hours a day for a year until the bridge gets fixed. My spiritual director said, "What if you think of the bridge collapse as the collapse of your ideas about God and yourself that aren't working for you anymore?" 

I've found I haven't had bandwidth this week for much beyond daily tasks and feeling sad. I haven't felt motivated to blow through my to-do list or start anything new. Instinctively, I knew this week was a "pot of beans" week. When I dumped the pinto beans into a bowl to soak, just the sound of them falling out of the jar was comforting. I know exactly what to do with them, I know my family will be nourished for days, and I know we'll be able to devote our energies to things other than cooking for awhile.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know my attachment to dried beans. I'm a huge fan and seem to have endless energy for cooking them and advocating for them. I always come across folks who need an introduction, though. They've never cooked them before and are unsure how those hard little legumes become soft and flavorful. So I thought I'd stop saying, "Oh, just soak 'em and boil 'em" and give a little more instruction. (I love you "measure-twice-cut-once" folks. I'm not one of you.)

The most common way my family eats beans is pinto beans over rice (or roasted potatoes or corn bread) with condiments – shredded cheese and cabbage, salsa, finely chopped onions and peppers, chopped kale, hot sauce, crushed tortilla chips, sometimes a fried egg. I set all the condiments in the middle of the table, and we each do it our own way. Wyatt mixes his rice and beans together, then adds salsa and sometimes cheese. Loretta keeps her rice and beans separate and puts hoisin sauce on her rice. Yancey and I take a lot of vegetables and keep the whole bowl layered. And we'll eat this for several nights in a row until the beans are gone. My kids have never tired of it.

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