Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

Mark has been working in San Francisco and I’ve been having to eat dinner alone most nights. My Photo365 portrait project photo from the other night was this demonstration of what that’s like:

It’s a staged photo, which the discerning viewer can determine based on the fact that I didn’t bother pouring a glass of wine and I always have wine with dinner. But, with the addition of a glass of wine, that’s pretty much what it looks like. Perhaps I shouldn’t say I eat dinner alone, as I generally have company of a feline nature, but they aren’t a great substitute for Mark, who very rarely parades back and forth between my plate and my face while I’m trying to eat.

I do have a recipe for you though! I made this soup last week and it was good. It also required very minimal effort and the leftovers provided a very warming lunch for several days. I have a rather large collection of dry beans that I store and display in vintage mason jars, so sometimes inspiration for dinner comes in the form of staring at dozens of blue jars and picking one at random. I used bolita beans in this soup and they were quite good. Pinto beans are a common substitute for bolita beans, and I love pinto beans, but I think kidney beans would also have been excellent here. I also think next time I will experiment with using bulgur instead of the soyrizo, to get rid of the packaged food, and adjusting the spices accordingly.

Very prepared people will soak their beans – at least using the “quick soak” method – before cooking them, however, I am not always very prepared. I pressure cooked my beans for 23 minutes without soaking and they came out perfect. Sometimes if you don’t soak them before cooking, beans will end up kind of wrinkly, but these looked nice.

Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 links soyrizo, crumbled or grated
1 cup bolita beans, cooked (or canned)
1-2 chiles en adobo, minced + some of the sauce, to taste
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
6 cups veggie broth (I used vegan “chicken” broth)
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 cup frozen corn (fresh would be good too)
splash of apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a soup pot and saute the onions, celery, and carrot until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes. Add the crumbled soyrizo and cook another few minutes, then add the beans, chiles en adobo, tomato paste, broth, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Splash some vinegar in to brighten it up a bit and, if necessary, add salt to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

So, yeah, about that photo project: I can’t believe I’m still keeping up with it! I never thought I’d be able to take this many pictures of myself, especially since I really hate the way I look in photos. But it’s been a very useful project: I’ve gotten better at editing in Lightroom, I’m forced to use my camera every day, and it’s actually kind of neat having a daily record of my life. I’ve been captioning the pictures with a small description of how the photo fit into my day. I’ve taken my share of quickie pictures standing in front of my bookshelf or in the back yard, just to get an entry out of the way for the day, but sometimes I stage goofy illustrations of my life like the one above. I use the cats as props WAY less often than I assumed I would, but of course they do make appearances…

Yesterday, the Mez and me.

Last week; on the way home from work that day I was thinking that I was drawing a total blank on ideas for that day’s portrait, then when Torticia pounced me as I walked in the door, I realized that was my picture. She stayed perched there the whole time I adjusted the tripod and set up the camera.

I do struggle for self-portrait ideas, especially when I can’t get outside, but the project has given me something to do that sort of keeps me from getting depressed about winter. Although time seems to fly on one hand and I can’t believe it’s the middle of February already, on the other hand, I’m just so tired of short, cold days. You know those bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be fishing” or something like that? I was walking through my office today and I just suddenly wanted to slap a sticker on my forehead that said, “I’d rather be hiking”. I was just really annoyed I wasn’t on a trail somewhere. I really think I’ve become addicted to going to parks; I get all out of sorts if I can’t get out for at least a short hike AT LEAST once a week.

Between missing Mark and not getting to a park last weekend, I’m not in the best of spirits today. I can’t wait for the days to be long enough that I can hit a trail after work! The good news is we are getting there; the days are getting noticeably longer. I sometimes wake up before sunrise and hit a park before I go to work, which is a lovely way to start the day if I can rouse myself. And we’ve had a few unseasonably warm days here and there; if I can, I’ll sometimes go into work super-early on days I know are going to be extra lovely, and I’ll skip out early. One afternoon last week I went to the wildlife refuge and saw some eagles. This one is guarding his or her nest from a few hundred feet away. I didn’t see his or her mate, although often you’ll see them sitting side by side watching their nest. Rumor has it there are two eggs in the nest, so I’m trying to make it my business to get to the refuge as often as I can to stalk the parents before the US Fish & Wildlife closes a portion of the trail down again to protect the nest from people like me.

After helping raccoons and raptors on the weekends, I almost always hit up a park unless the weather is really bad. The other weekend I went to one of my favorite parks, Great Falls. I raged a little bit about the proposed price hike from $5 to the completely absurd $15 (seriously, WTF, NPS???) and then I bought an America the Beautiful pass which gets me entry to all national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges in the country for a year. Considering how frequently I visit national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges it doesn’t make sense for me NOT to have one. So I’ll be going to Great Falls frequently while I still live in Virginia even if they do triple the entrance fee.

If you don’t have an annual pass and the entrance fee at Great Falls enrages you, just go to Riverbend Regional Park, which is free, and hike into Great Falls on the Potomac Heritage Trail. It’s barely over a mile from visitor center to visitor center and it’s a lovely walk. Take your binoculars or super-telephoto lens because you can see the Conn Island eagle nest on the way. (This photo is unrelated to the Conn Island eagle nest, although I COULD dig up some photos of it if I were feeling ambitious.)

The eponymous great falls:

So that’s my update for now, and some soup. Coming soon: my long-awaited post on safari life for vegans and photographers.

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Yes, I’m finally making time for my Zanzibar post! So when we left off on this African adventure, we were in the Serengeti, having the best time of our lives. Sadly we couldn’t stay there forever and the time too soon came for us to continue our journey. We boarded a tiny plane and flew three hours through a terrible storm that made a few passengers rather nervous (I thought it was kind of fun, although after nearly banging my head on the roof I did eventually concede it might be smart to put my seat belt on). Finally we landed on the drenched island of Zanzibar.

Our tiny, wet plane:

After waiting a long time for the rain to let up enough they could unload the plane of our luggage, it finally arrived (most of it sopping wet anyway) in the waiting area of the airport and we were met by our driver, who rowed drove us to our B&B in Stone Town. After unpacking and drying off a bit, the boys and I took a walk down to a bar on the water and had a drink while watching the sunset.

The next morning we did a walking tour of Stone Town, which I highly recommend if you visit as you’ll learn about the history and start to learn to navigate around. Our guide showed us Jaws Corner, where the town’s men drink coffee and sit around talking. It was named Jaws Corner after the film Jaws was shown on a TV in the square once.

We also toured the slave dungeon – Stone Town was the main slave port for all of the Eastern slave trade – which was extremely depressing.

There is a memorial outside as well.

We also walked through the colorful fish market (where not just fish but vegetables and spices and some crafts are sold).

One of the most charming things about Stone Town to me was the number of cats running around. Because it is a predominately Muslim area and many Muslims do not have dogs, many people have cats. Smucky had to admonish me for trying to touch them all because he said they could have diseases, and some of them did seem as if they could use a good bath, but I do love following cats around on vacation and playing cat paparazzi.

Another beautiful African sunset.

After a couple of days in Stone Town we embarked on the last leg of our trip, to a beach resort. On the way, we stopped for a spice tour – Zanzibar being renowned for its spices. The spice tour was interesting and I also recommend it as well. Here are our guides, cutting up something for us to taste or smell:

They made us wear silly hats they had made for us.

Finally we arrived at Unguja Lodge, where our room was amazing but missing a few walls! These were taken from the loft:

Even the toilet was missing a wall! (The shower, in another room, was also open and overlooked the ocean.)

You may be wondering, “Renae, if there were walls missing from your lodge, how did you keep the monkeys from coming in and stealing your stuff?” Good question. The bedroom (and bedroom only) was lockable and monkey-proof (provided you actually shut and lock the door), so basically you keep everything in there. Mark and I didn’t have any monkey visitors that I know of, but Smucky and Olivia did! Coming back from an ocean swim one day I passed Smucky and Olivia who informed me there was a swarm of monkeys ravishing their loft after making off with Olivia’s soap. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY!” I screeched, “Give me your keys!” And off I went to confront the monkeys, who absolutely did not care one iota about my presence. They continued to swing from the rafters and tumble around the bed and generally be deviously adorable like I wasn’t even there.

Here is our lodge from the outside. As you can see, as open as it is, you can’t really see inside, and no one can really get to them anyway: the perimeter of the property is guarded and the area in front of the beachfront lodges is really only accessible to the resident of that lodge.

Mark and I liked to sit on that bench above every night before going to bed and just listen to the waves, and every morning just after waking to watch the local women and children collecting shellfish while the sun rose.

Obviously we didn’t eat any of the sea creatures but Mark did befriend a sea urchin.

The lodge offered scuba diving tours. Smucky got certified before the trip but I didn’t, so I took a quick lesson in the pool and was approved to do a sort of tethered dive (a guide held my wrist the whole time). Scuba diving was actually a little scarier than I thought it was going to be. I had absolutely no qualms about jumping out of plane when I went skydiving – I jumped with no hesitation or fear at all; I simply found it not even remotely scary – but I unexpectedly freaked out a bit when we were in the pool practicing diving with the oxygen tank. I didn’t let on that I was freaking out because I like to play it cool, but when I went under the first few times I confess that I very suddenly realized HOW MUCH I LOVE AIR. SWEET, GLORIOUS AIR. But I passed the test and we were soon on a boat. After a 5-minute boat ride we arrived near a coral reef and pretty soon I was told to put my tank and mask on, place my hands around my head, and fall backwards off the boat into the water. One thing I’ll say for myself is that although unlike skydiving I was a bit nervous, but I also didn’t hesitate. My mother likes to say that I am a risk-taker. (I don’t think this is actually one of my mother’s favorite qualities about me, however…) The cool thing about being nervous about scuba diving is you are supposed to take nice, slow, long breaths, which coincidentally is very calming. So I just concentrated on breathing, which totally made me look like I was an ace scuba diver but also kept me from panicking about the fact that I was 11 meters below the AIR, WONDERFUL AIR.

I had earlier in the year purchased an underwater point-and-shoot camera specifically for going diving in Zanzibar, so taking pictures also helped keep me calm.

And yes, by the end of the dive, I was comfortable enough that I was disappointed when the guides told us we had to resurface. My certification is good for a year – it’s unlikely I’ll find myself with the opportunity to do so before then, but if I do, I will dive again.

Smark, on the other hand, wasn’t into the scuba thing, although he had a GREAT time snorkeling. I literally had to drag him out of the ocean while he was snorkeling – once to get him to eat lunch and once to save him from some sea urchins that were not nearly as friendly as the one above.

Anyway, back to the monkeys. Basically monkeys are hilarious, and super smart. While eating breakfast one morning we watched one wait until none of the lodge employees were looking, then scamper into and across the room, jump up on the buffet table, lift the supposedly-monkey-hindering lid off a plate of pastries, snatch a roll, politely replace the lid just as he found it, and nonchalantly walk back out the way he came. Unguja Lodge is totally awesome and I highly recommend it, but if you are afraid of or don’t like monkeys you may want to consider staying elsewhere…although I think monkeys are a fun fact of life on Zanzibar beaches everywhere. This is a red colobus monkey in a tree next to the lodge pool.

And this is a monkey just lounging about the place, not caring that I was a few feet from him taking his picture.

And then too soon, we had to leave Zanzibar and Africa. When we planned the trip, I thought that after traveling for nearly three weeks, we would both be very ready to get back home, however, although I missed the cats, neither Mark (who doesn’t like traveling quite as much as I do) nor I wanted to go home. If someone had offered to let us stay another two weeks, another month, we would have accepted immediately. We both LOVED Africa, much more than we thought we would. Here is the plane we boarded in Zanzibar that took us on a 20-minute flight to Dar es Salaam (a city which I think I’ll sum up by saying IF YOU THINK TRAFFIC IN LA OR DC IS BAD, TRY DAR. Dear LORD is the traffic bad there), from where we caught our flight back to Amsterdam and finally home. A rainbow appeared to try to cheer me up, but I really was very sad to leave.

So that was Africa. It is a goal of both Mark and I to get back there as soon as possible; Mark to teach children and me to help cheetahs and lions. In the meantime, however, it looks like Mark and I have other big things to plan and think about: in the next couple of weeks Mark will be moving to San Francisco to start a new job that he’s very excited about. I will join him later in the year, after most of baby wildlife season. So I will be alone quite frequently until then. Will I therefore have more time to update the blog, or will I find myself cooking less often if it’s just me? Only time can tell, I suppose. I will, though, be back soon with a final post on Africa in which I hope to cover how I survived there as a vegan (spoiler: it wasn’t hard), what I packed, including camera gear, and travel tips. And, uh, if anyone has helpful tips about cross-country moves and/or recommendations for Bay Area neighborhoods, bring them on!

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Teff Love!

I sure keep bombarding you with pictures of myself after swearing I wouldn’t subject you to the products of my Photo365 portrait project in order to not gross you out with my unphotogenic-ness. But I can’t resist sharing today’s portrait!

That’s right, Kittee’s completely awesome vegan Ethiopian cookbook Teff Love arrived in the mail today! Mine’s extra-awesome because it’s autographed, being as I was a tester. I will at some point soon do an actual review of it, but I can give you a mini-review now: IT’S TOTALLY GREAT, BUY IT NOW AND MAKE EVERYTHING IN IT. I’ve been making Kittee’s Ethiopian recipes for about a decade now; believe me, she knows what she’s doing. And Ethiopian food is the best food ever!

And yes, I’ve been remiss in making my Zanzibar post, and my Tanzanian food post, and actual recipe posts, but that’s because my life hasn’t slowed down very much for winter as I expected it to. In fact, there are possible life-changing things going on (no, I’m not pregnant; I feel like women my age can’t ever say their life is changing without people thinking they are pregnant). We’ve been traveling a bit.

Do you know where that was taken? Does this help?

Does THIS help?

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