Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans and Potato Radish Salad for the Fourth

While many of my fellow Americans were traveling, watching parades, attending or hosting cookouts, and watching fireworks or setting off their own fireworks on Friday, the Fourth of July, I for one was just happy to have a DAY OFF. No work, no raccoons, no raptors, no obligations. I didn’t set an alarm and I slept until 10:30! It was so great! And the weather was sensational: clear skies and about 80 degrees with none of that thick humidity that so characterizes summer in the DC metro area. Ordinarily weather that spectacular would have pulled me to a park, but I figured they’d all be crowded and anyway, I kind of felt like I needed a day of rest. So instead I spent what would have at one time been a normal amount of time in the kitchen but for me lately was a LOT of time. I decided to make a fairly traditional Fourth of July dinner for Mark and myself, and I’m going to share some of the recipes! That’s right, I remembered this is a food blog!

The first thing I did was quick soak some beans to make cowboy beans. I took about a pound of Steuben Yellow Eye Beans, put them in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup, poured boiling water over them, covered, and set aside for an hour. I used the yellow eye beans because I have a lot of them (because I LOVE them!), but you can use whatever bean you think would be good. I’d have used pinto beans if I hadn’t used the yellow eyes. And then I did this:

Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans

1 lb dried beans, your choice (something like pinto, kidney, or Steuben Yellow Eye), soaked overnight or quick soaked (by pouring boiling water over them) for 1 hour
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup seitan, ground (preferably a “pork” flavor…I’ll probably do a post on this soon) (grind in a food processor, blender, or meat grinder)

For the sauce
1 pint canned diced tomatoes
3 chilis en adobo + some of the sauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5 drops stevia (or a couple tablespoons white or brown sugar)

Put the sauce ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Drain the beans and place them with the rest of the ingredients, including the sauce, into a slow cooker and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours, or until beans are soft.

Here they are plated. Mark put his on his veggie dog, which is an excellent vehicle for them.

I also whipped up some potato salad, which helped to go through some of the pounds of young potatoes I’ve been collecting at the farmers market because I can’t resist them. (I can’t resist anything at the farmers market.) Because I also had a ton of radishes and was planning to buy even more radishes at the market the next day, I decided to throw some radishes into the potato salad as well, which added some crunch and interest. Mark hates mayo and I’m not keen on it in salad-sized doses, so often I’ll do vinaigrette-based potato salads, but since I grew up with mayo-based potato salads (and according to the number of people at my brother’s party the other weekend who informed me my mother’s potato salad was delicious, apparently I grew up with a good recipe!), I decided to go a little more traditionally (for me) creamy, so I did a yogurt-based dressing this time. Of course, putting radishes in potato salad is certainly NOT traditional in my family. (Although radishes always remind me of making green salads from my mom’s garden as a kid because radishes were my favorite part.)

Potato Radish Salad

2-3 lbs young potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 large or 6 medium radishes, sliced thinly then cut into 2-centimeter-wide sticks
2-3 spring onions, sliced

For the dressing
1/3 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt (Homemade is much, much better than store-bought. And I really, really need to do an updated post on it; that old one is embarrassing.)
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon, depending on the tanginess of your yogurt (mine is quite tangy so I used 1/4 lemon)

Chop the potatoes – I never peel them – and put them into a medium to large pot. Cover with cold water, then bring the pot to a boil. Salt the water, reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft. You don’t want them falling-apart soft, but I like mine soft enough that they just start to break apart when I stir the dressing in. When they are done, drain them into a colander.

Meanwhile, whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. While the potatoes are warm, mix them together with the radishes, spring onions, and the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

And this was my whole plate Friday night; also featured are some dilly beans, pickled onions, and a Field Roast veggie frankfurter in a homemade bun. I ALMOST made homemade hot dogs just so I could say everything I served was made from scratch, but then I made some sauerkraut and went on a 7-mile jog/walk instead (couldn’t avoid going outside in that spectacular weather after all). But Field Roast is good and I had three lonely frankfurters in the freezer to use up anyway.

So that was my Fourth of July dinner. And here is an osprey dinner! (You can’t see it, but the parent osprey just put a bite of fish into the beak of her baby.)

I got that picture while kayaking last weekend. There is a nest right by our launch site, and as we were returning just before sunset, the mother (or father; they both tend to the young – but that one looks kind of big so let’s say it’s the mother) nabbed a fish and swooped back into the nest and started feeding the one baby. I was REALLY close. It was awesome! I take my mirrorless camera on the kayak with me because it’s weather sealed (and if I drop it in the Potomac I won’t have AS BIG of a breakdown that I’d have if I dropped my dSLR and a telephoto lens into a river just a few months before we go to Africa), so I whipped it out and took a ton of pictures, all excited. It took me a few minutes to even realize there was another kayaker just behind me, who was doing the same thing, although with a dSLR and the Canon 100-400mm. So we ended up talking (I don’t know what’s up with me chatting up wildlife photographers all the time because I’m normally very shy, but it happens) and I told him he was much braver than me taking that setup on a kayak. He said you just have to be very careful. (I’m pretty careful with my camera equipment, but I don’t know if I’m a careful kayaker. I’m a new kayaker.) And of course, when I went to process my pictures I was kicking myself for not being as brave as that guy because they sucked. I’d have gotten some spectacular shots if I’d had my dSLR and 400mm lens. I deleted all but three, including all of the ones where you could see the mother actually putting the fish into the baby’s mouth. I love my mirrorless camera for some things, but not for wildlife. 🙁 Of course, it’s really hard to take telephoto pictures on a kayak anyway. Even if I weren’t scared of losing my camera, it’s practically impossible to sit still in a kayak.

Anyway, although I was disappointed with my osprey pictures from last week, let me tell you a happier osprey story from last week. Some good citizens saw an osprey chick fall from its nest platform, tangled in fishing line, so they cut it free, got it out of the water, and brought it to the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (where I volunteer). Kent at RCV warmed it up, dried it out, and kept it fed. As he told me today, there’s about a 48-hour window for returning chicks to their nest before the parents abandon it. So less than 48 hours later, one of our volunteers took the healthy chick back, waded out to the platform, and somehow returned the chick to the nest (about 8-feet off the water), and cleared the nest of the rest of the fishing line. Before he departed, he made sure the parents were still in the area, AND the parents were later confirmed to be seen feeding the chick! Success! Had the operation not been successful, I’D have been feeding a baby osprey today when I went into RCV! Which would have been a new experience for me, but it’s sooooooooo much better for them to be raised by their parents. (Besides, I had my fill of feeding chicks today: several red shouldered hawks chicks, a couple of barred owl chicks, several great horned owl chicks (oh my gosh, how they hate my guts!), a bunch of screech owl chicks (so, so, so tiny and cute!), and five barn owl chicks (OH MY GOD, THEY ARE SO AWESOME! AND HISSY!!!!))

Parent feeding chick > Renae feeding chick.

I hope the Americans out there had a lovely Fourth of July, and that the rest of you had a nice fourth of July. 🙂

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Summertime Black Beans with Quinoa

Last night’s meal was a celebration of summer! It was also a celebration of preparedness. I worked late, got irritated with what I was doing at work, got a headache (which I first blamed on my work but later realized I forgot to take my headache medicine in the morning; damn, I keep hoping I’ll be able to go off that stuff), and was annoyed. I also wanted something simple for dinner like a salad, and I had a ton of fresh vegetables at home (I don’t know how I live without the farmers market during the off-season), but I knew there was no lettuce in the house and didn’t feel like stopping at the store just for that, mostly because of the working late and headache. But then I remembered that the night before I had cooked Future Renae up a mess of black beans! Suddenly my attitude brightened! I drove home and in little time was serving this:

Summertime Black Beans and Quinoa

1 cup quinoa (I used multi-colored)
2 cups vegan broth or water
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
2 spring onions, chopped (thinly slice some of the green parts and reserve separately)
2 or 3 garlic scapes chopped (or a couple of cloves of garlic)
1 small summer squash, chopped (I used patty pan)
1 jalapeno, minced
1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
a little bit of vegan broth
3 cups cooked black beans
salt, to taste
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
lemon or lime wedges

Rinse the quinoa. Put some oil in a medium pot, then saute the quinoa for a few minutes until lightly toasted. Add the 2 cups of broth (or water) in a medium pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Cook the corn kernels in a small amount of water for a few minutes until soft, then drain. If you have super-fresh corn, you might be able to skip this step. I had really good corn and probably didn’t need to pre-cook it.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, and add the garlic scapes (or garlic) and green onions. After a minute or two, add the summer squash and jalapeno. Saute for about 5 minutes then add the tomatoes. Saute another few minutes, then add the black beans and corn. Cook until beans are warmed through. Add a little broth to keep things from getting too dry – I threw in 3 ice cubes of homemade veggie stock and let them melt. Season with salt to taste; I sprinkled it with a bit of a finishing salt.

Serve with the avocado, garnishing with lemon or lime wedges to be squeezed generously over the beans. Also top with the reserved green onions (which I totally forgot to do for the picture).

I thought I’d spice things up by flipping my placemat over and photographing the “cheerful” (or, according to Mark, “hideous”) side. This is me attempting to put effort into my food photography. So sad.

It wreaked havoc with my white balance, even though I manually calculated it with a gray card. Maybe the same old black is better after all? I haven’t changed the light in my dining room, not that my food photos ever looked great, but the last few I’ve taken have looked horribly unappetizing. Trust me, this looked much nicer in person.

This also made a very nice, refreshing lunch today.

And now, a chipmunk.

My mother thinks he has a cocaine problem. Nope, just sunflower seeds!

You know who you guys haven’t seen in a while? Torticia …

… and Gomez!

This is a game we play with Mezzie. He is obsessed with pipe cleaners, so Mark sticks them around the house in increasingly difficult places for Mez to get to. Hanging them from the ceiling fan pull is entertaining in that Mez will make these amazing straight leaps to get them down, but also kinda stupid because every time he does, he changes the speed on the fan. So it’s been a million degrees and Gomez keeps turning the ceiling fan off. But we keep doing it. 🙂

(PS, guess what? It’s only 88 degrees here today! NOT 110! It’s…wonderful.)

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In memory of Jeremy: Rice and Beans

Today would have been our friend Jeremy’s 34th birthday. Last year when I emailed his mother on his birthday, she asked me to think of Jeremy when I eat rice and beans. We eat a lot of rice and beans in this household, so I think of him often, and I figured there wasn’t a better meal to make tonight in his memory.

Please excuse my even-more-lax-than-usual “recipe”. This was really casual. First I put some rice in the rice cooker and got that started. Then I took 8 oz of Rio Zape beans from Rancho Gordo and cooked them, unsoaked, until not-quite-done in the pressure cooker. How long did that take? Ugh, don’t ask so many questions – I don’t know! Until I sensed they were almost done, I’m afraid. I was outside doing other things while they were cooking and wasn’t paying attention to the time. Let’s say maybe 20 minutes?

When they were not-quite-done, I did a quick release and drained the beans. Then, in the pressure cooker to save a pot to wash, I heated some oil and then added a chopped onion. Once that was cooked to translucent, I added a bunch of pressed garlic, and continued cooking until it was all starting to brown. I deglazed with a bit of the red wine from my glass, then added about 1 1/2 cups veggie broth, two bay leaves, a healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce for tang, some liquid smoke, and a bit of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Once that was all boiling, I returned the beans to the pot and let it all simmer until the beans were creamy, maybe another 20 minutes?

Serve with LOTS of hot sauce. If you haven’t had Rancho Gordo beans, by the way, you’re cheating yourself. You could use pretty much any bean in this “recipe”, and you’re definitely never going to go wrong with Rancho Gordo beans, which don’t even need seasoning. The Rio Zapes have the creaminess of pintos, but they taste almost like chocolate. And I don’t usually taste chocolate in things people like to say things like wine has “hints” of. They are definitely a flavorful bean.

I cooked for Jeremy every night when we lived together. I think he would have liked this. He may not even have pretended to grumble about the lack of meat. We miss you, Jeremy. “WHAT?” WE MISS YOU.

In other news, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about blogging over the last week or so. I’m starting to get much more serious about photography (although I’ve been “into” photography since high school), but I’m not going to lie to you: although I hope to improve my food pictures somewhat, I’m never going to be a great food photographer. Mostly because I cook in order to eat, and when I need to eat, I NEED to eat. I get bad headaches if I get hungry, and 99% of the time what you are looking at on this blog is my dinner – which I probably need to ingest right away. I’ve been finding myself thinking of blog posts I want to make, usually because I have pictures, but they aren’t about food. That’s not to say I don’t want to make food posts; I do. Very much. Even if they are more laid-back recipes like tonight’s. But I was wondering this week if I should set up a second blog for non-food-related pictures and rambling, so I don’t need to worry about straying too far off-topic here. I even looked to see if by remote chance or .net was available, which would match AND sound like an early Depeche Mode song (it’s not – available, that is; it IS an early Depeche Mode song).

The thing is, though, I didn’t really FEEL like setting up another blog. I could, easily. We have a server; I run other blogs for people. Adding another for myself wouldn’t be a big deal at all. But I just don’t know that I feel like dividing myself up that way. I think most of the readers of this blog would probably be at least somewhat interested in the other posts I want to make, because most vegans are interested in animals (and we’re mostly talking wildlife photos here), and anyway, I’m pretty sure most of my readers aren’t even vegan (which actually makes me very happy), and non-vegans who are open-minded enough to read a vegan blog are probably open-minded enough to not care if said blog sometimes features posts that aren’t about vegan food. Right?

What made up my mind, though, was when I thought about myself as a blog reader. I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and usually read most of them, but sometimes someone will make a post I’m not interested in, and you know what I do? Scroll right past it without even thinking. What I don’t do is think, “oh god, I can’t BELIEVE this person has gone off-topic, what a heretic!”. I don’t unsubscribe. I don’t think anything at all about it. It’s kind of crazy to think people are going to be upset if I sometimes unapologetically make a post to show off some pictures that have nothing to do with food. I don’t mind at all when food bloggers make an occasional post about themselves outside their cooking, in fact, I usually like getting a glimpse of them from a different perspective. So on that note…LOOK AT MY PICTURES THAT ARE NOT OF FOOD.

First up:

I’m not very pleased with this one because I should have used a smaller aperture so that the whole spider was in focus, but it’s a fun start to macro photography. This spider was about the size of my pinky fingernail; about half an inch long.

Like the spider, the following pictures were taken at Burke Lake Park.

I was stoked to come across some blue herons!

As I was heading back to the car, rushing a bit because I had a French lesson, I saw a squirrel way out on a limb over the lake.

I watched him slowly move ever further out, with some trepidation, wondering what in the world he was doing and whether or not squirrels knew how to swim, because I was going to be late meeting my tutor if I had to wade into the lake to rescue him.

Turns out he wanted a TWIG. Why he wasn’t satisfied with any one of the BILLIONS of twigs on the safe, sturdy GROUND, I do not know. (The twig is in his mouth in this picture, if you can’t tell. He’s feeling damn proud here.)

Suddenly, in one fell swoop, he was upside down and scrambling for dear life! Note, though, the twig is STILL in his mouth. This squirrel had his priorities.

Slooowly he righted himself.

Finally he inched himself to a thicker branch and had himself a good gnaw on his precious twig.

When he was done, he turned to stare at me like I was the crazy one.

I have some cute raccoon stories and pics, but I spent too much time on that ridiculous squirrel so I’ll save them for the next update! For now, here is the top of a pile of sleeping baby raccoons…

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Le Creuset Baked Beans

Ugggggghhhh. Saturday was flip-flop weather and today, Monday, THIS:


Here’s why Mark is great, or one reason anyway: Fortinbras was here last week and he and Mark went to the mall so Mark could buy a new computer. I refused to go because I despise the mall. When they returned, I was informed that once they got to the Apple store, Mark abruptly announced, “buying a new computer is stupid; let’s go buy Renae something instead,” so they went to Williams-Sonoma and got me a bean pot for no apparent reason. I hadn’t done anything to deserve said bean pot, especially a mere week after Christmas, when I got a Vita-Mix, but I’m not complaining because I’ve been wanting a bean pot, so yay!

The bean pot I suddenly came to own was packed with a couple of recipes so today I decided to make the included Oven Baked Beans recipe, which is slightly non-vegan with its can of pork and beans (and Worcestershire sauce, but since it’s easy for me to buy vegan Worcestershire, I don’t even register it as a non-vegan ingredient). So this is my adaption of the Le Creuset Oven Baked Beans recipe.

Le Creuset Baked Beans

1 1/4 cups dried kidney beans
1 1/4 cups dried baby lima beans
1 1/4 cups dried pinto beans
1 1/4 cups dried Great Northern beans
1 14.5 oz can vegetarian baked beans
1 medium onion, diced
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (I used blackstrap; the original recipe didn’t specify a type)
1/4 cup vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup prepared mustard
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp liquid smoke
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
hot sauce to taste – I used homemade sriracha
1 packet Goya artificial ham flavoring (optional, but it’s weirdly vegan, so if you want some of the hammy flavor you’re missing from the can of pork and beans, do it up)

Place the kidney, lima, pinto, and Great Northern beans in a large vessel. Cover with several inches of cold water and soak overnight (or all day). Alternatively, cover with several inches of boiling water and soak for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dice the onion.

Stir or whisk together the rest of the ingredients.

Drain the soaked beans.

Stir together all of the ingredients in a bean pot, Dutch oven, or large casserole.

Cover …

… and bake until done. The original recipe said to bake for two hours, and after two hours it was certainly edible, but I like my beans creamier so I added more water and baked for another hour.

Serve. This makes way more beans than you will probably need unless you are feeding 40 friends.

Moving on to completely off-topic items, the lovely Zoa asked to see some of the infrared pictures I took in Charleston and I can’t turn Zoa down.

Infrared filters work by blocking all visible light and allowing only infrared light to pass through to the camera. Because all visible light is blocked, the filters appear to be nearly opaque and you need to use shutter times of several seconds to many minutes, and thus you need a tripod. The images you make will appear very red with black detail. Usually you’ll convert this to black & white, where things that reflect a lot of infrared light, like foliage, will be more exposed, or lighter in tone, than they normally appear, which can give pictures an otherworldly appearance.

Here’s what a photo looks like before being converted to B&W:

This is the first infrared picture I ever took. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and just held the shutter open for a random amount of time, so I don’t know how it ended up relatively well exposed. This is from Middleton Place. The South, with all that gorgeous Spanish moss, is a great place for these types of pictures.

Another from Middleton Place.

My tripod boy (Mark, acting as my assistant, is in charge of carrying the tripod) staged this photo. Can you find him? You can click for a full-size version if you need help.

From Magnolia Cemetery:

From Folly Beach:

We got a little silly by this time and started goofing off with the long exposures. This is me and Mark HAUNTING YOU.

Mark calls this one Portrait of an Artist as a Dead Man.

Okay, nothing too amazing, but I had a lot of fun taking them and am looking forward to playing around with the filter some more.

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Lima Bean Risotto

One of my favorite commenters, Josiane, managed to correctly identify and inquire about the lima bean risotto I made last week to accompany the “ricotta” butternut squash I mentioned in my last post. So I figured I’d make it again and post a recipe for her.

I thought I was lightly adapting the recipe for Risotto with Vegetables du Jour in Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, but when I looked it up, I was pretty much making it exactly as specified, other than adding some wine to the broth. In a side note she even suggests lima beans, which I thought was my own idea, as one of the vegetables “du jour”. I wish I had actually adapted it so I wasn’t posting an exact recipe, but honestly, it’s a very basic recipe and there’s not much to change. Another thing: I used a pressure cooker, as you can probably tell from the name of the cookbook I got the recipe from. If you haven’t made risotto in a pressure cooker, you have no idea how EASY it is. I highly recommend investing in a pressure cooker – or putting one on your wish list. And as soon as you have the pressure cooker, get Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure because it’s excellent. Because I’m always looking up pressure-cook times for various beans and grains, it’s probably my most-referred-to cookbook.

You can also make this the hard way, by standing over the stove, stirring constantly and slowly adding the the broth as it is absorbed. It’s up to you!

Lima Bean Risotto
very lightly adapted from Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure

1 large shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
large pinch saffron (Trader Joe’s sells this for a reasonable price, although that’s not very helpful for Josiane, who is in Canada!)
salt to taste (the recipe calls for 1 tsp; I find the perfect amount depends on the broth you choose)
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup cooked lima beans (I had some leftover from another dish in the freezer)
2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
something green: thinly sliced scallions, chopped parsley or other herb, etc.

Mince the shallot.

Prep and measure the rest of the ingredients.

My broth is homemade and fairly concentrated, so I watered it down a bit so not to overwhelm the risotto. Here it is combined with the wine.

Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat in a pressure cooker (or medium-large pot if you are doing things the hard way). Add the shallots and cook until soft, then add the rice, salt, and saffron and stir to coat with the oil.

Add the broth and wine, put the lid on, take the heat up to high, and bring up to pressure. Then reduce the heat to low or medium-low (the lowest at which you can keep it at pressure) and cook for 5 minutes. Release pressure using a “quick-release” method.
(If you aren’t using a pressure cooker, get a book to read and a chair to sit on, and add the broth 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until it is absorbed to add the next dose. This will take about 30-40 minutes, if I remember correctly, but it’s been a very long time.)

There are three possibilities when you remove the lid of the pressure cooker: 1) the risotto will be a little dry, 2) the risotto will be a little runny, or 3) the risotto will be done perfectly. In the case of #1, add a little broth, as well as the lima beans and green stuff and return to medium heat just until the lima beans are heated through, stirring. In the case of #2, return to medium to medium-high heat to boil off the extra liquid, stirring and adding the lima beans and green stuff 2 or 3 minutes before it’s ready. If #3, just add the lima beans and green stuff and heat a couple of minutes until the lima beans are warm. Mine was a little liquidy.

I’ve added the limas in this picture.

After removing from the heat, add the lemon juice, adjusting the amount to taste. Adjust the salt if necessary.

And serve. This was accompanied by vegan “fish” in a garlic-tarragon sauce.

Josiane, I hope that helps – I’m sure you’ll add your own touches; let me know how it goes! As for the rest of you, any other requests?!

And now, Torticia.

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Lima Bean Soup

Thanksgiving is my father’s favorite holiday. My mother does not like to cook (and my father does not cook), so I think Thanksgiving may be her least favorite holiday. But no one wants to disappoint my dad, and no restaurants are going to have anything for me and Mark, so my mother continues to make Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, everyone’s problems would be solved if I were allowed to host Thanksgiving dinner since I love to cook and I love hosting dinner parties, but that’s a rather Renae-centric perspective because I’m pretty sure my father would counter there’d be the problem of a lack of a dead turkey. ANYWAY, I’m trying to help ease the burden on my mother and aunt by bringing whatever I can. This year one of the things I offered to bring was succotash.

Now, in prior years I would never have made such an offer, because lima beans, gross! But then a couple of years ago I found fresh lima beans at the farmers market and learned I do like lima beans. In fact, not too long ago, I made succotash – the single part of Thanksgiving I despised as a child – and loved it. So I said I could make succotash this year, IF I could use dried baby limas instead of the nasty frozen ones. But I’ve never made it from dried beans before, so today as a trial I soaked and cooked some of those dried baby limas, mixed a few with some corn and Earth Balance, and tried to decide if I thought there was a chance my family would eat it. It tasted fine, but I haven’t yet admitted to Mom that dried limas are white, not green like the frozen ones, so not only is it an extremely boring looking dish, it may be too different-looking to pass muster with my father. I’m thinking about adding some chopped scallions for Thanksgiving, though, to give it color.

That’s a very long way of telling you that today I had a mess of cooked baby limas and nothing to do with them. Actually, they’d have been fine just waiting for Thursday so I guess I didn’t have to do anything with them. But I like cooking a whole bunch of things at once for holidays, so I’d just as soon cook another batch of limas on Wednesday. (Is that weird?) Today’s limas went in…well, if you’ve been reading long enough, you know. Soup. If I don’t know what to do with something, it’s soup. Soup, soup, lovely soup. Oh 8-year old Renae, how I love to confound you with my lima bean creations.

Lima Bean Soup

8 oz dried baby lima beans
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (I included some leaves, too)
3 medium carrots, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 oz white wine
14.5 oz tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Note: I cooked my lima beans separately from the soup because I was trying them in a different dish as well. You could also simply cook the limas in the soup, adding 30-60 minutes to the soup cooking time as needed.

Soak the lima beans overnight in cold water, or pour boiling water over them and “quick soak” for an hour or two. Drain, then cook in fresh water to cover until done. I think it took about 45 minutes for mine; maybe not even that.

Chop all the vegetables, then heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions, celery, and carrot. Cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the wine. Add the chopped tomatoes and thyme and cook for another minute or two, then add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then add the limas.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. This is particularly good with a nice crusty bread and salad.

In cat news, Gomez gave us a scare last night when he didn’t appear for cat dinner. Mark searched the house while I went outside in the cold desperately calling his name. Eventually I went back inside in full panic mode and started randomly opening closet doors I knew Mark had already searched. I was talking to Mark and absentmindedly opened a dresser drawer…and out sprung Gomez like a jack-in-the-box! Which was both astonishing and a tremendous relief, although I’d like to know why he didn’t ANSWER US when we called him. Apparently he just sat in there in oblivion for 45 minutes. Well, other than the psychic “meow” he sent me. I had thought I heard a faint meow just before getting up to get their dinner, and I said to Mark, “Gomez is trapped somewhere!”, in fact, that’s why I got up to get their dinner. But Mark hadn’t heard it and didn’t think anything of it until Mez didn’t appear for his food. If Gomez HAD meowed from the dresser, I couldn’t possibly have heard him in the room I was in, so I guess my brain was just sending me a signal he was in trouble. It was weird. Here are some pictures of Gomez NOT trying to give me a heart attack.

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Black Bean Soup with Avocado Cream

As a food blogger, I sometimes have to make decisions, which I’m not particularly good at doing. I must decide if I’m posting regularly enough, if I have something interesting enough to post, if I have something original enough to post…it’s a hard knock life. Okay, it’s not all that hard. But sometimes I think no one will possibly be interested in what I’ve made and I have to decide if it’s worth posting. There are a million black bean soup recipes on the internet and in every basic cookbook. Who needs another one? Especially one that has nothing original about it. It’s true I didn’t consult any recipes when I made black bean soup tonight – I just made it. But it’s also true there’s absolutely nothing special about it. However, it’s also true that after getting a second helping, Mark said it was “totally awesome” and I rather agreed, and in cases like that I err on the side of posting instead of not. For one thing, I do sometimes refer to my own blog to recall how I made something I want to repeat, or improve, so if nothing else I’m doing it for myself. But for another thing, I like reading other blogs even when they are about something I’ve made a bunch of times before. For one thing, I think it’s interesting to see how other people think and cook even basic things, and for another, even if I don’t learn anything, sometimes I’m simply reminded I haven’t had something in a while. So, I’m sorry, but tonight I haven’t made anything that will make you gasp in surprise, and I haven’t visited anywhere exotic or special, and my cats haven’t even done anything particularly photogenic. All that’s happened is I made a simple black bean soup and it was good. And that’s tonight’s post.

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Cream

10 oz dried beans, cooked (I quick-soaked mine for an hour in boiling water, then cooked in the pressure cooker for about 8 minutes) (this is probably about the equivalent of 2 cans)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 huge or 2 normal-sized carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels cut off
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 tsp cumin
6 cups vegan broth, either vegetable or “chicken” flavored
1 cube frozen cilantro, or 3 Tbsp fresh, chopped
juice of one lemon, plus additional lemon wedges for serving

Avocado Cream
1 avocado
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
juice of 1/2 lime

Blend together the avocado cream ingredients and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, saute the onions, carrots, and celery in some hot oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic and saute another minute or two, then add the rest of the soup ingredients except the lemon. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for half an hour, then puree, making it as smooth or chunky as you prefer, using an immersion blender. (Or let cool slightly, then blend in batches in a regular blender.) Stir in the lemon juice. Serve topped with the avocado cream and with lemon wedges on the side for drizzling.

Another sign I shouldn’t be boring the internet with another black bean soup recipe is the fact it was IMPOSSIBLE to take a photo of it. I’m a pretty mediocre food photographer, but I was struggling even more than usual tonight. The problem is I have no patience when I’m hungry, which is why my blog will never be as beautiful as Hannah’s of Bittersweet or Ksenia’s of Tales of a Spoon, or a lot of other food bloggers out there. Moreover, the avocado cream was heavier than I thought and sank into the soup. What you’re seeing in the picture is just, as they say, the tip of the iceberg. Then I accidentally dropped the lemon wedge into the soup and it also sank. It is, however, supporting the second, visible lemon wedge. And then the lighting, which is the same lighting I take 95% of my final-dish pictures in, was just horrible today, more so than usual for an unknown reason. And black bean soup is really boring-looking to being with. IT WAS VERY HARD BEING A FOOD BLOGGER TONIGHT. But this is it! I’m keeping it real! This is my crappy picture of my delicious-but-not-innovative black bean soup! ENJOY!

It’s a good thing I have cats to fall back on. They are like a crutch for the uninspired food blogger. Look, it’s Gomez! He’s more interesting – and far more beautiful – than my food!

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Two Dips

No, the title of this post does not refer to me and Mark. Nor Gomez and Torticia. No, in fact I made two dips for dinner tonight: baba ganoush and smoky herbed bean. Why? Who knows. Tonight’s dinner was all over the place. I had some eggplants from the farmers market I needed to use. I also wanted to clear out some of my dried beans because I’m expecting a shipment from Rancho Gordo next week. There were frozen falafel in the freezer. Frozen naan. More vegetables from the farmers market. I even made Mark some barbecued seitan. Somehow it all seemed to work together, though.

Baba Ganoush

2 smallish or 1 large eggplants (about 1 pound)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp tahini
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.

Roast eggplant for about an hour, or until very soft, turning every 15 minutes or so.

They will have caved in on themselves.

Mince or press the garlic. This is waaaay more than you need; I was making several dishes requiring garlic at the same time.

Juice a lemon.

When the eggplant is done, let cool until it can be handled, then peel it and put it in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Process until smooth.

Makes about a cup, maybe a little more.

Smoky Herbed Bean Dip

8 oz dried white beans (such as cannellini), soaked (speed soaked is okay), or 1 can of beans
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley (a couple tablespoons fresh, minced, would be even better)
1 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp smoked pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh)

Cook beans until very soft – I used my pressure cooker. Drain beans and place in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.

Garnish with vegan “bacon” bits, and/or drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.

Here’s everything, minus Mark’s bonus barbecued seitan. I also made yellow wax beans. In retrospect, those falafel don’t make for a very appetizing photograph.

It’s hard to follow cat party, but if you don’t need the next four minutes of your life, you can watch Gomez get high, and Torticia not get high, on the ‘nip.

I want to keep you posted on Rica and Rowena Raccoon, but it is very, very, very hard to take a picture of active raccoon kits, especially with an iphone. This is the best I could do. They are waiting to be fed. Next time I’ll wait until after I feed them and they are at least a little quieter!

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Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

Mark and I recently returned from a week with his family at Folly Beach in Charleston. Apparently, while we were enjoying a week of absolutely perfect beach weather of sunny, upper 80 degree days and lower 80 degree ocean temperatures (bliss!), the Maryland and Virginia areas were suffering record-setting, scorching 100-degree days around Memorial Day – followed briskly by a cold front bringing in 50-degree nights and 70-degree days the second half of the week. Well, we’re home now and it’s back up to the upper 90s again: summer is here with a vengeance. This week has been weird because I wasn’t able to get to a farmers market over the weekend and I don’t know, I just find it difficult to buy vegetables in stores during the summer, so my refrigerator hasn’t really been stocked properly since our return. I had to go to Whole Foods out of desperation for fresh food today, and it was hot, hot, hot. I found myself looking at some heirloom tomatoes and wondering what I could make for dinner that would fit the weather and my relaxed, happy, tanned, and very warm mood. This is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

1 heirloom tomato, seeded and chopped
1 (or better yet, 2) avocado, peeled and chopped
2 ears corn, cut from cob and cooked
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
lettuce leaves, for serving/garnish

For the beans
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked (quick soaked is okay)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 dried chili piquin, or other form of heat to your liking (optional)
1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
smoked black pepper, to taste (optional)
vegan “chicken” bouillon (or other broth), to cover
or you can cook some beans (they needn’t be pintos, either) by whatever method and recipe you prefer

For the dressing
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, or a vinegar you think sounds good
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 cube frozen cilantro (Trader Joe’s sells this), or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, to taste

First, get the beans cooking. A pressure cooker is s huge help here. Place all ingredients in the pot, with the broth just covering the beans. I cooked them for six minutes in the pressure cooker, then quick-released the pressure, returned to the heat and cooked another 15 minutes or so, boiling off some of the liquid. Careful with those pressure cookers: usually I don’t care if I overcook pintos because I like them refried anyway, but for a salad you’ll want to retain a bit of a bite in the bean. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook until tender but still a bit firm.

When the beans are cooked, drain them if necessary, reserving any liquid. I had about 3/4 cup liquid.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Cut the corn from the cobs and boil in water to cover for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain, again reserving the cooking liquid.

To make the couscous, combine the bean cooking liquid, corn cooking liquid, and, if necessary, enough water to make 1 1/4 cups of liquid. I love it when I think to use cooking liquids for other purposes. If you aren’t using dried beans and/or fresh corn, you can use broth or water to make the couscous. Heat the liquid to boiling and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the salad: chop the tomato, avocado, and onion. Gently toss the vegetables with the beans, corn, and dressing. I use my hands.

Line each serving dish with lettuce leaves. Put some couscous on the lettuce, then top with the bean and veggie mixture. If you have it, sprinkle with just a touch of smoked salt flakes. Garnish with lime wedges, to be squeezed over the salad, and serve a hot sauce like Tabasco on the side.

Mark seemed quite impressed with the presentation of this meal. I told him it just looked nice because of the lettuce leaves, but he said it went beyond that and looked very “fancy”. I don’t know that it really looked all that fancy, but when I later asked him if he liked the way it tasted he said it tasted “like summer” and was (I was to quote him) “summertastic”. I don’t know if it’s just one of those married people things where we can read each others’ minds (it happens), or if I’m just good at making meals that say exactly what I want them to say, but “like summer” was exactly what I was going for. He also requested the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I know he liked it. I only had one avocado, but I think the one thing that would have improved this salad would have been a second one. I probably really should have made 1 1/2 to 2 times as much couscous for this amount of salad as well.

Our vacation was on one hand very comfortable and very normal: we spend a week at the beach with Mark’s family every year and it’s always wonderful, but on the other hand a little unusual for both Mark and me in that a) Mark didn’t touch a computer for 7 days and b) I didn’t touch my camera for nearly 7 days. We both did uncharacteristic amounts of relaxing. But here are some pelicans, also relaxing:

And here is a very cool, very old tree.

Now for a raccoon update. The bad news: Rachel Raccoon never collected two of the three babies. The good news: because I volunteer with a local wildlife organization and had been in touch with a raccoon rehabilitator about working with her even before the raccoon/attic incident, I got a crash course in feeding very hungry, very vocal baby raccoons, and then drove them to the rehabilitator myself. And Sunday I started helping the rehabilitator on what will be a regular basis, so I got to visit my babies again, and I’m going to help raise and eventually release them! They’ve been named Rica and Rowena – they are both little girls – and I’m not sure which one this is on my lap just after a feeding, but look, her eyes are open now!

Working with raccoons has been a great experience. When they are babies, they’re a lot like cats, and are very affectionate and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on Rica and Rowena’s growth over the upcoming months. I feel terrible they aren’t with their mother any more, but they’re in great hands with the rehabilitator and I intend to be the best (part-time) surrogate mother I can be, and in five months when they are old enough to be released, they’ll not only be in a great location, but right next to a county park that has special meaning to me and Mark. So that’s almost as good as their being in my yard, and really, probably safer for them in the long run. We have a LOT of wildlife around here, which I absolutely love, but we DO live in a suburban neighborhood. The park is probably nicer for them.

Finally, tomorrow will mark one year from the day we met Gomez and Torticia. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, although at the same time I can’t imagine a life without them. We were really, really, really, really lucky: these cats are simply the most wonderful, perfect cats in the world. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As a tribute, I’ll be making a donation to the Northern Virginia SPCA this week in the same amount I paid for them last year (I’d give even more if rabies vaccinations didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, leaving me broke this month…) because I love these cats, I love the SPCA for bringing them into my life, and I want the SPCA to continue to bring other people and cats and dogs together to form bonds like I have with Gomez and Torticia.

(One of Mezzie’s nicknames is actually “Perfection”. He’s just simply perfect. He’s not just a cat, he’s the Platonic ideal of a cat.)

(I’ve mentioned before that I turn most songs into songs about Tigger. I still do; Tigger still gets sung about far more than anyone else, but Torticia has three songs. The Kinks’ Victoria is really “Torticia” (Torticia was my queen!). Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia is also really “Torticia” (Torticia, you’re breaking my heart!). But for one song, I don’t have to change the lyrics because her (nick)name is already in it: YOU’RE THE ONE FOR ME, FATTY – YOU’RE THE ONE I REALLY, REALLY LOVE!)

One last thing: if you haven’t seen it yet: Vegan Black Metal Chef. And if you liked that, Black Metal Library rockers. My day has been filled with an inordinate amount of black metal, which I don’t even like…unless it’s about vegan food or books!

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Feijão (Brazilian Beans)

I’m currently reading Heliopolis by James Scudamore. One interesting fact is that right before we went to Charleston a few weeks ago, I was reading The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (and by “right before”, I mean I read the last sentence as Mark pulled into the airport parking garage), and the main character’s name in that book is Ludo. Well, we’re gearing up to go to Charleston again in a couple of days – I may well be finishing this book at the airport – and the main character in this book is named Ludo. Okay, maybe not that interesting, but I thought it was a funny coincidence.

Another, perhaps more interesting, thing about Heliopolis, which takes place in São Paulo, is this Ludo and his mother were rescued from a favela by a very wealthy family after his mother served the wife a humble but delicious meal of feijão. The wealthy woman asked how Ludo’s mother could possibly have made the beans taste so good when she could not afford to buy anything to season them with. Ludo later believes this impressive feat is what caused Rebecca to hire her as a cook, and subsequently the family to adopt Ludo. So basically Ludo’s life was saved (he firmly believes he would have died young, like so many others, had they stayed in the favela) by a bowl of beans. Beans, and other food, play a predominate role in the book: Ludo has inherited his mother’s love of cooking, and the types of food characters eat and enjoy is often used as a way to judge their character.

So of course I had to make feijão, right? Feijão just means beans. And after doing some research, I’ve found there really is no particular way you have to make or flavor them to make them particularly Brazilian, nor are there even particular beans you have to use. Really, you just pretty much cook some beans however you want and that’s feijão. I imagine it’s akin to saying, “I’m making some beans” in English. So I really don’t have an exact recipe for you, but that’s totally in keeping with the book: before she moved to the Carnicelli weekend farm – and even afterwards, when her access to ingredients was vastly improved – Ludo’s mother makes beans just however she can.

Pintos and black beans seem to be especially common, but any bean is okay. Pintos are my absolute favorite bean, but I decided to make black beans for a change. Here’s what I did, but definitely don’t copy me: do whatever you want with your beans!


1 cup dried black beans, soaked over night in cold water or speed soaked for one hour in hot water
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-2 Tbsp bacon salt (Bryanna’s is not very salty; this would probably be way, way too much commercial bacon salt)
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp smoked pepper
1 Tbsp vegan “bacon” bits
vegan broth to cover the beans
smoked salt, to taste
hot sauce, to taste
lime wedges, for garnish

Heat some oil in a heavy pot, then add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are beginning to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are soft (an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how old your beans are). Remove the bay leaf.

Serve with rice, drizzled with lime juice. If desired, top with hot sauce and/or vegan bacon bits. I also made some turnip greens and corn on the cob. I think Mark was worried when he saw the turnip greens (which I knew he would refuse to eat), thinking he wouldn’t get enough to eat. However, after his first bowl of rice and beans, a propos of nothing, he announced, “this rice and beans is so simple but so f’ing awesome!” He didn’t realize it, but that was the perfect thing to say. Then he excused himself to retrieve a second bowl.

To elaborate, Mark would like me to tell you that “Bac-o-Bitzzzz is the shitzzzz and Tabasco Sauzzzz is the bozzzz.” Also, he had some wine. He adds, “wine makes me shine!”

Mark has just instructed me to reverse engineer bacon bits, because I will then rule the world. He wants me to call them “Smark-o-bits”. He sure loves bacon bits.

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