Full of beans.

 I guess I really wasn't kidding that I am on the once-a-month blogging track.  It wouldn't pain me so much if there weren't so many things I wish I could write about, but my days are full not only of food but of little humans and plenty of learning.

Keeping a whole foods kitchen, preparing almost all we eat from scratch takes time - more time than I previously realized.  When you start out on such a journey and then just keep adding and building, towering ever upward, pretty soon you can start to feel like our ancestors likely did: spending most of your time and energy finding and preparing food.  While I've cut back on the ferments, there are still plenty of things to plan ahead for.  And while still on the path of economic recovery, humble things tend to take the center of our plates.

I treat meat like most other non-American cultures, as a condiment rather than a "deck-of cards" portion served alongside traditional side dish vegetables and starches.  Years ago I overdid it on the green salad making (having one a day sometimes 2 for more than a year...) and I can barely make a green salad now to save my soul.  If you make me a green salad, I'll happily eat it - but otherwise I get my greens sauteed or added to something baked.  What then to make for dinner?  So often I feel frustrated that my older son is still as picky as he is, and he recently added eggs to the list of things he doesn't currently like.  Sometimes I feel just plain worn out considering what to cook around here.

pintos & garbanzos.

Beans are usually my answer when I feel like the pantry is looking bare except for jars and jars of  miscellaneous grains, nuts, and seeds, and we don't feel like pulling a whole chicken from the freezer.  Beans are probably the one thing I can get every family member to eat simultaneously and without fuss.  Just about any bean makes my list too. Bulk Kidney, Navy, Pinto, Black, and Great Northern, rare stashed Tepary or meaty Good Mother Stellards or handfuls of long cooking legumes like garbanzo beans often push their way into my cooking life by default.

I justify the cost of eating less meat by buying mostly organic beans and legumes.  If I keep a sharp eye, my co-op will sell almost all of the standard varieties on sale 5 lbs. at a time, at some point during the year.  I collect my beans carefully, choosing them wisely, tenderly bringing them home, and housing them in quart canning jars.  Dried beans keep a remarkable long time.  I feel like I have an ace in the hole having a whole shelf of them to choose from.


I have cooked beans all matter of ways.  I have soaked them 12 hours and then carefully cooked them in a barely simmering pot of water without salt.  I have taken them off the shelf, rinsed them, and pressure cooked them for 20 minutes which wasn't enough and then re-pressure cooked them for longer.  I've put them unsoaked in a pot of water and cooked them for hours and hours and still ended up with chalky insides.  I've put them in a crock-pot and hoped for the best, frustrated that it took the day and I still had mealy beans.

I now swear by brining beans.  Emma Christensen wrote the article that I most refer to based on and endlessly tested Cook's Illustrated method and some solid science by food scientist Harold McGee.  It's titled "Think Salt is the Enemy of Perfect Beans? Think Again."  I think again every single time I make any type of bean or garbanzo bean (which should be properly titled garbanzo legume).  I've referred so much to that article that it nearly comes up automatically when I begin to type brine into my search engine.  For some reason, I can't remember the ratio of salt to water, of water to bean quantity.  Oh well.  It's good to know the Internet exists - and good to know people like my Mom who say things to me like, "well, about how much salt?  I'm not going to measure, that's too much monkeying around."

The morning I want beans for dinner (and we're early risers over here), hopefully 7-8 hours before, I throw a half pound of dried beans with a spoonful of kosher salt in a half gallon canning jar and fill it with water enough to cover by several inches.  I'll stir it well with a chopstick.  And I'll admire it on my counter for the bulk of the day.  This works particularly well with pinto beans destined for refried beans.  After the brine, I rinse them well and add them to a pressure pot.  I add another small spoonful of kosher salt and just enough water to cover by about 1 inch and lock on the lid.  I bring it up to pressure over high heat, and when the gauge starts to rattle, I turn it down to medium and time it for exactly 4 minutes.  Then I remove it from the heat and let the pressure come back naturally (without the quick-release method of running the pressure pot under the faucet).  Perfect beans.  Every single time.  In 4 minutes. ...and 8 hours of beforehand thought.

Magic Seal
My pot is old and secondhand, I try not to worry that it's aluminum since my beans are barely in it.

The 4 minute pressure rule is my standard for most brined beans.  I've tried it with different types of white beans, black beans, and red beans.  Every once in a while, they will be too soft or need to be cooked some more - but those occurrences are pretty rare.

Garbanzos get a slightly different treatment.  I soak them 8-12 hours, actually I aim for 24 hours if I'm thinking that far ahead, and I give them the same brining as the other types of beans.  When I go to cook them, (I rinse them well and) I add in a 1 t. of baking soda per pound of beans.  If I pressure pot them, I start with 8 minutes, then let the pressure come down naturally and check them.  But this week, I decided with just a half pound to cook them on the stovetop.  It took barely an hour for perfect beans, creamy still composed pebbles that would work well in a salad (or getting picked up gingerly by a baby), mashed for felafel, or blended completely smooth for hummus.

Alton Brown is where I got the baking soda idea.  I make my hummus somewhat like he does, but I always like to add in cumin powder and some cayenne.  I also use my bean cooking water to help blend it.  Being thoroughly soaked and drained, I don't find any "digestive" issues from using the cooking water, and I figure there is more flavor.

I've come to think of most of my raw ingredients as good friends.  I'm not much of a meal planner, and I exploit their different attributes as I'm considering our dinner hours.  I'm getting better at thinking ahead for meals, especially since I'm not able to grocery shop on a whim anymore, and often I'll cook twice as many beans as I need and freeze a half pound in their cooking liquid to further help me swiftly pull supper out of my sleeve.  Even with dried beans, I feel like they make a quick meal.  I feel savvy that I don't shell out for canned beans which don't often taste the best and are really quite expensive by comparison... not to mention they don't often sit well in the belly either.

Do you have a pressure pot?  Do you use it to get quick dinners on the table?  Please share!

Updates: Pre-Thanksgiving

Given the state of my "unemployment", I sometimes feel the need to justify what I do with my time. I shouldn't feel this way, I know. Almost 6 years into my homemaking career, I haven't forgotten what it's like to put in a full 40-65 hours a week outside my home, and I also know what challenges that brings to the dinner table. I have been so tired getting home from odd-hour jobs that I've made the choice to sleep instead of eat. Now any bleary-eyed mornings are due to reading too late into the night, knitting, or getting up to attend to doughs, and I can't say that I'd like it better any other way. I continue my projects, though many of them secretive, since the cookbook recipe testing is still underway - and that actually generates quite a lot of food that must remain discreet. This post will give you a peek at what is going on around here pre-Thanksgiving, the things that I am thankful for and excited about.

alcoholized apple cider and innoculated cider for vinegar.

It appears that I have finally attained relative ease in the vinegar-making department. Using almost all of the beautiful cider I pressed with my Parents, I left it open to open fermentation under written affirmation from Peter's post on how good, non-treated apples will naturally do their best to become vinegar. After the open ferment appeared complete (and I tasted it, and it tasted beery), I inoculated it with vinegar mother that I had stored. The pictures here are from two weeks ago, but you can see the mat on the top of the jar on the right: it's now a full 1/4 inch thick. The photo below is the active fermenting cider. After the success of the first jar, I started another half gallon. I am happy to announce that I'll get my gallon of homemade cider vinegar, which was seriously one of my goals for the cider press. Mission (almost) accomplished!

alcoholized cider

This week, I have also bottled my Bachelor's Jam. I started it back in July when I got my strawberries, and I added throughout the Summer a number of fruits, a pound at a time. Bachelor's Jam, also called Rumtopf, piqued my interested when I first read about it last year. I made mine using the methods outlined in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, a pound of fruit and a cup of sugar at a time until it was full.

Since I am in Wisconsin, the brandy consumption capital of the world, I opted to use a brandy base for my liqueur. I'm actually not all that fond of brandy, cognac yes, but that would be my famous "Champagne Taste" talking. I thought using brandy would help me to appreciate it a little more, and I may just be right about that. When I stirred up the pot, strained out the bleached and boozy fruit and tasted a little, it completely reminded me of Christmas: Wintery and warm, fruity and sweet - just the thing to drizzle over some ice cream, since we Wisconsin folk eat just as much ice cream in the Winter as we do the rest of the year...

bachelor's jam fruitbachelor's jam, liqueur
it's such a pretty color, too.

With the success of my vinegar, and having a number of flavored "cheat" vinegars that I made this Summer on hand, I wanted to purchase some bottles for packing some up as gifts. I found some nice ones, inexpensive and perfect for my needs (both vinegar and hot sauce bottles), but after I had them in my online cart to check out, the shipping was as much as the bottles, and I couldn't take that leap. Instead, I'm revisiting my collections of jars and bottles in the basement that I've obsessively collected for some time now.

I am using far less purchased bottles of *whatever* lately, but when I do buy something, I pay special attention to the jar or bottle it comes in. I wash them out thoroughly (even taking several days of repeated washing recentely to try and get an olive oil bottle with a nice cork stopper perfectly clean...), glean every last smidgen of label adhesive from the exteriors. If I've been to your house and you have an interesting jar, I've probably asked you to save it for me too. It's a habit, and one day, someone will probably clean out my basement and wonder what in the world I saved all the glass jars and bottles for.

I don't usually fuss too much over cool labels, but an ancient Cointreau bottle with only a teaspoon (really, that was it) left was just about falling out of my cabinet the other day and I decided that I had to clean it up and repurpose it for my Bachelor's Jam. I'll bring this out when my "Christmas Company" comes, so I did fuss a little - trying to do my artistic best to match the font and content of a Cointreau label. I used to do a lot of pen and ink drawings, and sitting for 20 minutes to concoct this makes me want to illustrate all kinds of little bottles taking up space in my house. Maybe one will make its way to you.

reusing a bottle...
believe it or not, I even Google Translator-ed the French on the front of the bottle...

On Monday, I finally went to the new Glorioso's location on Brady Street, just across the street from their charming old location. Part of the reason I took so long to check it out is that I feel bad when tiny hole-in-the-wall groceries are replaced by bigger, more luxurous digs. The souls of the ancient tiny establishments whisper to me in thunderous voices, and usually bigger never means better to me. The new Glorioso's is beautiful, you definitely won't turn around and hit someone like you could in the old place. I won't forget the wood floors and miniature space it came from, but wandering around was just as inspiring. A whole aisle of panettone, reminding me that I need to try my hand at that this year. I went there specifically for these bright green Castelventrano olives, some that I'd never tried before, for testing a recipe. I am smitten. They are soft and almost herby, not too salty and the most beautiful shade of green:

castelventrano olives.

I also came home with Italian "00" flour, some cheese, a pound of lupini beans, and advice from an old man in the deli on how to prepare them. "Oh, just try it honey, you'll do just fine", he encouraged as he concluded, his arm resting on the gleaming case of prepared Italian deli foods. I am so glad I asked about them, since the process is time-intensive, and completely different then I would have thought. The beans need to soak, with a daily water changing, for at least 5 days, maybe longer if they still remain bitter. When I looked them up online, every source confirmed that, and also that they are worth the amount of time you spend since they are some of the highest protein beans other than the soybean.

When the man told me the lupini beans are bitter, I couldn't have been prepared for just HOW bitter they were. One bite of an undone lupini bean leaves a bitterness that extends all the way down your throat, and it stays there for 10 minutes; they are the very definition of bitter. When that bitterness is gone and the beans taste sweet, the beans are complete - and I'm on day 4 now, so I hope that will be soon. After the first 48 hours of soaking, I brought them up to a gentle boil for an hour or so and then let them cool back to room temperature. I continue to replace their water daily, tending to these chubby beings, these blonde Chicklets of supreme health, and I dream about eating them one after another, fully addicted. I should listen to an old Italian guy when he said to just eat them plain, but I may have to marinate them in oil and vinegar, since that is the way I've eaten them on occasion at overpriced deli-per-pound sections of other nameless luxury grocery stores. For under 3$ a pound, it's been cheap entertainment around here.

lupini beans

Cold wind has been blowing, along with a fair amount of rain lately. It makes me add layers, consider upping the thermostat and then deciding against it, and take up my knitting once again since working with warm fiber seems to warm you like nothing else. I finished up 3 small felting projects that were on the needles since last Spring, some potholders and an oven mitt for myself that I've already been putting to good use. My old oven mitt was burning me as I shoveled bread pots in and out, and I was ignoring the fact that I could really be seriously burned. I doubled the strands of wool so there is plenty of insulation, and wool is naturally fire retardant as well - not that I'm planning on being careless. The patterns I like best for kitchen felts are in this book by Beverly Galeskas.

good weather for felt.

So, never a dull minute really. Odds and ends come into place, my craftiness starts to run rampant now that I feel I have more time and Christmas to prepare for. The cookie list is beginning to form in my brain, and so are the details of things to make for others, bready experiments that will hopefully hold up well, and lots of things that I'll likely be excited to share. You can be sure that if those lupini beans turn out as well as I hope I'll be telling you all about it soon. My days are full, I fall asleep quickly, often mid-page, and I remember all the while that my Mom told me once her 30's came in "clumps". The days do fly by, but yet I appreciate each one and what it brings. I try to hold them still a little longer by making good use of my time.

On Frugality and Lacto-Fermentation

I like being broke. Someone should make this into a bumper sticker, and I would happily paste it onto my aging Oldsmobile. There is something about going through lean times that makes me insanely happy, like I am better able to take stock of all of my blessings as well as my well stocked pantry and freezer. The only thing perhaps I don't like is not being able to splurge on specialty ingredients, but given how delicious a simple Lima bean can be, even that facet has no lasting appeal.

Fragality causes me to examine all parts of my kitchen life. Am I baking bread? Then, something else can be baked before or after the oven is at the 475 degrees to make use of the energy. Running the dehydrator for more soaked oats last week, I made a triple batch so there was no extra space - and today I soaked three different kinds of nuts so I could again fill the dehydrator nearer to capacity before plugging it in for a day of running. I have no dishwasher, and now find myself cooking things in batches in one cast iron pan instead of three so I only have to clean up one. It's actually a pretty good idea, saving me wear and tear on my hands as well as on the kosher salt I use to clean the pan. It's sad that the tightening of the belt makes me remember to be extra cautious of my energy consumptions...

Last week, I soaked three kinds of dried beans to make a three bean salad, and then ended up making only a two bean salad. The Limas sat in the fridge, in their liquid, for 4 days until I remembered that I should do something with them - or freeze them: an option I try to use as a last resort. Sometimes, the freezer turns into a forgotten wasteland of perfectly viable comestibles, and lately as I focus on zero food waste, I try to find creative ways to use up all parts of whatever I made before joyfully leaping on to something new. I try to do this without relying on the banishment to the freezer. That's actually hard when I love cooking so much.

My fridge looks like a glass jar heaven, bits of fermented this and that taking up precious space - but worth it in the enjoyment a spoonful or two adds to each meal. Lacto-fermentation is actually a terrific way of stretching out the deterioration rate of foods with a limited lifespan, not to mention that I find it enhances the flavor in nearly every case. The Limas, I decided, would become a hummus inoculated with whey, increasing both their nutritional profile and their staying power.

...if I don't eat the whole jar in two days, that is.

I actually had a small amount of bean puree when it was all finished up. It could have been all the tasting I did... and I had maybe a scant cup and a half of cooked beans to start with. Bean purees in general are some of my favorite things, since they are really a great complement to bread. I also love making them, since they require a bit of kitchen alchemy. Tasting, tweaking, thinking about flavor and what I have a taste for, it's like lazy and inspired cooking, without even firing up the stove.

Even though my VitaMix would make absolute smoothness of bean puree, I always opt to use my ancient (well, probably '80's model) Cuisinart food pro. The subtle graininess is something I appreciate, and I like adding olive oil through the top that is designed to let the finest drizzle through on the way to emulsification. My flavors yesterday leaned heavily toward traditional hummus, though sometimes garlic is just too much for me. (Saturday, I lacto-fermented some guacamole and used far too much garlic. It was good, and my Husband really liked it, but I was a little "garlicked out" buy the time I started the Lima Hummus.) Ever since I visited E. in Boston last Summer, I have been addicted to the combination she served of radish, hummus, olive and maybe cheese with bread. Radishes will be planted in my garden for the first time this year, I'm hoping to plant later in the week if this weather ever warms up...

LinkMy favorite chile olives that my co-op sells in bulk.

The only thing to really remember with lacto-fermentation is to let the mixture sit for at least 7-8 hours at warmish room temperature, and then transfer to cold storage. Some things can ferment for a few days before refrigeration, in general I follow the guidelines in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. For simple things that I know I'll likely polish off within a week, I ferment this minimum time. For condiments that I will keep longer, like the cilantro-raisin chutney, I ferment for 3 days. Also remember to use whey that has a live, active culture (or if vegan, and not lacto-fermenting something with fruit, an appropriate amount of salt). Another thing to keep in mind is that the whey that is a by-product of heated cheese-making is not good for lacto-fermenting.

Lacto-Ferment Lima Hummus
  • 1 1/2 c. Lima beans
  • granulated garlic
  • lemon zest (I was out of lemon, and keep zests in my freezer)
  • a few tablespoons of white onion, chopped
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • cumin
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
  • about 2 T. olive oil, more to taste and consistency desired
Add Lima beans to the food pro and blend until fairly smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients pretty much to taste, using the full amount of whey. Continue to blend until desired consistency is reached, and taste to adjust seasoning to your preference.

Pack into a jar, leaving a small amount of head space, and seal tightly. Leave to ferment at room temperature for at least 7 hours before transferring to cold storage.

I lacto-ferment stuff because it's fun and tasty, but also because I really believe that the extra fermenting is good for me. In things like this, where spiciness plays a vital role, my family can't even tell, and I don't even tell them. But really, I made this Lima Hummus just for me, and will likely eat it all week, with the radishes that felt like a splurge to purchase. I'm excited to try a new version of a Peter Reinhart bread that uses a multi-grain mixture of polenta, rolled oats and wheat bran... I hope I still have some hummus left when that rolls out of the oven on Wednesday...

Lessons in living with less are plentiful. Certainly, it's a theme throughout American history especially in times of economic stress. But really, they are good lessons for anytime, whether flush or spread thin. Frugality reminds me personally to appreciate everything - be it my health or the ability to do things for myself, the luxury of good urban ground to grow food in. These are all daily blessings I forget, and the wastefulness that begins to entangle me when I have extra is something that feels so good to have off my shoulders.

Sometimes I think maybe my food-blogging will suffer for lack of new and exciting food, but really, Lima beans are exciting! They are cheap, and take on flavor well. They have occupied my kitchen thinking for a couple of days and that is really what I best take away from writing about my experiments. Every day I spend a good amount of time poking around my kitchen, thinking of ways to sneak nutrition into my family, and I have the privileged of succeeding most of the time. This doesn't change with the amount of dollars spent on groceries. For all of it, and for living with less for now, I am so thankful.

Vegan Black Bean Brownies, Redux.

Lately, I have no idea what kitchen adventures are in store for me as I begin my day. Today ended up being warm enough to venture around town and do some errands in a t-shirt, certainly not the weather that conjures up the making of brownies...

But in my supermarket stupor, which does happen when I don't go shopping very often, I found myself wandering around just looking for things to spend money on. And, I did it. I spent money on something I said I would never spend money on again: canned beans.

But really, I did it for the greater good. Last December I made these Vegan Black Bean Brownies and they were alright, even tasty, but not perfection. I've been meaning to make them again ever since. Last time, I overcooked my beans in the pressure cooker, and used an amount that I had weighed and mentally noted to be an equivalent to a 15 oz. can. So when I paid hard earned cash on a can of Goya beans today, I deconstructed their weights and contents thoroughly, in relationship to the original recipe posted at No Meat Athlete, so I can slip this recipe into my uses for beanery in the future.

My Findings:

1 15.5 oz. (439 g.) can of Goya black beans contains:
  • 7 3/4 oz. or 220 g. of actual beans (a scant 2 cups)
  • a can of liquid equals 14 oz. or a scant 1 3/4 cups by liquid volume
  • 1610 mg. of sodium!
Enter the soapbox, please, since I did not realize that there is so much salt in a simple whole food like beans. I'm sure the amount varies by brand, and I know there is a canned bean market for "low sodium" audiences. When I checked out the U.S. Dry Bean Council website (yes, there is such a thing), dry beans are virtually nil in the sodium department. When I read Michael Rulman's book The Elements of Cooking a couple months back, I recall reading a passage about the usage of salt in home cooking. In essence, he advocates using salt to flavor food to your taste, and now I can see that if I add a pinch of salt (probably less than 500 mg.), it is an unbelievable low amount if compared to a processed food of the same type. If you are a home cook and rarely eat processed foods, sodium consumption truly is of no issue to you - unless of course you have a medical condition requiring you to eat extremely low amounts of sodium. Just think, if a can of supermarket black beans is that salty, think of what is in other more "processed" foods, and how as a nation, we are training our tongues to look for this substitute for flavor in everything. OK, I'm done.

I'm by no means the most virtuous of eaters, mind you, I am obsessively deconstructing a brownie recipe after all. And with the subplot of trying to sneak in some non-cereal nutrition for the Boy-O, I cut the sugar back more than I did before. I think these articles that I've been reading about sugar being more addictive than cocaine (thanks, Mike G.) are absolutely true, and the more I read about the questionable refining processes of supposedly healthy sugar alternatives like agave syrup, the more I feel like just eating plain old sugar (or honey), and just eating less of it.

So, without further delay, here is the Vegan Black Bean Brownie, served with non-vegan (but perfectly worth it) Cayenne-Cinnamon Whipped Cream!

Vegan Black Bean Brownies with Cayenne-Cinnamon Whipped Cream (adapted from Christine at No Meat Athlete)

Makes a 9x13 pan (notations in parenthesis for a half recipe: 9x9 pan)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (3/4 c.)
  • 1 t. salt if using unsalted beans (1/2 t.)
  • 1 t. baking powder (1/2 t.)
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar, raw or granulated (3/4 c.)
  • 1 1/4 c. cocoa powder (1/2 c. + 2 Tablespoons)
  • 4 t. espresso powder (2 t.)
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (3/4 c.)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well or substitution as listed above: scant 2 c. (scant 1 c. or half a can of beans)
  • 14 oz. or scant 1 3/4 c. water (7 oz. or scant 1/2 c. + 6 Tablespoons)
  • additional 1 c. water (1/2 c.)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (1/2 t. )
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish (9x9 for the 1/2 amount). Mix dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Puree beans in water using a food pro or blender. Add to the dry ingredients along with the additional water and the vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Fold in walnuts, and spread into a pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges pull away slightly, and middle is set. Tester should come out mostly clean, but this is a judgment call on how well done you like your brownies.

When they are cooling, make the whipped cream: Beat an amount of heavy cream, an amount suitable to your needs, for 1 minute. Add a Tablespoon or two of confectioner's sugar, and as much cayenne as you like. I like mine pretty spicy, so to about a 1/2 c. of cream, I added a 1/2 t. cayenne. Cinnamon to taste, as well, I used about 3/4 t. for my amount of cream. Continue beating on high until cream is whipped and fluffy.

Now, I'm betting you could add a whole host of chocolate complements to the whipping cream if spicy with chocolate isn't really your thing. And if it is, and you aren't trying to inundate your child with hidden beans, you could add the spice right into the batter. I'm going to get some chipotle powder during my next Spice House trip, and maybe try that in my next batch. If you find that you need even more chocolate, you can also add in a cup or so of bittersweet chips - I used mint chocolate chips in the one I made last year, and that wasn't a bad choice either.

This is exactly the kind of dessert I get excited about (even if I may be the only one around here...), since it is dessert, but it is healthy enough that I don't feel too guilty about eating it every day until it's gone. Fortunately, I'm going to see R1 tomorrow, and half of my 9x13 pan will make its way over to her hungry and non-picky brood. I wish I could give it to them straight out of the oven, which is how I would serve it at a party. The middle was like a fudgy, thick English Pudding, and the spicy whipped cream melted into the top. In fact, I thought I'd just take some pictures and save it for later, but that wasn't going to happen after I took a bite... I ate my dessert at 4 p.m. today.

If you prefer sweeter desserts, or more traditional tasting brownies, I'd urge you to use the full amount of sugar from the original recipe: 2 1/4 cups. With or without any of the variations, I hope that if you do try these, you will be as enamored as I am.

Good in Everything

It's been a strange the past week here at Casa RCakewalk. My Husband has been sick for almost 2 weeks with an awful mutating cold, (rendering him only fond of eating frozen pizza and tortellini), and I finally succumbed to sickness last Friday. I kept it well hidden until Saturday, when I really started feeling poorly.

Sunday began fine, and after our church-going, Boy-O and I relaxed most of the afternoon on the couch - a rarity especially for me. Then, the poor kid got sick. I think God matches up the perfect child to the parent, since I felt so bad for my little creature, and yet he just was sick and fine with it. He couldn't keep even water down, and yet he just cuddled up to me and looked up at me with his big eyes and said, "I missed you when you were in New York".

Needless to say, I haven't been cooking a whole lot. I haven't been eating a whole lot either since for the past two days I have no sense of taste, which I'm sure has resulted in a loss of a couple of pounds. I'm never usually hung up on weight, and don't feel like I'm an unhealthy weight, but sometimes I feel a little on the "heavy" side this time of year. Daily walking has diminished, and food consumption is higher due to the holidays and warming, comfort foods. But it does frighten me how easily I can lose weight when I'm not trying, and makes me even more thankful that good health usually bestows upon me a couple of extra just for this purpose.

I thought I'd reflect on some of the foods I made just prior to our foodless state, starting with this wheat bread I made just after I got back from the NYC trip:

I still procrastinate ordering my Amazon cart which currently contains: Ration (Ruhlman) after reading so much praise for it, The Breakfast Book (Cunningham) - one of my favorite cookbooks as novels, The Flavor Bible (Page and Dorneburg) - which I first saw in the Spice House and then heard an interview on Public Radio in the same day, then I rented it from the library which confirmed my need for it. And finally, Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day. Zoe Francios and Jeff Hertzberg often share base recipes on their website, and this recipe was the base for most of their whole grain versions in the new book (that has been on my order list since October when it was released...).

I've newly found that I like to let stored dough rise on parchment sprinkled with cornmeal. It's infinitely easier to slide around from counter resting place to peel and right into the oven, since it tends to be so sticky. Strangely, the parchment doesn't burn at 450 degrees either.

I'm remembering that I will likely add Jim Lahey's My Bread book to the cart sometime soon as well. I think he kind of pioneered the "artisan bread at home" methods that everyone is writing about now. His method requires baking inside a dutch oven - so I need to get a high temp safe replacement handle for my Le Crueset, hopefully before I finally get my library hold copy to sample.

Last week I made some chili using the leftover frozen tamale filling and some of the mystery "red" beans that I got from my Mom in a half gallon canning jar. They are old, but some of the best beans I've had. On my last cooking attempt, it took forever to cook them - even after soaking, so I resulted to pressure cooking. I just pressure cooked them from the get go this time, and it's a perfect way to get a soup going fast. I ate this for lunch and dinner most of last week - with the exception of one meal of roasted broccoli:

Yes, I ate almost a whole bunch of roasted broccoli myself. The oven was on for the aforementioned frozen pizza, and I took advantage of the 425 heat for this. I usually steam broccoli, and kind of forgot how delicious it is roasted. Obviously, since I ate this all myself. Just a drizzle of olive oil and sliced garlic, and then after the heat a grating of lemon zest, squeeze of lemon juice and a grating of Parmesan cheese.

Since my cold was increasing, I didn't think I was hungry at all on Saturday, but after the zoo cake competition we all seemed famished. We were close enough to the Alterra on North Ave., so we got some lunch. I never know what to order at Alterra, since everything always exceeds my expectation...

Sasa and I each got a cup of the White Bean Chili (that was mildly spicy and thickened with potato), and a then split this sandwich special which was hot brie, tomato, and basil on a soft roll. This seemed out of season and ordinary, but it was not. It was out-of-this-world good, and we were so full that I really didn't have dinner that night.

In fact, I didn't eat again until Sunday afternoon when I felt strangely hungry again. I could still taste, and I wanted to use up some salad, so I made poached eggs. Secretly, I was wondering if I could poach an egg to rival the ones I ate a week ago at CraftBar. And, *rubbing nails on collarbone*, I did. It may have seemed a strange combination served on a honey-Dijon vinaigrette dressed salad, but it worked for me. I re-fried a couple of potatoes leftover from a Friday night dinner, and was set for the rest of that day.

Sunday night, I poached some chicken Steve Sando style in onion, cumin, a pinch of thyme some salt and pepper. I started soaking some Rancho Gordo Flageolets, intending to mimic a bit of that Alterra chili I had Saturday.

Monday, I didn't think I'd get around to the actual soup making due to sickness, but managed to by the end of the day. I can't taste to season, so I suspect I may freeze it all for healthier days in the near future. I emailed my new food guru, Lo from Burp!, and asked her how long she thought I could get away with soaking the beans. I'm glad I asked her, since she said this:

So, the beans are soaking away?

If you change the water, you can actually soak the beans until they start to sprout (this is actually recommended by a couple of foodie camps, as the nutrient composition improves upon sprouting). From a food safety standpoint, it's of no concern to leave the beans, as long as you change the water -- but the beans may taste slightly different after soaking for longer than a typical overnight. They will also cook more quickly, so be cognizant of that when you ultimately make your soup.

I was was so glad I decided to ask her, and very intrigued to hear this. I've sprouted mung beans at home, why not Rancho Gordo Flageolets? Since I did end up making the soup, I saved out a small bowl to continue soaking and changing the water daily until I see some sprouting action. I love a good experiment.

Which brings us to this morning: Boy-O taking a nap an hour after waking up, and thankfully keeping his little bits of nourishment down...

And me, finally committing to finish this Alien Illusions scarf for R1. Embarrassingly, I began this back in September and still have not finished it. To my credit, I usually go for a bit more "mindless" projects that I can complete without much effort and thought included, at least for the time being when I don't have committed time to knit with abandon.

I ripped out almost a whole Alien head about a month ago, and then left it to collect dust when I finished up my Christmas Knitting. I'm back, Aliens, and I'm not giving up this time until you are DONE! If it's one thing about being a little bit under the weather, it's that I don't feel so bad about sitting idle and knitting in the middle of the morning. See? Everything can have a silver lining...