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Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 09:58 am

2012 was the best and worst of years


Drunken beans come to life with pinto beans, poblano chiles and Mexican beer.

2012: It’s been the best of years; it’s been the worst of years. At my life’s end, I doubt I’ll be able to look at another year that contained so many highs and lows.

There was the accident in central rural Pennsylvania on Memorial Day, which I’ve written about before. All accidents are awful, but the devastatingly totalled van loaded to the ceiling with camping equipment, much of it too heavy for me to deal with, on a holiday when everything/anyone who could help me was out of reach or off duty, created an absolute nightmare.

Then there were the health issues. I had a surgical removal of a (benign) ovarian cyst in April. It kept me in the hospital for only nine hours. But two weeks later I began having nasty boils on the backs of my legs, something I’d never before experienced. I was put on stronger antibiotics than those from post-surgery, but apparently they weren’t up to the job. Before the situation could be successfully resolved, I ended up enduring seven-day-a week intravenous antibiotics infusions and, at the end of that treatment, another surgery from which – as I write this in mid-December – I’m still recovering from.

But there’s good news, too. Despite multiple periods of forced inaction, I lost a substantial amount of weight in 2012. Most importantly, after decades of reading and studying about the issue, 2012 was the year I found a formula that works for me: a combination of diet and exercise that I can live with that’s both comfortable and works well.

More on the positive side: our daughter Ashley and son-in-law Cory’s wedding amidst the April springtime beauty of our grounds couldn’t have been more gorgeously wonderful. Ashley’s catering business, RealCuisine, has been far more successful than I’d imagined it could be in its first full year; a result, I’m sure, that’s due to combining the best local ingredients with solid cooking expertise.

Best of all was the arrival of Ashley and Cory’s first child, and our second grandchild, Madeline Rose, on Aug. 28. Unfortunately some of my negative medical stuff extended to Maddie’s birth: in the weeks immediately after Maddie’s birth, my doctors were concerned that my strange infection might be MRSA, one of the worst of the “superbugs” that’s difficult-to-impossible to treat. I spent Maddie’s first weeks gazing at her from at least 20 feet away, equipped with a face mask. Fortunately, it was decided that I didn’t have MRSA, although the non-specific origins of my infection had me keeping her at arms length for way too long.

But my infection crisis has passed, and these days my Sunday morning is taking care of Madeline Rose during Ashley’s wildly popular Sunday RealCuisine brunch at her catering kitchen located at 15th and Ash.

Eating beans or other sorts of legumes has long been a tradition in countries around the world, something that’s meant to ensure good luck for the following year. This year I’ll be eating lots of those beans: two of my favorite recipes appear below. I’ll be eating them not just because they’re delicious, but to hopefully ensure some of their purported good luck, hopefully eliminating anything similar to those less-than-wonderful 2012 scenarios!

Drunken beans

  • 2 c. pinto beans
  • 8 oz. diced bacon, preferably slab
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 T. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced thinly
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
  • 12 oz. bottle of dark Mexican beer such as Negra Modelo
  • 6 c. water
  • Salt to taste

Rinse the beans and pick over to remove any grit or stones. Soak overnight in cold water at least 2 inches above the beans. Alternatively, place beans in a large pot, add water to cover beans at least 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from the heat and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans and reserve.

Put the bacon in a large pot over moderately high heat and sauté just until the bacon begins to render some fat. Add the onions, oregano, garlic, and poblano chiles and cook until the vegetables are softened and slightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Add the beer and scrape up any of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the beans and the water and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add salt to taste. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes, then check again for salt.

As with many braised or long-cooked preparations, drunken beans are even better the next day. If you are not planning to serve them the same day, rapidly chill the beans to prevent spoilage. This is most easily done by placing the beans in the container in which you plan to store them and then placing the container in a large basin of ice water or very cold water. Stir the beans occasionally to hasten the cooling process (but gently so as not to break up the beans.) Change the water when it becomes warm or even tepid. When the beans have cooled to room temperature, refrigerate immediately.

Brazilian black beans are even better the next day.

Brazilian black beans

  • 2 c. dried black beans
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. diced smoky bacon, approximately
  • 1/2 pounds hot Italian sausage
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped, NOT supersweet, about 3 cups
  • 1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or minced, about 1 tablespoon
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin, preferably freshly ground
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 3/4 c. orange juice
  • 1/4 c. dry sherry, or substitute an additional 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 c. water and more if needed

Follow the directions for soaking beans in the drunken beans recipe above.

In a large pot, begin sautéing the bacon over medium-high heat in the olive oil, then begin crumbling in the Italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon into smallish-sized lumps. When the sausage and bacon is beginning to brown and has rendered a good deal of its fat, add the onion and pepper. Cook covered, until the sausage and bacon are browned and the vegetables are softened and also beginning to brown, stirring frequently. Uncover the pot and add the cumin, pepper flakes and cardamom. Stir to incorporate fully, then cover and cook a few minutes longer until the vegetables and spices are exuding their flavor and fragrance, at least 5 minutes.

Add the reserved beans, orange juice, sherry and water to the pot. Stir to combine everything completely, then cover and cook over lowest possible heat (it should just be BARELY simmering), 1-2 hours, or until everything is cooked through.

Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly by putting the pot in a sink of cold water, stirring occasionally, and replacing the water as needed. As with the drunken beans above, they are even better the next day.

Reheat before serving, garnishing with sour cream if desired.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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