Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 1, 2009

Foodie with Family: I'm stronger. Right?

By REBECCA LINDAMOOD

My sister suggested two weeks ago that my saying of the year should be, "It's not working right now." After a winter full of near constant catastrophic vehicle problems, a broken washing machine, a broken water heater, a case of identity (and actual) theft, a dead chicken, and a few other inconveniences -- both large and small -- it would appear that my conversations have been peppered with, "Well, I'd love to ____ but my ____ isn't working right now."

The near-constant state of being without a working vehicle that fits all the kids in it has made me a hermit the past few months. It has been a mostly wonderful time spent working on the house, playing and reading with the kids, and being thankful for our consistently good health. Even though every mechanical thing we owned seemed to dwell semi-perpetually in the state of "on the fritz" we were -- at least -- healthy!

Don't get me wrong, there were and still are times when cabin fever hits and hits hard. This brings us to another favorite maxim: "If it doesn't kill me it makes me stronger."

Looking at it from that angle, this entire winter has been an opportunity for me to become much, much stronger. There have been a couple particularly shining opportunities for growth. For instance ...

Ty came on to the porch screaming bloody murder and crying alligator tears with Aidan hot on his heels. I ran outside to assess the situation. This was the conversation that followed:

Me: WHAT is going on here?

Ty: He hit me in the eye with his sweater!

Aidan: But he kicked me first!

Ty: But that was an accident!

Aidan: Oh yeah?!? How?

Ty: You told me I could slap you.

Aidan: But that was because I accidentally tripped you while trying to tackle you because you threw that gravel at me!

Ty: I only threw the gravel at you because you wouldn't hold still for me to knock you down ...

WHOOSH/SLAM!

The whoosh/slam was the sound of me wheeling on my heels and slamming the door behind myself. The slamming of the door was, unfortunately, the extent of the physical exercise I got over the winter. Unless you count flipping pages in really heavy books.

So it was a winter of mental strengthening leaving me to play catch-up on actual physical strengthening for the summer months. The treadmill and I have been getting reacquainted these past several weeks. And I am not certain whether it will kill me prior to making me stronger.

I am not the most athletic person in the world (read: I'm a hopeless klutz) and merely staying upright on the treadmill requires immense concentration. That is made difficult when one child is standing behind you breathing in and out through a harmonica and another is standing in front of you saying, "Mommy! You're going backwards! Mommy! I am very, very hungry. Can I have some raisins? MOMMYYOUAREGOINGTOFALLOFFBECAREFUL!!!"

But I'm not dead yet, so I guess something must be working. And I've had an important epiphany. The only reason I continue to exercise is because it feels so good when I stop.

My long winter with little transportation made me use every ingredient in my pantry including the languishing bags of dried beans that were frequently passed over for their more convenient canned brethren. I found, much to my surprise, that it wasn't so difficult to make the beans frequently with a little forethought and planning. I also found that my family much preferred the taste and texture of the beans I had cooked myself.

Aside from the obvious things to recommend dried beans over canned ones (price, longevity, ease of storage, etc.) is the less obvious advantage of healthier eating. Both dried and canned beans are chock full of nutrients, vitamins and fiber, but dried beans allow you to control the amount of sodium and are entirely devoid of preservatives. Two points for the home (bound) team! Will the wonders of this winter's lessons never cease?

Made from scratch and prepared from start to finish in a slow cooker, these delicious and simple-to-prepare bean recipes put canned ones to shame.

While salt pork is the traditional meat added to baked beans, I prefer both the flavor and texture of bacon or ham. Feel free to omit the meat and add 1 T. olive oil in its place for a vegetarian alternative. They are so worth the little extra effort.

Foodie with Family's Mostly Old-Fashioned Baked Beans

1 lb. dry navy (small white) beans

1 c. chopped ham or crispy cooked bacon

1 yellow cooking onion

1/2 c. molasses

1/3 c. brown sugar

11/2 t. dry mustard powder

11/2 t. salt

Black pepper to taste

Boiling water

Pour the dried beans into a colander and rinse well, picking over the beans to remove and discard any small stones, shriveled or discolored beans. Add the clean, picked-over beans to the bowl of your slow cooker.

Pour boiling water over the beans to cover them by three inches. Quickly cover slow cooker with lid and turn to HIGH. Cook for about 2 hours. (Beans will still be slightly underdone.)

Pour beans and liquid into a colander or strainer over the sink and return drained beans to slow cooker. Add ham (or bacon), molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt and pepper to the beans and stir gently to evenly combine all ingredients. Slice off a small disc from the blossom end of the onion and peel the outer layer of the onion away. Use a knife to slice a shallow "X" into the sliced end of the onion. Burrow the onion down into the center of the beans. Carefully pour additional boiling water into the slow cooker to cover the contents by two inches. Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours* (overnight, most likely!) Remove and discard onion. It has done its job!

Turn slow cooker to HIGH and allow to cook for 30 minutes to an hour to thicken the sauce. These beans are great served hot, room temperature, cold or anywhere in between.

*You can add more boiling water partway through cooking time if they look like they're drying out to you, but do not stir these beans. Stirring disturbs the way they cook.

My sons Aidan and Ty inspired this recipe in a moment when they weren't trying to take each other down. They made a black bean hummus in a cooking class they took last fall. They forgot to bring home the recipe, but a little thing like that wasn't going to stop me when my kids were begging for beans. This is the happy result of our experiments. If you don't have the time or slow cooker to cook dried beans, substitute with two cans of black beans.

Black Bean Hummus

1 lb. dry black beans

Boiling water

1 yellow cooking onion

1 bay leaf

1/4 c. tahini (sesame paste)

1/3 c. lime juice

2-4 peeled garlic cloves, chopped or pressed (to taste)

1 t. cumin

1 t. salt

1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper

1/4-3/4 t. cayenne pepper (depending on your heat tolerance!)

Pour the dried beans into a colander and rinse well, picking over the beans to remove and discard any small stones, shriveled or discolored beans. Add the clean, picked-over beans to the bowl of your slow cooker.

Slice off a small disc from the blossom end of the onion and peel the outer layer of the onion away. Use a knife to slice a shallow "X" into the sliced end of the onion. Burrow the onion down into the center of the beans. Pour boiling water over the beans to cover them by three inches. Quickly cover slow cooker with lid and turn to HIGH. Cook for about 3 hours. The black beans should be done. To test them, remove a couple from the crock with a spoon and blow lightly on them. If the skins curl back they are done. Remove and discard the bay leaf and onion. Use a slotted spoon to transfer black beans to a food processor*.

Add remaining ingredients; fix lid on food processor and process until smooth. If the hummus looks dry, you can add the bean cooking liquid a little at a time until you achieve your desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and serve warm or cold with vegetable sticks, crackers, bagel chips or pita bread.

*If you don't have a food processor available, you can transfer the contents to a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher or the bottom of a heavy cup.

Need something to serve with the hummus? Try these on for size. You can start with fresh or stale bagels. Any bagel that isn't fuzzy is a good candidate here. Keep in mind that the staler the bagel, the quicker it will toast!

Delicious (Almost) Instant Bagel Chips

4 savory bagels (onion, poppy seed, garlic, everything, etc.)

Olive oil spray (or olive oil and a pastry brush)

Kosher or sea salt

Black pepper

Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice bagels into 1/8-inch thick rounds. Spray or brush both sides with olive oil. Place bagel rounds on a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Bake for between 15 and 20 minutes, watching carefully toward the end of the cooking time to prevent overbrowning. Keep in mind that they will become a little darker in color and crispier as they cool. Store cooled chips in an airtight container. Or your mouth.

You can read more of Rebecca's recipes, kitchen tips and parenting adventures at www.foodiewithfamily.com. For more of Rebecca's Food With Family, log on to record-eagle.com/rebeccalindamood.