Vegetarian Friday: Slow-cooker red beans

This is not a quick, easy recipe like the ones I normally post. It’s time-consuming. It involves some advance planning and a lot more ingredients than usual. And it is TOTALLY worth the effort.

If you want a quick version you can throw on the table in 20 minutes or less, with very little prep, I posted one a couple of years ago. What I’m posting today is the version you make when fall is finally settling in, the nights are just a little too cool for comfort, and you need something comforting and familiar with a kick of spice to warm you up.

Red beans absolutely MUST soak for 8-10 hours before you cook them, and they need to cook for a long time, so round up your ingredients ahead of time. This recipe is a variant of one I first tasted at a potluck during Twangfest in St. Louis about 16 years ago. The lady who made it shared the recipe, which in turn was a variant of one from a cookbook published as a parish fundraiser by the Holy Rosary School in Larose, Louisiana. She modified the original recipe for vegetarian purposes; I modified her version (which was baked for several hours) to work in a Crock-Pot, adjusted the proportions based on some stuff I needed to use up last night, and substituted a jar of my mom’s home-canned tomatoes and — of course — a hefty helping of roasted New Mexico chiles for the Ro-Tel listed in the original recipe.

Ingredients

1/2 lb. dried red beans
1/4 pkg. dry yeast
3-4 ribs of celery
1 green bell pepper
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. roasted green chiles
1 bunch green onions
5-6 cloves garlic
3-4 sprigs cilantro or parsley
1/4 c. Guinness or other stout
1 can whole tomatoes
1/3 pkg. Soyrizo (optional but SO good)
Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper
Salt
1 can cheap beer (Stag, Budweiser, etc.)
3 bay leaves

Day 1: Place beans in crock, cover with water, and sprinkle with yeast. Let sit for at least 8-10 hours — overnight, while you’re at work, whatever.

Day 2: Drain and rinse beans. Cover with water and turn on Crock-Pot to high.

Split each rib of celery down the middle a couple of times, then chop finely. Coat the bottom of a large cast-iron skillet with olive oil, turn on the burner, and dump in the celery. Push it around occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula.

While celery sautes, chop up the bell pepper. Add it to the skillet and stir.

Let the celery and pepper cook over medium heat for a few minutes, then add green chiles and stir. While the mixture cooks, chop the onion finely and add it to the pan. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is clear and starts to brown.

While the onion mixture cooks, peel the garlic. Lay the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of each clove and strike the flat of the blade sharply with your fist to crush the garlic. (Bruising it this way releases the flavor better.) Chop the crushed garlic finely.

Cut the root ends off the green onions and chop finely. Chop the cilantro or parsley finely. Add garlic, green onions and cilantro to the pan and cook for 30 seconds to a minute — just long enough to warm up the garlic a bit and release more flavor.

Add all the sauteed vegetables to the Crock-Pot.

Deglaze the pan with Guinness and add the deglazing liquid to the Crock-Pot. Stir.

Drain tomatoes and dump into skillet. Use wooden spoon or spatula to break them up into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle heavily with salt and pepper and simmer briefly, then add Soyrizo, breaking it up with a spoon as you mix it in. Let simmer a couple of minutes.

Dump tomato mixture into Crock-Pot. Deglaze the pan with the cheap beer. Pour the deglazing liquid into the Crock-Pot, stir in the rest of the cheap beer, and add bay leaves.

Cook 8-10 hours until beans are done. (They will be soft but not mushy — think al dente pasta, but in bean form. Red beans are always firmer than pintos or black beans, but they shouldn’t be hard in the middle.)

Serve over rice or couscous with plenty of Louisiana-style hot sauce available for those who like it spicier. (Rice is traditional, but I ran out and forgot to buy more, so we settled for whole-wheat couscous.)

Ridiculously time-consuming but inarguably wonderful.

Loss

The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Reclaim a closet door

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I like to paint — especially murals. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of paint for these projects, and up to this point, I’d been storing it in boxes and plastic tubs on shelves in the closet. That’s not a bad approach, but it’s hard to find things when you’re looking down at the bottles from the top.

A few months ago, somebody on Pinterest suggested mounting IKEA spice racks to the back of a closet door and using them to store art supplies. It looked nice, but those little spice racks are pretty pricey, and with a hollow-core closet door, I’d have to use special hardware to mount all of them — an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

I considered scrounging up some cheap boards from the scrap-lumber bins at Menards and building a paint rack from scratch, but while I was looking for something else one day at Target, I discovered this little over-the-door wire pantry rack and sort of filed it away in the back of my mind.

The other night, I had some time on my hands and a few bucks to spare, so I bought one and installed it on the back of the closet door.

It wasn’t quite the panacea the instructions promised (I had to use a few extra screws to anchor it, and it took some dinking around with a pair of pliers to get the nuts and bolts at the top tightened properly), but it still came together fairly easily and took maybe half an hour to assemble and install. For $37, I can’t really complain.

I love being able to see my inventory at a glance.
I love being able to see my inventory at a glance.

I like the way it allowed me to capitalize on the unused space behind the door. I can’t set anything at the front of the closet, because I don’t want to block the shelves or make my storage drawers inaccessible. A door-mounted unit that swings out of the way as soon as I open the door is a handy way to gain a few more feet of shelf space without sacrificing accessibility.

If you buy one of these, I’d recommend picking up a package of flat-head sheet-metal screws to reinforce the vertical supports and keep them lying neatly against the door.

Emily

P.S.: As always, nobody paid me for this post or gave me any free stuff to review. Links are provided for convenience.

Make-It Monday: Second attempt to defog headlights

After my failed attempt to defog the headlights on the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a couple of weeks ago, my mom mentioned something she’d read on one of those Facebook clickbait posts that suggested spraying the headlight covers with bug repellent and simply wiping away the fog and scratches.

I’d heard of doing this, but the people who had tried it gave very mixed reviews. Some people swore by it. Some people said it did nothing. And several people said it produced nice results, but only on a very temporary basis, as the chemical softens the surface of the plastic, essentially melting away the scratches and leaving the lenses much more vulnerable to future damage.

Based on those reviews, I was reluctant to use that approach, but after the other methods failed, I figured I might was well give it a shot. If I didn’t do anything, I would have to buy new lenses. If it didn’t work, I would have to buy new lenses. If it worked, even temporarily, I might buy myself a few more weeks — perhaps even long enough to finish paying off that dead Subaru — before I had to sink money into replacements.

I really had nothing to lose, so I grabbed the bug spray and headed out to the driveway.

Y’all. Y’ALL. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I can’t decide whether this is beautiful or terrifying.

Here is one of the headlights before I started:

Have I mentioned how much I hate the black walnut tree next door?
Have I mentioned how much I hate the black walnut tree next door?

Here is one after I treated them with toothpaste, Scotch-Brite pads, olive oil and lemon juice, WD-40, and a sock stretched over a belt sander:

At least it's shiny again. Sort of.
At least it’s shiny again. Sort of.

And here they are after I sprayed them with bug repellent and wiped them off:

Almost new, and this has lasted over two weeks. The previous effort fogged up after the first rain.
Almost new, and this has lasted over two weeks. The previous effort fogged up after the first rain.

They’ve held up for at least two weeks, and I noticed as I was leaving work the other night that the reflection of my headlights in one of our office windows was MUCH brighter and clearer than it had been before I treated them.

There is no question the bug spray melts the plastic. You can feel it when you’re wiping it down. It’s sticky. There is absolutely no way I would recommend using this method on a car with a nice factory paint job, because if this stuff will melt plastic, there’s no telling what it will do to your clearcoat. And I’m not sure I ever wanted to know that the bug repellent I put on my arms to ward off mosquitoes is capable of dissolving hard plastic.

That said, if your headlights have gotten so foggy as to reduce your visibility at night, and you just need to keep them going long enough to save up a few bucks to replace them, this is a fast, cheap way to do it.

Protip: If I were concerned about my paint, I’d apply masking tape around the edges of the headlights, wipe the bug repellent on with a rag to eliminate the risk of overspray, and follow up with a quick trip through the car wash.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Family time

I love summer, but it puts a serious cramp in my style when it comes to spending time outside. Spring, fall and even winter are much safer times to take the dogs out for a walk or let them romp around the park, and after an exceptionally hot summer that started early and overstayed its welcome, I’m making a concerted effort to enjoy autumn.

To that end, we take the dogs for several walks a week, and when time and weather allow, I like to join them on their trips to the backyard, too. Part of this is of necessity (if I’m not out there to supervise, Lillian refuses to leave the porch, especially at night), but it’s also nice just to be out there with my four-legged family members.

Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.
Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.

There’s something soothing about hanging out with dogs. Their worldview is so different from ours, and they notice things I’d miss. Each dog teaches me something different.

Songdog is one of the most affectionate beings I’ve ever known. No matter what’s going on, he looks up at me like I’m the most important creature in the entire world. Give him even the slightest opportunity, and he’ll teach you what it is to experience unconditional love.

Riggy is utterly irrepressible, as rat terriers tend to be, and it’s a joy to watch him stride confidently through the world despite having lost his eyes to a genetic condition several years ago. Every walk with him is a lesson in perseverance and resourcefulness.

Lillian — who was part of a breeding operation but ended up in a shelter for nine months after her owner got sick and had to give up all her dogs — is almost heartbreakingly neurotic. She responds to things differently than any other dog I’ve ever had, and she forces me to slow down and think about how my actions might look to a six-pound Chihuahua mix who is trying hard to trust me but hasn’t quite figured out how to be a dog and needs a little help understanding what’s going on before she can be OK with it.

Together, the three of them are helping to buff off my rough edges and soothe my frazzled nerves.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Check your tire pressure

Have you checked the air pressure in your car’s tires lately?

According to the EPA, you can boost your fuel economy anywhere from 0.6 percent to 3 percent just by keeping your tires inflated to the level recommended by your owner’s manual.

Properly inflated tires last longer, too, which helps conserve money and resources in the long run.

There are dozens of pressure gauges on the market. Invest in one and use it regularly to keep your car running efficiently and safely.
There are dozens of pressure gauges on the market. Invest in one and use it regularly to keep your car running efficiently and safely.

It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure regularly all year, but this time of year is especially important, because changes in temperature affect air pressure, and I’ve seen tires that were inflated to the correct level on an 80-degree afternoon drop by 5 psi or more overnight because the temperature dropped. A couple of years ago, we went to visit Ron’s family in central Illinois, which is about two planting zones north of us. The weather was warm when we left Southeast Missouri that morning, but thanks to a cold front moving in from the north, the temperature dropped about 40 degrees in the span of 200 miles, and as we headed home that night, the low-pressure warning light came on about 15 miles from my in-laws’ farm. We pulled into a gas station and discovered all four tires were running at 30 to 35 psi — well below the recommended pressure of 40.

Half a percent might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly — especially when you consider the cumulative environmental impact of millions of cars rolling around on underinflated tires — and it’s well worth the five or 10 minutes it takes to check your pressure a couple of times a week and top it up as needed.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: No-bake recovery treats

These are a good, quick recovery snack after a hard workout.
These are a good, quick recovery snack after a hard workout.

This recipe isn’t particularly glamorous or photogenic, but it’s an absolute godsend if you happen to be an endurance athlete, because it’s an easy make-ahead snack you can keep in the refrigerator and grab quickly after a long run or a hard hill workout to give yourself a nice balance of protein, fiber, and sugar to keep you from crashing and speed muscle recovery.

Ingredients

1 c. rolled oats
1 c. peanut butter, almond butter, or a mix
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Scoop out about a tablespoon of the mixture and form it into a ball. If the mixture seems too squishy, add more oats. If it seems too dry and crumbly, add more nut butter and/or honey. (The proportions aren’t precise, because the consistency of the nut butter you use will vary by brand, type, and oil content.)

Once you’ve adjusted the proportions as needed to make a workable texture, form the rest of the mixture into balls, place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and chill until firm. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Crosby, Stills and Nash

Have I already “Helplessly Hoping” somewhere along the way? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not. I’ve been doing this feature for so long, I’ve lost track of which songs I’ve posted and which I haven’t.

This is one of my favorites. That mournful guitar and those tight harmonies are just divine.

Emily

The danger in grabbing women

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one completely incapable of mustering anything even vaguely resembling shock at Donald Trump’s boasts about kissing women and grabbing their crotches without permission. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, you know this sort of behavior is entirely consistent with his public persona.

What bothers me is the number of men rushing to his defense, as if the behavior he described were somehow defensible.

Men who can’t or won’t distinguish between dirty jokes and sexual assault are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments involving compassion for women, basic human decency, or a recognition of women as human beings. If they were capable of understanding any of that, they wouldn’t have to be told not to touch strangers’ labia without permission.

I’d like to offer up another angle for those who can’t be bothered to care about sexual-assault victims’ feelings.

According to stats presented by worldwidedojo.com and attributed to a study by Simmons Market Research, 9.4 million American adults reported having participated in martial arts in the past year — 48 percent of them women.

If those numbers are accurate (and I’m not saying they are; I have unanswered questions about the study’s date and methodology, but these were the best numbers I could put my hands on at the moment), that means more than 4.5 million women in this country have at least some idea of what to do if a man approaches us in a sexually aggressive manner.

Not all of us were trained in defensive arts, and not all of us will remember our training well enough or have practiced it sufficiently to be effective against an attacker. But some of us will, and there’s no way to tell by looking which crotch is safe for you to grab and which will get you injured or killed.

I used to train with a black belt who was maybe five feet tall and built like a fireplug. I’ve never seen anybody who could take down an attacker faster than she could.

I knew another girl who looked like a supermodel. She showed up for her first combat karate class with about 15 years of ballet training behind her. Ballerinas, as it turns out, make excellent karatekas. Her first week in class, sensei taught us a move to keep strange men from putting their arms around us in bars. She came back the second week beaming with glee as she recounted how she’d removed a creep from his barstool for getting too fresh. I suspect if Donald Trump had met Ballerina before he met Billy Bush, his campaign would be in much better shape today.

I’m a fairly nondescript, middle-aged woman. I doubt the average man would find me terribly intimidating at first glance. But if you put your hand somewhere I don’t want it, I’ll put you on the ground and convince you to stay there politely until the cops show up.

We are out here. We are legion. And you have absolutely no way of knowing who we are until you tangle with one of us.

For the safety of everyone concerned: Don’t. Unlike Donald Trump, you don’t have the benefit of Secret Service protection.

Emily