Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tribute Beans

You know that feeling when you are digging around in the freezer and come up with a frozen gem you had forgotten because it was there for 'way too long?  A mixture of puzzlement (what is that? when did I put it in there?) and triumph (wow, cool thing for dinner!). That's just how I felt when I unearthed a smoked turkey thigh that I bought 'way back in 2017 and forgot. I couldn't even remember where I purchased it until I read the label - El Cerrito Natural Grocery!

I also had some pinto beans from Rancho Gordo that were a gift from Ferrari-Carano vineyards last Christmas when we attended their holiday celebration with Cousin Jan. So, I put the beans to soak and the turkey to thaw, dreaming of dinner the next day.

And the day after that. And the day after that! I forgot that what looks like a small package of beans makes a boatload once soaked, so I had plenty for us and for our neighbor Doreen, who was suffering from bronchitis. 

I used as my template a recipe that came with the beans, a recipe dear to the heart of Don Carano, the founder of the winery who passed away last year. I like the idea of giving beans as a tribute to Don, don't you?

I did change up the recipe. Don't I always?

Smoked Turkey and Pinto Beans

2 cups dried pinto beans
2 cups water, or 2 cups of chicken broth, enough to cover (I used water)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 pound lean bacon or salt pork (I used lardons)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 fresh sage leaves or 1/4 tsp dried (I'm not a big sage fan, so I omitted this)
1 small hot red pepper, dried, with seeds removed (didn't have so I did a generous shaking of Cholula hot sauce instead)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (didn't have, so used soy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

*1 smoked turkey thigh, cubed off the bone (not Don's idea)

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse. In a medium pot, sauté bacon, onion, and garlic, Add beans and cover with water or chicken broth. Add 2 chicken bouillon cubes if using water. Add sage, red pepper, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper. (*Here, I added my smoked turkey meat to cook along with the beans. It was already cooked, but I wanted it to share its goodness with the beans). Cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes or until beans are tender. Add Worcestershire sauce and adjust seasonings. Serve with Italian sweet sausages, French bread, and Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel.

 So good, so deeply smoky and satisfying, so sustaining and warming were these beans and turkey that we ate them for a week and still weren't tired of them by the time we got to the bottom of the pot. The sauce that formed around them was perhaps the best part - I literally scraped the bottom of the bowl to get every drop. Goozle heaven!

Next time, I'll make half the recipe but, all in all, I think Don would have been pleased with his tribute beans.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Back home from Hawaii and enjoying the first really drenching rain of the season, I decided to do some laundry and to change out our holiday napkins and placemats for something cheerful and bright. Digging down through the drawer that holds our table linens, I came across these, a gift from My Beloved's daughter Sarah's semester abroad in France. To me, they speak of the bright skies and sunflowers that Van Gogh found when he moved south to Arles.

Sarah was a International Studies student at the University of Oregon in 1997 when she elected to spend a semester during her Junior year in Provence. I admit to a teensy flash of raw envy when she would email her accounts of the wine tasting class she was taking and the relaxed and sunny time she reported having in Aix-en-Provence. Not a bad location for foreign study, huh?

Sarah started college a year before her parents divorced, and both she and Katie were kind to me but understandably a bit aloof when I came into his life around the same time. We had what I'd call a cordial relationship from the get-go, but a year later when Sarah brought us these beautiful placemats, I took them as an overture of true friendship; she knows how much I love setting a pretty table.

After she graduated and moved to Boston, she started her career, met Mr. Right, married, had two beautiful children, lost her mother to cancer, and moved back to the Bay Area, all in what seems in retrospect like a whirlwind, but really was about 10 years. Through all that time, whenever we used her placemats, I got a warm feeling as I decorated the table with their bright patterns. The edges are a little frayed these days but I won't give them up until they are so thin and threadbare that they no longer protect the table. They have meaning for me.

Thank you, Sarah.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Paddle, Two Paddle, Three Paddle, for to take me home...

There’s nothing like a visit to one’s childhood home to evoke a zillion memories. Hawaii is that place for me. I spent only two years there as a child back when Hawaii was a Territory rather than a State, ages six to eight, but it was the first place in our vagabond Navy life that really felt like home. Later, I spent six years there as a young adult. It is still, almost fifty years later, my heart’s home.

Imagine the delight of a six year old child who moves by car, Pullman train, and steamship from Washington, DC to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Greeted with flower leis. No more closed shoes. Warm rain in which to paddle. No more jackets. Open air classrooms. The swimming pool not two blocks away. No restrictions on where I could go in our little neighborhood, protected as it was by snappy Marine guards. So many kinds of freedom!

And the new flavors!  In those days, pineapples came right out of the fields, deftly peeled and sectioned with the same wickedly sharp machetes that lopped them off the plant, and dripping so much sweet juice that I have never again tasted such good ones.

Teriyaki sticks were made of thinly sliced ribbons of beef, slalomed onto bamboo skewers, marinated in a salty, tangy shoyu/ginger sauce that was looser and less sweet than today’s, then grilled on an hibachi. I need to experiment to reproduce that flavor!

Li Hing Mui dried fruits puckered our lips while sending sweet messages to the brain, a compelling whipsaw for the tastebuds. My sister Nancy loved Li Hing flavors, although she claims not to remember them now.

A beach day out at Makaha meant a long drive in our Oldsmobile, a picnic lunch packed meticulously by our mother, a soak in the sun for my already brown body, a swim in water of uncountable shades of blue and green, and the long, sleepy ride home. Sandy, salty and hungry as we always were, the usual stop at Tastee Freez for a cone was enough to have us all asleep in the back seat of our two-tone gray Olds sedan. I imagine that was blessed relief for the parents up front.

These and many more memories flood me when I visit these Islands, especially Oahu. Today, I visited my parents’ grave in Punchbowl, remembering all the years we were lucky enough to have them around. Dad has been gone almost twenty years and Mom nearly thirty. Tomorrow, we fly back to California where we live now, leaving behind this magical place that still means freedom and “ohana” (family) to me.

One of our last nights, we had dinner in Honolulu's Chinatown where there was a live Hawaiian singer, complete with guitar and muumuu. She had a clear, vigorous voice, and was asking for requests. I asked for an old favorite, Kui Lee's "One Paddle, Two Paddle" and she had me in tears with her sweet, sad version.

"One Paddle, Two Paddle" by Kui Lee.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle, for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I went away a long time, such a long time, a long time ago. Seen enough cities to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I want to smell the flowers, sweet sweet flowers.
Where the trade winds blow. Seen enough fences to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei.