Wednesday 24 September 2008

Some weeks back, a problem with the bathroom wiring in our rental house’s bathroom made it necessary for us to disconnect the lights, fan, and heater.  Greg hung an electric lantern from the curtain rod (the electric outlet still works fine), and we use that for light.  Then about a week ago, the light in the kitchen went out, apparently due not to a burned-out bulb but to a problem with the fixture or the wiring.  So Greg found another lantern, a battery-operated one.  This one doesn’t work as well as the other, and in the mornings I generally make my hot tea by the light of the fridge.

 

This week I decided to make some refried beans.  There are a lot of taco places in this area (Mr. Taco, Quick Taco, and many, many more), and Greg likes getting bean and cheese tacos from these places.  I figured if he likes them so much I ought to serve them at home, especially since the ingredients are so cheap.

 

I started Sunday with five cups of dried pinto beans, which I purchased in a 50-lb. bag from The Cupboard Whole Foods in Denton.  I sorted and rinsed them and put them in the colander insert for my stock pot.  In the stock pot itself, I heated enough water to more than cover the beans.  When the water came to a boil, I put the colander insert into the pot, turned off the heat, and let the beans soak, covered, for twenty-four hours.

 

Next day, I placed two cups of chopped onions in the bottom of my big slow cooker and added the drained and rinsed beans, four cloves of pressed garlic, two tablespoons of coarse Celtic sea salt, half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, half a teaspoon of black pepper, and two strips of kombu, a Japanese seaweed that helps soften beans and imparts valuable nutrients to the broth.  Over all this I poured ten cups of water.  I cooked the beans on high for about six hours and on low for about six hours more.  (Beans seem to take longer to cook here than they did in Krum, perhaps due to the high mineral content of the water.)

 

Tuesday morning, I used my big slotted spoon to remove some of the beans to a bowl.  I figured one rounded spoonful would convert to about a taco’s worth of refried beans, and that ended up being right.  For our family, it came out to eight spoonfuls.  (The rest of the beans went into the fridge to be used in later breakfasts.)  I mashed the beans with a potato masher.  Then I melted about four tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet and added the beans.  I cooked them on medium-low for maybe twenty minutes, stirring frequently, then added some of the bean broth and cooked them a few minutes more.

 

Meanwhile, Emilie placed eight whole-wheat tortillas on two cookie sheets and grated enough cheese to cover them.  We heated them in the oven to melt the cheese, then spooned the refried beans onto the tortillas.  This made a nourishing, filling, and inexpensive breakfast for our family.  The two pounds of beans yielded four breakfasts’ worth.

 

We had refried beans again this morning.  I think Daniel is hankering for some quickbread, so tomorrow I will make blueberry muffins.

 

I heard once on a cooking show that the term refried beans, which sounds like it means beans that have been fried and then fried again, is something of a mistranslation of the Spanish frijoles refritos, or something like that, meaning especially good fried beans.

 

There are two pear trees on the property where we’re staying, within easy walking distance of the house.  For some weeks now, the girls have been snacking on the ripe pears.  (Sometimes the free-range cats follow them to the trees.  It is always amusing to watch a crowd of cats traipsing through a field this way.)  Yesterday I had the kids pick as many of the remaining pears as they could get.  Daniel used a ladder to reach the highest branches.

 

These pears are not pretty—their skin is covered with rough brown scabs—but they are firm-fleshed and less mealy than most pears, and as pears go I like them.  And Greg loves pear pie.  I peeled, cored, sliced, and bagged one pie’s worth before lunch.  It took an hour, which was ample time for me to figure out a better system.

 

So after lunch, the kids and I worked together.  Anna and I peeled the pears and handed them to Daniel, who cored them and handed them to Emilie, who sliced them and put them in the two-quart measuring cup.  Whenever the measuring cup was filled, I emptied it into a labeled bag and put the bag in the freezer.  Greg occasionally emptied the bowl of peels and cores into the compost bucket out in the deep freeze.  We talked a lot, and the time passed quickly.

 

We averaged about fifteen minutes for one pies’ worth, and in a short time the freezer held five and a half bags.

 

This morning I put the kids to work shelling what’s left of last year’s pecans, which they gathered at the farm last fall.  Before long it will be time to harvest this year’s pecans, so we need to get this batch eaten or at least frozen.  These nuts came from native trees, which are hardier than the papershell varieties and produce a tastier nut.  They are also more difficult to shell, but, goodness, what’s life without a little work between meals?

 

The kids worked outside in the shade of a post oak tree, in the company of the dogs and the outdoor cats.  They shelled maybe a quarter of the nuts today.

 

The house is coming along.  All our exterior doors are installed, the framing is finished, the metal roof is on, the plumbing is nearly all roughed in, and the soffit siding is being installed.  (Did you know that Spell Check does not recognize soffit as a word?)  We have been spending a lot of time at the Seguin Home Depot and have been very pleased with their friendly service of their knowledgeable employees.

 

This afternoon the whole family drove out to the home of Carl and Tina, our builder and his wife, who have both worked on our house.  Carl and Tina have many animals on their place; we were introduced to dogs, cats, turkeys, koi, ducks, guinea fowl, pigeons, chickens, a cockatoo, a parrot, turtles, a tortoise . . . I think that’s about all.  The peacocks did not put in an appearance, as they were miffed about something.  Carl and Tina once nursed a wounded buzzard back to health, and the buzzard got rather attached to them, though it eventually returned to the wild.

 

We looked at some pot-bellied stoves and other interesting antiques Carl has for sale.  There were a lot of old farm implements:  yokes for draft animals, a cultivator, a seeder, an unusual kind of plow, a corn husker, a cider press, and a grinding stone all set up on its stand with a foot pedal, ready to whirr.

 

We enjoyed visiting with Carl and Tina and with Paul, who works for Carl and also lives on the property.  Carl gave us an early housewarming gift of an old whale-oil lamp, a charming and curious little item.

 

The mornings are getting deliciously cool, and the afternoons are not so hot.  The ditches are full of sunflowers, and the elm leaves are beginning to turn.  Fall has officially begun.

2 comments on “Wednesday 24 September 2008

  1. Sherri says:

    In regards to your beans….according to an article in “Nourishing Traditions”, adding salt to your water while the beans are cooking will hinder them getting soft. You can read the entire article at: http://www.westonaprice.org/foodfeatures/cooking-legumes.html

    At the end of the article is a great table that I use quite regularly now when I’m preparing beans.

  2. mountainlaurel says:

    I have heard conflicting things about the salt. In my own experience, I have not found it to delay the softening beyond the expected time. It is only since we moved here that these beans have started taking so long to cook. I think there is something different in the water where we’re staying. The well is not in the best shape.

    I have used that excellent table several times. I’m glad somebody studied all that about the optimal pH and wrote it down.

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