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One-dish Pasta and Beans

We blog about this recipe here.

One-dish Pasta and Beans

Don’t let the somewhat long list of (vegetarian) ingredients scare you off.  Many of them are optional.  The recipe comes together rather quickly.

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes (or whole ones that you crush with your hands); do NOT drain
  • 1 3/4 c vegetable broth (or make it half white wine and half vegetable broth)
  • 1 can of white beans – such as cannellini, drained and rinsed – or 1 1/2 c home-cooked white beans
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • 3 oz dried lasagna noodles broken into about 1″ pieces; ditalini or macaroni (NOT broken) can be used instead of the broken lasagna
  • 2 c chopped chard or escarole or spinach
  • grated parmesan for topping (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, vegetable broth, beans and seasonings, including salt, bring to a boil and add the lasagna pieces.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lasagna is cooked – about 15 minutes.  Add a little more broth at this point if you want soup-y rather than stew-y.  Stir in the chard and cook over medium heat until the chard is wilted, about 1 minute.

Taste again and add salt, if necessary.

Serve in small bowls, topped with the parmesan.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Beans and Donuts: A Survival Story– Part I

Donuts_OCS

It is well known that certain foods can evoke strong emotional memories – sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good.  All of this talk in our blog about salads and their ingredients got me to thinking about “beans” (not the kind you are thinking of) and that lead me to think about glazed donuts.  Admittedly, lots of things lead me to think about glazed donuts.  If I ever have to choose a hypothetical “last” meal I would not hesitate to pick glazed donuts, four of them to be exact.

Just the thought of glazed donuts takes me back to one of the most intense culinary moments of my life, although I’m not really sure if it was good or not-so-good.  The moment took place while in army Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Belvoir in a darkened barracks at 2300 hours (11 pm to you civilians). Each of about 60 of us candidates were in our bunks and, by military regulations, “asleep”.  But far from asleep, we were each gulping down four glazed donuts (“pogey bait” in military parlance).   To understand why these donuts made such a lasting impression on me you need to know something about both official and unofficial ways to dine in OCS — at least back in the 1960’s.

OCS Colleagues

“Beans” from OCS Class 505, Golf Company, Ft. Belvoir, VA.  – 1968 (Candidate Raggedy snapped the picture so is not shown)

The official OCS dining routine was well established and clear cut. Befitting of future officers, our meals were served “family style;” for us there was no filing along the serving line to have army grub unceremoniously splotched on outstretched trays!  We ate on real plates at tables that each seated 9 of us underclassmen (aka “bean heads,” or just “beans”) and two upperclassmen (aka “white tabs”).  The catch, and a big catch at that,  was that for the 11 weeks that we were underclass “beans,”  tactical meals were mandatory.  Tactical meals required, among other things:  (1) sitting in an upright position with eyes locked straight ahead at all times, (2) cutting all food into pieces no wider than a fork, and (3)  after putting food in mouths, returning the knife and fork to the “crossed rifles” position at the top of the plate before starting to chew.  There were other rules, but you get the drift.   Any premature food chewing, “gross bites,” or errant “eyeballing” (I always hated that term) would get an immediate “SIT UP!” from one of the ever vigilant upperclassmen at the table.   Immediately all bean heads at the table had to cease eating and sit at attention.   To begin eating again, the bean sitting at the end of the table had to request permission to eat on behalf of his fellow table mates.  To do this he had to raise his hand in a proper military fashion (i.e., elbow on the table with the forearm extended at a 45 degree angle, fingers aligned along the thumb)  and wait to be acknowledged by one of the upperclassmen.   The exchange nearly always went something like this (keep in mind that throughout this the upperclassmen were relaxed and continued to eat):

Upper Classman (while forking a piece of pork chop into his mouth) — “Candidate Raggedy, what do you want?”

Me — “Sir! Candidate Raggedy! Request permission for the men to eat, sir!”

(Note:  we had to begin each comment with “sir” followed be our name and end with a resounding “sir!” )

Upper Classman  (casually helping himself to a second portion of mashed potatoes) — “So Candidate Raggedy, do you know why I ordered the table to sit up?”

Me — “Sir! Candidate Raggedy! Because Candidate Bradly chewed his food too soon, sir!”

Upper Classman — “Candidate Raggedy, you could only know that by eyeballing.  I want you all to continue to sit up and think about how to improve your tactical eating skills. How do you expect to be officers when you can’t even eat properly?  Permission to eat denied!… and, would you please pass the peas?”

This type of harassment would grind on and on until the commanding officer in the mess hall would yell “ON YOUR FEET!” Everyone in the mess hall had to stand abruptly and file out, leaving behind full plates of “family style” meals.  It was after a couple of weeks of this constant dining table harassment that the boxes of donuts materialized in our darkened barracks at 2300 hours one night, enough donuts that we each got four —  four delicious, soul-satisfying donuts.  What those donuts represented and how they materialized is the next part of the story.  So, stay tuned for a future blog where I will give you the skinny on the unofficial or dark side of dining in OCS:  Pogey Bait and Pogey Bait smuggling.

 

White Bread or Brown Bread: A Matter of Taste or of a Great Social Divide?

 

What can be more mindless than fixing toast for breakfast?  Just pop the bread in the toaster and voila!  But actually, the simple fact is that the Della Fattoria pumpkin seed bread baked in a brick oven with organic grains and Brittany sea salt says a lot about who I am and how I choose to project myself as a member of the larger community of toast eaters, not to mention how I’ve progressed since my growing up days when I ate squishy white bread.  Whoa, this talk of bread has awakened a suppressed urge to return to the classroom where, among other things, I discussed how our social identity and what we eat were intertwined.

[We suggest that to get in the right frame of mind you play the Newbeats’ 1964 Bread and Butter music while you read on].

I regularly subjected my students to the classic documentary People Like Us  published way back in 2001.  One segment of the documentary points out how our bread preferences coincide with how we see ourselves socially and how we judge others.  Even though the majority of Americans at one time preferred white bread, whole wheaters (which I am guessing comprise at least 95% of those who would follow a food blog like this) tend to be more highly educated and affluent (i.e., “higher class”).  The documentary shows a Burlington, Vermont “food fight” over who would get permission to build a downtown grocery: the Onion River Co-op (favored by brown bread eaters) or Shaw’s, a national chain (favored by the white bread champions). Even though the Co-op promised to honor the tastes of the masses, many Burlingtonians were suspicious of a place they considered too expensive and possibly also too judgmental of those who opted for “Wonder Bread, cigarettes, and red meat.”

OK, at this point  my former-professor-self gives me license to add a thought exercise for your consideration.  Imagine while in your local market you pass a neighbor as you push your cart down the aisle. As you exchange small talk you notice that in his or her cart is a loaf of  Wonder Bread (see illustration above if you are unfamiliar with what one of these looks like; it’s the one on the left).  What goes through your mind at this moment?  Contemplate this while I continue.

Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s recent White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf was published just as I was retiring from university teaching, so I never had the opportunity to share it with students;  you are now surrogates for my lost student audience.  For those who do not wish to read the whole book (there will be no quiz, by the way) refer to Tamar Adler’s New York Times (not so flattering) review of the book. 

In short, big changes in the U.S. bread industry began with industrialization and the rapid rise of the working class around the turn of the 20th century.  Bread baked in the home declined and increasingly became a staple found in bakeries and markets.  A combination of factors led to the “Wonder Bread revolution:”  (1) a fear that unsanitary conditions in the food industry caused disease (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was a major contributor), (2) a large influx of southern and eastern European immigrants, many of whom worked in the bread making industry and were perceived to be “ignorant of proper hygiene, and (3) technology allowing the efficient and relatively inexpensive steel grinding of wheat (vs. the old stone ground technology) as well as mechanically slicing perfectly shaped loaves of white bread  (because they were so soft and squishy they could not be sliced with a kitchen knife).    Now we know the source of the saying, “The best thing since sliced bread.”  According to 99% Invisible (our son Travis pointed me to this fascinating podcast),  “for middle and upper class whites, xenophobia become inseparable from fears about bread safety.”  The miracle of sanitized sliced white bread delivered them from the germ-infested brown bread of the lower classes.   The wonderful irony of this comes full circle when we consider what the Washington Post reports as the now booming artisan bread industry: brown bread has become the darling of the privileged class and beyond.  I ponder on these things as I munch my multigrain pumpkin seed toast.

So, the bread that we toast for our blog is more than merely toasted bread.  Bread undergirds our social stratification system and perpetuates the class structure (pretty dramatic stuff, no?).  It is no accident that not one of our recipes features a photo of a piece of white sliced bread.  We plead guilty to the class-based bias that artisan bread is preferable to sliced white bread.  However, that does not mean that those of us who are old enough don’t have fond memories of our more innocent childhood days when peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with machine-sliced white bread were routinely found in our school lunch pails. In fact, my suppressed urge to return to the classroom lectern is being nudged aside by my repressed urge to return to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on soft, fresh, factory-sliced white bread.

A final note:  what about the political implications of sliced white bread vs. artisanal bread?  According to a 2014 New York Times article,  “the most Republican-leaning company in the country, based on political donations, isn’t Koch Industries. It’s the company that makes Wonder Bread”.    I can’t wait to see what our president will tweet about his preference for bread, even though I won’t say which kind of bread I think he would prefer (more than likely,  sources who wish to remain anonymous will spill the beans).

I Have Eaten the Plums

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I understood nothing in my “20th-Century Lit” class which I took in 1963 at Colorado College.  NOTHING.  We read pages and pages of poetry, and each poem left me more confused – and wondering why in god’s name I thought I could be an English major.  (I should note: Andy had similar fears about being a college professor.)

I wasn’t the only one confused.  After a good friend wrote a lengthy (and hysterically naive and incorrect) response to a test question in her lit class, someone had to tactfully and delicately explain to her the “significance” of the corn cob in Faulkner’s Sanctuary.

But as far as poetry, William Carlos Williams is a case in point.  He lived from 1883 until 1963.  The Williams’ poem which we studied – and which sticks in my memory – is The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens 

In retrospect, reading the poem again and contemplating why Williams was considered so great reminds me of a favorite painting Andy and I have – which we bought at the wonderful The Arts Guild of Sonoma a number of years ago.  Upon seeing this painting for the first time, a family member remarked that her kindergarten students could easily have painted something just as good!

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Our Frank Kreuger art

Though it wasn’t included in Modern American & Modern British Poetry (my well-worn edition of the book, edited by Louis Untermeyer, was published in 1955), another Williams poem is quite famous:

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And so this brings me to Ruth Reichl.  🙂

Reichl, well known amongst foodies, was the restaurant critic for the LATimes and the NYTimes – and then the Editor of Gourmet Magazine – until it folded in 2009.  Her 2019 tell-all book – about her days at Gourmet – is entitled Save Me the Plums – because of her fondness for that Williams’ poem.

I’m still dense.  I couldn’t figure out why Save Me the Plums – a riff on the poem’s beginning line, “I have eaten the plums” made sense as Reichl’s title.  But – thanks to Google – I found the following Reichl interview with the LA Times.  I don’t want to ignore the deeper meanings, but my take on that interview is simply that being Gourmet’s editor was a “plum” job.

Including recipes seems to be trendy in food memoirs and Reichl is no exception.  I figured she’d be pretty sure to pick delicious recipes from Gourmet, given that she included only a few in this recent book.  I tried three – Spicy Chinese Noodles, Thanksgiving Turkey Chili, and Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone.  And all three were hits with Andy and me.  MountainWestBob, our friend in Albuquerque, gave the chili a try, after reporting that he loves chili but that he’d never made it without tomatoes.  And, yes, he and his wife, Gayle, liked it! Whew.

Though there were “plum” recipes in Reichl’s book, there was no plum recipe per se, so I’ve included a favorite of ours (and of many, many others). Continue reading

Turkey Chili

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We blog about this recipe here.

Turkey Chili

Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s recipe “Thanksgiving Turkey Chili” in Save Me the Plums.

  • 1 12 oz bottle dark beer
  • about 5 medium tomatillos (husked, rinsed, and quartered) – approximately 10 oz
  • 1 canned whole chipotle chili in adobo sauce (note: that’s just ONE of the chiles from the can – definitely NOT one can)
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T seeded, minced jalapeños (or more, to taste)
  • 1 lb ground turkey (dark meat is preferred)
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 of a 4 oz can mild diced green chile peppers (such as Hatch)  (optional)
  • Sour cream, yogurt, or Mexican crema (the perfect addition)

Pour the beer into a medium-sized pot, add the tomatillos, bring to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for about five minutes, until the tomatillos are soft. Strain the tomatillos (reserv­ing liquid), and then puree them along with the whole chipotle chile in adobe – in a blender or food processor. Pour back into the pot with the beer.

In a large heavy kettle cook the onions in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the onions are softened, add the cilantro, cumin, oregano, jalapenos, and garlic and cook the mixture, stirring, for another minute or so.

Break the turkey into the mixture and stir until it’s just cooked.  Add the pureed tomatillos and beer,  the chicken broth, the bay leaf and salt – to taste (about 1-2 tsp, to taste).  Simmer the mixture, covered but with the lid ajar, for about 30 minutes.  Add the beans and green chiles and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve with sour cream, yogurt or crema.  That’s absolutely an essential!  I season mine with a little lime juice and salt.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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