BEANS WITH BEANS
Back in May, three friends and I had the idea to rent a house for August (first quarantining alone, and then together as a pod). Unsure whether we’d be back to work in a real, physical space by then, we figured we could always cancel the reservation, but just having this one thing to look forward to got us all through some very dark times. Well, as I’m sure you have guessed, we didn't have to cancel anything! Because nobody is back to anything! “Great news”!
I’m only mentioning this because for anyone paying attention over the next few weeks, it might become apparent I am not cooking alone, and I refuse to pretend that I am for the sake of sparing my friends and myself a Covid-dining-related public shaming. That said, I will say there is something kind of sexy about eating with two or more people and simply keeping it to yourself; it’s what I imagine having an illicit affair must feel like.
Anyway, don’t worry, there won’t be any “vacation recipes,” because we aren’t so much on vacation as we are “not in Brooklyn,” but hopefully you will find the recipes and/or advice helpful for if/when you are sharing a house with more than one person, whether you want to be or not.
The first rule of preparing to share a house after being alone for so long is that regardless of how long you intend to be away for, you MUST overthink and overshare every single question, comment, or concern prior to departure. There must be emails, text threads, spreadsheets, google docs AND shared notes. There should be pre-house Zoom meetings to talk about all the things we failed to discuss on the aforementioned methods of communication and no fewer than three grocery lists going on at all times.
When you pack, which will probably not be until the day before (potentially leaving some things for the morning of), be sure to leave a few items behind that you absolutely should have brought. This is my personal packing style, meaning I failed to bring literally any t-shirts, but brought 42 pairs of pants even though it will be very hot all the time. Pack things into two or three large bags or suitcases? No thanks, I’d rather stuff things into several assorted totes to end up with approximately nine overflowing totes.
Purchase a garment of clothing that is just for this trip, because now other people have to look at you. Plus, time away is a nice opportunity to reinvent yourself and, well, we should really be dressing for the life we want. This is your Housefit. Michael opted for a pair of linen overalls that he has not changed out of in five days, and I am going full folklore in this dress from Salter House, which makes me look like I’m about to start haunting the hell out of this place. Is it a Nap Dress? A house dress? A dress for sad people? Who’s to say, but as someone who only naps naked, I am loving doing everything but nap in this gauzy, flow-y white garment. It makes me feel primed to do things like absentmindedly gather wildflowers while I mourn a lover lost at sea (have not done), and snap the ends off a bag of green beans staring off into middle distance, emotionally preparing to turn 35 (have done). I’m always nervous about wearing something all-white, but I figure I can just tie-dye it as soon as I stain it with something, which in full transparency, already happened yesterday.
michael, arriving for lawn happy hour in his housefit, a pair of rusty brown linen overalls; me, haunting someone.
When you arrive to the house, immediately get at least one pot of dried beans on to simmer (house rule #5: Always Be Beaning). I do this for the reason department stores used to put on a crockpot of mulled wine during the holidays in the 90’s: to set the mood. I also do it because I know they will serve me tonight, tomorrow, and probably the day after that because if there is one thing my friends and I love: it’s beans. Cooking them, talking about them, eating them. Beans for breakfast, beans for a snack, beans for dinner, because beans truly last forever.
[I feel like who among us needs one more recipe for a basic pot of beans? If you do, know that everyone very much has their own methods, tips, tricks, etc. they swear by and even for me, that can change depending on the day and the weather. But the basic gist is: Put a pound of dried beans (I am blessed with being a card carrying member of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club so really just cook whatever they send me, but generally speaking I especially love large lima beans and these smaller Yellow Eye Beans) in a large pot, cover by about 3” of water (no, I don’t soak them before cooking—I do not understand how soaking something for 24 hours saves time lol—but yes, you can if you want!), add 1 quartered red or yellow onion and a halved head of garlic (I peel neither), a few sprigs of woody herbs like thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, dried chiles if you have, and a half a lemon if you like (or maybe just the peel). Season with a good amount of kosher salt and add a healthy pour of olive oil on top and bring to a strong simmer. Turn the heat down to a bare simmer, leave the pot uncovered and cook until, as Steve Gordo puts it, “they’re done.” This can take anywhere from 50 to 120 minutes depending on the size and age of the bean. If the beans need more liquid as they simmer, add more water. Depending on the bean and your preference for their final destination, the beans can be creamy and fall apart-y or tender and semi al-dente. I am not a bean expert, just a bean enthusiast, but just know I feel like the only way to truly ruin a pot of beans is if you buy old beans (they’ll never become tender). If you want to know more about BEANS, this book from Rancho Gordo and this book by one of the original vegetarian queens, Crescent Dragonwagon, are great references.]
This is an old photo of some long gone beans, but you get the idea.
The next day, get ready for lunch and realize you only have condiments and tons of beans, so instead of going to the grocery store to stock up on essentials, go to the farm stand and buy a carton of eggs, 1 1/2 pounds of fresh, fatty tuna (because wow, surprisingly they have that?), and absolutely nothing else. I came home and put the whole piece of tuna on to slow cook, which you can read more about tomorrow if you become a subscriber to this newsletter! To my delight, I found some stowaway green beans in an abandoned grocery tote and figured if these beans accidentally traveled all the way from Brooklyn to be here, they should be a part of this meal, too (“beans and beans,” I really enjoy the sound of that). I found myself snapping the stem stem ends off (I leave the tail, it’s cute and doesn’t bother anyone) while listening to folklore and wearing that child bride ghost dress, living in a simulation.
the good news about this recipe is that even if the green beans have been hiding in a grocery bag underneath the seat of your car, unrefrigerated for 36 hours, they’ll still cook up very nicely here.
[Green beans are not as upsetting to me as summer squash, which I find to be as useless as they are abundant, but I always wish they accepted the flavor I thrust upon them with more openness. When someone asks me what to do with green beans, I rarely have an answer as generous or as vague: First, grill them (the big ones only, try not to move them till they come off the grill), roast them (at 450° until deeply browned and wrinkly), steam/blanch them (until bright green and still snappy), stew them (here you want them cooked for longer, and yes, they will turn a little army green which is part of their charm— there’s a good recipe for spicy stewed green beans with tomato in Nothing Fancy), or cook them in a large skillet or pot (with some olive oil until lightly charred and still a little al dente). Second, dress them with something very punchy. Like I said, it takes a lot to get through to these skinny beans, so, give them a lot (I can relate to these beans!). Point is, they are good cooked just about every which way, but no matter what, please give them a lot of attention (again, relating to these beans!!) with a meaty saltiness from anchovies or fish sauce, acidity from whole grain mustard, vinegar or lemon (preserved, whole, zest, juice—whatever), lots of raw garlic and plenty of fat (olive oil, browned butter, cheese). They can take it.]
For the Beans on Beans experience, it is absolutely what I’m sure you’re expecting here, which is: beans 1 + beans 2. Char the de-stemmed green beans in a large heavy bottomed pot or skillet until they’re just cooked and blackened in spots and add the brothy beans with some of their broth (if you’re using canned beans, drain and rinse them, then add to the green beans with a thinly sliced onion and about 1/2 can of water). Let them simmer gently in this for a few minutes so everything can get to know each other. Season the pot with vinegar and a few chopped anchovies at the end because I promise you, they really did need it (if you don’t eat anchovies, a dash of soy sauce would be nice). Finish with fresh herbs if you’re looking to use some up, but they aren’t totally necessary here (the first time in my life I’ve ever said that). There was a ton of savory, very delicious, and surprisingly unfishy olive oil from what I cooked the tuna in, so I make garlicky aioli with it. It was good, but couldn’t help but think of my friend Lauren’s aioli and how it’s always so much better than literally any other aioli, so I texted her “I love you and your aioli!” (Lauren is opening a market + cafe in Hudson called Kitty’s. I don’t live there, but that’s okay, I will be driving three hours from Brooklyn just for her food, and so will you).
beans with beans, which I have on great authority get better with age; a garlicky aioli with a little too much mustard made with the attachment for a hand blender because we could not find a whisk in this house.
Set the table and wish you had some bread crumbs, decide to open a bottle of wine because while no, you’re not on vacation, damn does this meal make you feel like you might be.
we drank the wine on ice— sorry!
Find the recipe for beans and beans here. Recipe for tuna with aioli will be available tomorrow to paid subscribers, which you can sign up for here.
Ask yourself, am I depressed because I can’t stop listening to folklore, or can I not stop listening to folklore because I’m depressed? Realize it doesn’t matter and listen to it for the 243rd time this week. If you live in Brooklyn, order one of these doshraki’s from Doshi by sweet queen Susan Kim, available for pickup at Winner Café & Bakery in Park Slope. In fact, order one for your friends and their friends, too. One week only! Buy a box of wine “for the house” and realize that boxed wine can meet your needs in ways you never thought possible. This is true for many reasons, but high on my list is that maybe at the end of the night when you’ve just watched Call Me By Your Name and cried a lot and need to take the edge off, can just have a lil pour without having to open a bottle at the end of the evening (boxed wine, a true enabler….of moderation!) Read this article about the new newsletters in food via Taste (A Newsletter is included and I am proud to say, it’s still the dumbest newsletter name among them, congratulations to me). Read this article about Sarah Schulman via The Cut and then feel inspired to buy her book.
Just subscribed to your newsletter because of your faux pas relative to Steve at Rancho Gordo! We love him and so it made Bean Club News! Anyway, looking forward to it, but what is "folklore?" Is it music, books on tape? What? I bean almost everyday. Today Yellow Eye Baked Beans from Crescent Dragonwagon.....
Thank you Alison for your writing, recipes and just being you! Thats why I've subscribed. $50 well spent.