Nobody stands on the beach getting teary-eyed over the sea birds. That would just be silly. Certainly I would never do that! This week when we were at the beach, I saw something I’ve not seen in many decades of beach-going. The seabirds followed a school of fish so close to the shore that the lifeguards pulled everyone out of the water. The birds frantically ate, circling and calling – two kinds of terns, two kinds of seagulls, farther out large brown pelicans. Small silver fish leapt through the waves, where we had just been swimming. The dolphins had been following the fish, too, but they didn’t swim in as close to shore. It was a dizzying spectacle – the sun white bright on the sand, the horizon heaving and changing with each wave, the birds wheeling in fast flowing arcs, blurring your vision. I found it incredibly moving. The ocean moves me, anyway…literally, with each wave that sweeps me off my feet, high above the sand, and then sets me down again, where and when it chooses; and emotionally, with its vasty vastness and beauty and mystery. Somehow seeing the sea birds made me more aware of just how unaware we are of the life in the ocean. Their frenzied activity hinted at the world in the waves, but we’ll never know what’s in each smoky green swell of water, and what’s living where there are no waves, where the ocean is deep and dark. The birds know…they seemed to sense, as a group, when it was time to move on. (And it just killed me, that in the midst of all of this activity, a handful of gulls stayed apart, floating cooly on the water, not bothered at all.) By contrast, the humans on the beach suddenly seemed endearingly foolish – with our garish colors, our strange skin, our beach chairs and umbrellas and toys and snacks, our lumbering movements into and out of the waves. (I say this as somebody who gets knocked over by 2 feet of water!) We think we know, we think we’re in control, but we have no idea. I love that moment of recognition – I HAVE NO IDEA! – but it’s frightening as well.
And, of course, you love the birds and the dolphins, but you feel a little bad for the small silver fish, leaping through the waves. It’s the unavoidable cycle of life for the birds and the dolphins, but not for me, so when we got home, I cooked up some beans. But these are very very special beans!! They’re in a sauce made with red wine, sage, rosemary, and tamari. It’s a very savory, meaty, delicious sauce (umame-y?) I made it quite brothy. I served it over millet (we love millet!) which I’d made with the same broth that’s in the sauce, and I roasted some mushrooms and potatoes to mix in. I’d thought about cooking the mushrooms and potatoes with the sauce, as a sort of stew, but I really like them best when they’re crispy and flavorful, so this is how we did it. We topped the whole thing with fresh smoked mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. A simple salad of baby arugula and walnuts was the perfect crunchy bright accompaniment, and a good loaf of crusty bread was on hand to sop up the juices. The broth was the star of the show, and I will make it again! But Isaac loved the beans, and ate them very sweetly one at a time, between spoonfuls of millet.
Here’s J Dilla’s hypnotic Waves
2 T olive oil
a few tiny heads of garlic, roughly chopped (skins and all)
1 shallot roughly chopped (skin and all)
1 carrot washed and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 t sage
1 t thyme
1/4 t marmite
2 t tamari
1/3 cup french lentils
a few mushrooms – roughly chopped
Warm the olive oil in a big sauce pan. Add everything else and stir well. Add any other veg you have lying around – lettuce leaves, a potato. Apparently skip the brassica, but anything else is fine.
Cool over medium-high heat till it’s all sizzly and toasty – ten minutes maybe. The add about 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for a while. At least half an hour, longer is fine, if you’re just hanging around the house. Drain and set aside.
FOR THE MILLET
3/4 cup millet – toasted in a small saucepan over medium heat till it’s lightly brown and smells toasty and sweet
Put the millet in a medium-sized saucepan with 1 1/2 cups broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low. Cover tightly and cook for 1/2 hour. Add a few tablespoons of boiling water. Stir, cover, remove from heat and leave for at least 15 minutes, or until the rest of your meal is ready. Stir in a tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper, and fluff it up!!
FOR THE BEANS IN SAUCE
1 can red beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium-sized shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 t thyme
1 T loosely packed fresh rosemary, chopped
1 t green peppercorns, smushed or chopped
5 or 6 fresh sage leaves
small handful fresh basil, washed and chopped
1/2 cup (generous pour) red wine
1 T tamari
1/4 t marmite
at least 2 cups broth
salt and plenty of black pepper
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and garlic, the thyme, rosemary, sage and green peppercorns. Stir and fry until the garlic starts to brown. Add the tamari, stir till it’s mixed in and caramelized on the bottom of the pan. When it’s dark(er) and sticky, add the marmite and red wine. Stir till everything is incorporated, scraping the bottom to get the nice caramelly bits. Cook five or ten minutes, till the wine is reduced and sticky. Add the beans, stir till they’re coated, and then add the broth. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cook till the sauce is as thick as you like it. You can make it brothy or saucy, as you like. Add more broth if you’re in the mood. When it’s done, stir in the basil, and season with salt (taste first – tamari is salty!) and plenty of pepper.
FOR THE POTATOES AND MUSHROOMS
Preheat the oven to 425.
Chop 3 scrubbed medium-sized potatoes in 1/3 inch dice. Coat with olive oil, spread flat on a sheet, and pop in the oven.
Chop 10 oz white mushrooms or baby bella into quite a fine mince. Coat with olive oil, spread in a thin layer on a flat sheet. Pop in the oven.
Cook, stirring occasionally (with a metal spatula is best, so you can turn the potatoes without leaving the crispy bits on the sheet) until dark and crispy. The mushrooms will likely take 20 minutes, the potatoes a little longer.
Serve the meal thus. Give everyone a shallow bowl, and let them layer, as much as they like of each…millet, then beans and broth, then mushrooms and potatoes, then smoked mozzarella cut into tiny dice. A salad of arugula and walnuts is very nice on the side. (Or mixed right in!)