Spinach and white beans on toast & Oatmeal, black pepper and nutmeg bread

Spinach and beans on toast

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on hold, today. We’re switching to a cable internet connection. Apparently, this makes everything work much faster, so you have plenty of extra time to remain on hold with the cable company. But did I waste my time? Oh no, I did not! I watched videos of Elizabeth Cotten playing guitar and banjo. My god, she kills me! Here is her story as briefly paraphrased from the brief paraphrasing that is wikipedia. She was born in 1895 in North Carolina to a musical family. She played her brother’s banjo, and when when she was still very little, she took a job as a maid in order to buy herself a guitar. She and her brother would watch the freight trains run by their house on a single track while they chopped wood and drew up water. And they would sing as they worked. Elizabeth started writing songs, including Freight Train, probably her best known song. At thirteen Elizabeth began working full-time as a maid. At fifteen she was married, and shortly thereafter she had a daughter. She gave up the guitar, and didn’t play for twenty-five years. When her daughter was married, Elizabeth divorced her husband. She worked briefly in a department store. While there, she helped a lost child find her mother. That child was Penny Seeger, of the Seeger Seegers, the famous musical family. They took her home as a maid. She played one of their guitars, learned to play again almost from scratch, was recorded by Mike Seeger, and went on to perform with him, and become quite well-known in the circle of the folk song world. Elizabeth Cotten is left-handed, so she plays guitar and banjo upside down, plucking out the melody with her thumb. This is so remarkable to me! When she plays it sometimes sounds as if two guitars are playing at once. But she’s playing with two fingers! She taught herself to play, she turned everything upside down, and she made something sweeter and more beautiful than anything I’ve heard “correctly” played.

I found this video of her playing and talking. I guess it was made in 1978, and it seems as though it was shot on 16 mm, and roughly edited. I love everything about it. I love the darkness, and the silences around her playing, when she just sits and waits. I love the stories she tells. I like to think about her life, which seems so strange and important, and which I can only get a sideways, glancing picture of in my mind.

I made a loaf of bread the other day, with ground toasted oats, honey, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. I made the dough very soft and wet, so that the bread had a wide open crumb, kind of like a crumpet. I think it turned out very good. The flavor is subtle, you taste the honey, but the pepper and nutmeg are only hinted at. One night when I came home from work, I wanted a quick and comforting meal, so I sauteed some spinach and white beans and spread them on toast made from my oatmeal bread. I melted some cheese on my toast, too. This is sort of inspired by beans on toast and creamed spinach on toast. That’s a thing, right?

Oatmeal bread

Here’s a link to an Elizabeth Cotten album on spotify, I hope.

1 T butter
1 large bunch spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1 can small white beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped tomatoes or chopped cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 t rosemary
1 t basil
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
salt & pepper
dash balsamic or lemon

6 – 8 slices of toast. Butter for the toast, sliced mozzarella or cheddar for the toast, if you like.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and herbs and pepper flakes, and stir and cook for about a minute, until the butter and garlic start to brown. Add the beans, stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the spinach and a few tablespoonfuls of water. Stir to coat and cook until the spinach is wilted but bright. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook for a few minutes until they start to turn soft and saucy. Season with salt and pepper, and add a dash of balsamic or lemon.

Toast the bread till golden brown, and spread with a thin even layer of butter. If you like cheese on your toast, cut thin slices of your choice of cheese, and place in a thin layer on the toast. Heat till the cheese melts.

Place one or two toasts on a plate, and heap the beans and spinach over.

OATMEAL BREAD with honey, black pepper and nutmeg

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 t yeast
1 t sugar

2 cups rolled oats
3 – 3 1/2 cups flour
1 t salt
2 T honey
pinch nutmeg
lots of black pepper

Combine the 1/2 cup flour with yeast and sugar and warm water. Place in a small covered bowl in a warm place for about an hour. It should be foamy and bubbly.

Toast the oats over medium heat in a wide flat pan. When they start to brown and smell toasty, after a few minutes, transfer them to a food processor. Process until coarsely ground. Add the flour, nutmeg and black pepper and process briefly. Add the honey, the yeast mixture, and about 1 1/2 cups of warm water. (Start with less and work your way up.) Process until you have a cohesive dough, adding more water or flour as necessary. I made my dough very wet and thin – and this resulted in a wider crumb and a chewier bread. If you’d like it to be a finer crumb, make your dough drier. Process until the dough comes together into a ball, and then for about a minute more. My dough was too wet to knead by hand, but if you’re going for a finer crumb, you can knead by hand now for about 7 minutes, until the dough is elastic and soft.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl in a warm place. Cover with a damp cloth. Leave for about two hours to double in bulk. Fold the dough over to deflate it, and leave it to rise for another hour or hour and a half. Fold it down again, and place it in a lightly oiled loaf pan. Leave for about an hour to rise.

Preheat the oven to 425. Brush the top of the loaf gently with water, and place in the center of the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and hard, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Let cool before you slice.


5 thoughts on “Spinach and white beans on toast & Oatmeal, black pepper and nutmeg bread

  1. Hi Claire,

    I’ve been AWOL for a long, long time, so I’ve got LOADS of catching up to do. I’m so relieved to hear you all weathered The Storm with little more than a scare (and the power down, of course!)
    If ever you start thinking about (self-publishing?) an e-book of your recipes you can put me down for pre-order…
    Off to see what the farmers’ market has to offer this week…

    Love to you and the men-folk,

  2. Thank you for Sharing your Wedding Pictures with us. LOL one of Erich\’s big sisters got maerird. We all want to Congratulate you both. Our Best Wishes come from way within your Hearts for you both. Be each others Best friends, partners and lovers. Love each other until the day after Forever We All sent you Love and Best Wishes for Every & Always the Dittmann Family

  3. Pingback: French lentil & barley stew with sage, rosemary and port wine | Out of the Ordinary

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