Bok choy and black beans simmered in tomato coconut sauce

Bok choy simmered in tomatoes and coconut milk

I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday, in which I suggested that everybody can be creative all the time no matter what their job or financial status. I may have seemed to imply that, according to my slightly skewed definition of “a successful life,” a person would need to be some kind of artist to be happy. (And, to be honest, this is something I would wish for my boys, though I would stretch the definition of artist to encompass doodling, making nice meals, and humming nonsense as you walk to school.) “But wait a minute,” I could imagine somebody replying. “What if I can’t create anything? What if I just don’t want to?” Which is, of course, a reasonable response. And I’ve got another option for you. Because I was thinking that I also very much admire admirers. The ability to appreciate something is just as valuable as the ability to create something. In fact, I believe it is creative. It’s an important part of the creative process to be moved by something, to see its beauty, to be excited by it, to be a fan. In most aspects of my life I happily fall into this category. I like writing, but it’s frustrating, too, and not comparable to the strong pure pleasure of reading a well-written book. I’d like to make a film, but it’s so expensive and complicated. Watching good films, however, brings the pleasure of immersing yourself in a world of somebody else’s genius. I was talking to my mom the other day, who is a professor of music, and she said, (and I paraphrase) that she’d rather have the ability to appreciate music than all of the professional accolades in the world. I also admire a certain curatorial spirit. Some people have the ability not only to appreciate art, but to bring people together to share and celebrate, which seems so full of warmth and generosity to me. Nothing is created in a vacuum – if you’re singing along to a song you love as you drive to work, you’re an important part of the process of making that song, and your life is richer for it. So cheers to all of my fellow readers and listeners and watchers, as well as to the curators and patrons!

And I was thinking that cooking (and eating) is a perfect microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole creative process, encapsulated in each meal. It’s a distillation of the pleasure of creating and sharing. And it’s something we have to do every day! You don’t have to be a chef to take pleasure in cooking. And, as much fun as a meal is to cook, it would be nothing without somebody to taste it. I made this particular dish, of greens and beans with a spicy sauce, because a) we have tons of tomatoes, bok choy, broccoli, and napa cabbage from the CSA. And b) we all have colds, and wanted something comforting but spicy, and c) I opened a can of coconut milk yesterday to make my banana bread and I wanted to use it up. The sauce is flavored with cumin and ginger. It’s spiced with red pepper flakes. The black beans add earthiness and substantiality. The greens are lightly simmered in the sauce, so that they still retain their distinctive flavor and crunch.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s Song to Woody. I love the idea of Bob Dylan, idolized by so many, being such a fan, himself. Plus it’s really pretty!

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Slow cooked canary bean and moong dal

canary beans and moong dal

I’ve been feverishly cooking my way through all the veg from the CSA this week. I was a veritable tasmanian devil of vegetable preparation. I paused for a moment, to peer in my vegetable drawer, and…it’s almost gone! Just a head of lettuce left! So I decided to take a day off from primarily-vegetable-meals and cook some beans. I generally use canned beans, to my eternal shame. They’re just so easy, and cheap, and good quality canned beans taste fine to me! But I bought some beautiful pale yellow dried canary beans, and I wanted to cook them up. I’m a big fan of any dish that combines lentils with larger beans. Like urad dal & kidney beans in dal makhani, for instance, so I decided to make a variation on that. I used canary beans and whole moong dal. Both so pretty uncooked, and so drab when cooked! You could use any slow-cooking lentil (whole moong dal and whole urad dal are the two I know of) and any larger, firmer bean that you like (kidney and navy being two contestants). If you used a quicker-cooking lentil, it would just get softer and mushier, but that’s not a bad thing, because it becomes part of the sauce the beans sit it. I decided to flavor the beans with cardamom and smoked paprika. It all started the night before, when I simmered some bok choy with these particular spices and then topped it with peanuts. Baby, it was so nice, I wanted to do it twice! Ahem, my train of thought seems to be derailed at the moment, so I’ll just get on with the recipes, shall I?

Bok choy & peanuts

Here’s Howlin Wolf, Goin Down Slow.

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