Red bean, sweet potato & hominy stew and Olive oil rosemary biscuits

Red bean & hominy stew

Red bean & hominy stew

Well, it’s been a day of catching up after working all weekend. A day of laundry and grocery shopping and trying to get the boys to clean their room. It’s been a day of thinking about Martin Luther King Jr, of driving on the grey wintery streets, listening to fragments of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech on the radio, moved to tears. Obama’s first election was fueled by hope, it was buoyant with hope. And despite snide comments about hopey changey stuff, despite the sort of fatigue and discouragement that four hard years of dealing with Bush’s financial crisis have brought upon us, at this moment I feel more hopeful than ever. It’s not a hope as bright and far-reaching as that of the first election – but it’s a stronger, fiercer hope, based in reality and hard work. I don’t agree with all of Obama’s decisions, I don’t love every action that he’s taken, but I feel so grateful to him for starting conversations about health care, gay rights, women’s rights, gun control, climate change. Of course we should talk about these things! It’s remarkable to me that in 2013 these are issues we still need to address, let alone issues that take extraordinary courage to address. I think it’s difficult to understand just how brave Obama is for speaking publicly and openly about gun control and gay marriage. Despite petty political squabbling, despite ignorance, hatred and fear, we are taking small steps in a good direction, towards a world that must be inevitable if people are as kind and thoughtful as they have the potential to be. Martin Luther King spoke of non-violence with these words, “In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” I hope that this is true, with the deepest weightiest and yet most buoyant hope imaginable. Obama ended his speech with these words, “Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.” And that birthright is not a possession or privilege unique to Americans, but a natural or moral right possessed by everyone, the world over – to work for freedom from the darkness of fear, ignorance, and cruelty.

I felt a little silly posting a recipe today, (and doing laundry, and cleaning, and all other trivial chores). But, maybe that’s part of what it’s all about – about the freedom to get on with these things. These chores are trivial to me, but are luxuries for some people. To buy healthy, nourishing food for your family, to cook it up in a way that you feel good about. To have a safe, warm home to serve it in. Everybody deserves these things! In that spirit I present to you a recipe for a warm, comforting stew full of flavor. I bought pomegranate molasses for the first time, and I’m having fun playing with the sweet/tart continuum. I decided to pair it with a tiny bit of mustard, balsamic, sage, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika, to make a spicy, sweet, tart, smoky sauce. And the biscuits are incredibly easy to make, and very tasty, too. They’re butter-free, and the taste of olive oil in a baked good is always surprising and pleasant.

Well, there are quite a few songs I could choose for today’s post, but I’m going to give you Mos Def’s Fear Not of Men. It’s based, of course, on Fela’s Fear Not For Man, the lyrics of which go thus…

    Brothers and sisters
    The father of Pan-Africanism
    Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
    Says to all black people
    All over the world:
    “The secret of life is to have no fear”
    We all have to understand that

Mos Def’s song isn’t explicitly about Martin Luther King’s Day, but the lyrics have always resonated on this day of all days. He says, “A lot of things have changed, and a lot of things have not.” And there’s no doubt that this is true, for better or for worse. But the song is about courage in the face of danger, courage to work towards something that’s bigger than all of us. And it’s about a universal rhythm that beats through all of us, surely leading us inevitably in the same direction.

    All over the world hearts pound with the rhythm
    Fear not of men because men must die
    Mind over matter and soul before flesh
    Angels for the pain keep a record in time
    which is passin and runnin like a caravan freighter
    The world is overrun with the wealthy and the wicked
    But God is sufficient in disposin of affairs
    Gunmen and stockholders try to merit your fear
    But God is sufficient over plans they prepared.

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Millet and summer stew with black beans and hominy

Summer stew and millet

First we see a beautiful black and white shot of majestic mountains. Into the frame come the head and shoulders of a samurai, his back to us. He stands and looks up at the mountains for a few moments. And then he hunches his shoulders and scratches his head. He’s got fleas! We follow the back of his shaggy head as he walks, and without even seeing his face, we learn so much about him, from his posture and his gait. It’s Toshiro Mifune, baby! Surely one of the most charismatic actors of all time! As he walks, he comes across a farmer berating his son. The son wants to go off and join a gang of gamblers because, as he says, it’s better than a long life eating gruel. The film, of course, is Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa. It’s an action-packed film, with plenty of sword fights and intrigue, but, as with many of Kurosawa’s films, the real struggle concerns extreme poverty and deprivation. In this film, as in Seven Samurai, the inhabitants of a small rural town literally have nothing to eat but rice or millet, and they’re in danger of losing that. The samurai that fight for their lives and often to their deaths, are fighting for grain, fighting so that the son of a farmer can have a long life eating gruel. As with all of my favorite films, it’s the humanity and humor mixed with the drama that resonates. We love the samurai as much because he’s rootless, confused, and has fleas as we do because he’s charming and a brilliant swordsman. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a peaceful person of low ambition, and I think I could enjoy a long life eating gruel, if the gruel was as tasty as I could possibly make it!

It was partially because of Kurosawa that I went out and bought some millet. I’ve made it in the past, but not very well. I wanted to try again. I used a basic technique, described by Madhur Jaffrey, of toasting and then steaming the grains. But I cooked them in broth instead of water. It turned out delicious!! Everyone in the family liked it! Soft, but fluffy and flavorful. I’m a millet fan! I also made a sort of summery stew of lots of vegetables mixed with black beans and golden hominy. (You could easily substitute white hominy!) You could call it CSA stew, because I used up a lot of the veg we got this week. I seasoned it with smoked paprika, sage, and chipotle, and we ate it with toasted strips of tortilla. Everybody liked everything!!

One of the absolute best things about Yojimbo is the soundtrack. It reminds me of RZA’s soundtrack for Ghost Dog. (High praise indeed!!) Here’s Big Trouble, from the sound track.
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Toasted hominy and avocado salad

Toasted hominy salad

It seems to me that we usually have a string of days in June that are perfect. The air is creamy and cool and full of sweet wildflower smells and sharp lemony grassy ferny smells. It’s a little warm in the afternoon, maybe, but in the morning and evening you want to sit and bathe in the sweet air. You want to be aware of how lovely the air is at this moment, because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s so easy to notice when it’s freezing, or broiling, or insufferably humid. But this unsurpassable perfection, this ultimate air, as my boys would say, is easy to overlook. For some reason, when the air is like this, it makes me think about flying. I think about flying a lot, actually. Not with my rational brain (precious little of that!) but in dreams, and now and then through the day. We went on a bike ride this morning, and that feels like flying. We ride on a towpath between the canal and the river. The towpath is raised considerably above the water on either side, in most places, so as you ride birds will swoop along next to you, and you’ll feel like you’re flying with them. This morning we saw a turtle in the glowing brown water – head out, rough, wrinkled legs swirling in the water. It looked like a remarkably pleasant thing to do. That’s what this air feels like! Sometimes, as I’m walking, I’ll sense the weight of the air on my arms, and I’ll swoosh them up slightly, feeling the air move all around them, and I almost feel as though I very nearly know what it might be like to take off in flight. I told David this and he asked if I’d been eating any of the unidentified herbs in the garden. Heh heh. Try it! Here’s a diagram…

1. stand with your arms at your sides, relaxed.
2. Press your hands backwards sllighty – maybe a foot – with a slightly curved motion
3. Swoop them slowly forward – not too far, just like a dog begging, maybe. It’s all about the swoop, I think.

Anyway – you don’t want to be inside too long cooking on a day like this, so you want to make a quick and delicious and substantial salad, such as this one. A perfectly ripe avocado is a thing of wonder, too. In this dish, we find such an avocado combined with tomatoes, cilantro, basil, salad burnet (which tastes like cucumbers – fresh!), hominy that’s been toasted with sage and oregano, and a chipotle balsamic sort of dressing. Toasted hominy is nice – it doesn’t get puffy or crispy, but it crackles and pops while it cooks. The warmth of it makes the tomatoes and olive oil lovely and fragrant and just a little soft. We ate this with basmati rice, fresh farm lettuce, and homemade tortilla chips (that’s a flour tortilla sliced in triangles and lightly fried in olive oil). But you could easily eat it with warm soft tortillas.

Here’s Flying Birds by RZA. It sounds like wings pulling through the weight of the air!
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Red bean hominy stew & little cornmeal “quiches”

red bean posole stew

I’ve been feeling super blechy the last few days. Headache, stomachache, sore throat, the ague. I’ve got the ague, I tell you!! So I wanted to make something spicy and flavorful to clear the sinuses and get past my dulled palate. So I made this stew…red beans, zucchini, hominy and some spices – lots of spices. Hominy is, as I understand it, corn kernels, skins removed, treated with lime. Round here, you can buy it in cans (Goya! Oh boya!). It has a mysterious taste and a lovely texture. Soft but firm. It makes a very very nice addition to a saucy spicy stew. This stew was so pretty when it first started cooking – red, green and white. Lovely.

cornmeal quiches

To go with it, I made these tasty little…good golly, I’m not sure how to describe them! They’re not popovers, not muffins. For all the world, they’re like tiny little quiches. They make their own crust…of cornmeal toasted in brown butter. And the inside stays very dense and eggy and ridiculously comforting and tasty. They’re quite magical! They’re not hard to make, and I think they’re gluten free. I might try them next time with some grated cheese stirred into the mix, to make them more quiche-y than ever.

Here’s Old Corn Liquor, by Joe Thompson. He’s remarkable! And this meal really did include corn in just about every form but liquor.
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