Red beans in red wine & tamari sauce, with roasted mushrooms and potatoes

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.

Red beans in red wine, tamari, sage sauce

Here’s J Dilla’s hypnotic Waves

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Crispy beet & caper wontons with port wine sage sauce

Beet & caper won tons

I’ve always loved stories (usually children’s stories, but you sometimes find it in Dickens as well) in which a character is subjected to terrible cold and hunger and discomfort, but somehow finds themself, in the next scene, basking in humble fireside warmth and nice things to eat. On our spring break, we went into the mountains. We went for a hike, despite the chilliness, and the predictions of rain or even snow. We were in a place we’d been before, and the paths always wound back to the beginning. They were all only a mile long. We could do that! Isaac got tired and wanted to turn around. The weather worsened. We thought – we’re in a loop, if we turn now, we would have been minutes from the beginning. So we trudged on. Finally we came to a map. The woods chilled and quieted, and a cold pelting hail rained down with purpose. The map said, “Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of this trail. Now turn around and trudge back the miserable 1 and half miles, with a tired 6-year-old and a 9 year-old who has twisted his ankle.” It was an oddly panicky moment! One of those, “who said I could be a mom, because moms are supposed to know exactly where you’re going and how to get there” moments. But we walked back, and for five minutes the sun came out, and it was nice talking to the boys while we walked. We got to one spot where somebody had obviously made a campfire. The dirt was wet and sweet, and the charred wood was equally fragrant. Don’t think I’m crazy, but it really made me want to eat beets!! Then the hail came back, and we were so grateful to see the end of the trail, and go back to David’s mom’s lovely cabin and sit in dry warm pjs by the fireside!

Beets are sweet! And beautiful! And so tasty! I can’t believe I ever thought I didn’t like them. They’re combined here with capers (or flavor dynamites, as they’re known in my family). The tart savory brininess of the capers is a nice relief from the earthy sweetness of the beets. The beets are grated and toasted, and they have a lovely, charred-sugar flavor, and an almost juicy texture. All of this is tucked inside a wonton wrapper (they’re so much fun!) and then quickly fried in olive oil. Making for a perfect little crispy pouch of juicy deliciousness. We had these as a meal with a big salad, but I think they’d be a fun appetizer or snack for a party with a bowl of delicious dipping sauce alongside.

What is that delicious dipping sauce, you ask? Well, it is rich and savory, made with port wine, balsamic, fresh sage, and shallots. It’s a bit like a beurre rouge, but it has a lot less butter in it.

Here’s Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. Wonder if he was craving beets as well?

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