a blog by Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers
December 16
Generally, I'd rather be reading. But I am fond of arguing about dead presidents, driving vans around Mexico, and cooking. I try to create places and times that make you believe, just for a moment, that people aren't terrible and the world isn't a ghastly place.


Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 2, 2011 8:27PM

The Deadwood Diaries: Black Beans for the Snowbound

Rate: 14 Flag

 This post is the second installment in The Deadwood Diaries, a series about my move back to the woods after 17 years of living in urban areas.

 I have amazing friends who make shopping lists and stick to them. These people actually buy what they need for one meal, and leave it at that. As for me, I don't go to the grocery store to pick up a few things. When I lived in Seattle I may have claimed that I was just stopping in to pick up a few things, but it was never true. I never walked away from Ballard Market without dropping at least $60, and I only lived eight blocks from the store.  In a way, it's just the way my brain works: I navigate by sight, I form new thoughts by saying them out loud, and I don't know what I need until I'm looking at it. 

But it's also the way I gew up. The nearest decent grocery store was more than an hour's drive from our house. (By "decent" my Dad meant cheap.) A trip to get groceries was never casual, but rather a major expedition. For me it entailed breathing exhuast fumes and mouse piss from the nest-bound heater as our Datsun creaked along the winding road from Deadwood to Eugene, and then squandering another hour following my Dad as he pushed a groaning cart through the bulk section of Waremart, fishing multiple crumpled lists from the breast pocket of his checked wool shirt and muttering to himself (probably recipes). Needless to say, my dad was the sort of person you dread getting stuck behind at the checkout: from looking at his final haul you might have thought he was preparing for the apocalypse.


Liberty House

Photo by Becky Fay.

Living in Seattle, I shopped the same way, but with a twist: I bought everything I could possibly imagine needing for the apocalypse, but two days later I would return to 'pick up a few missing items', and I'd walk out of the store an hour later. Luckily, our house was home to a steady stream of visitors, so food rarely went to waste.  A typical dinner at Liberty House consisted of my husband Rich, me, our roommate Cornelius, maybe four invited guests plus kids, perhaps a friend or relative the guests unexpectedly brought with them, an impromptu house guest, and our neighbor James, who just happened to stop by. No wonder I was always buying food. (Happily, it should be noted. I love to cook for people.)


 The author in her Seattle kitchen. Photo by Becky Fay.

Everything is different now. In August we moved back to my home 'town' (technically Deadwood is a town, but to the urban observer it just might look more like a wooded area, or possibly the middle of nowhere). Not only do I have to remember how to cook for only two people, but I have to remember, period. I have to actually remember to buy butter, and cumin, and enough wine to last a week, and the dill I will need for the minestrone I plan on cooking in three days. There's no going back to the store, unless I want to waste a day on the mission. (To be fair, the butter at least can be found at our local general store, but that's a 50 minute round trip on a rutted road that is hell on our decrepit tires.)

Living in Deadwood is like being snowed in all the time. It takes a  monumental effort to get anywhere, and so you end up making do with whatever you have on hand. Good thing I'm a born scrounger. So far I've committed all sorts of culinary sins, including susbstituting red wine for white, oregano for marjoram, and whipping cream for milk. I've made stock without bay leaves, eaten spaghetti without parmesan cheese (those of you who know me know that I really suffered over that one), and even attempted shepherd's pie without onion. (If you want a real kitchen challenge, try cooking without onions for an entire week.)


Our Deadwood house in the snow. Photo by the author.

That said, I've been stocking up on dry goods and spices.  And it's not  because I am some kind of effete foodie who has a coniption over spice substitutions: snow has been hovering on the radar for days and in Deadwood being snowbound is no joke.  Luckily, some of my favorite recipes can be made with pantry ingredients. Perhaps the simplest is a pot of black beans, which can be served with peasant bread and sour cream and eaten as soup. Leftover black beans make a nutritious anchor for at least a dozen other simple dishes, including nachos, tacos, burritos, bisque, spread, and gallo pinto.

All you really need to make black bean soup is garlic, dried black beans, salt, cumin, some form of grease, and yes, an onion. Oh, and time. You need some time. Ideally, you will also have chiles, chipotle powder, cilantro or parsley, sour cream, cheese, epazote, bacon grease or chorizo, chicken stock...The list goes on, but you really can make a good pot of beans with the first six ingredients I listed.  Cooking time varies depending on soaking time and the quality and freshness of the beans; it should be between 3 and 5 hours, but requires very little supervision. Just don't add salt until the beans are already soft, because salting the beans early will slow down the cooking process and can ruin the experiment entirely. For maximum flavor, cook beans the day before, store in a cool place, and then reheat.


Reheating beans on the wood stove. Photo by Felisa Rogers.


2 cups of dried black beans

10 cups of water

4 cups of chicken stock (optional, can be replaced with water)

4 cloves of garlic (chopped)

1 onion (chopped)

1 bay leaf (optional)

2 teaspoons of cumin

2 teaspoons of chile powder (preferably chipotle)

2 dried chiles or 1 fresh chile (slit the fresh chile and put it in the pot whole)

2 tablespoons of bacon grease (you can use olive oil instead, or substitute the grease with actual bacon or chorizo)

sour cream and chopped red cabbage for garnish


1/2 cup of cilantro or parsley (optional)


1. Soak beans for a few hours or overnight and drain. (You can do without soaking the beans, but the cooking time will be longer.)

2. Put 10 cups of water, garlic, cumin, chile powder, chiles, the onion, and the bay leaf in a large pot (preferably cast iron).

3. Bring water to a boil, and then turn down to a low simmer. Simmer until the beans are soft. If fluid runs low during this time, add a little more hot water.

4. Add bacon grease and/or meat, and stock. If you have parsley or cilantro, add that now, saving some for the garnish. Simmer for another hour or so.

5. Salt to taste.

6. If you have time, let beans cool down for several hours or overnight, and then reheat to serve. Serve beans in broth, topped with sour cream and garnished with chopped red cabbage and parsley or cilantro.


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I love seeing photos of your spot in the woods...your kitchen supplies are like ours, if substituting garlic for onion : )
I feel your pain. I live alone, yet invariably it seems as if I cook for 12.
I throw way massive quantities of food.
Soups therefore, are one of my favorite things to cook, since they freeze better than they tasted originally so I can just pop one of my efforts from the freezer to the pot and not be so spendthrift. Oh, and nice to meet you!
I love your spot but understand.
I felt all cozy reading it and wanted to read more.
A real comfort post.
rated with hugs
This looks good. And I'm sort of jealous of your snowbound sojourn; I'm guessing it provides lots of writing time.
Hi, I'm so glad to have stumbled along your snow-bound trail. The inviting pictures and recipe made me feel like I was pulling up a wooden chair to join you at the table. I'm sure I'll be back. Keep writing.
Great photo of you standing over the stove, with the steam rising.
You really took us to Deadwood with your writing and pictures. Can't wait to read about more of your adventures.
Living in a spot like that looks so wonderful and a little bit isolating. Your cooking sounds excellent. Very cozy looking.
Bean are made for fortifying the body and refreshing the soul in wintertime. I hope you remembered the cornmeal for cornbread on that last store run. :) Rated
Thanks everyone!
(Nice to meet you too, Fred) I agree re: the soups, though I would love to hear anyone's tips on freezing as our new freezer seems to be a bit aggressive, and I'm finding ice crystals in all my cherished leftovers.
Blue in TX: I am hoping that you are correct about the writing. That is my goal, anyway. I am still trying to establish my routine, though. We all know how crucial that is...
Inspired. Great post & pictures. Your wood stove makes me feel like a wooz in the kitchen. (Sigh)

Seems like you're headed for publishing Deadwood Diaries.
Thanks, Vivian. Hadn't thought about publishing this particular series in book form or anything like that. Happy enough just to have readers here!
I can't imagine cooking without onions for one day, much less a whole week! Those pictures do look very inviting, however. (I hope you're doing some shopping online -- getting your spices from Penzey's or Spice House, for example, because they are cheaper than in the stores and they come right to your door!)
Cooking without onions is a nightmare. I will have to look into this online spice idea. I'm sure it would be exciting to get spices in the mail. (Which may something about my life lately...)
Felisa, I always look forward to your stories, and I especially like this glimpse into your Deadwood life. I love cabins and woodstoves and snow. These beans sound wonderful!
Thanks, Lucy. And likewise! The cabin and wood stove are definitely charming, though the wood stove is less charming when you are hauling fire wood or trying to build a fire in a freezing cold house. However, I am doing neither thing at the moment so I'm feeling quite friendly toward it...
I was hoping you'd get an EP for this...congrats!
Loved your description of the shopping visit with your dad.
Lovely photos - the Deadwood house in the snow looks amazing (so does the stove).

I'll try your recipe. I rushed out and bought black beans (among other things,) when the first snow fell here in London. I use them to make a vegetarian chilli.
Thanks, Ladies! And JT: Thanks for the good wishes! Helen, I would love to hear your vegetarian chili recipe when you have the time.
Brought a smile to my face, remembering the few shopping trips with Steve that I happened to be part of - it was definitely worth it, the end result being I got invited to dinner with you and Tina (and whoever else was in your entourage) which was always a surprise and delight to the taste buds. Hope to read more Deadwood Diaries.
Thanks, Dobes! Great to hear from you... Come visit me out here sometime and I will cook for you. Also, wish I was there...
Wow! You´ve got a lot of readers! and I´m proud to be one of them. I thought I signed up for an alert for posts but haven´t got any. Will try again. Great work, darling!

A very enjoyable read and the recipe was duly copied. Ill try it out. I was just out fishing on the Siuslaw below Mapleton last Sunday and blogged about it (, which generated, like, ZERO interest! LOL.

I don't know how you folks "out west" keep from getting major cabin fever out there in the rain an snow. I've been through D'wood a few times. God's the summer!

Congrats on the EP/Cover from a fellow Oregonian.
fantastic read, I'm just catching up on your posts this evening. I envy you the solitude and the simplicity of life in Deadwood. Of course, the grass is said to be greener, etc., but still...

I hope you keep this going, it has all the makings of a collection with a potential for publication.
Freezing tip: Invest in a vacuum packer. Your frozen foods will last much longer, without ice crystals, taste better, and retain their nutrients longer. The simplest bottom of the line vacuum packers are available for not too much money. They do use plastic--it's a trade-off between throwing away food because it has lost it's good taste or deteriorated in nutritional quality after several months in the freezer, and using plastic. But the bags are re-usable as long as they don't spring a pinhole leak, and recyclable once they do. If you spring for a packer with a few more features, you can seal food in wide-mouth glass canning jars, which eliminates the plastic conundrum.

I've had my vacuum packer for more than ten years, and it still works perfectly. I consider it to have been a very good investment!