The Deadwood Diaries: Black Beans for the Snowbound
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.
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.