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For the love of beans


Whole foods have become increasingly important to me as I make the move toward self-sustenance and inner peace.  I was never much to cook as a kid; my father was more prone to baking chocolate chip cookies, and my mother, badgered by the picky and monochromatic appetites of her husband and children, cooked a small repertoire of foods.  When I grew up, I found that I was totally incapable of feeding myself.  I spent a lot of money on fast food or easy food (I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and ramen.)  What attempts I did make at dinner were often fairly successful; the food, while edible, was bland.  I would stare in wonder at the recipes I had tried to follow.  I hearkened back on my time as an exchange student in Venezuela and marveled, remembering how my host mother or aunt or grandmother would simply grab handfuls of food and throw them together and suddenly there was a meal.  It seemed to me that they were fairies in possession of a magic I would never understand, let alone employ.

I’m good at salads, but give me some meat and veggies, or God forbid rice and beans, and I am useless at creating a meal.  My fear of spices persisted until about a year ago, when, as part of our typical conversation, I mentioned to my grandmother that I had purchased a particular type of soup at the store.  She exclaimed, with admirable horror, “Oh honey, you mustn’t buy soup!”  It got me thinking, and I began to experiment with stews.  I found that to make a good stew I basically needed the following ingredients:

  • beans
  • chicken
  • salt
  • pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bell pepper
  • as many tomatoes as you can possibly fit in the stew (this is my own personal prejudice; to me, tomatoes MAKE stew, and I will cut up six or seven large ones to put in.)

This was heartening.  I wasn’t able to cook while traveling, but now that I am stationary again, I am experimenting with beans, with what I feel to be are admirable results.

Rice and beans, with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, possibly a little bit of cheese, and most certainly a half or full avocado, is one of the most satisfying meals on the planet.  Thrown in a big bowl and stirred, I will eat this stuff fast and lick the bowl clean.  Inspired by Rebecca Orchant’s article “Don’t Be Scared, It’s Just A Bag Of Dried Beans“, I have been cooking them nonstop lately.  If you don’t presoak, you can still make a hearty meal of beans in about four hours.  Having tried both ways, I don’t find any difference other than the appearance (quick soaked beans seem to split a little more) and that doesn’t bother me at all.

Since I’m still experimenting, I’ll hold off on giving any of my own advice on beans, but wanted to provide a handy list of links (the above article is a great start) for those interested in bringing beans back.



Simple and effective pest control: Cockroaches

I was once told that Mark Twain professed that the reason he was an atheist was because of the mosquito; how could a loving God create such an awful creature?  After searching at length for these words I can decide he was misquoted, but the expression about sums up my feelings about the cockroach.  I am not an atheist, but sometimes I teeter; most often it is when I have just smashed one under a shoe and am wiping the explosion off whatever surface it had the ill luck to fall upon.

Cockroaches are the one insect that most find impossible to get rid of.  They are remarkable in their durability and propagation; once they get into your house, they are said to be impossible to remove.  In Chicago, we kept them at bay for several months, and then woke one morning to find that they had taken over the kitchen.  I spent a lot of money on organic sprays that were completely ineffective at prevention; to kill the roaches you had to spray them directly for three to five seconds, which also inevitably doused the dishes and utensils in the area as well.  I solved the problem by moving to Montana, where the cold makes it difficult for them to live, but this seemed a rather extreme measure to recommend to others.

Due to their gross-out factor, cockroaches are highly misunderstood; a little education can go a long way when dealing with them.  For example, most of us see them on our counters and floors, but cockroaches love to climb.  Boric acid (which is TOXIC when eaten, and should be kept away from children) sprinkled on TOP of your cupboards can work wonders- the roaches come into contact with it and bring it back home, which subsequently kills the others living with them.  I would recommend this only in extreme cases, and don’t apply it repeatedly; boric acid, when inhaled, can really harm you.

Thankfully, nature has provided a swell and harmless alternative: diatomaceous earth.  This swell powder is a type of rock made from the fossilized shells of diatoms, and can be purchased in a lot of places where regular insecticides are sold.  If you sprinkle it on your counters, in and on top of your cupboards, and places where roaches like to hide (behind appliances or the refrigerator, under the garbage can, behind the toilet), they get coated in it, and the crystals break down their exoskeletons.  You will see more roaches when using this method because, as they die, their dehydration will force them out of hiding to look for water.  Within two weeks, your roach population will decrease dramatically.

Roaches hate cucumber and garlic, and if you find they hang out in a certain place, slices of these will keep them away.  But the best solution to roach problems is prevention- clean your kitchen and bathroom thoroughly, and vacuum every nook and cranny.  If your vacuum has a bag, make sure you get rid of it in a trash outside your house; if it has a plastic container for dust, make sure you’re dumping it in an outside trash or dumpster as well.

Roaches, like all animals, are attracted to water, so fix any water leaks you have around the house and make sure your faucet areas are clean and dry.  Don’t free-feed your pets; rinse and dry their dishes after each use.  If you’re not using a faucet, plug it up.  Caulk cracks and holes where you notice roaches hanging out.  Put screens over your air vents.  Cockroaches want in because they need food and water and can’t find it outside.

Make sure you don’t have extra stores of paper bags or cardboard hanging around; roaches love the glue on paper bags, and cardboard boxes serve as excellent nesting grounds.

As a little bit of humor: