I created this while sitting in the backyard of a friend’s 1920s Spanish revival house. That was in spring 2017. What you see here is quintessential Southern California—large mature blood orange tree on the right, kumquat in the upper left (next to the terra cotta roof of the garage), glowing balls of yellow rose blossoms below that, delicate golden spirea foliage below that and a couple palm trees floating through that amazing blue sky in the background. It’s funny, but if you went into my friend’s backyard today it would look almost exactly the same—except the blood oranges have all been picked and devoured. But the roses are in bloom and there are still a few kumquats on that tree (different from the ones I captured that spring). However, all of this is about to change because in the next couple weeks they are adding on to the back of the house and the landscape you see here will be forever altered. Sometimes I feel like my mission as a California landscape artist has always been to capture a beautiful, thoughtful or important CA moment, as it will soon be different. In fact, I am always a bit surprised if I paint a landscape, go back after a year or 10, and it looks the same. And in point of fact I am always a bit in awe when I find a particular view I have enjoyed that has remained the same over any period of time.
Of course this bit of SoCal tranquility belies the change that has already taken place inside the house, even before the planned addition has been added. It’s the kitchen! It was gutted and is in the process of being taken from its original early 20th century cooking space into the early 21st century. It has been a huge disruption for its occupants, my friends, and has been going on for several months now. But the real story here is about food, and the problems one might face when the kitchen is torn up and you have only a frig and microwave for meal preparation and are washing dishes in the bathroom sink. Friends, like me, know that it’s important to share food with friends in need. This whole process has been a reminder for me of all the needy homeless we have here in Los Angeles and the blessing a cramped dining room with a frig full of food might be for them. Count your blessings, right?
I am a great one for bringing food to those I love. Last Christmas I signed up my friends for six months of Harry and David’s fruit of the month club. The fruit started arriving in February and as of this month, the monthly gifts of lovely fruit stops. (I was certain the kitchen would be done by now.) I have also been randomly calling at weekend lunch times to see if I can bring over delicious sandwiches, brownies with whipped cream, my mother’s rice salad or beans. Yes, I said beans. I have about 5 different versions of those delectable legumes. A couple of my bean recipes come from my mother and she would describe herself as a good “winter” cook, making lots of lovely soups and beans. I usually only make beans during the cool weather as my summer kitchen gets way too hot even to turn on the oven to make a frozen pizza. And I’m not really sure if anyone wants to dig into a big bowl of beans when it’s 90 bazillion degrees outside.
I’ve taken my beans to friends who have been sick, just had a baby, as a house-warming gift and have even taken huge pots of beans on camping trips. When my first niece was born I took a large pot of beans to my brother’s house. My sister-in-law asked me what they should do with them. We come from “bean people,” my brother and I, so I was surprised with such a question. I replied, “Heat them in a pot on the stove, or microwave. Put a couple scoops in a bowl, add a dollop of sour cream and eat it with a spoon. Of course a lovely piece of crusty bread and a glass of Zinfandel will round out the whole thing. Maybe a salad?” Was she kidding?
When this same niece started eating solid foods I took this same sister-in-law homemade applesauce, made with apples from my trees. I had had a bumper crop of apricots that year and I added a few to the applesauce. It was such a pretty color and made it absolutely scrummy. Well, she didn’t even taste it, but ignored the half dozen jars on the kitchen counter. So, I took it all home with me and ate it myself. It was delicious! Usually my gifts of food are appreciated and well accepted. I remember my dad saying, “No accounting for taste.” Oh well.
Back to the beans…I have listed here probably my most favorite bean recipe. It has meat in it, so it’s not for your vegetarian friends. I usually make a huge batch, so I have some for me. Frances Mayes in her book “Under the Tuscan Sun” has a wonderful bean recipe called Ribollita. It’s in the Winter Kitchen Notes chapter of the book (winter, not summer…). It’s actually what I make for my vegetarian friends as it can be made without meat or dairy. I have even served it to my vegan friends that are in need of a sturdy meal. Ms. Mayes adds Parmesan cheese at the end, but I have found that even a fine dusting of any cheese kind of congeals in the hot bean liquid which results in chewy blobs of goo. Not a fan of that. So, I don’t add any Parmesan at all. And like magic it becomes vegan.
Here is my “go to” bean recipe, and for some reason it has no name. So I will call it “Beans.” (Disclaimer: Cooking a pot of beans, made from scratch, can take 4 to 5 hours. So, plan accordingly. It will make the kitchen pretty warm, so that’s why I usually don’t make it during the warm months. I hope I have made it clear that I don’t make beans in the summer…just sayin’)
¾ pound of dried beans (*1/4 pound of 3 different kinds of beans is my usual—e.g. King City pinks (probably only found in CA), small white beans, black-eyed peas.)
¼ pound split peas (works as a thickener when it breaks down)
* I like black beans, but don’t usually mix them with others as all the lovely pink and white beans take on a grayish color. And even a big dollop of sour cream can’t take away the gray.
- Wash all the beans, put them in a large stockpot and cover with lots of water. Once it starts to boil, put on the lid and turn off the heat. Let it sit closed up for a couple of hours.
- Dump off the water and fill with fresh water to cover the beans again. Add seasonings to your taste. I like salt, pepper, sage, oregano and lots of dill. If you are making non-vegetarian beans, add a couple ham hocks. If you are not adding seasoning meat, you will want to cover the beans with vegetable stock instead of plain water. I also put in a large washed carrot into the pot. (You may not believe it, but the carrot absorbs most of the farts from the beans. If you don’t believe me, make this recipe without the carrot. But I warned you…) Again, bring it to a boil and simmer until the beans are the way you like them. I prefer them a little al dente as they will continue to cook when the remaining ingredients are added.
- Ladle out the ham hocks and the carrot. Once the ham hocks have cooled you can pick off whatever meat is there and put it back in the bean mixture. But you must throw away the carrot. Don’t eat it! Add a large can of chopped tomatoes and chopped onion. For my family I would add a large chopped onion (Be careful with too many onions as it can somehow add back the gas the carrot has extracted.). But add whatever size onion you and your family can tolerate. I usually let that cook 45 minutes or so.
- Finally, chop up some kind of sausage into great hunks and add it to the pot. I usually use kielbasa. Now, it’s all over but the shouting and you just need to cook the sausage until it’s done.
- Serve it up in a bowl and drop in a spoonful of sour cream, if you are not on a diet and/or your cholesterol is OK. Maybe you don’t need a tutorial on how to enjoy this yummy CA comfort food, but eating it with a hunk of San Francisco Sourdough bread and glass or two of Zinfandel from Paso Robles will definitely enhance the experience. Enjoy! (Actually, beans are best the next day as all the flavors have had a chance to mingle.)
I didn’t plan to say so much about beans in this July 7, 2018 post, but my bean obsession doesn’t seem to have ended with Frances Mayes’s Ribollita and my bean soup recipe. I just finished reading the best book, called “The Little Paris Bookshop,” by Nina George. And in one chapter a small cup of bean soup called Pistou actually brings a character back to life after she jumps into a stormy river. (The recipe for Pistou and other foods mentioned in the book are conveniently at the back of the book.) So, now I am destined to try making Pistou and of course some of the other recipes Ms. George has so generously shared with her readers. Actually, these beans sound like they are a little more summer friendly as the beans listed in the recipe are canned, and are therefore already cooked. Her final recipe in the book is Lavender Ice Cream. Sounds like “cool” heaven to me!
With the mention of Lavender Ice Cream and the fact that it was 108 degrees at 1 PM yesterday and 102 today, it’s time to bring this into a summer place of food. Here is my mother’s artichoke and rice salad. Oh, and this one is good with some cold grilled chicken and my “go to” wine cooler.
Mom’s Artichoke and Rice Salad
2 cups of left over rice, cooled
2 chopped green onions (both the green and white parts)
½ sweet pepper (This is where you can add some color to the salad with red, orange, yellow, green or purple peppers. If you like big chunks of sweet pepper, cut them that way. If you just want a little crunch, mince away.)
10 or so sliced green olives (Here again you can add your favorite and if green olives are not your fav, leave them out or add just a couple. I love the green olives that are stuffed with chunks of garlic, and the more the merrier for me.)
2 six-ounce jars of marinated artichoke hearts (drained and chopped, but save 1/3 cup of the liquid)
1/3 cup of mayonnaise
½ tsp curry
- Mix rice, onions, sweet peppers, olives and marinated artichoke hearts.
- Mix the mayonnaise, 1/3 cup artichoke liquid and curry together. Then mix the liquid mixture with everything else.
- I like it room temperature, but don’t leave it out too long. (I’m always a little nervous about foods with mayo that are not refrigerated.)
“Wine Street Inn” Wine Cooler
There used to be a fondue place in San Luis Obispo. I worked as a hostess, waitress and cocktail waitress there. They had a great recipe for a wine cooler, which I got from one of the bartenders I dated.
- Fill a glass almost to the top with ice.
- Pour in a favorite wine to about an inch and half from the top of the glass. Do not use really cheap wine. (Gives me a headache just thinking about it.) I would probably not use a really expensive kind either. Besides I don’t think a heavy red, like cabernet, would work very well. Again, I often use moderately priced Old Vine Zinfandel’s for this yummy summer drink. (I also seem to often have a bottle of Zin in my cupboard anyway.)
- Pour in a generous splash of carbonated lemon-lime drink to the wine.
- Cut a fresh lime into eighths and squeeze the juice from one of those wedges into the drink. Stir with an ice tea spoon.
Keep cool! Bon Appetit!