on charm, black beans, and happy news
I didn’t plan on being gone for quite so long.
But, I think once I tell you what I’ve been up to for the past week or so, you’ll understand why writing about my dinner was a little lower on my list of priorities than normal.
Last Friday afternoon, sticky hot and drained from a long week, Chris and I piled into the car, and a mere (hah!) 7 hours later, arrived road-weary and ready for a drink in the fine borough of Brooklyn, New York. We were on the first leg of our mini-break in the Northeast, and shacking up in Park Slope with my best friend Vani and her boyfriend Sonny, two of my very favorite people.
I’ve been to Brooklyn a couple times prior to this trip, but on this visit, she donned her finery and flounce, laid out her very tastiest treats, and utterly wooed me. She plied me with street-side coconut ice, bracingly sweet and utterly refreshing after a long walk. On the very same day, she sneakily tricked me into downing a chocolate cupcake with a soft, delicate crumb, its insides oozing caramel, wearing a jaunty cap of cocoa butter cream, and dusted with salt, for good measure. The four of us plunked down on a shabby old sidewalk on a quiet street in Red Hook, and by god, we inhaled those things. Immediately post-cupcake, we rounded a corner near a block of charmingly dilapidated and highly photogenic old factories, and came upon a piano on the side of the road, of all things. This is one reason I love New York. I am firmly convinced one can find just about anything on the side of the road in that city, and the lovely result of a such a find is that you can have an impromptu jam session on a random street in a slightly out of the way neighborhood, and then get on with your now infinitely more awesome day. The evening wound down in a little corner cafe, friends old and new huddled over ancho chili (!!) margaritas, scooping and dribbling the most addictive queso of my life, and swapping tales.
I could continue for pages about the rest of our delightful time in New York, but this tale continues further northward into Connecticut, where several highly important members of my family live, as well as the heart and matter of this particular trip. This was no ordinary visit. No, we were on a mission. As was my father, who flew in from New Mexico. And my brother, up from West Virginia. And my grandmother, three sets of aunts and uncles, a cousin, and a family friend, there for additional moral support. After ten years battling tooth and nail with the U.S. government, the time had finally arrived for my very dear aunt and her equally dear husband to stand up in front of a judge in federal court, and prove his legal right to live and work in this country. A country in which he owns his own business. Where he rescues a kitten from a box in restaurant, and brings him back to live with them. Where he shows up at my grandma’s house on a bitter day when she’s lost power, coffee in hand, cleans out the spoiled food from her fridge, and insists she stay with them until the power comes back. Where he whips up one of the few pasta salads I’ve ever gone back for seconds of, ribboned with Mexican crema, zippy from cilantro and olives. And, most importantly, where he loves my aunt every day, a woman who is as vitally important to me as my mother, her sister, was, and who I couldn’t bear to see forced to move thousands of miles away to Mexico.
Well. As you can probably gather from the title of this post, we emerged from the courthouse in Hartford at 5:30pm last Tuesday, tears streaming down our faces from happiness; giddy, elated, bubbling with joy. Dear friends, we won. My aunt had refused to fill in her calendar past that date, not knowing their fate, not wanting to write something down unless they could commit. Now, she can scrawl in it with reckless abandon, plan trips, block out time for gardening, etc, etc. They can finally, again, live.
Many hugs and much celebrating later, Chris and I rolled back into town in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, still high from the day. After work the next day, too exhausted to put forth much thought or effort into dinner, I grabbed a can opener, garlic, and cumin, and made some beans.
These black beans aren’t glamorous, and they aren’t life altering, and you probably wouldn’t make them for a fancy dinner party. They are, however, just plain tasty, supremely satisfying, and almost too easy. A bowl of these will make you smile when you are already thrilled, and breathe a sigh of contentment over. I’ve made them countless times, and they are just the thing to cobble together when you need something quick and easy, but neither your stomach nor wallet can bear any more takeout. I think we all need more such dishes in our lives, for those highest and lowest of moments, the brain overdrive times.
Thankfully, this day was the highest of highs.
Celebration Beans, or Black Beans with Garlic, Cumin, and Cilantro
adapted from Gourmet
This dish is perfectly delicious by itself, but can serve as the base for a slightly more elaborate spread, should you so desire. This time, we enjoyed it with a few wedges of aged cheddar and slices of avocado, and were quite happy with the combination. I also sprinkled the beans with some toasted pepitas, which made for a nice crunch, but they are totally optional.
a 16-19 ounce can of black beans
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup tomato juice or water (I’ve used both regular or spicy V-8, water, canned fire roasted tomatoes with chilis, etc. All worked well.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Rinse the black beans well and drain them. Finely chop the garlic. Add the oil to a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and give it a few moments to warm up. Add the garlic and cumin to the skillet and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Make sure the garlic remains a very light tan color and that it doesn’t brown. Add the black beans, liquid, and salt, and cook, stirring, until the beans are heated through. Take off the heat and stir in the cilantro. Eat.