This weekend there is a huge arts festival in my town. There are bands, and art, and beer tents, and people - lots and lots of people.
During the next few days, I will babysit for my grandkids periodically so they can have a break from the festival and so that their parents can enjoy the festival. It turns out that grandmas and kids have some of the same needs.
To get ready for what is a really busy weekend for me, tonight I stayed home. I colored my hair, did my nails, and had kind of a spa night. I even opened a bottle of wine. I contemplated going out to eat, but realized that staying home and relaxing would make me rested enough so that I can be a good, kind, and easy going grandma to my grandkids this weekend.
I even made myself a nice dinner. Well, it's one of my favorite dinners, and maybe you will not think of it as a nice meal, more like a common meal with a lot of comfort attached to it - at least for me.
Tonight I went against my general rule of not having leftovers and I made myself a pan of beans and rice. There really is no way to make a little beans and rice. But it's o.k. Every once in awhile I have to have a pan of delicious black beans combined with browned onions and diced tomatoes and seasoned with the perfect combination of paprika, cumin and ancho chili powder, served over fluffy long grained white rice and topped with a little cheddar cheese.
We sometimes like a particular dish because of memories it brings up for us. This dish brings back one of the most wonderful memories I have.
In 2004 after I graduated from my Master's program, my youngest son (himself a recent college graduate) and I took a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit my uncle, my mother's younger brother. (My mother came from a big family - 16 children - I know! So my uncle was ONE of the younger boys - I think there were 7). On the night we were going to leave I called my mom, who was 78 at the time, to say goodbye. She was telling me things that I should tell my uncle, etc., etc., when I said, "Why don't you come with us?" There was only the slightest of pauses on the other end of the phone, and she responded "Well, why not? Why not? She said with a little more conviction. "All I'd have to do is a load of laundry. Sure, I'll go. What time will you pick me up?" And that was that. My 78 year old mother was going to commit to a cross country trip with her grandson and daughter.
It took us two days. We stopped and rested in St. Louis on the first leg of the trip, and on the second day we arrived at my uncle's house as the sun was setting. My uncle's house is a magnificent adobe house that he and my aunt built. And by built, I mean they made the adobe bricks themselves and built the house brick by brick. It is a sprawling lovely home with a back patio that overlooks the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Beautiful really is not enough.
Upon our arrival, there was lots of hugging and kissing and my uncle was so surprised to see his big sister, because she was not supposed to be coming and we kept it a surprise. After everyone got over the shock that my mother was with us, my aunt opened a wonderful bottle of wine and started cooking. I can still remember standing in her kitchen watching her effortlessly putting together the ingredients while she talked to me.
My aunt and uncle had owned a restaurant in Santa Fe for many years, and my aunt was a wonderful cook. She took out a massive iron skillet and made the most wonderful red beans and rice I had ever tasted. We ate this simple meal with a salad and more wine sitting on the patio.
Food and wine never tasted so good. I have a memory of that night that is all misty and magical, like something out of a dream. It was so amazing to be in such a beautiful part of the country, sharing such a beautiful meal with my son, and my aunt, uncle and cousin, and most of all to have my mom there.
My mom and my aunt have both passed, first my mom and then my aunt. My mom died the very next summer, and a planned trip to Santa Fe with her sisters never happened. I have always been so grateful for that spontaneous moment when I asked her to come with us. It is a memory that sustains me when I miss her, which I do almost every day.
I use black beans instead of red, and I do a few things differently then my aunt, but a bowl of beans and rice always reminds me of that night in Santa Fe.
Here is how I make my beans and rice. You won't need many ingredients.
1 15 oz. can of black beans drained
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. Paprika
1/2 tsp. Ancho Chili Powder
1/2 a medium onion - I used a sweet onion, but a yellow one would work well too
a little olive oil for sauteing the onion
1/8 C. white wine (I usually drink white wine - hence the white wine - but you could use red or omit it all together)
1/2 C. rice and 1C water + a tbls. of butter and a dash of salt
I start with the rice to get it cooking. I put the water, butter and salt in the pan and as soon as I see a little movement, I put the rice in. I wait for the rice to come to a boil and then I turn off the heat and put the lid on. When the beans are ready the rice will be perfectly cooked.
I first rough chop the onion and then saute it in about 1-1/2 tbls. of olive oil. I saute the onion until it starts to brown. Then I add a little bit of wine (about an 1/8 a cup), with the heat on high. I just pour a little out of the glass that I'm drinking from.
Sometimes, especially when I'm treating myself, to a quiet meal at home I'll have a bit of wine while I make dinner.
After the onions have simmered for a bit to help evaporate the alcohol from the wine, I add the can of tomatoes and I measure my spices into the tomatoes and onions. I stir them in and let them simmer for a minute or two while I drain the beans. I used a fine mesh strainer to strain off the liquid from the beans.
This is the beans and rice simmering. I've added the beans here as you can see and you also see how nice a reddish brown the sauce gets - this is from the spices. At this point I turn off all my heat (I really hate burned rice), put lids on my pans, and set the timer for 20 minutes. I pour myself another glass of wine and to relax for a few minutes while the flavors and spices blend with the beans and the rice finishes absorbing the water.
I have found with trial and error that by covering the rice and the beans and tomatoes and onions and leaving them in their hot pans, they finish cooking without any burning. The rice has to boil first (keep an eye on this) and you must do the same for the beans, but then they can finish cooking with just the pan warmth and their own warmth.
Twenty minutes later my beans and rice are ready to eat. I put the rice in the bowl first and top it with the beans and a bit of grated cheddar cheese goes on top.
I'm ready for my busy weekend. Let the festival begin.