Friday, March 30, 2007


I got beans in the mail!

For those who don't know, every December Pim over at Chez Pim organizes Menu for Hope, which raises money to feed hungry people internationally by having food bloggers auction off prizes--books, dinners, cooked treats, ingredients, etc. This year, over $60,000 went to the World Food Programme.

There's something politically ambivalent about raffles like this. It structures giving around needing to be rewarded for the giving, such that only when your own wellbeing is increased by giving will you give. This means, in essense, that those who need financial assistance aren't worthy of receiving assistance unless they can give something back, which exacerbates their subserviant position vis-a-vis the donors. There's also the global politics of food aid, which some have argued helps keep famine cycles going in the developing world by preventing governments from having to answer fully to their populations for allowing mass starvation. (This is the argument of Alex de Waal's Famine Crimes; those with academic access can read this review on JSTOR, and others can check it out here and here. The basic thesis goes back to Amartya Sen's work on famine.) Finally, it's actually against my religion--Quakers strongly advise against participating games of chance, even those that frame themselves as "schemes of benevolence." Obviously, that doesn't matter to most people, but it's something I think about.

However, I decided to bid, because, well, I believe in the UN system, including the WFP, and because some of the prizes were fantastic. There's also the simple fact that, although there are lots of things wrong-ish with these sorts of events, there's also something really right: people giving nice things to strangers in order to help other strangers. So I bid. And I won beans.

Specifically, six pound of beans, a pound of quinoa, a pound of amaranth, a pound of popcorn, a bottle of hot sauce, and a lovely calendar, generously donated by Rancho Gordo, an amazing grower of heirloom beans and grains in Napa. When I was in the Bay Area in June, I bought a pound of their Anasazi beans, which are spotted red and black and have a flavor in the pinto family; they were delicious, and I got hooked. So it was clearly necessary to bid for them--and I won!

I got to select my bean varieties, so I got a good mix. Flageolets, for cassoulet. Vallarta, because they are green in the picture. Good Mother Stallard, because the description is so glowing. Brown Tepary Beans, one of the oldest varieties cultivated, which Gary Paul Nabhan wrote about so eloquently in his book Coming Home to Eat. Ojos de Tigre, for the stripes. And Vaqueros, because, while I loved the Anasazi beans, I had to try something new. The grains look lovely, and the hot sauce is powerful, which is what I like.

The calendar is fun, but it caused a fight in the household. It has a picture called La Jóven de Limones, and The Boy and I had a large fight about the meaning of the title. Essentially, we were agreeing, but we felt the need to yell, because we were using different terms to explain the same thing. Because one of us is a native speaker of Spanish, and one of us pretends she is a linguist. I won't recap the fight, because it was too dumb for words, but it revolved around this essential point:

In Spanish, these are limónes:

And these are limas:

We didn't disagree about that. Like I said, not worth recapping. We tend to call them the green ones and the yellow ones around here, just to be clear.

Getting back to the beans, I've started using them. You saw the Good Mother Stallards at the dinner party we held a few weeks back; they were definitely a hit, and I'm sad they're gone. The night I got the beans, I cooked up some of the Vallartas. Mine are much browner than in the photos. They were, however, the best freakin' beans I've ever had. Since I had been reading Barbara's entries on greens, and I had some spinach aging quickly in the fridge and a new bunch of kale, this recipe came together easily.

Rancho Gordo Beans and Greens

Put one cup dried Vallarta beans in water on the stove, and boil until done, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, pull the leaves of half a bunch of lacinato kale off the stems in long strips, and throw them in a bowl of cold water with two handfuls of baby spinach. Chop an onion and two cloves of garlic. When the beans are mostly done (edible but still hard at the center), heat olive oil in a pan (I used a 2 3/4 quart enameled cast-iron dutch oven) over medium-high heat and add the onions and a smidge of salt. Once they have started to soften, add the garlic and let it cook briefly. While it is cooking, pull all of the greens out and chop them quickly into decent size pieces. (It came to about 4 cups of greens.) Toss them into the pan, stirring to cover them with the oil while sprinkling with a little more salt. Let it cook slowly. Once the beans are just a hair short of done (when the skins just start splitting when you blow on the hot beans), pull them out and add them to the greens, along with enough cooking liquid to almost cover the beans over the greens. Add as much Rio Fuego Very Hot Sauce as you want. Cover the pot and let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Uncover, let the liquid cook off, and serve immediately, with more hot sauce if necessary.


Blogger bazu said...

I am ashamed to say that most of the beans you describe are new to me. I have beans several nights a week, but now realize that I'm hopelessly narrow in my selections: black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto... Right. Off to learn more about beans now.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

don't feel bad--i had only heard of flageolets and tepiary beans before surfing their website. it's hard to get to know about beans--supermarket beans don't come with a lot of info. that's part of why i love rancho gordo--they are very specific about bean varieties. i've also found a farm at the greenmarket in union square that sells varietal beans--both fresh at the end of summer, and then they dry the leftovers. it's my lucky day when they have some!

12:53 AM  
Anonymous koonj said...

Quakers don't do any games of chance either? (Except those involving beans ...) I don't either. I go with the stricter Islamic position on that, no lottery tickets, nothing.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

koonj--well, we don't have 'laws,' but we do have 'advices,' which suggest things one might want to think about. (stronger thoughts than this--the core ones about peace, equality, etc--are called 'testimonies.')

the advices class gambling along with drinking, smokng, and drug use as things that are Generally Bad Ideas. in the end, they are left up to the individual to interpret. i make my decisions in these areas based on a mixture of cost-benefit (i.e., smoking is a terrible idea with almost no benefits, ergo Bad Idea) and human relationship preservation. gambling stikes me as pretty far towards the Bad Idea end of the spectrum.

unless there are beans involved. (more generally, unless it's an excuse to give money i should anyway.)

6:31 PM  
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