We all scream for Cuban Black Bean

Last week, she was a busy one. I suspect this week will be just as crazy. However, I wanted to stop in and say hello -- Dear Blog, I miss you! Sincerely, Your Significant Other.

I know it's easy to romanticize the things that are no longer broken. It's easy to see beauty where once there were only shadows, because whatever darkness may have stepped at your door has now left you with a wide-open window. I enjoyed the summer, I did. Surely there were problems, both acknowledged on this site and discussed ad nauseum with others, but this summer -- it mattered. It matters even more these days because I'm here (and not, for instance, sailing around the Caribbean on a cruise ship.)

I spent a lot of time entangled in my loneliness. When others ask me, "Don't you get lonely, living alone?" I shake my head slyly and answer, "No, not really. I don't." There is a difference between loneliness and aloneness, and while at first I might have been both lonely and alone, I'm now rarely either. This isn't about being self-righteous, or having found some secret trick, or being in denial. I have great friends. I have a stack of books in front of me, and good music, and a bottle of great wine. There's chocolate in my cupboard and cheese in my fridge, and the amount of canned tomatoes, beans and sparkling water my dad so kindly brought me makes me look as though I'm a bit of a crazy lady (minus the cats.) I have good people around me and work I love, and while there are things I hope to do -- visit museums, walk through High Park, go for hot chocolate, eat Burrata-topped crostini, write, paint my apartment -- there will be time. Isn't that what Eliot said, anyway? I don't trust him, but I'm willing to bet he was right at least once in his life.

Sometimes I think about Alistair MacLeod, a Windsor resident and internationally recognized author (I brag because he's fantastic), and how he always talks about geography and how we are shaped by it (and how it in turn that geography is shaped by us, I'd add.) I also think place is what you make of it. This isn't always easy, and sometimes it takes a long while.

This weekend, I made this city mine. I bought a ham bone from an organic butcher in town, along with a dozen of those thick-shelled eggs I mentioned to you before, and a gluten-free baguette. I know the man who sold it to me, because he picked me out of the crowd of very tall people and asked me what I was looking for. The eggs were expensive, yes. More than many would be willing to pay. But when I heard the shells crack this morning and let the eggs fry in butter, and, with my fork, brought a taste of those orange yolks to my lips, it made sense. I think we're programmed to seek out the best deals, get the best bargain. This seems logical, it does. For those on a strict budget, there are no other options -- I understand and appreciate that, too. But some things have to matter more than money, I think, if you have the luxury of considering things other than survival. If you have a butcher, and a cheesemonger, and a fishmonger, and the man at the grocery store around the corner recognizes you and compliments you again on your hair as you pluck a gorgeous bouqet of parsley and toss it on the counter, a large city can feel like home. Even if you happen to find yourself alone -- gloriously, happily -- you'll never stay that way for long.

Perhaps you'll find yourself alone on a Sunday afternoon, after eating breakfast out with a friend from graduate school you haven't seen in far too long, after taking a long walk in Queen's Park and stopping to pay respect to the 31 fallen firefighters, after paying a visit to Queen West. You'll put music on -- Big Band -- and put a bright red Dutch oven on over medium-high. You'll brown the ham bone while unconsciously half-singing along to Nat King Cole's "It's Crazy", sporting the apron your old roommate gave you as a gag gift, and look forward to the phone date the two of you have planned for the evening. You might take another swig of cold coffee and thank your lucky stars you have a well-insulated apartment, and chop up a couple of shallots. You might think about Shakespeare because "shallot" reminds you of "Shylock" for some reason you've never quite grasped. You fantasize about Thanksgiving, about kayaking and pumpkin desserts and bomb fires. And then, somehow, you cook up a long-simmering pot of Cuban Black Bean Soup as you sink into the sofa with Eat, Pray, Love despite all of the flack the book's received from all of those snobby snobs and envision yourself in Italy, devouring artichoke after artichoke and downing glass after glass of wine, careful to sneak in some chocolate and cheese. Turns out you're right where you're suppose to be, right here, right now.

Cuban Black Bean Soup
Adapted from Kathryn Hill at TheKitchn.com
Yields 6 bowls

1 small ham bone (preferably from an independent and reputable butcher)
2 scallions or 1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pepper, red or green, diced
2 celery ribs, chopped finely
1lb (about 2 cups) dried black beans
2 bay leaves
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
1.5 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, as necessary

The night before, wash the black beans and cover with enough water to reach at least one inch over the beans. The following day, drain beans.

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, bring a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil to medium heat. Add the ham bone and brown on all sides to enhance the flavour of the dish. Fill the pot with cold water and add the scallions, garlic, pepper, celery, bay leaves, beans, chipotle peppers, cumin, oregano and olive oil. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a strong simmer. Allow to continue cooking for 5-7 hours, until the beans have softened tremendously and the mixture coats the back of a spoon, adding water as necessary to thin it out. Add vinegar, lime juice, salt, and pepper and let simmer 15 minutes more. Fish out the bay leaves and chipotle peppers (if they haven't fallen apart.) Kathryn Hill suggests garnishing the soup with sour cream and chopped onion, but I like my plain with a hunk of buttered baguette. Serve immediately, or re-heat with a little water to thin to desired consistency.


Silke said...

I just love reading your blog, it's so refreshing! Your view on life and your positive attitude toward everything makes me a happier person and so damn glad to be your friend :)

Thanks again for the chat last night. It was great talking to you, as always.

Samantha Angela said...

I often relish in my aloneness. Maybe because loneliness doesn't come that easy for me.

S. said...

@Silke -- I'm glad I make you happier. :) And back at you, lady.

@Samantha -- Same for me (both for the aloneness and loneliness.)

Kathleen Quiring said...

Maybe this is a stupid question, but do you literally buy just a ham BONE? Or is that just the name for it? What does it look like? I . . . I feel so ignorant. But if you say this soup is that delicious, I want to try it!

S. said...

Not stupid at all! You can literally buy just a hame bone, but it's a bone with some meat on it. Some are meatier than others, depending on your butcher. They're fairly inexpensive. You could also subsitute a couple ham hocks if your butcher doesn't have ham bones. When you use a ham bone, the soup sort of makes its own pork stock.

Kathleen Quiring said...

All right! Thanks! Now I don't have to feel like an idiot when I go to the butcher!

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