I’ve been preoccupied lately with my health and with getting my daughter settled into preschool, but in the back of my mind has been a word — more — usually used as a modifier to a variety of nouns. Like this: more cooking, more reading, more work, more play, more travel, more music, more conversation, more entertaining, more laughter, more community, more exercise, more writing, more sex, more sleep, more fennel. It’s the time of year, I think, that and the fact that, somehow, another decade of my life has gone by in what seems to have been an instant.
It’s not like nothing happened during that decade. It was an extraordinarily busy time. I lost my father; earned a Master’s Degree and a PhD.; got married; bought a house; and had a baby. I started teaching, wrote a dissertation, and went to conferences. I spent summers in England, France, and Michigan. I made shorter trips to Spain and Italy (with an 18-month old child in tow). I have become a better cook and writer. I started running. Hell, I even read the unabridged version of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Still, I keep thinking of all of those things that I didn’t do or didn’t do enough of, mostly the latter –things like reading, exercising, and sleeping. Unfortunately, most of the things I’d like to do are contingent upon having more time, which is, of course, notoriously hard to find more of.
Even when a bit of time opens up — as it has this week, now that Mimi has started preschool — I can’t easily decide what to do with it. I fear that my new little pocket of time will be frittered away with minutiae, those petty little tasks that are so much a part of life — with maintenance, not meaning.
My friend Amy, who is working to finish her dissertation while living in Rome this year with her husband and young son, recently wrote about the need to balance work with play. It is a hard balance to strike. I struggle with this, being more inclined to focus on things that are pressing instead of things that are important. I fritter away the hours as pathetically as the Democrats frittered away their time in control of the Senate (damn them!).
I’m not sure how to change my tendencies, but over the past few days, I have been struck by the fact that although the words “more” and “less” are typically juxtaposed, in some ways, the words “more” and “better” may be more productively opposed. Perhaps I would be well-served by doing things better as opposed to doing more of them. Better friendships, as opposed to more of them. Better cooking as opposed to more of it.
Of course, becoming better at something often means doing more of it. As the Great Houdini once claimed, magic involves practice. What to do about that?
And, what does any of this have to do with cooking?
I guess it will function as an awkward transition to a good meatless recipe. Speaking of better, the recipe comes from the Steve Sando’s cookbook, Heirloom Beans. Sando is the genius behind Rancho Gordo, an online company that sells the most incredible heirloom beans grown by Sando himself. I’m completely obsessed with these things. It’s tremendously satisfying to eat something that is not only carefully grown and romantically named but that is also food that we should all eat more of. The following recipe calls for a variety of bean called Yellow Indian Woman, which are, as these photos attest, truly lovely. They are also delicious. Jim thought they tasted a bit like pinto beans, which Sando recommends as a substitute.
Making the fritters involves several steps, none of them difficult, and the use of a food processor, but the results are magical. A bit of honest labor for a delicious and healthy vegetarian meal: what could be better than that?
Yellow Indian Woman Fritters (barely adapted from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando & Vanessa Barrington)
2 cups drained, cooked Yellow Indian Woman Beans (or Pinto beans)
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup small red onion
1 cup yellow cornmeal, more if needed
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs. sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, more if needed
1 egg, beaten
2 tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
Grated zest of one lime
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
safflower oil or grapeseed oil for frying
In a food processor, purée 1 1/2 cups beans, milk, and the onion until a smooth paste forms, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides.
In a large bowl, mash the remaining beans with a potato masher or fork. Add the beans from the processor, cornmeal, flour, sugar, buttermilk, lime zest, cilantro, egg, salt & pepper. Mix well. The mixture should look like oatmeal. Add more cornmeal or buttermilk, as necessary.
Heat 1/2 inch of oil over medium–high heat in a large frying pan. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. When oil is shimmering, but not smoking, add one tablespoon’s worth of batter to the pan. If the fritter smokes, turn down the heat. Fry the fritters in batches of 4-6. Do not crowd the pan. Turn the fritters over carefully when they are a nice, golden-brown color. You’ll want to cook both sides.
Drain the fritters on the baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. You should wind up with around 12 fritters. I served these with tapenade and yogurt — Sando recommends salsa and sour cream — and my favorite fennel salad.