Check out the lovely and power-packed Mavis Staples singing a song by Stephen Foster (here's the actual album), a songwriter who has always been important in my life... I remember my grandmother singing his songs when I was a little girl and being transfixed by how pure and beautiful and sad they seemed all at the same time. They stayed close to my heart all through metal, new-wave, grunge, electronica, indie rock, etc., etc., etc., and so on and so forth. There is a simple and universal truth to those songs that is difficult to rival.
I don't mind admitting that this particular song resonates with me a bit too often these days. I have it much better than many, but damn, I look forward to a day when things don't have to be such a struggle. My own personal circumstances found me with major life changes (read: a divorce) that perfectly coincided with the economy tanking and giant corporate mergers that meant lay-offs for many, many good people and lingering freezes + reduced benefits for the rest. I kept my job, but due to those reduced benefits and insurance premiums rising plus the fact that I was now footing the bill for more, my take home pay actually decreased just as my household income was cut in two. Fun times. And I also don't mind telling you that this has just plain sucked.
But (there's always a "but")... despite how challenging it has been, the amount of personal growth that has occurred has been enormous. I have simplified. I have learned how to be resourceful. I have learned how to recognize which things I have control over and how to focus my energies there... and to how not let the rest ball up inside me. I have learned an amazing amount about navigating through the mire of bureaucracy. I have reevaluated which things are important. I have found strength and creativity and focus. I wouldn't trade those things... and as a result I have found that there is truth in that old saying that the best things in life don't come easy. I'd be perfectly happy if hard times came again no more, but if they do, I will know I am game for them. And, I just can't see ever going back to some of my old habits. I honestly prefer the simplicity. It's a habit that was perhaps forced on me, but a trend I plan to continue by choice.
Expenses have been high lately, and as part of managing that, I have fallen back on my stockpile of freezer and preserved foods. I know I have suggested making extra amounts of food and freezing it before as well as shared some of the preserved items I have made with produce from my Farmhouse Delivery.... when push comes to shove and you're not doing it simply because it makes things easier on a busy weeknight, but to get you through the thin times, it makes a world of difference. Instead of eating ramen, I have still been eating healthy, homemade meals in a variety of flavors. I am introducing a new category to this blog, "Well Stocked" to try to capture more of the foods I make and set aside for later.
Between my freezer, pantry staples, and handful of fresh items to fill in, here are some of the things we have been eating (and there is still more in the freezer!):
- spinach gnocchi
- split pea soup
- pasta with hot Italian sausage
- cabrito tacos with pickled peppers and frijoles charros
My recipe for frijoles charros has traveled to many corners of the world, long before this blog ever existed, in the earliest days of social media. It's an old stand-by favorite of mine, cheap, easy, and one that has made me happy by making others happy. It freezes beautifully. To make a vegetarian version of this, replace the chicken stock with vegetable broth and omit the bacon. You can also make this on the stove if you don't have a crockpot, just bring them to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer until tender. The cooking time may vary some, but I normally cook mine about 2 hours.
Yield: about 6 C
- 1 lb. pinto beans
- 3/4–1 quart homemade chicken stock
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
- 2 C chopped tomatoes (do not seed; use 14.5 oz undrained diced tomatoes alternately... if using canned tomatoes, look for BPA-free cans)
- 1–2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 hot pepper, sliced into rings (okay to omit this if you prefer a milder flavor)
- 1 sprig fresh oregano (or 1 T dried)
- 2 slices raw bacon
- water (about 3–4 C)
- chopped fresh cilantro to taste
- kosher salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Soak beans over night; drain.
- Place beans in crockpot.
- Add next 8 ingredients (through bacon); stir.
- Fill crock pot with water until it is about 1 1/2" above the surface of the beans.
- Cook on high approx. 8 hours.
- Stir in cilantro, salt & pepper to taste.
- Place any leftover beans into freezer-safe ziptop bags (in portions you know you will eat, no need to freeze all of it in 1 gigantic bag).
I adore this album, so many great covers of Foster's beautiful and sweet songs. It's worth checking out.