Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kitchen-Cabinet Homesteading, or Boston Baked Beans for a Rainy Day

After weeks of undeserved balmy sunshine, woke up today to more typical Northern California winter weather: blustery rain and flannel-bathrobe temperatures. Nothing in the house for the usual morning meal chez PQ (plain yogurt over fruit, cafe au lait, toast) due to PQ Castle's being vacant since Wednesday in order to enjoy (and write about) the 31st annual EcoFarm Conference down in Asilomar.

Perhaps this would make some people put on their jeans and head out to the store for milk, coffee, and Grape-Nuts. Instead, inspired by the Homesteading workshop I'd just attended, as well as inherent Sunday-morning laziness, I padded from bed to to food-storage room (a.k.a. the studio's kitchen cupboard) to see what PQ had put up for the winter. Ah, oatmeal, currants, an apple, and a tin of smoky lapsong suchong tea: breakfast! And over here, a bag of multi-grain cereal, a jar of honey, polenta, rye flour, whole-wheat flour, yeast, and salt--all the ingredients, plus butter, for Easy Multi-Grain Bread.

Because I love to make gingerbread, there's also the dregs of a jar of molasses. Leftover from making bread-and-butter pickles last summer, some dry mustard, and from general thriftiness, a jam jar filled with dried little white beans. Boston baked beans! I haven't made these for years, but they are amazingly tasty and satisfying, bearing no resemblance to those disgusting mushy canned ones bathed in sweet goo, and a great way reason to keep the oven on all day. Warm apartment! They are a fantastic example of the sum being madly more than its parts. The parts are really cheap and unexciting, but all it takes is a long, slow commingling in a dark warm place to turn them into the pride of New England.

Not having grown up with pork in the house (the Jew thing), I appreciate the Little-House-on-the-Prairie idea of salt pork, or pork fatback, more than I really want to eat it, so I generally make my beans without the typical slab of pork fat on top. Today, though, I still had the remains of the holidays' tub of pastry-making, happy-pig lard in the fridge, so I dropped a spoonful of this good stuff into the pot first.

You should really soak your beans overnight, unless, like me, you wake up wanting baked beans for dinner today. Since my beans were small (pinkie-nail sized), I figured a brief soak would be enough. So, a cold-water soak for an hour or so, then another hour or so of simmering, until I could dip out a spoonful of beans, blow on them and watch their skins curl back. Drain the beans and save the cooking water. Then, the beans go into my recently retrieved-from-storage, incredibly battered, $1-at-the-Bernal-Hill-Garage-Sale, pig-greased Le Creuset pot. A peeled onion in the middle, and generous sprinkles of mustard, smoked paprika, and salt over the top, plus ropy dark wriggles of molasses. Add back enough bean-cooking liquid to just cover the beans. Bring this all to a simmer on the top of the stove with the lid on, then into a preheated slow oven, 250 degrees.

When you think of it, stir gently and check the liquid level, adding more bean-cooking liquid or water to keep the beans just barely submerged.

So, that's been the morning's activity. Bread dough rising and beans baking to go with the collard greens from C & S's garden, stashed in the fridge from last week's party with the ladies. Now, perhaps, time to peel off the flannel jammies, put on shoes and get some provisions from the farmers braving the rain at the Temescal farmers' market. Can never have too many satsumas at this time of year!