It’s miserable outside; 34°F, snowing, windy and cold. I was drenched walking the dogs this morning, in spite of all my wet weather gear. I know the snow won’t stick, and I’m grateful for the crocuses, cherry blossoms, extra day light and the early tulips at the farmer’s market. But spring still feels a long way away.
Before I even changed out of my wet clothes or toweled down the dogs, I put a few cups of kidney beans and cannelloni beans in a pot of water to soak. Just starting the bean making process helps me warm up.
In Cooking for Mr. Latte, Amanda Hesser (then of the New York Times, and now one of the great minds behind Food52) talks at one point about her desire to build a cooking repertoire – a selection of dishes that she’d like to be known for among family and friends; it’s a part of her nesting process.
My mom’s baked beans were the foundation of her repertoire. They’ve been a hit with my extended family for more than 60 years. At my grandmother’s funeral, a cousin I barely knew recognized Pat’s daughter, only because I made Pat’s beans for the reception.
For much of my cooking life, I’ve tended to avoid repetition. With the whole world of food out there, why not try something new?
Growing up, my family tended to eat the same meals, over and over. My dad was an incredibly picky eater – and I emulated him. I think by the time I came along, (22 years into their marriage) my mother was happy to have 10 meals she knew he would eat, perhaps with waning enthusiasm, but at least without complaint.
Ironically, when I stated to cook as a teenager, (not all that adventurously – but it was at least different), my Dad was an enthusiastic audience and my mother was not. Which makes perfect sense to me now – I bet she wanted to kill us both.
In recent years – especially since I started blogging, I’m more interesting in codifying flavors. I still love experiments and trying new dishes and new foods – and while I’m not yet Cooks Illustrated fanatical, I now like going back, doing it again – achieving a repeatable result.
Of course, while my beans have the same hints of mustard and smoke that Mom’s did, the recipe, which originally relied on ground chuck, powdered onion dip, and canned pork and beans, has evolved with me. I don’t actually think my dish tastes better – but it’s every bit as good, and much better for me, and the world we live in.