Saturday, January 25, 2014

Small Quantity Baked Beans

A cold winter day means staying in and cooking something that takes all day. For people who cook more like Grandma than Julia Child or Martha Stewart, baked beans come to mind. They have no class and are easy to make. They have no exotic ingredients or complicated procedures. They are far better than the canned variety.

I like good home made baked beans. Once upon a time I made them in quantities large enough to feed my family of seven people. Now I live alone so I have reduced the recipe to an amount that will feed one or two. As today’s politicians would say, it has evolved. In other words, it is changed but still recognizable. It won’t be hanging around in your refrigerator for a week unless you choose not to eat.

Remember the poem Snowbound? “The sun that brief December day rose cheerless over skies of gray…”  That’s today but in January. It’s Saturday. It’s very cold outside. It’s a good day to stay home and think about what to do next after doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and mindlessly engaging with Facebook. The good thing about making baked beans is that you can do other things while you wait all those hours for the beans to bake.

It might be possible to start with canned navy beans, but I have never been a fan of them so make no guarantees.

Small quantity Baked Beans

½ cup dry beans such as navy beans or great northern beans
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup (not the imitation kind and not any old kind of pancake syrup)
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ typical yellow onion (approximately)
1 slice bacon (optional)

Soak beans overnight, or not, as you choose. Cook the beans, covered, in about 2 cups of water at a simmer for one hour, or until they are soft and start to break apart. Don’t drain them. Put them in a baking dish that holds a quart or less.  Stir together the salt, syrup and mustard and add to the baking dish. Cut the onion into smallish pieces and put in the dish. Cut the bacon into half inch slices and add to the dish. Stir everything together to distribute it thoroughly. Add hot water to almost cover it. Cover the dish and bake for 6 – 8 hours at 285 degrees. Add water during the process if the beans cook dry. Uncover the dish for the last half hour of baking.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Highlights of 2013

The year 2013 was very good for me. I wasn’t impacted directly by the government shutdown or the startup of the Affordable Care Act. I was happy about the direction of Francis, the new Pope, who speaks Catholic (a.k.a. more like the way Jesus allegedly spoke) better than his predecessor. I spent an infinitesimal amount of time wondering why the American people are so thrilled with Miley Cyrus. I finally figured out what twerking is. I said, “ho hum” about the birth of George, the royal baby, and about the craze for selfies.

My year was mostly about changing my residence. I lived with pre-move, move, and post-move. I ended up happier than I have been for years.

Pre move.  In January my brother David and I sold our beloved cottage at Washington Island after having it on the market for seven years. No one had rushed to buy it. We sold it cheap. Suddenly I had a little money. I decided to sell my condo and buy a house. (My brother also bought a duplex, but that is his story.) I found the world’s best realtor at my church, by simply saying, “How is real estate going these days?” In February, Laura and Dick listed my condo for an unbelievably low asking price. Condos are hard to sell, especially in Madison.

After a lot of people looked at the condo, finally someone made an offer. I had expected it to be on the market for about a year.  I accepted the offer in March. I had been looking at houses for a while and found one that was just right. Laura and Dick showed it to me; we wrote the offer and it was accepted within three hours. We had an inspection, and the seller agreed to repair the leak in the roof that had been caused by the neighbor’s tree branch falling onto it.

The move.  I moved the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Moving is stressful when one does it without a husband to do the heavy lifting. I hired a mover. I moved a lot of stuff into daughter Sarah’s basement. Then I rented a storage room and loaded my car with almost everything I could live without until moving day and filled the space. I have a Toyota Yaris, which I have called a baby Toyota, so I needed to take a lot of trips. I decided that a $70 per month storage room was a better investment than a second moving van costing a lot more money.

Moving day, Friday, came. Sasha, my cat, went to the boarding establishment. I gave temporary custody of my perishable food to son John’s in-laws Sid and Barbara, who had space in their extra refrigerator and freezer. The movers loaded the moving van and took it back to their garage. Daughter Sarah and I went back and cleaned up the condo until 2:30 a.m. I spent the remainder of the night at her house. The next day we closed on the condo and the house in quick succession. It was time for the two guys to unload the moving van. After the movers left, son John, grandkids Laura and Ian, and I unloaded the storage room. With two cars it was emptied in a short time. I recovered my cat and food. I had moved. It had been a family event.

Post-move.  Buying a new house means dreaming and prioritizing. It was wonderful to plan after ten years in the condo where one had less flexibility about changes. The house and yard had some needs. New window coverings, replacement carpet for living room and hall, and stopping the leak in the kitchen sink were priorities inside the house. Early summer rains leaked into the finished basement. The carpet remained wet for a month, so out it came from the wet end of the room.  

Outside was the yard, mostly grass mixed with wild mint plants. Mowing the lawn produced a pleasant minty aroma. After planting some small trees and flowers in the back yard, I learned that I had guests there: rabbits. They and roots of the big old maple tree prevented plants from thriving. Tomato and zucchini plants grew but barely produced anything. Flowers had little chance with hungry bunnies there. Sasha and I stood inside at the window and watched them frolicking in my flower beds. Sasha liked them since they are a cat’s natural prey. The cute baby rabbits ate just about anything that grew except the tomato and zucchini plants. They even ate my newly planted raspberry bushes, thorns and all.

I love my yard even though it remains somewhat bare. During the summer I spent many happy days sitting on my lawn chair reading under the silver maple. It would have been even better if a deck had been there. That’s something for the future, along with a door in the back of the house for access. We had our annual family party for the spring birthdays in the yard. It was a chance for me to share my new house with them.

Fall and winter came. I am still thinking about things to do with my nice home. I pulled out the carpet in the bedroom that I call the library, and found parquet flooring in acceptable condition. I was delighted. I hope to uncarpet the other bedrooms sometime soon.

It has been seven happy months since I moved. I’m still loving it.

I did one more thing in 2013, unrelated to moving. Just before I moved, I took a tour bus trip to Savannah, Georgia. That was good, too.