Comfort food and post-modernism

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

I’ll tell you a secret: I always felt like a poser at English department meetings, like I somehow didn't belong there. Like they all could tell that I've never read anything by Toni Morrison. That I don’t really know the difference between Modernism and Post-Modernism (except that I’m assuming the latter came sometime after the former).

It's like I was the new kid on the block. For ten years.

My colleagues were passionate about teaching literature and were accomplished writers on the side. Published poets. Novelists. PhDs. I was none of the above. I wasn't a writer. I often didn’t finish the books we read in high school. I didn't really take any English classes in college, with the exception of a seminar during a term abroad on Shakespeare’s tragedies (taught by William Wordsworth’s great-grandson - boy, was I a fish out of water there!) and a creative writing class my senior year where the professor encouraged us to bring food and libations, as long as we brought enough to share with the whole class. I have hazy memories of peanut butter and banana sandwiches passed while we struggled to understand “The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas” and a handle of whiskey that made the rounds during a discussion of “Brokeback Mountain.” I spent the very last class of my college career nursing a Nalgene full of cheap beer and debating whether it was Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen that fit the “obedient daughter” model from Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds.”

With only a boozy writing class and a stodgy British colloquium behind me, I felt woefully under equipped to pontificate on the finer points of literature as a classroom teacher. I taught English after all; I was supposed to marvel at the differences between Hemingway and Fitzgerald and brood over the color imagery of that green light. 

It's not that I wasn’t a good teacher, it’s just that I had a constant feeling of being a day late and a dollar short. 

I did, however, enjoy instructing on the writing process; I reveled in helping students develop voice and learn how to properly use a semi-colon. As it turned out, I actually liked writing, and it didn’t require that I have a PhD or poetic sense of pararhyme.

What I have come to realize is that being a writer is mostly just an extension of being an observer. A writer’s only real tasks are to be as honest as one can possibly be - all the time - and to notice things. And, to Thurman’s point, noticing things helps us all become just a little more alive. (That's your dose of sentimentality for the day...)

Of note(ice) today:

  • Sometimes you just want to curl up on the couch with a book and pretend it's raining outside (even if it's 80°) 
  • There's nothing quite like being close to friends who've known you since you played “get off my party line” together on the swing set during second grade recess (How would we even begin to explain party lines to second graders today?)
  • A meandering, evening walk will almost always lift your spirits (especially when it involves an impromptu stop-in for a homemade beer at the neighbors)
  • It really only takes about two weeks to replace an old habit with a new one
  • Keeping the lawn mowed is a cruel, Sisyphean task of homeownership 
  • A bowl of fresh fruit and a square of dark chocolate far outshine a slice of cake any day
  • Comfort food doesn’t always have to involve starch and cheese

I was gifted some beautiful purple beans from a neighbor’s garden, and after drying them in the sun for a few days, today I shelled them and boiled up a pot o’ beans with salt and garlic. Paired with sautéed garden veggies and bright, fresh tomatoes, they made for a lovely dinner on the back porch. If that’s not comfort food, I don’t know what is. 

This recipe can be used for fresh beans - you simply skip the pre-soak and cook for about half as long. Usually I make it with dried beans, garbanzo or white, though it will work with any variety you like.

Pot o' Beans

I used to not really like beans, until I learned how to make them like this. I prefer to buy the Rancho Gordo brand. Unlike most dried beans that have been encased in their plastic bags for up to 3 years (!) before they make it to your shelf, these beans left their pods an average of only 3 months back. Dried beans seem like they are a lot of work, but in actuality they just require a bit of forethought and very little effort. They are infinitely more delicious than the canned variety. 


1 cup dried beans (I like garbanzo or white beans, though this works with any variety)
6 cloves garlic
Generous helpings of salt

1. Add dried beans to a large bowl and add water to cover, plus a few inches. Add three cloves of mashed garlic and a teaspoon or so of salt. Put in the fridge to soak overnight.

2. Drain beans of their soaking water and discard garlic. Add to saucepan and cover with more water. Add three more cloves mashed garlic and salt the water generously. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until tender (up to an hour, depending on the type of bean and if they’ve been presoaked. Mine are sometimes ready in closer to 30 minutes.)

3. Scoop beans out with a slotted spoon and serve right away. Alternatively, set them aside to cool in their liquid (this will help keep the skins from coming off or the beans from mushing together). When they have cooled, pour them through a colander and store in the fridge to be added to weeknight meals. They’ll keep this way for about a week.