Tuesday, March 31, 2015


 My husband, Dave, is the child of a good cook.  Not all men have been raised to know much of a difference between hamburger and ground round. He is no culinary snob, lucky for me, but he knows good stuff when he tastes it.

Tonight, for his birthday dinner, when I asked what he wanted to eat, this is what he said:
I did not fight him on this.  It is, after all, the season for these lovely crustaceans, And though we have boiled and steamed our share of lobster in our time, I embraced the idea of someone else preparing, and more importantly, cleaning up.
So here’s the recipe for today. DAVID’S BIRTHDAY DINNER:
Back in the last century, when I was a kid, I don’t recall eating out in restaurants.  It was a big deal…I mean a REALLY big deal… to get to go to McDonald's
Burgers cost a nickel, which was a chunk of dough for us, especially considering the size of our family could fill both the infield and the outfield in a baseball game. Instead there was a hot meal at our table every night, usually consisting of a modest piece of meat, some sort of green vegetable, and a large pile of spuds (otherwise known as potatoes) with a pool of melted butter cradled like  liquid lava ready to flow down a snowy white volcano.  Mom spent many gallons of sweat harvesting spuds in her lifetime, being an Idaho girl from birth. When the workday was done she would join other women at the edges of the field, where the machines would not reach, gleaning leftover potatoes for her family.  There were always plenty of spuds to fill the bellies of hungry Idaho children. The staple of my childhood was potatoes.

For Dave it was beans.  White Navy beans harvested from the fields in Michigan.  When Dave’s parents were married they received two 50 lb bags of Michigan dry beans as a wedding gift from Grandma and Grandpa Roy.  Michigan baked beans in the oven is the aroma of his childhood.  Molasses and brown sugar infused with a little dry mustard, working its way into those hard little beans, softening with a day full of heat and water and onion.  There is seriously little on God’s good earth more comforting than walking in to a nice toasty warm home on a cold wintery day and smelling a pot of beans filling the measure of its creation in the oven.

Tonight there is no residual aroma here in the kitchen, evidence of what was concocted for dinner.  But there are no dishes either, and no mess on the counter or stove top.  Instead there is a single bowl and spoon with a hint of leftover chocolate ice cream from the Birthday boy himself, and an empty popsicle stick from his Honey. We watched an episode of Hawaii 50 on TV.  He is brushing his teeth while I write this, and if I don’t hurry he will be sawing logs on his side of the bed.  This is usually the scenario during the season of Lent.  The day will get away from me and I will moan that I have to do my Lent writing sometime around 11 pm.  Sometime between 1 and 3 am I quietly shuffle into the bedroom and curl up next to him.  There will be a day for one of us, hopefully a long time from now, when this simple routine will be a divine memory.  But not today.  Not today.

I purchased two big old burlap sacks in the last decade; one has MICHIGAN NAVY BEANS stamped on it, and the other has IDAHO POTATOES imprinted.  They are old, and well used, and so lovely.  I plan to frame them one day, and hang them side by side in my basement family room.  Or maybe I'll make some big old pillows. It’s meant to be a reminder of our heritage, of the hard working, humble people who sprouted below us on our family tree.  And on top of that I think it’s really pretty symbolic, because our oven usually has a nice oven rack full of Idaho Russets baking beside a pot of Michigan Baked Beans. Dave and I were meant for each other.
It’s still a relatively rare thing for us to eat out, though not nearly as rare as it used to be.  Truth is, I usually prefer my own cooking. And lucky for me, so does Dave.

2 ¼ c dry navy beans

1 ½ quarts water

1 t. salt

1/3 c. brown sugar

1 t. dry mustard

¼ c molasses

½ lb salt pork, cut in chunks

1 small onion, chopped

Wash beans in cold water and then soak in cold, clean water for at least one hour. (or over night)

Drain water.  Add 1 ½ quarts cold water to beans and bring to a boil on top of the stove.  Skim off foam and lower heat. Simmer about 45 minutes or until bean splits when blown on.

Drain, but save water.  Mix ingredients and pour into bean pot.  Add enough of the saved water to cover.  Bake at 325 for 6 hours.  Add water as needed but not after last hour of baking time. (Beans should be covered with liquid.  Do not let them dry out). 

Baked beans are really good for you.  They are high in protein and low in fat. And inexpensive.

Tasty, hot or cold.

1. Do not…I repeat, DO NOT wrap a beautiful russet potato in foil to bake it.  This makes a steamed potato.  Wash it, stab it a couple times with a fork so steam can release, and set directly on the rack in the oven.  Bake at 400 for 1 hour, depending on the size of the spud.  Squeeze it to check for doneness.  If it resists, give it more time. Or you can cook it at 350 or 375 for a longer time, maybe an hour and a half.  You may also smear a thin layer of shortening on the skin before cooking, for a crispy skin.  Real Idahoan's eat the skin when they are done with the flaky meat inside.  

2. Grandma Roy always wrapped foil round the lid of her bean pot, gathering it at the top so it is easy to lift off to check the beans during the cooking process.  I do the same. Place beans on a cookie sheet while cooking to catch overflow.

1 comment:

  1. When I was little, my Idaho-raised father would turn out the contents of my baked potato for me to mash up with butter and salt and pepper, while he buttered up the crisp empty shell, salted and peppered it and stuffed it with green salad dressed with vinaigrette for me. Still my favorite part of a baked potato.

    Happy birthday to the Dave! <3