How to Make Red Bean Stew

Step #1

Fall in love with Jane.  This is simultaneously easy and difficult.  Jane being easy to love, but love itself being difficult.  Note the instruction to ‘fall’ in love.  This implies descent, and equally stumbling, perhaps tripping.  For the course of true love never did run vertical.  And after the fall comes the winter…remember that too.  Remember the Maine.  The latter is important in doing battle with the forces arrayed against one in any love struggle.  Also, memento mori.  Actually, start here.  Lose your wife.  Lose your way.  Lose the plot, as they say in Britain.  What they don’t say is that you don’t need the plot, only the dénouement…and you never know what that is anyway…so while you’re worried and anxious, be grateful that you’re not alone.  You have Jane.

Step #2

Go to Harbin Hot Springs, order one of the vegetarian delights of the evening, and be grateful that you have found someone who (1) doesn’t feel obliged to have a ribeye with every meal and (2) doesn’t feel obliged to have a meal with every meal.  Sharing one ample serving with Jane, at your age, will suffice.

Note that the Red Bean Stew on the menu is touted as Jamaican.  Remember, you are reading a book about a Jamaican slave uprising.  Take this as a sign.  Take it easy…this is the next thing.  Although you appreciate everything in this Red Bean Stew, particularly the sauce that binds the thing together, and can see the wholesome constituents…the sweet potatoes that, according to the novelist, practically spring from the Jamaican earth…the red beans that also figure prominently in New Orleans cooking, less known in California, but probably in some corner of Safeway…even the brown rice that makes the whole concoction seem healthier than it probably is…despite these vibrant images, think simple.  In particular, think about the sweet potato you see two days later in the Menlo Park Farmer’s Market.  Do you really have the will to slice and dice this thing in its natural state?  Maybe not, which leads you to that other natural state, Trader Joe’s.

Step #3

This is the source of all things good and easy and cheap.  Take the curry powder you just purchased two blocks away at Draegers Market.  It cost seven dollars.  Here, the Trader sells curry powder for two dollars.  Remember, Trader Joe’s is owned by Germans, land of my forebears, currently home of the 35 hour work week.  They know about curry powder, these Germans, understand its true worth and have decided that the five dollars you just spent elsewhere can easily be captured here.  This, after all, is the home of the pre-sliced sweet potato.  No such thing exists at Draegers.  In fact, truth be told, you don’t really need to slice anything at all.  See Step #4.

Step #4

Why are you doing all this?  In some way, the cooking activity, the making of one’s own food, represents a reaction to Jane’s absence.  This is good.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Absinthe makes the heart grow much fonder, but that is another story.  It is important to make one’s own food, that is the point, to nurture oneself.  So while you’re at it, buy your weekly batch of flowers also at Trader Joe’s.  Buying flowers for yourself is a good sign, particularly if you are a male.  The role reversal is a good one.  Flowers are good.  Besides, after cooking your curry-powder-laden stew, a little natural floral scent won’t hurt your apartment.

Furthermore, in this very act of domesticity, this making of the red bean stew, you are remaking your apartment as your own.  There was a helpless phase, after all.  

In the wake of Marlou’s death, an army of helpers and advisers had a go at the place.  The siblings tossed out old food, for the pantry and shelves had fallen into neglect.  They roamed the aisles of IKEA in search of practical improvements.  Above all, they reorganized.  Things rarely used went to areas rarely seen.  Which made sense.  Or did at one phase.  This is a new phase, and the surest sign is that you are actually, seriously contemplating the home slicing of vegetables.  Which requires the Cuisinart slicing blade.  Which you cannot find.  You know where it was, but this ‘was’ refers to more than two years ago.  That is how long you haven’t bothered slicing much of anything.  But a new day has dawned.  Fact is, you have all vegetables yoy need, all the cans, spices, and even the will.  But no quadriplegic sets aslicing without automation.  Yes, there are knives.  Quadriplegics are not licensed to use them.  See appendix.

In the fullness of time, you may see this red bean stew experience as an easing back into one’s own kitchen.  Yes, you have made a familiar soup or two over the last years, but here you are forging new culinary ground.  Time is wasting, so it’s time to proceed with the vegetables.  Only two cloves of garlic are actually required, according to the recipe on the Internet.  So, knowing the world to be timid regarding garlic, it’s best to multiply by a factor of five.  Naturally you roll over the head of garlic with your wheelchair, until you can count on finding 10 or so mashed cloves in the debris.  Olive oil?  Triple that.  This is going to be a roaring good stew.  Remember that the sweet potatoes arrived cut in a plastic bag.  The same cannot quite be said for the carrots, although they have been circumcised, let us say.  They have been shaped into baby-like carrots, rendered pleasantly oval.  Which is to say, they are a dead giveaway in terms of origin.  No sense in looking packaged, even if you are.  So, it doesn’t take long to come to a strategic decision.  Chop every baby carrot twice.  And jokes aside, a knife will do.  But that would involve standing up from the wheelchair and hovering over tasks at the counter.  Fuck it.  Why did God give you teeth?  Two quick bites renders every baby carrot prenatal.  The chunks fall into a bowl on my lap, the bowl goes into the slow-cooker, and the beat goes on.  And the heat goes on, first to high, then after a couple of hours, to low.

And in the end, one confronts a mystery.  First, the little red beans famed in Louisiana do not feature in any recipe for the Jamaican stew.  Kidney beans, that is the thing.  Furthermore, kidney beans in cans.  Why?  I have no fear of beans, actual dry ones, having soaked quite a few in my day, and boiling them into all sorts of edible forms, mostly refried.  At one point, living in London, I decided to introduce family and friends to the wonders of frijoles.  I soaked the pinto beans purchased in California overnight in my London bedsitting room.  A sound awakened me in the night.  Mice?  No, it was the sound of swollen pinto beans falling over the edge of my tiny sink to the linoleum.

For now, I am following instructions.  I drain each can of kidney beans.  Must I really rinse them, however?  Oddly, running cold water inside the cans produces frothy suds.  Are they packed with soap?  What are these things?  They are frothing, sudsing kidney beans, thank you very much, and in a can, yet.  Which is enough to push one over the edge.  Which explains why despite the fact that I have an actual rice cooker, have cooked many a brown rice kernel in my day, and so on, I revert to the source.  Trader Joe’s.  Supplier of one of the laziest convenience foods ever, pre-cooked brown rice.  Just peel back the cover slightly and microwave moderately.  The result?  Convenient.

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