#CoronaCooking: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

Just before it was clear life was going to change radically thanks to this superbug raging around the world, I reviewed an exhibition by a terrific young artist named Ilana Harris-Babou. In retrospect, it was the perfect "last show" to see: it centers around a video of her mother taking us through her beauty routines—what she does to prepare for "not breastfeeding" and what she does to prepare for a night eating a TV dinner in front of the television. What's hilarious and devastating about this deadpan video and the installation of handmade beauty products—not quite artisanal, given how weird they are—is that they completely lay bare the seductive lie that Gwyneth Paltrow et al are selling us: that trying to keep up with an aspirational lifestyle, of clean design and clean eating and wellness and calm, is impossible—especially if you are not-rich, not-white, and not-idle.

I'm thinking a lot about this now, as we're seeing people frantically trying to organize their own lives and their kids' in the face of school closures and shelter-in-place rules and the fantasy of being "productive" as our lives are thrown into limbo. I realized that I have basically no interest in trying to wrangle my extremely stubborn kid into a schedule of my devise, but I am not above assigning her a million chores and activities that seem useful if not traditionally educational. I have come to terms with the fact that, at least for a few days, I will not be able to string together a coherent thought about my writing assignments. That will just have to be okay, because nothing else is.

I had a new dish all planned out for tonight's dinner, but then my daughter preempted me by decided she wanted to learn how to make mozzarella sticks—her guiltiest guilty pleasure. Armed with a package of string cheese, a couple of eggs, and some (slightly stale) panko crumbs, she made an extremely creditable version, with a delicious marinara dipping sauce on the side. It wasn't exactly dinner, but it wasn't not-dinner, either, so we rounded it out with what was essentially a fancy variation of beans on toast: some toasted peasant bread with some leftover ragout of flageolet beans. (I had made the beans on the weekend to go with some grilled lamb chops.) A few grapes on the table, a little hummus—it was provisional but totally lush at the same time.

You will have to ask my kid for the mozzarella sticks recipe, but here is the recipe for the beans—I think we'll be eating a lot of those in these next weeks.

Ragout of White Beans

Serves 6 as a side dish

I used some Rancho Gordo flageolet beans for this, but you could use any small white bean for this—navy, cannelloni beans, cranberry beans, etc. Likewise, feel free to leave out the greens if you don't have any around.


8 oz dried white beans, soaked for 4 hrs or longer (if you use Rancho Gordo beans, you can get away with a 2 hr soak)
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil 
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp thyme, herbes de Provence, dried sage, or a mix
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 c canned tomatoes (optional, but nice)
a couple of handfuls of shredded kale, spinach, or other greens (optional)
chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

1. In a heavy pot or pressure cooker, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic; sauté until translucent. Add drained beans, herbs, bay leaf, a hefty pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cover with water by 2" or so.

2. If using a conventional pot: Bring to a boil. Allow the beans to boil for 10-15 minutes, then turn the heat down so that it's at a gentle simmer. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. How long is "until tender"? That depends on the age and size of the beans. It could take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. Check the pot every once in a while to make sure there's enough water in it; if not, add some hot water and continue cooking.

If you're using a pressure cooker: Cover the pot and bring up to pressure over high heat. Once the pressure has been achieved, turn the heat down to low—just enough to maintain pressure. Cook for 15-30 minutes, depending on the variety of beans you use. (The chart here is a good guideline; if you are using soaked non-Rancho Gordo beans, use the timings for UNSOAKED beans per the chart). Open the pot: if the beans are not yet fully tender, continue simmering with the lid off until beans are tender.

3. Add tomatoes and greens. Cook until the greens are tender. Now add salt, a bit at a time—the beans take a little while to fully absorb the seasoning, and so taste along the way. When they taste to your liking, garnish with parsley and serve.

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