jesse’s prairie hipster flapjacks

Jesse’s the king of weekend breakfasts. He makes the world’s best oatmeal, full of raisins and fruit and cinnamon and marinated to a thick congealed perfection that sounds gross because of my word choice but is in fact sublime. He makes omelets with an array of ingredients and fillings that should constitute overkill but is instead harmonious and exciting. And he makes pancakes.

A few years ago, they were banana pancakes, made with the Jack Johnson song of the same name obligatorily playing in the background. I ate them with peanut butter and swooned.

But then I went gluten free.

Since then, we’ve tried other pancake recipes… but here’s the deal. I eat a carby breakfast and not 90 minutes later, I’m a ravenous fucking mountain lion. My body cries for protein and the hunger nuke that detonates in the kitchen sometimes takes out innocent civilians. Jesse, having been a casualty of this post-carb terror, had written off the pancake as a viable breakfast strategy… until a few weeks ago, when we tried an almond meal pancake recipe from some paleo diet blog and didn’t get hungry again for 6 whole hours. Because we had just eaten the equivalent of like 90 almonds or something.

Then last weekend Jesse made buckwheat pancakes using this Mayo Clinic recipe and we really dug the funky, slightly bitter flavor that the buckwheat contributed to the mix. But I still wanted to take hostages 2 hours after I ate mine. So this weekend, Jesse riffed on the recipe and I have a feeling he’s gonna be safe. At least until lunch.

prairie hipster flapjack with peanut butter

Jesse’s Prairie Hipster Flapjacks

I asked Jesse to name his creation, and this is what he came up with. Says Jesse, “’Prairie’ because they’re rugged and hardy and ‘hipster’ because they’ve got a lot of nuance going on that you probably wouldn’t understand. Also they’re gluten free.” They’re not really cake-y and pillowy, so if that’s what you’re into you may need to look elsewhere. But I took a bite of the crunchy golden lacy edges and proclaimed them the best pancakes I’d ever tasted. We top ours with butter and real maple syrup (though sometimes I miss that shit in the bottle with the little magic color-changing microwave sensor on it).


  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 cup almond milk (plain or vanilla—you could use any kind of milk here, probably, but this is just what we keep on hand)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal, medium grind
  • ½ cup almond meal/flour (we used the Bob’s Red Mill stuff)
  • ¾ cup gluten free baking flour blend of choice (ours had equal parts white rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch)
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup plain sparkling water
  • 1.5 cups mostly-thawed frozen blueberries


In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, canola oil, vanilla extract, and almond milk together.

In a larger bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the egg mixture and combine thoroughly. Then add the sparkling water and stir until just combined.

Place a nonstick frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Add a generous amount of canola oil—this’ll help to create lacy crispy edges.

When the pan is just ready, swirl the blueberries into the pancake batter.

Scoop about half a cup of pancake batter into the pan. Cook until the top surface of the pancake is bubbly and the edges are beginning to brown (2-3 minutes). Flip and cook until the bottom is browned and the pancake is cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. For consecutive pancakes, you’ll have to stir the batter before scooping as the coarser grains and the blueberries will sink.

Recipe makes 5 giant pancakes that just about cover the entire surface of a 9” pan. The batter holds well in the fridge for a day or three.

prairie hipster flapjack 2

Other ideas: Swap out the blueberries for a couple sliced bananas. Skip the fruit entirely and add cinnamon and ginger or pumpkin pie spice to the batter. Make ‘em plain as a jaybird is naked and slap a runny fried egg on top.

annie’s granola bars with a kick

So today I went and had a body composition analysis performed at my gym. Hydrate well the day before, neither eat nor drink several hours beforehand, take off all your jewelry (yes Annie, including your nose stud), and stand barefoot on this funky platform and hold these bizarre metal handles and poof. Your percent lean body mass for each limb and your trunk. Your ratio of extracellular water to total body water. Your percentage of body fat. Oh my.

Upon receiving my results I, a woman of action, immediately signed up for my favorite trainer’s “boot camp.” (Thankfully, she hates that term, too.) Which happened to start 45 minutes later. But there I was, in sweatpants and without any food or water on board. Could I make it?

My gym is 12 minutes from home. I could run home and change into workout clothes quickly, but what about fuel? What I could eat that would sustain me without making me puke halfway through the workout? Fortunately I had a fridge full of these bad boys. I hit home, changed, grabbed one of these and popped a Nuun tablet in a bottle of water. I munched en route and got there just in time to run up and down stairs sideways, do lots of side plank, and throw medicine balls at my husband’s boss’s daughter’s chest.

That last one was a bit unexpected.

Anyway. The bars.

My mom and step-dad want the recipe. My coworkers sniff with envy when I break one out. Jesse said they’re the “treat” of his lunchbox! That made me feel very good about myself.

These granola bars were born out of a desire to replace the Zone bars we’d been buying with something cheaper and a little less artificial. I’ve tried a bunch of no-bake recipes popular now on the Internet but they all seemed to crumble, or leave me wanting more protein. I’ve made granola bars in the past, but they were complex and a little too righteous. I needed something hearty, easy to throw together while multitasking, and good enough that I actually look forward to eating. I use high-quality but accessible ingredients here–the packages of soy flour and coconut flour last for many batches, and I can even find these at my Albertson’s. Nuts and chocolate you can buy in bulk. I get giant containers of Craisins and peanut butter from Costco, and that shit never goes bad.

holy peanut butter batman

Oh my god, that’s a lot of peanut butter. Shown with a normal jar for scale.

Anyway, this recipe is more of a guideline (have I ever really written a *recipe* recipe, though?)–each batch I’ve made has been slightly different than the last, and sometimes that’s just because I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. Oops. The last batch I made, for instance, had almost a cup of coconut flour rather than the half cup I’m calling for here, and I had to add another egg to account for the extra dry volume.

So mess around. Here’s the principle you want to keep in mind: mix your dry ingredients with enough sticky stuff to hold it all together. Simple enough! If you added so many chunks of things or flours that it’s not holding together with the wet ingredients listed here, add an overripe banana or another egg or something. Don’t worry.

Annie’s Granola Bars with a Kick


  • 1 cup gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill FTW)
  • 1/2 cup soy flour (that shit is 35% protein!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (high in fiber)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of any kind–hazelnuts are my favorite so far
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or other sweet dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chunky natural peanut butter (the runny stuff made only of peanuts and salt)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 to 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne (I have a problem, I know)
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt

Optional add-ins:

  • crystallized ginger
  • chocolate-covered espresso beans
  • more dried fruit
  • more nuts
  • Rice Krispies or other cereal (as this adds significantly to the dry volume, either plan to decrease the volume of flours you use, or add an extra egg)
  • al dente quinoa


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together your dry ingredients in a large bowl–everything from the oats to the chocolate and any add-ins you fancy.


In a medium bowl, mix your wet ingredients and your spices with a silicone spatula.


Pour your wet ingredients into the dry and stir and mix and smoosh everything together like crazy. The dough should juuuust stick together if you press the spatula into it pretty hard.

gimme some dough

Line a 9×9 glass baking dish with a sheet of parchment paper. Dump in your dough and work it into the corners with your spatula. Smoosh the dough into a uniform layer, pressing hard to create the densest brick possible.

they're starting to smell goooood

Pop the bars into the oven for 25-30 minutes. The edges will tell you when you’re done–the top does become a little toasty golden, but the edges are your limiting factor as they tend to burn. Allow to cool and then use a big chef’s knife cut the mass into whatever size bars you desire. We usually end up getting about 10 bars out of each batch. Well, 9, because we immediately split one. For quality control.

wait til they cool

These keep me going during a long shift, or on a long hike. They help prevent homicidal ideation while running errands. And, as my step-dad observed, the cayenne leaves just enough of a burn on your lips to remind you that you had something special.

Enjoy! And tell me what you do to make them your own.

WILT #28, in which I lacquer on

Ever since I was a little kid, transition was a challenge for me. My mom tells me about bringing me home from preschool and putting me in my room to play quietly for a while. She knew even then that I needed extra time to decompress from the bustling activity of a classroom full of newly-socialized 4-year-olds and Playskool toys and chubby crayons.

Sometimes, as an adult, it’s easy to forgo that essential decompression phase during a time of adjustment. Sometimes, even a really positive change (*ahem* new job with no commute *AHEM*) can trial one’s equanimity. It might just be where I live right now.


So today, I am going to paint my nails.

Back in college, I shadowed a very sassy neurologist who kept a little vinyl bag in her desk. It was her emergency baggie, she said. In it, she had a few sachets of Black Cherry Berry tea (yech), a tube of crimson lipstick, and a bottle of sheer shimmery pink nail polish. If the day was really going to hell, she could throw on a coat of polish or a swipe of the lipstick and through some mystical femme magic, strike an emotional reset button.

ooh that one's sparkly

I don’t mean to take something so purely whimsical to such a rational place, but listen: it’s grounding to look at your fingertips and see a color that you chose, that you made time to lacquer on. It’s a reminder that you have a little little tiny power over a little tiny thing–little and tiny, yes, but you see it every waking moment of your day.

And it’s cute, dammit.

yes. the gold stars and the purple.

Painting my fingernails provides some (perhaps false, but still effective) sense of control over my life, and reminds me to take things lightly. Whimsy is an essential co-factor in the synthesis of resilience.

awwww <3 <3 <3

Now, if I could just pick a color…

don’t think about it too hard

So you know how I really love slow-made home-cooked beans and think that it’s nice to take your time and make your own stock and your own liqueur and your own salsa and everything?

Well. Sometimes you just want to bring a pile of tasty food together and neither work nor think too hard to do it.

Enter the loaded baked sweet potato.

It’s embarrassing how easy and delicious this meal is. And it’s so good, you can even feed it to company. It’s fun to set out all the little fixins in little dishes. I like setting fixins out in little dishes.

Go buy

  • 1 large sweet potato per diner
  • your favorite kind of bacon, buying at least 6 slices for two people (general rule: buy as many slices as you think you’ll need and then buy two more)
  • an avocado
  • sour cream
  • fresh salsa–pico de gallo or another refreshing sort found in the refrigerated aisle, if you don’t have something homemade in your fridge (and if you don’t, it’s really easy to make, but that’s something for another blog post)
  • cilantro
  • chives (it is a baked potato, after all)
  • red onion
  • corn chips
  • cheese of choice for shredding (or, for the ultimate shortcut, shredded cheese)
  • a lime
  • hot sauce of choice
  • 1-2 cans fat free refried beans. CANS. It’s okay. I promise. Nobody else has to know. But we do tend to tell everyone we feed them to–we seem to maintain a full disclosure kitchen policy. Our favorite has become Rosarita Fat Free Traditional. The commercial says they’re authentic, anyway. (Oh man, that commercial is so wrong. Aaaand I can’t stop laughing at it.) This, however, is what happens when you empty the can:

I swear to god.

Laugh. And then stick tortilla chips into the bean monolith and enjoy. Don’t think about this one too hard.

Stick the potatoes in the oven and get that bacon cooking using your favorite method fifteen or twenty minutes later. We like to array the bacon on a cooling rack that fits inside a rimmed baking sheet–the fat that doesn’t render becomes airy and light and smoky, somehow, when it’s baked. Putting the bacon on a rack tends to result in quicker cooking times.

For us, the bacon usually takes about 25-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. The sweet potatoes take more like 45 minutes to an hour. Definitely get those going the minute you get home. Note that you can’t really bake a sweet potato incorrectly, or for too long. Lately, I stab them a few times with a knife to let steam release, rub a thin film of grapeseed/canola/high heat oil on them (half teaspoon each potato, maybe), and lightly dust them with salt. I bake them uncovered in a glass baking dish. But you can also put them un-lubed in any kind of baking dish you have. Or wrap them in tin foil and throw them directly on the oven rack. Or microwave them. Just make sure you stab them first. Especially if you put them in the microwave–otherwise they light on fire.

My dad did this once when I was 5. I saw flames in the microwave and ran to the basement to find him. The smoke alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but there was fire in my house and that was scary, so I chased him down and asked him if I should stop, drop, and roll. I can imagine his take on the conversation: “Whatever for?” Well, Dad, because there’s a pretty blue flame emanating from your potato in the microwave, and Mrs. Lange said to stop, drop, and roll if there was fire on you.

And that is why you always stab your potatoes.

Pretty much everything else is assembly. Heat up the beans. Chop the chives. Cube the avocado. Coarsely chop the bacon. Put things in pretty little bowls if you want, or just stick a spoon in the damn sour cream container.

Topping the potato is fun. I like to put the beans on my potato first, followed by sour cream and chives and cilantro and then salsa and hot sauce and bacon and avocado on top. Jesse likes a small amount of beans directly on his potato and then a lot of beans on the side, with chips.

loaded goodness

But you see how this is post is more about an idea than an actual recipe or meal plan? Like, basically, if you know how to make bacon and a potato, you could have just stopped reading when I suggested the concept of the loaded baked sweet potato. Which I’m sure is not something I came up with originally, or first, or whatever.

What this post boils down to, pretty much, is that sweet potatoes stuffed with bacon and things are good, and that it’s okay to eat fat free canned refried beans.

But wait–let me just tell you one more thing. You now probably have a few little containers of leftover fixins. Some extra chopped cilantro, some salsa, some onion, and maybe even some bacon and avocodo… BEST OMELET EVER the next morning.

like omg best omelet

But don’t just take my word for it. Go to the store.

goodbye dollies

Yesterday was my last day at a particularly wonderful hospital with particularly wonderful people. I left because of the less-than-wonderful commute. I get 6 hours of my life back per week now. I’ll be working at a hospital that I could see from my bedroom window, were there a forest fire.

That’s hyperbole, but just barely.

So I brought in a treat for each of my last three shifts. I have been informed that I really nailed it with the treats I brought in yesterday, so I’m going to tell you about them.

I don’t do a lot of baking–I’m by no means a bad baker, but sometimes I just choose the wrong recipe or sub in the wrong gluten-free flour, and I end up haunted by some funny aftertaste. This time, I wanted there to be no potential for misunderstanding: these treats needed to say “I like you guys and am going to miss you so much that I want to give you diabetes.” So a treat that I could assemble from ingredients that already were delicious on their own was the way to go.

Enter the Hello Dolly.

The song was stuck in my head. That’s why I thought of them. It’s a little ironic. “Dolly will never go away again!” goes the lyric.


Anyway. The bars. Inspiration came from these two, and then I made them my own a little bit. Here we go:

Goodbye Dollies


  • 3 cups coarsely crushed GF cookies–I used a cup of Mi-Del Oreo knockoffs, a cup of Pamela’s Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies, and a cup of homemade gingersnaps that I found in the back of the freezer. Mi-Del gingersnaps would work here, too. Yes, you just spent $15 on GF cookies. I didn’t say this was cheap. Your coworkers are worth it, and you’ll have some left over. It’s your last day. (To crush, I threw whole cookies in a plastic bag and wailed on them with the bottom of a saucepan for a while.)
  • 1.25 cups of softened butter (don’t cry)
  • 1 12 oz bag chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz bag white chocolate chips (mine was actually 11 ounces and it didn’t matter)
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, almonds, peanuts, or other tasty nuts (or a mix!!), roasted–roasted and salted would be AWESOME
  • 2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk


Grease a 9×13 baking pan. Line it with two strips of parchment paper and let the ends hang over the sides. Grease the paper, too. Cooking spray is fine for this. Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix the crushed cookies with the softened butter in a large bowl. Spread this mixture on the bottom of the baking pan–it’s your base layer. Cover every square millimeter or you’ll have a hell of a time getting these off the parchment.

Next, throw down all the chocolate chips. Then the white chocolate chips. Then the coconut. Then the nuts.


Pop the pan into the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sweetened condensed milk is bubbling and caramelizing all over. While you’re waiting, score yourself some insulin.

Here’s the hard part: bring the pan out of the oven and let the whole mess cool COMPLETELY. Trying to cut this slab into bars before it’s completely cool will result in molten ooze and the stickiest mess you can imagine. After the mass had mostly cooled, Jesse helped me pull it out of the pan using the parchment paper overhangs and placed the beast on a cooling rack, which I managed to fit into the refrigerator. After 45 minutes or so, the mega-bar had cooled enough that we could cut into it just enough to test a corner, but it still wasn’t cool enough to cut into squares. I left it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it was ready.

thing of beauty

I cut the treats into squares and replaced the whole mess (minus several for Jesse) into the pan. Discussing it with my coworkers later, I realized that this is technically a “no-sugar-added” dessert. Very wholesome.

layers of goodness

As for my last day? It was pretty sweet, too. Everyone was very, very nice to me. I had relatively stable patients. Nothing terrible happened. I had time to say goodbye. I have lots and lots of gratitude.

It’ll take a while to sink in. Change always does, for me.

I might need to make another batch.

when life gives you lemons, go buy a shitload of everclear

My mother-in-law knows how to party.

c dawg

She keeps the wine glasses full and the cheese plate brimming. She is generous with her warmth, her conversation, her home-grown tomatoes in summer and rosemary in winter.

Cheryl’s birthday is in late January, and by some miracle of grace I managed to consider this fact back in early December when we were also trying to concoct a Christmas present for her. Now, everyone but Cheryl will tell you that she’s hard to buy for. “I’m easy!” she says. “I like everything!”

Right. Exactly.

We had just been over to the in-laws’ for dinner. Cheryl followed the meal with a moderate offering of her favorite liqueur (and possibly her favorite liquid), limoncello. Cheryl tells the story of her first encounter with the stuff: following a sumptuous meal in Italy, the server brought over little tiny glasses of an icy cold, screaming yellow drink. “We didn’t order this,” she and my pa-in-law humbly protested. “It’s included with the meal,” explained the server. And she took a sip and her socks blasted off her feet through the front of her shoes. She was in love–silly girly “Call Me Maybe” love.

So I decided to see if I could make some for her. I’m glad I started looking into this back in December because while it’s easy as pie to make at home, it does take about 5-6 weeks.

First, go buy 18 organic lemons. Or a lot of them. If they’re huge, buy 14. If they’re tiny, buy more. If I were really helpful, I’d be able to tell you how many pounds of lemons to buy but I just can’t. And I’m starting to think it’s not that important, because it doesn’t really seem like you can have too many lemons, only too few. What about Meyer lemons, you may ask? You can go that route, but be ready for some extra headache when peeling them because their skins are much thinner than their conventional counterparts. I went with your average organic lemon and have no regrets.

Now go to the liquor store and ask for 2 750 ml bottles of Everclear. You have to ask for it: envision innocent little me walking into a liquor store and looking around for a while, walking up to the counter with a perplexed look on my face when I couldn’t seem to find this iconic alcohol. See me ask the bleach-blonde clerk where they kept their Everclear. Imagine her wrist-flick-hair-toss and her “Ohmygod. We keep that stuff back here, sweetheart.”


Some people do this with vodka (Giada de Laurentiis, I’m looking at you), but we don’t screw around.

Wash your lemons. Now, with a sharp paring knife and a lot of patience, you need to peel them all. Carefully. You want to avoid the white part of the peel (the pith) entirely; you ONLY want the bright yellow stuff that in other applications is zested. The pith is bitter. We don’t want a pithy limoncello. 

I did all my lemons in one go, but I imagine you could take your time and stick the lot in the fridge for a while if your hand cramps up. (Your fridge would smell great.) I brought out my mandoline slicer, put the blade at a very thin setting, and managed to speed up my process. By the 18th lemon I was getting so good at it that I was pulling off the zest in one long zest-slinky.

Stuff your peels into one half-gallon Mason jar (you’ll ultimately need two of these for this recipe)–you can find these at your local hardware or grocery store with a canning section. You could use pretty much any glass container with a well-sealing lid. Pour in both bottles of Everclear, cap tightly, and shake. Stick this gorgeous jar out of sight in a cool dark place. Back of the pantry worked for me. Back of a cupboard away from the stove would work, too.


Now you have 18 naked lemons. Give your poor lemony hands a break and then juice your fruit. Put the juice in freezer bags or ice cube trays and stick them in the freezer. Feel smug about the immense quantity of high-quality lemon juice you now have at the ready for numerous sweet and savory flavor-boosting applications.

Every day or two for the next 2-3 weeks, say hello to your jar of limoncello-to-be. Pick it up lovingly and then shake the hell out of it.

After the appropriate time has elapsed, bring out the jar. Measure out 6 cups of white granulated sugar (no fancy turbinado or coconut palm shit for this application). Pour 5.5 cups water into a large saucepan and bring it up a to a boil. Slowly pour in the sugar, stirring with a whisk as you go to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once it’s dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

If your saucepan is big enough to accommodate your simple syrup and all the liquid from your Mason jar, great: set a strainer over your saucepan and dump the contents of the Mason jar into it. Let the peels drip drip drip and then set them aside–well, really, you’re going to be discarding them, but first you should have the opportunity to marvel at their neon yellow color and dessicated near-crystalline crispiness.

Also, how cool is it that you started out with two thin clear liquids and you ended up with a thick opaque one?!

Okay. Stir your limoncello and pour it into your two big Mason jars. Pop these back into their safe dark cool place for another 3 weeks and agitate the jars every day or so.

When your time is up, bring out the limoncello and pour it into pretty glass bottles with a rubber seal.


Store the limoncello in the freezer (the alcohol content is far too high for this stuff to even consider freezing) and serve it icy cold and often–straight, or in your margarita, or a dash in your champagne, or on your vanilla ice cream.


This recipe made enough for me to give Cheryl about two thirds (maybe even three quarters) of a gallon of limoncello. This may be my favorite gift-giving experience to date. I gave Cheryl her limoncello at her birthday dinner, out at an incredibly accommodating restaurant in NW. Can I tell you? I don’t want the manager to get in trouble, because when I asked him if I could whip it out so she could taste it–an unorthodox request to begin with–he dragged me over to the bar to let me choose which of their 6 different kinds of glasses would be best.

pretty presentation. THANK YOU, southland!

(The restaurant was Southland Whiskey Kitchen, and it’s exactly what Portland has needed since we got here. Amazing.) He gave us glasses for everyone, with one of their giant fancy ice cubes in each since the limoncello had been sitting out at room temp for a while.

So what did Cheryl think? Her face says it all.

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welcome home chili beans

I’m going to tell you about a special pot of beans.

the team

First, the occasion: my mother and stepfather have moved here. Let’s try that again: MY MOTHER AND STEPFATHER HAVE MOVED HERE. They’re living in an apartment not 15 minutes from my house. This is the first time I have ever lived in the same city with my loving, thoughtful, dangerously witty fisherman stepfather, and it’s the first time in over 10 years that I’ve lived in the same city with my inspiring, intuitive mother (who, for the record, usually manages to out-fish my stepdad). So last Friday, we had a small family gathering to celebrate their arrival. We had some champagne to drink. Hence, I had a pot of beans to assemble.

A pot of beans, though? How do you elevate a pot of beans to something worthy of such an auspicious occasion? You take your time, tasting as you go, and you enjoy the process. And why choose beans when the bounty of the Pacific Northwest is available at the seafood shop just across the bridge? Because in our world, beans are a true comfort food. They’re all about coming home. And because my mom said, “Just throw something in a pot. One pot. Keep it simple.”

Welcome Home Chili Beans

Serves 6 big eaters with leftovers for a nice lunch or two.

Takes about 4 hours if you’re making your own stock and doing everything the day of serving. 3 hours if you’re an efficient multitasker for a living, like me. You could probably do this in the span of 1.5 hours if you’re using canned beans, boxed stock, and like to feel rushed. OR, if you roast your squash and garlic and make your Umami Bomb and Chile Stock a day ahead, and your beans are soft and ready, shit–this could take you like 45 minutes total. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure cooking experience.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 2.5 pound butternut squash (or an equal quantity of sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 0.5-0.75″ cubes
  • 3-4 slices of uncured bacon
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1.5 pounds of dry black beans, soaked overnight/forever until soft OR like three or four cans of black beans with some of the liquid reserved (OR, if you’re like me and find that soaking dry black beans overnight does next to nothing, pop 1.5 lbs dry black beans in a pressure cooker with water to cover by several inches and cook on high for 22 minutes, using natural release method to liberate your beans)
  • The strays in your fridge/counter. Mine yielded 2 small leeks, a little red potato, and 1.5 cups of mildly seasoned cooked chicken breast. I’d totally use the chicken again in another iteration.
  • a couple bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder–Now, if you have some nice powdered ancho chile, use it. If you have the crap from the spice aisle with the green lid that just says “chili powder,” use it. You don’t have to be a chili powder snob here. You’re already using dried chiles in this recipe so you’ve got some some cred. And just note that each powder has its own potency. You’ll have to add this one to taste, and that’s okay. Each pot of beans is a unique snowflake.
  • Lots of stock.Well, probably at least 4-6 cups depending upon how thick or thin you want your beany goodness. You want a good quality low-sodium chicken broth in a box or better yet, a chicken or veggie broth you’ve made yourself at home. I used something I’m going to call my Odds and Ends Chile Stock… scroll on down to the notes below to see how I usually do it. I’m probably not giving it enough credit for the deliciousness of this pot of beans.
  • 1 recipe Pot Bean Umami Bomb, below
  • salt
  • pepper
  • mild vegetable oil–olive, canola, or grapeseed

Okay. Take heart. This is not a difficult recipe by any means, but it does require a little time and assembly. First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now is a good time to get the stock going on the stovetop as outlined below, if you’re going that route. Toss the cubed butternut squash in 1-2 tablespoons of oil and prepare a head of garlic for roasting as well.  Pop these into the oven and let them go for 30-45 minutes, checking in occasionally to ensure that your squash is not burning. When the squash is cooked to your liking (I like mine just shy of burnt), pull everything out of the oven and set aside. And try not to eat all the squash while you do everything else.

While your stock is finishing up, dice your carrots, celery, and onion (and save those ends for more stock!). Finally, slice your bacon into strips widthwise. If you’re like me and want to use the same pot for the stock and the beans (mom said to use just one), finish your stock and pour it elsewhere to get your pot back. Heat the pot on medium high heat. Add the bacon. Cook until it reaches your desired level of crispness. If your bacon has put off more than a tablespoon or two of fat, spoon some of it out into the jar of bacon fat you keep in your fridge. (I’m just assuming you have one by now). Add the onion, celery, and carrots and saute until the onions are starting to turn translucent and the carrots are beginning to soften. Now, add the chili powder, coriander, cumin, bay leaves, and a teaspoon or two of salt. Continue to saute as the spices get aromatic and coat the sweaty vegetables. If you’re doing cubed chicken, add it here, along with any other fridge strays. Then add your beans and mix everything up. Slowly add stock while stirring so you can see exactly how thin you’re making your chili. I probably used about 4 cups of broth and a cup of pot liquor (the thick inky liquid left over from cooking my beans). If your beans weren’t quite soft enough, simmer this mess until they’re to your liking.

Once your beans are soft enough BUT NOT BEFORE, dump in your Umami Bomb and add salt to taste. A squirt of lemon juice at this point is a nice touch, too. The thing is, if you add acids like tomatoes and lemon juice before your beans are soft, they’ll be a bitch to soften.

Let everything simmer and mingle for a while. Half an hour. However long it takes to get your in-laws and parents wrangled around the table with drinks in their hands. Taste for salt and add if you need to. Set out an array of fixins. Mine included:

  • rough-chopped cilantro leaves
  • sour cream
  • diced raw red onion
  • shredded cheddar
  • lime wedges
  • broken corn chips–oh man, we had a random bag of Fritos hanging around. Heaven.

Avocado would be great here, too. Damn. Now that I type that, I realize I should have had it. Just gonna have to do this again.

I set the pot in the middle of the table–the big, functional, less-than-gorgeous pot– along with my biggest measuring cup to use as a ladle, since I find that our ladle is tiny and I’d rather not have to scoop fifteen times to get the serving I want. Whatever. It wasn’t about the pot, or the measuring cup.

I do not have a pretty food blog-y picture of the finished product. I was too busy with the champagne and the broken chips and the warm fuzzies. My mom and stepdad, my mother- and father-in-law, Jesse, and me: the six of us fit snugly around our table. But before we sat down, while the beans finished, we traveled as a cluster from living room to kitchen to dining room. We just wanted to be near each other, sharing stories of cross-country road trips, of sketchy motels in Wyoming, of leaving the Midwest.


Odds and Ends Chile Stock


  • 2-4 ounces whole dried chiles–New Mexico, guajillo, or ancho are good choices. Anchos are my favorites for their sweetness and quiet smokiness. You can find these at lots of upscale grocery stores–Whole Foods, I’ m looking at you–but you’ll find them cheapest at your local, well, cheapest grocery store. Rainbow, Festival… I got this bag for $3.99 at the Albertson’s down the road. And I live in a 90% white suburb. If you’re in Minneapolis, there’s a Rainbow on (East) Lake that I’m really missing for shit like this.

"chili" pods

  • 1-2 gallon freezer bags full of discarded vegetable ends. The bruised top layers of onions. The butt ends of carrots and celery and squash. Cloves of garlic that were so tiny they were impossible to chop without causing homicidal rage. Kale spines, cilantro stems. If you’re not saving these bits already, it won’t take you very long to fill up a bag. Keep it in your freezer. If you’re not saving ends and want to make your own veggie stock, break up a couple large carrots and two stalks of celery, and quarter three or four large onions.
  • a couple bay leaves
  • 6-10 whole peppercorns
  • rind of a hard cheese, like parmigiano reggiano (optional, but it adds an incredible layer of oomph to your stock)

Heat a very large (6 quart or more) pot over medium high heat. Remove and discard the stems, veins, and seeds from the chiles. Drop them in the hot pot and let them soften and release their aroma, but don’t let them burn. Give them 3-5 minutes, moving them around to prevent outright searing.

heat em up

Next, plop in your veggies. They can come straight out of the freezer. Fill your pot with enough water to submerge all the solids. Throw in your bay leaves, peppercorns, and cheese rind if using. Raise the heat to a very bare boil and then immediately turn it down to a low simmer–so low that you see a bubble rise to the surface every second or two. Walk away for at least an hour. When I made mine last week, I think I let it go for two hours. You can’t really overdo it.

it's not altogether that pretty

Once your stock has simmered long enough, it’s time to remove the solids. Try to save the chiles; the rest is great for a compost pile. The chiles will sort of look like slimy roasted red peppers. Reserve them for the Umami Bomb we’ll talk about next. Don’t waste your time or your cheesecloth straining the stock further to clarify it. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Pour finished stock into freezer bags and, if you’re up for it, label the bags with the dates/what kind of veggies you used, especially if you had some pungent ones in there. Stock made of brussels sprouts leaves might not work in all applications, for instance. The stock can be stored in the freezer for a very long time.

Pot Bean Umami Bomb

This little concoction is something that will add a nuanced layer to any pot of beans or chili you’re putting together. Umami is the savory meaty flavor of glutamates and nucleotides that is so often the missing element when you taste a dish and find it lacking “something.” Crescent Dragonwagon seems to use this technique a lot in her delightful cookbook Bean by Bean: to ensure a nice round flavor, she mixes up a cup or two of some umami-rich ingredients and adds it to the main pot towards the end. Kind of feels like cheating, but hey. Here’s my version, and it requires:

  • the spent chiles that you reserved from your spent stock veggies (or 2-4 ounces of chiles you heated on the stovetop and then steeped in 1 cup of boiling water–chile tea!)
  • 1 can tomatoes (diced/crushed/whole makes no matter; fire-roasted is great, if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • half a teaspoon of fish sauce
  • 1 head roasted garlic (make it this way and you’ll feel very clever)
  • a tablespoon or two of tamari/gluten-free soy sauce

Blend all of the above in a food processor/blender until smooth, and keep it at the  ready.