My theme for 2011 is simplicity. I have the tendency to get overwhelmed by the things in my life, even the things that I love and enjoy like cooking and gardening. I find myself grabbing and wanting and feeling like I never have enough. This is why my pantry bulges with bag after bag of lentils, beans, rice, asafoetida powder, nigella seeds, sumac, silver ear white fungus, fermented black bean paste, salt-packed anchovies, truffle oil (2 kinds), flake sea salt, pink salt, Kosher sea salt, non-iodized sea salt, coarse Kosher salt. I have shelves of home-canned tomatoes, salsas, pickles, relishes, jams. I am a food hoarder of the worst kind. The gourmand/DIY food preserver hybrid.
I suffer from muchness.
I hope that this makes me hunker down and enjoy--relish even--the things that are abundant in my life. Conversely, it will make me cherish those things that I can't have all the time, year round, all the more.
My friends know that in addition to being a gourmand/DIY foodie hoarder, they also know that I can pretty resourceful--and that I save any food item that could be used by freezing it or turning it into something delicious, rather than giving up and sending it straight to the chickens or the compost. Once, at my mother's house, I wouldn't let her throw away fresh broccoli stems because they could be used in egg foo young style vegetable pancakes if they were peeled and julienned. She sort of just shock her head at me. "Really? You want to save that?" But by the end, I won her over by the crispy, savory little vegetable pancakes.
Since my friend S. knows that I've a food-saver, she offered me the ham bone from our Easter celebration. I jumped on the chance. So this was one of the first things that I decided need my attention. This ham bone was huge. I trimmed enough ham off it to make a big batch of Hoppin' John for New Year's, and then, I used the bone to make a huge pot of Ham and Bean soup. (I've written about Ham and Bean soup before, and you'll find the recipe here.)
Ham and Bean soup is a close cousin to Turkey and Rice Soup in that it's a homey, dish made after a big celebration, which leaves lots of leftovers in danger of going to the compost pile. My mother would make both when I was growing up, after Easter and Thanksgiving respectively, so that I've begun to associate these dishes with celebration and delight rather than miserly penny-pinching.
Ham and Bean soup is one of the heartiest, belly-warming soups I know. The beans ground the soup and make it taste earthy, the ham--especially the marrow from the bone-- lends richness and smokiness. In many Ham and Bean soups, the beans are left whole, but in my version, I puree the beans for a smooth, creamy texture without any dairy. Although, this dish takes time, it's worth it, especially if you don't have to go to the grocery store to make it.
In the end, I was delighted by the soup, by the resourcefulness of it, and by S's. generosity that made it possible. I was experiencing abundance, and I had to share it. So, I delivered a big container of Ham and Bean soup to S., who in the midst of meeting a big deadline for her dissertation, needed something comforting that didn't require any cooking. I hope it helped.