photo source
Growing up, I didn't really feel one way or another about beans.  Here and there, I'd eat a few chickpeas, fava beans, or kidney beans, and lots of pinto beans alongside burritos.  They were fine.

But during the first summer I worked in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, I fell in love with beans.  Every Monday we received a shipment of vegetables from Chino Ranch, and it was my job to unpack it and put everything away.  That summer, I saw true cranberry beans for the first time--as red and round as their namesake fruit--and peeled fresh giant lima beans we simmered and serve alongside braised pork.  I was still in college, still planning to head to graduate school for poetry upon graduation, and I reveled in the names of the varietals--Dragon's Tongue, Painted Pony, Lina Sisco's Bird Egg, Coco Bianco and Coco Nero, Tiger's Eye, Snow Cap, and Jacob's Cattle.

And then, I tasted them.  I'd never known a bean could be so satisfyingly creamy or so sweet.  I was a goner.

I've loved beans ever since.  The first article I pitched to a magazine was about shelling beans.  They were the first seeds I planted when I started to garden.  I buy beans at the market in every country I visit.

But what cemented my interest in beans as a cooking teacher, and why I want to dedicate this month to celebrating beans is this: a couple of years ago, I heard Mark Bittman say was that he'd consider his career a success if he could get every family in America to make rice and beans once a week. I couldn't agree more.  Besides being beautiful and labeled with playful names, beans are accessible, cheap, nutritious and delicious.  They are easy to cook, and lend themselves to a thousand different uses in the kitchen.

And since beans are for everyone, I'm declaring January #beanmonth.  I'll be posting all sorts of links, recipes, resources, photos, poems, and more here, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  I've started a board on Pinterest dedicated to BEANS, and I've invited friends all around the internet to join me.  Wendy MacNaughton and I are even planning a very special giveaway at the end of the month.    

Come, follow along!  Share your own recipes, links and photos with the #beanmonth hashtag.  I'd love to see everyone's favorite ways to cook and eat beans!

p.s. Lentils and chickpeas count!

mini cuba.

here's a tiny visual cuba update, since if i don't put something up now, it may be months before i get anything "perfect" together.  i took lots of film photos, and we're all planning to get together and exchange photos and videos, so there is A LOT more to come.  please keep in mind, these are from when i actually managed to get the camera out and shoot, so there are a lot of times when we were working that i didn't actually capture anything.  

from the moment we landed, we were fully there, fully IN CUBA!  diesel fumes on the tarmac, uniformed taxi drivers, and warmth from every direction.  we befriended nearly everyone we crossed paths with.  

miguel, who varun dubbed the "bob cannard of cuba," who makes his own charcoal in the most beautiful way.

some of the best meals we ate (not this one, actually) were in driveways and patios, with mamas cooking in the garages and serving us our platillos right there.

 the cars were really excellent.

the organiponico we sourced most of our stuff from was on the outskirts of havana, called alamar.  beautiful, beautiful produce.

jerry was fully consumed by sugar cane after our cod project at parsons.  

so much incredible produce.  amazing, amazing herbs!

there was so much eggplant, we all used it in our menus.

cuban children are the most beautiful children in the world.

i managed to avoid eating this noni fruit, which tasted like blue cheese.   UGH.

the cubans seem to have a really special relationship with onions.

this was the "animal farm" where we sourced the meat for our dinners.  when we stopped in to choose the animals for slaughter, they were throwing a birthday party for a family member, complete with a pig roast!

could she be any more beautiful?

unsurprisingly, turtle befriended every child we met, not to mention this horse!  and she got all of the girls to ride in the carriage with her.

artechef, the culinary institute where we taught a workshop.

 the herb delivery from alamar at the last minute was stunning.  made me feel so utterly at home in such a foreign place.

chef jerry.

so many incredible home gardens.

cooking our first dinner, at le chansonnier.

in what i think was perhaps the greatest feat of the trip, charlie and steve sullivan snuck into a government run bakery to bake bread for the dinners, with a mixture of flours we found in havana and some that steve brought, as well as some sorta scary cheese i got at the fancy grocery store.  steve had made the dough in his hotel room bath room, monitoring temperature and humidity as only a master bread baker is wont to do.

also, this photo is really washed out--the bread was gorgeous.

i became obsessed with the artist Guayasamín for multiple reasons, not least of which was the similarity of our names.  he was pretty incredible, though.

i think the best meal we ate, and this may be telling, was in chinatown, at the luna del oro.  it was insanely fun, especially after the elvis impersonating guitar player showed up to seranade us.

our favorite event was our "pop-up," where we took over a friend's fritura stand for the night and cooked food and gave it away to neighborhood folks.  we grilled chicken and onions and made a bunch of different kind of fritters.  it was by and large the most "real" experience we had.  we were all exhausted, and going a little looney, but it was fantastic.

we all laughed so much our cheeks hurt.

this woman has the most amazing voice ever.  she sells peanuts by singing an amazingly catchy tune, and everyday her outfit has a different theme color.  we fell in love with her.

there was an incredible amount of beautifully decrepit colonial architecture to take in.  so much beauty amongst the brokenness.  i came to feel like they couldn't exist independently.

sorting through beans.

on our last night we made it to a baseball came.  it was so alive, so lo-fi, so fantastic!

one week of food

my dad sent me an email that led me to search for this website about what people eat. i remember seeing hungry planet: what the world eats a couple of years ago at a friend's house, and being really interested by it. i wish i could post some of the photos for you here, but i can't figure out how to do it, so you'll just have to go over there and look.

make sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom. and look really closely at what they are eating and drinking (and all of the packaging). it's out of control.

for my parents and distant friends....

the farmhouse

deeann and glasses


looking toward the ridge

rolling spanakopita

juj with spanakopita

ready to roll the pita

rolling pita

fried broccoli and artichokes

grilling eggplant

pounding the baba ghanoush

plating the tahchin


salad and bean ragu

time to eat

at the table

kids at the piano

ross churning ice cream

tres with the pinata (for whom he cried)

i'm pretty sure i should be ashamed of this, but i have been having a secret love affair with intermezzo over the past month. probably because i never have anything to eat in my house and all i ever want to eat anymore is salad.

i'm also strangely obsessed with tapioca pudding. i've had it three times in the past three weeks--one cocount and two vanilla.

i think the next thing i'll make at home will be a big pot of meaty, spicy chili (with painted hills beef. it's my new favorite beef. so marbled, so good. and i talked to the rancher--it's a pretty awesome operation). and garlic bread. anyone want to come over?
tomorrow night, john mackey and michael pollan will face off live at zellerbach. in the morning, mackey is coming to our class, to face off with us, i guess, since mp said he's not saying a word in class (he wants to save it for the show).

our assignment was to write five questions for mackey, and send them in to mp to read over. i thought of the most challenging questions i could imagine. mp just wrote back and said that they are tendentious, a word i had to look up in the dictionary. i guess i have to rethink the way i'm gonna ask my questions, but here they are:

Mr. Mackey,

In your first letter to Michael Pollan, you proudly assert that the Whole Foods store in Hadley sits amidst many small farms and has the authority to buy directly from them. During the season, you say, Hadley buys local produce from over 25 small farms. I am the buyer for a restaurant here in Berkeley, and we make it a priority to buy from small farms. This morning I sat down and counted how many farmers/ranchers/local artisans I speak with on a weekly basis: in the winter, 47, and in the summer, 70. How is it that our tiny, independent restaurant, with a relatively narrow menu (Californian-Italian food) can manage to buy from nearly three times as many local producers as your shop that sits in the middle of a fertile landscape? We have to turn people away in the summertime. Why isn’t the Berkeley store buying from those same farmers? I know that sometimes quantity is an issue, but don’t quite understand why. If Raye Byrne brings two flats of her mulberries to you, unsure that she’ll have more later, why not buy them and offer your customers the chance to buy something incredible? People are willing to buy these sorts of things, and they will only come to understand seasonality better when they realize that they can’t get whatever they want, whenever they want. Our local produce market, Monterey Market, does just this with almost every small farmer I know—in fact, Monterey is the only place to get the most special Kishu tangerines grown by Jim Churchill in Ojai, and they are only available for a few weeks each year. People get it, though, and they wait, they pay the premium price for them ($3.29/pound this year), and they enjoy this incredible fruit that amazingly, is only grown by this one farmer anymore.

If organizing your purchasing is a main concern, then why not put aside the notion of buying from farmers who show up at your door unexpectedly and create a plan to “spread the wealth” by buying from one farmer one week and another farmer the next?

Walter Robb recently said that ten percent of the organic produce consumed in the US is imported from overseas. What percentage of Whole Foods’ produce comes from China? What percentage of the ingredients used in the processed organics sold at Whole Foods, including both the 365 line and other brands, comes from China or overseas? How can the average consumer distinguish what is grown in the country and what is not? How do you plan to make these sourcing issues transparent to your customers, who deserve to know where their food comes from?

I just went to the Berkeley Whole food store, and noticed the vague signage in the meat section. It’s pretty obvious that most people won’t learn to ask where their food comes from, and instead must be told the truth from the start, so why doesn’t it clear what farms or ranches the chicken and beef come from? Being confused by the vague wording on the price tags in the meats, I had to ask the young butchers where everything comes from, and though they were able to tell me, they weren’t very informed beyond the basic facts. Both Andronico’s and Berkeley Bowl have extensive signs detailing where all of the meat comes from and whether it’s organic, free-range or grass fed. Why doesn’t Whole Foods have the same?