Monday, September 14, 2009

Money Monday: September 14, 2009

Wow, did I ever have a great Saturday! First, I slept in until almost noon! Then I had a hearty brunch my husband made, and then we went out for ice cream, and then we went to the Bean Festival and had all kinds of fun and went on rides and they had this incredible rollercoaster and it only cost a quarter a ride! And then we came home and my husband grilled these steaks that were soooooooo tender they practically melted our mouths and then we had chocolate pie and then I sat on the sofa for about three hours watching CSI:Anywhere while my husband rubbed my feet and the Denizens cleaned the house including the bathrooms…

…and then I woke up and it was five a.m. and I was really pissed because it was an awesome! dream. Also, I said some very rude things about five a.m. that probably it didn’t deserve but come ON, it’s five a.m. on a Saturday and I am awake?!?!

Then I spent the morning spending money – but in a good way. I bought our four trees, which ended up being one granny smith apple, one that has three kinds of peach and two kinds of nectarine, one Bing cherry and one Ranier. I may be picking up one more of the multiple-apple varieties later, but the ones they had available at the local nurseries just didn’t tickle my fancy much. I bought some more seeds and a six-pack of six-inch Brussels sprouts.

And a small sump pump, whose story is another whole post all by itself.

Then I came home and spent the rest of the day playing in the dirt. I planted more spinach, golden beets (I love those – sweet and tender like fresh beets are but they don’t stain everything they touch), more carrots, some bok choy, some potatoes, broccoli, onions and garlic.

It involved the shovel and pickax again (groan), because the root vegetables needed the soil broken up to a greater depth than we had done previously. In related news, my tennis elbow is back with a vengeance and I’m very tired of it. Feh.

Sunday, we finished planting the trees (PVC was broken…again…seriously, I’m starting to think my husband defrauded a PVC company in a past life or something…), cleaned up the yard a bit more (lots of green webbing all over the place from the ex-lawn area), and then we went to the Bean Festival.

Now, I’ll admit that the main reason I wanted to go to the festival was because it is a place where I can get some of the more unusual beans for very reasonable prices. I picked up Christmas lima beans, Anasazi, Orca, Moccasin and Yellow Eyes, as well as some of the more common things, like red and green lentils, small red kidney and the classic white navy bean – restocking the pantry after a year’s worth of soups, salads, sweet and savory baked side dishes and of course burritos stuffed with that ultimate comfort food, refried beans.

And then I got to thinking about how cool beans really are, and how often I serve them in one form or another around here, and how rare it is that something so inexpensive is so darned good for you, and I thought hey! Why not dedicate some blog space to them?

So here it is. In honor of the Bean Festival, and of our town’s status as the Bean Capital of the World (which status I’m not sure is entirely global, as I suspect that it is a self-proclaimed title, but let’s not get fussy, shall we?)…the cool stuff about beans.

Dry beans are a tightwad chef’s friend. They are very inexpensive, costing between fifty cents and two dollars a pound even at the supermarket (the high price leader, compared with direct from the source, bulk or festival pricing). They have good flavor on their own, but also make excellent foils for your favorite seasonings. You can leave them tasting the way they do, or disguise them from your picky eaters by cooking them in stronger seasonings.

And they really fill you up, granting you that “sit back from the table, groan a little, pat your stomach and say, Dang, but am I ever FULL!” feeling…but without 1,600 empty calories, 95% of same from fat like some of the other popular cheap meal-stretchers. (Hello mashed potatoes and gravy, and yes, I am looking at you!)

Beans are loaded with fiber and protein, packed (to various degrees, depending on the variety in question) with vitamins and minerals, have practically zero fat and are an all around Dietary Good Guy.

Left whole in a soup they add interesting flavor and texture; pureed, they give a wonderful richness without adding empty carbs or calories to the dish. (And can thus be disguised from the picky eaters – if the Denizens don’t know there are lima beans in their soup, they won’t automatically hate it.)

They also taste awfully good (and add vegan-safe protein) crumbled or tossed into or over a salad, cooked into omelets, added to curry, baked with maple syrup…shoot, they’re just plain good, in a hundred different ways...and all for pennies on the dollar compared to the meat most of us use for our main protein source.

They come in a tremendous array of colors, sizes, textures and flavors – far more than the usual pinto, kidney, navy, black or lima that make up the usual offerings at the supermarket. They can add a lot of visual interest to your dining, without having to pay a bazillion bucks for the privilege. Check out Pacific Grain and Foods and search on ‘beans.’

They also store extremely well and for ludicrously long periods of time – like, two years if stored correctly (closed container, dark and cool place). Two cups of dry beans will expand upon cooking to around six cups of wholesome, gut-filling food, making it an efficient use of storage space as well.

Every emergency pantry should have a container or two dedicated to beans.

NOW. Those are the awesome things about beans.

There is, of course, a dark side.

One is that dry beans aren’t exactly instant food. Ooooooh no. They are pretty thoroughly dehydrated, and most will need to soak for a significant amount of time before they can be cooked.

If you forget all about them until thirty minutes before dinner, you’re sunk.

Bad Thing #2 About Beans is…well…you know…tootie-toot-toot…?

Oh, OK, I’ll be a grownup. Gas.

It’s true. Beans cause gas in many (most) (nearly all) people. Some people can eat them all day and night with no (ahem) symptoms, but other people can be unable to ride elevators for six days because they glanced at a bag of beans in the supermarket.

Discussions abound about “de-gassing” beans. There’s a lot of argument out there, and I’m not going to attempt to give a definitive answer on the whole topic here.

I keep things simple. I use the old-fashioned cold soak method, which means I wash the beans and pick them over for little rocks and whatnot, then put them in a big bowl with plenty of cold water and leave them overnight. In the morning, I drain them, discard the soak water, and then get on with the recipe.

This does an “eh” job when it comes to de-gassing, especially for people who don’t regularly eat them. It works well enough for us and is efficient both in terms of time (letting them soak while I sleep works for me) and energy (no stovetop required for rehydrating the beans).

The most common suggestion for more thorough gas reduction involves using the ‘hot soak’ method. In this method, you put the beans into hot water and bring the pot to a boil and let it go for two or three minutes. Then you put on the lid and ignore them for at least one hour, but preferably four or even more – even overnight, so you could start this process after dinner one Night 1 and have the beans for dinner on Night 2.

After soaking, discard the soak water and carry on with your recipe. The hot water and longer soaking time encourages more of those hard-to-digest sugars to dissolve into the water, which reduces how many of them percolate through your colon later.

Some folks worry that they’re tossing nutrients down the drain when they dispose of the soaking water – the scientist types say, “Pfft! No significant nutrient loss!”

Others insist that the beans must be rinsed thoroughly for best effect. I don’t have any scientific answers on that, but it seems to me that if you’re particularly sensitive (or have a long elevator ride at work) every little bit of hard-to-digest sugar you can get rid of before eating them is worth ditching.

Now, for some people, it never gets any better. Eat a bean, play a tune, forever and ever. For others, it’s never a problem. (I hate those people. Seriously.) For the rest of us, as you slowly add more beans to your diet, your system adjusts a bit.

There’s still a problem, but it isn’t life altering.

By which I mean taking the elevator is still a possibility, even if its crowded with people you like or at least have no personal grudge against.

There are also things like Beano, which provide the extra enzyme you need to digest “problem” foods like broccoli, cabbage and yes, beans.

It can be a real godsend sometimes, too.

Wanna give them a try, but don’t know where to start? Check out the US Dry Bean Council’s recipe section. From appetizers to desserts, they’ve got a great starting point for getting to know the many personalities out there in Bean World.

They’re humble things, beans. Often overlooked, disrespected, shrugged at and otherwise demeaned. Relegated to being a side kick, baked in sugary sauces and set next to the star of the show, Gramma’s Famous BBQ…and yet they are inexpensive, flavorful and flavor-enhancing, filling, health-ful and, while time-consuming, generally pretty easy to prepare.

Substitute beans for meat a couple times a week, and you can make a significant impact on your grocery bill and be giving yourself a healthful change of pace, without coming away from the table feeling like you’d rather eat the rabbit than the rabbit-feed you just ate.

You know what else? I am so growing my own beans next season. They produce a relatively large amount of food for a reasonable amount of space and besides – they’re fun. C’mon, a plant that you harvest by pulling it up by the roots, dropping it into a bag and beating the heck out of it?

It doesn’t get more fun than that.


ellipsisknits said...

We grew some sort of green beans for the first time this year, and MAN are they ever filling. We harvest up what would be a normal serving of any other veggie (or of store bought beans) discard the tough skins, and still end up looking at a half a bowl of uneaten beans, not to mention skipping out on the rice and wondering whether we should split a single piece of salmon instead of having one for each of us. (and having leftover salmon in this house Just Doesn't Happen).

It's crazy.

Steph B said...

I'm a bean fan myself...of course, growing up "hillbilly" means that beans and cornbread were considered a major food group in my family. Not mention they make excellent comfort food! Forget the mashed potatoes, I'll take the "musical fruit" any time.

kimbobim said...

My neighbor swears that adding a half cup of millet to bean recipes gets rid of the gas - she even gave me some millet to try myself. So I guess it's chili and cornbread night tomorrow!