Apr 22, 2013

Shelter with Chives & Tea

I made baked beans last Friday. I'd never made them before, and I didn't realize they took five hours to cook. Traditionally the pilgrims cooked them in pits lined with hot stones on Saturday night so they'd be ready by Sunday, the Sabbath, when one wasn't even supposed to cook because it was considered work.

I'd never made Boston baked beans from scratch before, and I'd also never been told by my city to "shelter in place" because there was a bombing suspect somewhere on the loose. So on a beautiful Friday afternoon in April I stayed (mostly) indoors, listening both to the live-news coverage on TV - Suspect #2 Still at Large - while simultaneously listening to multiple helicopters pass overhead searching for the suspect. At one point a group of about ten men in bullet proof vests gathered outside someone's house on my block. The beans boiled away on the stove, getting soft enough to transfer into a nice cast-iron pot where they would nestle with my "Boston Pride" flavoring agents of beer and black tea. Birds sang in the budding trees, the sun blared, and all my digital devices buzzed and beeped constantly with messages from friends and relatives.

I grieve for those lost and injured in the Monday Marathon bombings, and for the policeman who was shot and killed and the MBTA official who was seriously injured during the Thursday night shoot out. I have taken these events pretty personally, this being the city where I grew up and now live. And, whether or not others grew up here or feel a personal connection to this city, it has been an astounding event to try and process. Will we be all right? I have been thinking to myself constantly. As a city, as a country, as a species: will we be all right?

There has been so much press, so much reporting and journalism following these events as people try to unpack everything, turn it upside down, give new perspective. I am overwhelmed by it. The stories continue to pour out and unfold as the hours go by and the world continues to feel more and more like it's made of paper, so thin and flimsy. I want to shut it off and shut it out, but I can't. It brings me closer to the reality that so many people live every day—those in Syria and Afghanistan, in countries where terrorism and war are a pulsing everyday truth.

So I cook, and it helps soften the edges a little. I didn't have any molasses in the house (a traditional ingredient for Boston baked beans) so I used maple syrup, which is just as delicious. The day before, I had been out in the Jamaica Plain Arnold Arboretum with some friends, and we happened upon some wild chives. Since my friend's dog had just wolf-snatched half of my sandwich out of my hands, I was feeling my survivalist 'hunter-gatherer' instincts kick in. So while everyone walked around admiring the blossoming cherries and magnolias, I smuggled a bag of chives out the gates and later chopped them up and mixed them with Greek yogurt to make a delicious topping for the baked beans.

And since Boston has such a history with tea I decided to use black tea as one of the 'spices' in the beans. The tea added a delicious complexity and depth that surprised and also comforted me. While my friends and I ate the hot-dogs I'd bought that afternoon at CVS alongside the homemade baked beans, we watched the final scene unfold on television. The headline changed from Suspect #2 Still at Large to Suspect #2 Captured.

 There is still a cloud of strangeness over everything, but I know picking wild chives and cooking beans made me feel a little better and made me feel pride for this city. Spring in Boston is always beautiful even as it unfolds in the midst of sordid events. "Have you been crying?" a toll booth operator asked me when I handed him the toll after crossing the Tobin bridge. "No," I told him, then "Yes." He gave me my change and said, "You're going to be all right."

Boston Baked Beans
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Soak overnight or for 3-5 hours:
2 cups dried white beans or navy beans, rinsed and picked-over

Drain and rinse the beans and combine in a greased, heavy pot with:
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup of brewed, strong black tea
1 medium onion, chopped
5 TB maple syrup or molasses
5 TB ketchup
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped salt pork or pork belly

Bake, covered 4-4 1/2 hours. Uncover for the last hour of cooking. Add liquid (chicken stock or tea) during cooking if the beans become dry.

Chive Yogurt

For a tasty condiment for your baked beans (or burger or hot dog or grilled salmon) combine 1/2 cup finely chopped chives with 1 cup Greek yogurt and 1 tsp salt.  

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