To those of you who have a waning interest in my childhood and how it came to be that I spent much time in Germany with my mother and yet also a large amount of time in Massachusetts with my father, let me tell you that it's far too complicated and long-winded to explain on a blog, and a food blog at that, but that it is thanks to this schizophrenic, bi-continental upbringing that I have an equal appreciation for spaghetti al pomodoro and a can of baked beans. Separately, of course.
When I lived with my father in Boston, he had a weekly repertoire of dinners up his sleeve, including spaghetti with my (maternal) grandmother's tomato sauce, Moo Goo Gai Pan from Golden Temple on Beacon Street, and canned baked beans with a pile of broccoli alongside. To this day, I consider baked beans with broccoli to be one of my comfort foods, something to be eaten when nothing else will do. I'm never too picky about the brand of beans I buy, though I end up veering towards Heinz's Vegetarian Beans, if only because there's something so appealing about the green-and-purple label.
In March, Amanda Hesser printed James Beard's recipe for baked beans as an accompaniment to Tucker Carlson's journey down memory lane to the time he spent working at the B&M plant. Every weekend since then I thought about making the beans, but realized I didn't have the requisite 11 hours to do so. Until this weekend, when rain and an out-of-town Ben kept me indoors to finally slog my way through the entire (gulp) fifth season of Six Feet Under and have Beard's beans bubbling away in the oven simultaneously.
There's not much to the recipe besides a lot of patience. You soak dried pea beans for hours, then boil them, then layer them with an onion and spareribs and a molasses-dried mustard mixture in a pot to cook for several more hours in a low oven. Because I figured I might as well gild the lily, I also made my very first batch of true Southern cornbread in my cast-iron skillet (thanks to Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking). It may not be how my father served his beans, but some things have to change over time, no? The beans were good, and even better the next day. The cornbread, so salty and plain compared to that Northern stuff I'm used to, was the best thing to eat crumbled with the porky beans (a slice drenched with maple syrup was delicious, too, and very Little House in the Big Woods).
But as I ate and sobbed my way through the final few episodes (I mean, seriously. Best Show EVER), I realized that even though the bean recipe came from James Beard and was Slow Food incarnate, I kind of preferred the processed version, the one that takes me three minutes to prepare and is an instant time machine to another part of my life. And that's really okay. It was sort of satisfying to figure that out (a lot of deep thoughts this weekend, I know. Forgive me, I was a little PREOCCUPIED WITH A FICTIONAL FAMILY'S DEMISE).
After all the Fishers died and I washed my face and cleaned myself up, I went back into the real world to meet a lovely group of bloggers, organized by Sam. We ate far too much chocolate and talked and laughed. It was so lovely to meet everyone. Thank you, Sam, and Happy Birthday!