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Snow in Austin, Being Prepared, & Beans, Beautiful Beans

As the rest of the country knows, Texas suffered unusually cold weather a couple of weeks ago. That and a badly maintained electrical grid caused big problems for almost everyone.

As a worried mother, I was on the phone with Sarah a lot (at one point, she had to charge her phone inside her car, with the motor running). There were several feet of snow on the ground, her home lost power, and when the inside house temperature dove into the low thirties, they needed to be elsewhere (their home does not have a fireplace). Fortunately, she and Jeff, her fiancé, have a friend nearby whose power remained on, and who could take them in (thank you Maile!) Other friends were in the same situation, so Maile took in a total of 4 extra people and 3 dogs. Now that is what friends are for.

I was thrilled they had someone to help, and somewhere to go. Not everyone was so lucky.

It got me thinking about preparedness. In 2021, many newer homes don’t have fireplaces. As a population dealing with climate change, we’re going to have to rethink the basics, like staying warm, having access to clean water, and of course, a supply of food that is non-perishable.

Sarah said they had a good supply of food. After the power went out, they were able to keep fridge and frozen food cold outside in containers, and then to bring it with them across town. Their pipes froze and the water heater busted, and now that they’ve returned home, they’ve had to make do without hot water in the pipes. For a time, tap water had to be boiled before drinking, for safety. The water heater will probably be repaired this week – they have a friend who’s a plumber! I’m sure all plumbers are super busy all over Texas and will be for a good while.

I thought about our house and what we would do in the same situation. We live in an old house in Santa Barbara built in 1919, with four indoor fireplaces, so we’re lucky in that way, as long as we have enough fuel! We keep an extra supply of emergency drinking water. And we have a good supply of food, though if the power goes out for an extended time, the food in the freezer would have to be used quickly.

One thing we always keep on hand are dried and canned beans. They’re just handy to have on hand, even without a national disaster. Ideally, we soak the dried beans overnight, but even a few hours soaking is helpful for tenderizing. And canned beans are great to stock too, because you can get to them in a hurry, without even having to cook them. Canned seafood, dried chiles, sun-dried and canned tomatoes, dried fruit, grains like oatmeal….are all useful food items to have in your pantry during an emergency.

Besides being emergency rations, dried beans, after soaking and cooking, have a wonderful texture, more al dente than canned, and a great flavor too. So, let’s celebrate beans with an easy black bean recipe from the Follow Your Heart Cookbook. They are great plain, but are also delicious folded inside a tortilla, embellished with lettuce, cheese and salsa, maybe shredded meat, into a taco; and beans are great in soups, as in this Tried and True recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Basic Black Beans

Yield: 4 cups, about 6-8 servings

2 cups dried black beans (the small ones, not the large black soybeans)

1 dried chipotle chile, or one canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (optional)


1 tsp. sea salt

Wash beans well and remove any rocks or broken pieces. Place in a large bowl and cover with several inches of fresh water; let sit overnight or for 8 hours. Drain, discarding soaking water.

(Quick soak method: Bring washed beans and 4 cups water to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Turn off heat; let beans sit for 1 hour, covered, in the hot water. Proceed.)

If using overnight soaked beans, place drained beans in the pot with 4 cups water. If using quick-soak method, place 2 cups fresh water in pot with beans and their soaking water. In either case, bring beans and water to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, for 1-1 /2 hours, adding more water if necessary. It’s important to keep beans covered with water at all times, until they are almost tender; toward the end of the cooking time, beans will become tender, and broth will be smooth and thick. Add salt and remove from heat.

Adapted from a recipe in the Follow Your Heart Cookbook by Janice Cook Knight

Feijoada – Brazilian Black Bean Soup

6 servings

2 c. dried black beans

3 ½ c. water or stock

2 tsp. sea salt

About 2 Tbs. olive oil

1 c. chopped onions

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, chopped

1 large stalk celery, chopped

1 c. chopped green pepper, optional

1 tsp. ground coriander

1½ tsp. ground cumin

2 oranges, peeled, sectioned and seeded

½ c. orange juice

1 Tbs. dry sherry

¼ tsp. black pepper

¼ tsp. cayenne

½ tsp. fresh lemon juice

Topping: Sour cream, yogurt or crème fraiche

Rinse and sort beans, and cover them with water. Let soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain; cover with the 3 ½ c. water or stock and the salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 ½ hours over low heat.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add garlic, carrots, celery, green pepper if using, coriander and cumin. Continue sautéing until added vegetables are a little tender, but still al dente. Remove from heat, and add to the pre- simmered beans. Add the remaining ingredients (except topping). Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, or until flavor of beans has melded nicely with the other ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve, topped with the sour cream.

From The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

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