Friday, August 17, 2012

What I Know and Don't Know About Beans

Its string bean cray in the garden right now. Urban dictionary defines "cray" as well no one knows what it means, provocative, short for crazy. The 9 foot cages that support the vines look like monstrous bean towers with tendrils reaching for the stars. There are days I must harvest every few hours. Cool beans one might say. But do they really grow that fast or are they really that illusive?
You think you've gleaned every last pod only to come back and discover a cluster of the ones that got away. Shaking the cage reveals more first picking escapees and you sharpen your eyes to detect their subtle verticle movements hidden within the wild tangle of leaves. You walk off, only to glance over your shoulder and spy another handful. There's always a few you miss. The biggest pod can be dangling right in front of your face but you're so busy looking at the big picture you don't see it. Your harvest basket is brimming with bean bounty and as you step away out pop a few more from the corner of your eye. And if you miss them, tough beans kid, they'll be too big to eat tomorrow. Things slow down eventually, the vines dry up and the leaves turn yellow. Assuming they're finished you pull the plants and toss them on the compost pile. Yet they keep producing, small pods emerge from the heap, pumping out their final hurrahs for the season.

There I was, balancing on a small ladder, feeling a little like Jack climbing the beanstalk, a Jolly Green Giant chanting "Fee fi fo fum" in my head and pulling out every yoga trick I could muster to stretch and snatch that one last hanging haricot vert- that's the fancy variety. While trying my best not to inhale a white fly or two I began to question, am I completely full of beans?

In such moments my monkey mind grasps for meaning, searches for priceless pearls of wisdom to bring a little meat into the mundane, something I can sink my teeth into besides vegetables. I chewed on this conundrum and out spilled a few beans of armchair psychology.

Over the years I've learned that there are times in life when you need to step away from certain situations to gain perspective. Some are choices or crossroads, others are part of the creative process. To see more clearly, change the point of view, reframe, look outside the box or inside if need be. Sleep on it. When making a decision, looking at it from different angles may unveil the perfect direction to take.(Even writing a blog requires a process of getting it down, letting it digest, and revisiting it with a fresh state of mind.) The answer to a problem may be obvious but you are too thick in the weeds to see it. Take a time out. Breath. Timing is everything and in time, things become clear. The right thing to do may be dangling in front of you, like that bean that got overlooked the first time around. Go for a walk about, come back and have another look. Practice this mental process and the road of life will be a little less bumpy.
And of course, like beans, you learn to pick your battles.

So my tidbits of experience may not be worth a hill of beans but I do know how to cook them.
Fresh: Minimize. Lightly steam, salt, pepper, and a little dab of butter will do ya.
Pickled: Lots of recipes on the web. After working several summers in an organic cannery and loving it, for me its either go big or go home. These days I prefer to make refrigerator pickles in my own kitchen. It doesn't take a lot of special equipment, lids or jars. The key to the crunch of a refrigerator pickle is pouring piping hot brine over your packed jars, then flash cooling them immediately, in ice water if possible. Blanch and cool the beans first, pack with fresh herbs. Dill is the all time favorite but play. I use a little calcium citrate to insure crispness. Hell, I'm taking calcium anyway. You can find it in the pickling section of most grocery stores. Pickled beans will stay snappy in your fridge until the next season, if they last that long.
Frozen: Blanch and freeze for bean time flavor all winter. Bring them out at Thanksgiving for your classic green bean casserole. I like mine with creme fresh, caramelized onions and BACON! Never better...

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