I awoke Thursday to yet another glorious morning in San Juan. It was sunny and the temperature was holding steady around 82. I was staying a couple of blocks from Ocean Park Beach, where I’d spent a lot of time dozing and gazing at the view.

Ocean Park Beach

Tragically, it was the last day of vacation. My flight arrived at JFK in the depths of winter. An 80-degree temperature drop in a little over four hours is no joke. I survived the taxi line and the ride home clad in yoga pants, a tank top, a cardigan, and a pair of flats that still had sand inside. I walked in the door of my apartment and immediately donned silk long underwear, which I have been sporting pretty much ever since.

I managed to make the trek up to the Upper West Side that night for the New York Abortion Access Fund‘s Celebrate Access Awards, but there was no way I was leaving my house on Friday. A hearty dish was in order, something that would necessitate leaving the oven on for an extended period of time. I had some French navy beans I’d picked up during a shopping spree at Kalustyan’s and a wide variety of root vegetables from my January CSA share. This plus whatever meat I had socked away in the freezer would surely warm me.

Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole originating from the South of France. As with many classic French dishes, cassoulet involves very specific ingredients and elaborate preparation. I have had it once or twice and it is tasty, for sure. But it’s hard to go wrong with beans, meat, and a slow braise. And so I present you with…


  1. Pre-soak a pound of dried beans for at least six hours and then drain. The aforementioned navy beans were good, but I could see any kind of white bean working. Use black beans, kidney beans, or pintos and you’re veering into feijoada territory. This would not be a bad thing.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350.
  3. Render some smoked pork in a large dutch oven over medium heat. I used about four ounces of lean slab bacon cut into quarter-inch cubes.
  4. Add some well seasoned sausage and stir while it browns. I went with a few links of Spanish chorizo from Despaña, but Italian sausage, saucisson, kielbasa, or pretty much anything else would work.
  5. Pull our your porky bits and reserve. At this point, you could sear off some additional meat–duck, goose, lamb or whatever–in the fat left behind. But I didn’t have any of these and my dish came out A-OK.
  6. Add some onions and/or leeks and cook until they are wilted. I went with three medium onions, diced. Add some garlic (8 cloves thinly sliced in this case) and stir just until fragrant. 
  7. Scoot your aromatics to the edge and add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir constantly being sure not to let it burn. 
  8. Add half a bottle or more of hearty red wine, your meat, and any stock that you have on hand. (I used some concentrated turkey stock from last Thanksgiving.) Bring to a simmer.
  9. Add your herbs and spices. I went with a bay leaf, about a tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of hot smoked paprika, and a mix of five allspice berries and 30 assorted peppercorns, which I had ground with a mortar and pestle. Marjoram or thyme would be tasty too, I bet. Be sure to add some salt, although you can add more later.
  10. Add a bunch of diced root vegetables. I used six carrots, four rutabagas, and one freakishly large radish. Top this off with enough water that the beans are just submerged and pop it in the oven with a lid. This is what it will look like, more or less.Pre-Baked
  11. Now go about your business.
  12. After three streaming episodes of 30 Rock and a couple of glasses of Tempranillo, take the lid off and top with one and a half stale pitas’ worth of breadcrumbs. Dot with some butter, pop it in the oven and watch another episode.
  13. At this point, you will have likely consumed the better part of a bottle of wine and could use a little food. Dish yourself a small portion, taste, and add more salt to your bowl and to the pot if needed. Stir in the crust that has formed, a quarter cup of red wine vinegar, and some additional water if it’s looking a little dry. Sprinkle the remaining half-pita’s worth of breadcrumbs over the top and pop it back in the oven, lowering the heat to 300.
  14. Stream a couple more episodes while you polish off the wine. Remove your meat and bean casserole from the oven and, regardless of what the Tempranillo is telling you to do, let it stand for at least ten minutes before serving yourself or anyone for whom you have affection.

This make a lot of food, as evidenced by this photo of the Dutch oven minus my serving.


Fortunately, it reheats brilliantly in the oven. Just stuff some into an individual ramekin, top with some water and bake in the oven until your blog post is done–or until the smell overwhelms you and you decided that you’ve earned a break.Reheated

Pesto Redux

I find myself working from home today while trying to fend off an illness whose most notable symptom is the sensation that there is a vise across the bridge of my nose. I left work early yesterday and it was all I could do to swing by the drugstore for some (to be used for legal purposes only) decongestants.

I rolled out of bed this morning, made some coffee, and got to work. By 12:30 I had sent 43 emails and held two conference calls. (Remember when sick days were a thing?) The vise was tightening. I was hungry and I had failed to stock the fridge. It was chilly and gray and I had no interest in donning pants. I was going to have to make do with what I had.

There was some kale from my CSA, a quarter cup of ricotta cheese that seemed to still be good, and an open bag of whole wheat penne. While I am not above making this a meal, it seemed a little sad. Then I remembered that rosemary-basil pesto I had frozen during the last gasps of summer and it all came together. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting down to a delicious lunch – and my next conference call.


A Hoppin’ New Year

I put the finishing touches on my first grad school research paper a little after 1:00am on December 20th, sacked out for five hours, worked a full day, and then attended my final class. I arrived home around 9:00pm, stuffed some food into my mouth and some clothes into a suitcase, and hit the road for the twelve-hour drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Needless to say, I was not in great shape by the time we arrived. I spent the first couple of days mentally and physically recovering.

When I came to, I found myself in a lovely house nestled in the Smoky Mountains, surrounded by good friends who’d driven in from Nashville and from Athens, Georgia. There were two wood-burning fireplaces, a pool table, a (kinda) hot tub, and plenty of booze. I was the first person up each morning and spent the earliest hours of my day under a blanket on the couch in front of a picture window. I alternated between indulging in a juicy novel and watching the mountains disappear and reappear though the mist.

Smokey View

On December 23rd, we hit Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park in Pigeon Forge. I don’t go in much for heroes, but Dolly certainly is one of mine and I have wanted to visit Dollywood ever since I learned of its existence.

We managed to hit all four of the excellent roller coasters, twice. My favorite was the Wild Eagle, a triumph of engineering in which you are hanging in a seat with nothing above or below. After a delightfully unnerving initial drop, the sensation is one of soaring. Our fear was replaced by a feeling of weightlessness that left us giddy.

Dollywood Coasters

The Chasing Rainbows Museum offered a staggering array of photos of Dolly with celebrities (Grace Jones being my personal favorite), a look back at her childhood and early years in Nashville, and an impressive collection of fan art.

Dolly's Attic

Downstairs were case upon case of clothing from Dolly’s movies and tours. My closet suddenly seems so drab.

Dolly's Wardrobe

We also got to check out Dolly’s tour bus and one of her (in)famous wigs.

Dolly's Wig

The quirky guy leading the tour got a shot of our whole group.

Dolly's Bus

Our day at Dollywood concluded with a Christmas-themed light parade led by a zealous woman with a banjo.

Dollywood Light Show

The next day was Christmas Eve, our last night in Gatlinburg. After taking stock of our food reserves, I headed out do some final grocery shopping. (Miraculously, the booze supply had held.) I knew that I wanted to use the dried black-eyed peas that our Nashville friends had brought, so I was thinking Tex-Mex as I walked into the local Food City. But one look at the freestanding cooler full of collard greens and I had a new plan. These greens were glorious–and huge; one bunch would be plenty to feed all six of us. A few aisles later, I stumbled on a shockingly large display of smoked hog jowl. This store and I were clearly on the same wavelength.

The nice young man who checked me out took one look at my cart and said, “You’re a little early, aren’t you?” For those that don’t know, collards and black-eyed peas are both traditional New Year’s foods in the Southern United States. The peas offer luck and the greens symbolize wealth. Black-eyed peas, which are generally served with rice in a dish called Hoppin’ John, came over with West African slaves. Collard greens, which were considered weeds by many plantation owners, were a mainstay of the slave diet. The hog jowl and other less desirable cuts would have been more readily accessible to the slaves. This combination of ingredients is cheap, easy to cook, and can simmer away untended.

My version is a bit fancified, to be sure, but its spirit is true–as its ability to heal after a night of over imbibing.

Hoppin' John Stew

New Year’s Day Stew

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-4 ounces smoke hog jowl (slab bacon would also be fine), cut into 1/4″ cubes
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 8 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 bottle of cheap red wine
  • 16 ounces of chicken stock
  • 2 bunches of collard greens, large stems removed and cut into thick ribbons
  • 2 large tomatoes or 1 can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 ounces apple cider vinegar
  • hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste
  1. If you’ve got it more together than I do, soak the beans in cold water overnight. If not, no worries. Just add them to a pot with enough water to cover them by a few inches, bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, and then let stand for an hour or more. Either way, be sure to drain the water.
  2. Add olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add your pork and let render, stirring occasionally. Cook the onions for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Continue cooking until onions are translucent, lowering heat if they start to brown.
  3. Add the soaked and drained beans, some leftover red wine, the chicken stock, tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. If the beans aren’t covered, you can round this out with some water. Let simmer until you sense hunger. One hour is probably enough, but two hours will be even better. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, some hot sauce and lots of black pepper.
  4. Keep simmering while you put a pot of long-grained white rice on to boil. After 10 minutes or so, stir in the collards. (You may have to work in batches, letting each cook down a bit before you can cram the rest into the pot.)
  5. When your rice is just about done, taste the stew and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, pepper, cider vinegar, and hot sauce. (I went with plenty more of all of these.) You can let this simmer or even turn off the heat for a while if you’re not ready. I tend to like my collards a little more al dente than is traditional, but I leave that up to you. Serve the stew ladled over the rice in low bowls and get ready for a glorious new year.

Christmas Dinner