The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Out of hardship, happiness

Rachael Conlin Levy
Proof of our folly: passport and alien card.
“We’re alike. I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life. I was twenty when they said a woman couldn’t swim the Channel. You’re twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life.”

National Velvet

My husband said it was like salmon spawning: He needed to live in The Netherlands for a year in order to retain his Dutch citizenship. So we quit our jobs, stuffed suitcases to the gills and moved half-way around the world.

It was absolute craziness.

For despite my husband’s newly updated passport and job, he couldn’t find a crack in the Dutch society to skitter through and thrive there. Having lived outside the country, he wasn’t eligible for the cheaper rents most of the Dutch paid, but neither did he make the salary of most ex-pats. Instead we struggled. Oh, how we struggled in that gray, gray world. We burned through more than $14,000 in savings in one year. I was so lonely I’d sometimes spend a whole day not speaking but a few words to another soul:

The checker at the grocery store: Een tasje? (A bag?)

Me: Nay, dankje. (No, thanks.)

We ate pots of beans and spent the weekends window shopping. Dining out meant dropping some coins into machine for a kroket. We kissed our travel-plans goodbye when we realized that we could barely afford the train ticket needed to cross town for the Dunkin’ Donuts I was homesick for. And every month we bled red and were forced to withdraw money from our savings account to make ends meet.

Yet, joy was able to pierce this sad fog I lived in. I felt it when I spotted my shadow for the first time in weeks, and when I fell asleep to the scratches and coos of pigeons roosting on the attic roof. It left a small, permanent smile in the corners of my mouth when I became pregnant.

But then one day the savings account was empty: Our race had been run, lost and left us breathless. So we repacked our suitcases, turned in the key to our apartment and flew home. Poorer in our wallets, but richer in experience.

I think today’s economic crisis is a time to take great leaps of folly (on a national and family scale) — and for cooking beans. So while a pot of pintos simmers on your stove, let some new ideas simmer in your head. Here are two worthy of thought: The advantages of renting and The era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.

These brothy beans are delicious straight out of the pot.

A pot of beans

Adapted from instructions by chef Rick Bayless.

2 cups of dried beans
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons bacon fat
Enough water to cover the beans by about four inches

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover, leaving the lid cracked. You want the beans to barely bubble, so just a whisper of steam should escape from the lid. Keep an eye on them, adding water when needed. (You should have about an inch of water above the plumped beans.) Simmer until beans are soft, maybe two, four, six hours depending on how old the beans are. About a half-hour before they’re done, add salt to taste.

Oh, I forgot to mention that you must sort through the dry beans, discarding any pebbles or moldy beans. Then give them a quick wash and follow the recipe.

Inspired by this week’s pot of black-eyed peas and Sunday Scribbling’s writing prompt: Listen up, this is important!

3 responses to “Out of hardship, happiness”

  1. What a beautiful story…I’m sure this tightened the bond between you and your husband in amazing ways. Thank you for sharing! Tough times do make us stronger, despite the struggles they bring us.

  2. Great experience! not sure about the brecipe though, six hours seems a long time to be chained to the kitchen sink!

  3. UWGB-BEEK says:

    I am going to try the bean recipe.

    I enjoyed the story, too.

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