A Pot of Beans
Our friends at Substack's Something Eve Read reviews a great cookbook
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Today we’s like to share Eve Matheson’s Something Eve Read. It’s a site about great reads, thoughts on life, and joy. This week, Matheson reviewed the book, Cooking As Though You Might Cook Again by Danny Licht
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A Review of Cooking As Though You Might Cook Again by Danny Licht
This week I read a perfect book. My mom gave it to me several months ago. She gave a copy to my sister as well, who read it immediately and said she loved it. I delayed. Why? I’m not sure. My mom would say, have you read the book I gave you? and I would say, not yet, but I will! So often we delay things that we should have done right away. Why did I live through months as a person who hadn’t read this book when I could have lived through those same months as a person who had read it?
It’s perfect. To my knowledge there’s nothing else like it, and there’s not a single thing I would change about it. It is devourable in an hour. I suggest you read it that way. It will buoy you along on its gentle wave. I could have, and gladly would have, read 300 more pages of Danny Licht’s writing, ideally about food, but really about anything at all. I understand though, that he said all he needed to say.
Cooking As Though You Might Cook Again is a cookbook in the form of the poem. Anyone who likes to cook must read it. Anyone who wants to know how to cook must read it. Anyone who hates to cook must read it. Required reading is what it is.
Licht begins with a suggestion against recipes. I use the word suggestion because that’s all this book is full of. Licht tells us he will be our grandma, that all we need is some faith in our taste. Both faith and taste must be exercised to develop. A recipe is good for inspiration but it is not a replacement for taking your faith and your taste to the gym (kitchen).
From there, Licht when-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookies his way through a series of recipes, though they’re only recipes in the loosest sense of the word. A pot of beans makes him want pasta, he wants to garnish that, and you know what else might need a garnish? A bowl of soup. A good garnish for soup is a little green sauce. When there’s green sauce in the fridge, a roast chicken is in order. Roast chicken is good with potatoes, and a fresh salad too, and so on.
Not a single thing could make more sense—this dance through food. That’s all Licht wants you to do—make sense, and maybe dance a little if it feels right.. Cooking should make sense and be fun, and it will if you trust your taste. What could be more sensical than making food to feed yourself? What could be more sensical, or more necessary, than making sure that the food you’re feeding yourself with is good?
Pay attention, use your senses, listen to yourself. If something is good, it is good! And repeatedly throughout this little tome, Licht reminds us that things can be good just because they are good. To call on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, there are some things that simply have that unexpoundable quality of Quality. The act of nourishment through food can be, and should be, one of those things.
Here, I planned to share a sampling of quotes with you—just three or four of my favorites. I flipped through my book and typed out all of my underlined phrases, sentences, paragraphs. They filled up two pages. So here’s just one instead on salt, and beauty, and goodness. Know that I struggled to choose it:
“With more salt, things taste better and better until they just taste like salt. This is a fine line and tempting, so be aware of it and taste often. Some say that using a lot of salt is unhealthy, while others say that it is healthy. I say that it is delicious and therefore required. My delusion is that beautiful things are generally true, and I think it is beautiful to imagine that food that tastes good and feels good is good for the body. Only time will tell, but I have faith in the good.”
Inspired by Licht, I made myself a pot of beans the other night. Really it took a large part of the day too, but a pot of beans is a relatively passive thing to make. It started in the morning, at 8:00am when I cut open my bag of cranberry beans. I tend to cut open bags of beans, pasta, rice, etc. instead of tearing because I don’t like for the dried goods of my choosing to go flying out of the bag and because I like clean edges.
So I cut open my bag of beans and handful by handful sifted through them for little stones or other debris. This was my favorite part of making beans without a doubt, and one that I hadn’t thought much about. Dried beans feel so good in the hand. The weight of them, the feel of the outer shell. The sound they make against each other. Just thinking of it now makes me want to sing or funnel them in a used paper towel roll and tape the ends and call it a rainstick. Maybe both.
I submerged my sweet dried beans in water in my big orange mixing bowl, running them through my hands one more time. The bowl went in the sink, and I went to work.
When the clock struck 4:00pm, all I could think about were my beans. They were ready for me. Unable to wait, I left the office early. How they had grown. I drained them of the water they hadn’t yet soaked up and poured them out into the pot I would cook them in.
I prepared my aromatics. Shallots, a head of garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves (multiple because the ones I have are weirdly small (see pic above)). Plus a few sprigs of parsley that were about to go bad in the fridge. I cut the shallots in half and peeled off the outer skins. I cut my head of garlic in half but left the outer skins on. Still, my countertop was covered in fluttery allium papers. I made a righteous and crinkly mess flinging them down and around, not caring.
I rinsed the herbs and bunched them together. I got out the kitchen twine that my friend Maddie lent me quite a while ago, that I’ve fallen in love with and therefore kept all this time. There might not be a more useful thing to keep around the house than kitchen twine. I tied up my herbs and laughed at the way my bay leaves looked like prisoners tied to a tree.
Everything went into the dutch oven with plenty of water and a glug of olive oil and it looked beautiful. Then I turned on the heat and walked away for an hour. My apartment began to smell like what heaven must smell like. I checked on the beans. Things looked decidedly less beautiful in one sense of the word, but decidedly more beautiful in another. The water was becoming bean broth. The beans were expanding and some of them split. Aside from the lost aesthetic of unspilt beans, I don’t see anything wrong with the splitting. It only meant that the beans were becoming something I could eat, and that’s beautiful.
At the hour mark, they weren’t quite ready, so I waited another 15 minutes. Then they were perfect. I ate them with garlicky chard and chicken cutlets that my Baba made for me. Grated pecorino went on top of all of it and a bit of pepper.
The next day I had beans with mini rotelle pasta, which is a delightful and whimsical shape. The miniature ones are even better than the normal ones (which are still good) because they fit in a spoon, and I prefer to eat with a spoon. More pecorino.
The day after that, I had a bowl of beans with two soft-boiled eggs scooped out on top. More pecorino.
Then beans with toasted sourdough, and then there were no more beans.