Axe not for whom the beans bubble…

There are days here when the wind blows so hard from the west, it feels like it’s blowing right into my guts. It unsettles me and makes me worry about all kinds of silly things. It keeps me indoors despite the bright sun and the spring smells it brings with it from places warmer than here.

On days like this, it’s almost impossible for me to motivate myself to go outside. But this one day, I happened to notice that perhaps the wind had died down a bit. The light was incredible on the bay. I needed to make a fire but had no kindling. So I screwed up my nerve, grabbed the axe and an armful of logs, and bravely sashayed into the breeze. Well – as well as one can sashay when carrying an axe and an armful of logs.

Settling the first log on the ground, I took a step back, raised the axe, and brought it down hard and sure. The log cracked in two with the most satisfying sound – I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe that sound, of a cold, dry log splitting on the first whack.

The trick to splitting logs is that you can’t think too much about bringing that axe down. You just have to put faith in momentum and give it all you’ve got. Any hint of trepidation, any momentary lapse in confidence, and the axe will just bury itself in the wood and you’ll be stuck whacking away with the log on the end of the axe, hoping that your neighbor doesn’t notice you.

This windy day turned into the most magical of afternoons, as the logs split one after the other, into two, then four, eight, sixteen pieces. I was meant to be splitting wood that day, in the sun and the wind, thinking of nothing but that moment, that log, that swing. As each piece of kindling leapt from its twin, Manny sat contentedly a few feet away,  scavenging the odd stick from my pile, and sniffing into the wind, his ears flapping gently and his eyes squeezed shut against the breeze and the sun.

“And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still  human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. ”        – Paul Harding, from Tinkers

With an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and leaving the bag of kindling on the porch for Ben to admire upon his return, I sashayed back into the house where the smell of a bubbling pot of baked beans drew me to the kitchen. I felt very Quebecois at that moment, in my Sorels, with bits of wood stuck to me, digging into a pot of baked beans. Not your run-of-the-mill fêves au lard, par exemple. These are Holly’s Soon-to-be-Famous Baked Beans. I have subjected Ben and Frida to countless pots of beans since coming back from christmas holidays, where Howard’s Soon-to-be-famous Baked Beans seduced me mercilessly. I have now created my own version that I will now share with you, cause this, my friends, is the mother of comfort foods. I’m gonna go chop some more kindling now, cause it’s another sunny, windy day, and I need to be reminded that I am still open to the beauty of the world. Enjoy your beans.

Holly’s Soon-To-Be-Famous Baked Beans

serves a lot of people, like maybe 8. Keeps ages in the fridge. Could be frozen too.

Please read through the instructions before beginning, the ingredients are incorporated into the instructions in bold type.

These beans are better after a day or two in the fridge!

Beans: either 2 cups uncooked navy beans, soaked overnight and then cooked about an hour till soft
OR 3 cans navy beans (I think that’s about what it looked like, I used dry beans)
Chop 4 onions and
roughly mince 8 medium cloves of garlic
Peel, core and chop 3 tart apples

Sauce: Mix together in a medium bowl:
6 tbsp cider vinegar (1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp)
1/4 cup molasses
Half a large can of diced tomatoes with the juice
a few good dashes of worchestershire sauce
( between 7-10 shakes)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a large dutch oven or pot with a lid that can go in the oven*, sauté the chopped onions over medium heat  in about 2 tbsp olive oil. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 min till nicely brown.
Add 2 tbsp brown sugar to the onions, let them caramelize, stirring for a couple minutes, then add:
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp dry mustard
Cayenne to taste
(I added maybe 1/2 tsp)

Toss in a sploosh of beer and scrape to get the browned bits off the bottom. Add the minced garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes or so.
Now stir in the sauce, the cooked beans, and the chopped apples, and lots of black pepper, cover the pot, and pop in the oven for about 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, take off the lid and stir, and add another sploosh of beer if it looks too dry. Cook, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or so till it’s a bit more brown and you can’t stand it any more, adding more beer as needed to keep it saucy (I used maybe 3/4 cup of beer in total).

* you can also do this entirely on the stovetop, if you prefer. But the 20 minutes in the oven at the end will brown up the beans, which in my opinion is important.

Now, put on your ceinture fléchée, let out a hearty, “Câlice de tabarnac!”  or two, pour yourself another beer (I know you drank the rest of the other one), and enjoy the beauty of these beans, cause you have done everything to deserve it.


5 thoughts on “Axe not for whom the beans bubble…

  1. kate

    could you quantify a “sploosh”? or is that the sound the beer makes when it hits the pot ‘o beans? also, bryan daydreams daily about chopping wood. it’s a significant part of what he wants to do in life.

    1. I cannot quantify a “sploosh”. Enough to coat the bottom of the pot, certainly. A couple glugs? It’s not really important…. Like I said, in total about 3/4 of a cup, but that’s after adding more beer towards the end. Enough to keep it liquidy. Sorry I can’t be more precise!

  2. Jane

    These. Are delicious. I thought maybe I did it wrong because they came out of the oven looking, well, kinda nice. But by the next day they looked, well, they looked like brown beans. If any one else is tempted to (and actually does) double this recipe so that you don’t have to figure out what to do with half a can of tomatoes. Four cups of dried beans, when cooked, is a lot of beans. An insane amount really.

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