I’ve been writing and receiving cartes de voeux over the past few weeks — I send New Year’s cards because I’m ecumenical like that — and one of the things I’ve noticed is the difference between French and American messages. My American friends and I tend to offer best wishes for good health, happiness, perhaps even prosperity. My French friends have, without exception, wished me a productive year, filled with rewarding projects.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I love projects. As a freelance writer, I have to be pretty self-motivated, or risk losing entire months down the Internet black hole. One of my biggest projects for 2012 is to finish writing my new book. But I also have smaller plans like cleaning up my window box garden, reading more French murder mysteries, and scouring flea markets to outfit our new postage stamp apartment. And cooking, of course. Cooking is a constant series of small, satisfying, occasionally messy and/or delicious projects.
Now that it’s winter, one of my cooking projects has been beans. I was inspired by my recent trip to Rome to cook more dried beans — they taste better than canned, and are better for you, too. But after many pots of failed beans, I grew frustrated. Even after hours of soaking and cooking, why did they always retain a hard, crunchy center?
A bit of research and I turned up a possible explanation: hard water. Minerals in water can affect whether or not beans soften. Paris water is hard enough to leave chunky deposits in my tea kettle. I tried cooking a pot of beans in bottled water et voilà — perfect tenderness.
Now that I have the basics down, I can’t wait to launch several new bean-cooking projects, including pasta e ceci (Italian pasta and chick peas), and a soup of white beans/garlic/chili/escarole (pictured). (The recipe for the latter, by the way, is available in my newsletter, which I’m sending out this week — I hope you’ll subscribe!) They join the other recipes I want to make this year: ricotta gnudi, seven-hour lamb, white pizza with clams, to name but a few — food to be savored slowly with friends and family, bite by bite, which is another one of my projects this year.
Bonne année, mes amis.