AS WE HEAD TO THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

December this year is green but crisp, and when I take the dog for a walk, I need to dress warmly—hat, down gloves, layers, and sometimes even a neck warmer. As we walk up the Narrows Pond Road, I notice there is often a skim of ice on the little swamp not far from our house, but the water hasn’t even begun to freeze underneath. The winter berries are plentiful this year, and little red dots punctuate the leafless woods. The ground is hard, which I like. When we come back from our walk, the dog’s paws hardly need to be wiped.

I love this cold season of lights and Christmas trees and wreaths, but it would be remiss of me to ignore the Grinches, who unfortunately are out in full force in Augusta this year. They want to stop providing health care for many low-income people, and they want to stop funding low-income elderly folks who are in assisted living facilities. They say that we are “broke” and that we can’t afford such niceties as health care and assisted living for those not making much money. Yet, of course, we can still afford tax cuts for the wealthy. I can only hope that this “Year of the Protester” (Time magazine’s designation) will somehow make itself felt in Maine. It is probably too much to wish that the Augusta Grinches will have hearts that suddenly swell in size. But these Grinches can be overruled, and they can be turned out of office, when the time comes.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe (maybe guidelines would be a more appropriate description) for a bean soup made from odds and ends but was very tasty nonetheless. So, good, in fact, that it would be worth making on its own. It’s a poor man’s soup, and a poor woman’s, too. I made it with meat, but I think mushrooms could be substituted to give it an earthy flavor.

This soup came about because I was making chili for a party where my husband, Clif, works. I had soaked and cooked 2 cups of black beans and 2 cups of kidney beans, and I knew I would have leftovers. Using the water that the kidney beans were simmered in, I made a soup.

But first I chopped some carrots—about half a soup bowl full—and sizzled them in a stockpot with olive oil until they were tender. I added 2 cloves of chopped garlic to the carrots and let it sizzle about a minute. Then I poured in the cooking water from the kidney beans, and I added just as much plain water. I didn’t have any fresh onion—actually, I did, but it was being saved for chicken soup, that soup of soups—so I used a tablespoon of dried onion flakes. From Clif’s chili, I had saved a bit of cooked ground beef and some cooked sausage balls, and into the pot they went. For spicing, I used 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 2 pinches of allspice, two or three shakes of soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. I let all of this simmer for about a half an hour then added enough beans for a nice, thick soup and let it simmer a while longer. I also added a bit more water.

This made 4 servings—about a half a pot of soup. If I were going to make a full pot, I would use a pound of meat, a full soup bowl of carrots, and double everything else. Or use a big package of mushrooms in place of the meat. (I would probably cook the mushrooms with the carrots and add some water to them so that it would produce a nice little broth.)

And I would taste the soup constantly as it simmered. How else is a cook going to find her way?

 

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