Full of Beans…

I got the coolest birthday present from my parents: ranchogordo

5 varieties of heirloom beans from Ranch Gordo, as well as a canvas bag (good for my knitting) and a cookbook.

Although I loooooove beans, I had never heard of Rancho Gordo before. Turns out it’s California Company devoted to heirloom beans and “New World” food including grains (Amaranth, Quinoa, Wild Rice), Chiles, Spices, Chocolate, and more. Founder Steve Sando writes: “As you cook these heirloom beans and other grains and ingredients, keep in mind that we have a common New World culture with Mexico and the rest of the Americas. What you are doing isn’t exotic and esoteric. It’s continuing traditions that are well-established for a reason. I think most of us who are immigrants to the Americas are staying, so rather than constantly trying to reproduce English gardens or European wine, it’s nice to know what’s from here and discover ways of incorporating these ingredients into your kitchen. New World food is exciting, tasty, healthy, romantic, and possibly, easier on the earth.”

rinsed beans

Look at those beautiful Royal Corona beans…all rinsed and ready for soaking!

After all that, the first bean I decided to cook was Rancho Gordo’s first bean from outside the Americas. The Royal Corona looked like the Gigantes I enjoyed in Greece and I found a similar sounding recipe in the cookbook.


carmelized onion cassolet

Book and Beans available at http://www.RanchoGordo.com, book alone available on Amazon


Caramelized Onion Cassoulet from Supper at Rancho Gordo and reprinted by the Napa Valley Register

Serves 6-8

1 pound dried Classic Cassoulet or Royal Corona beans, picked over and rinsed

2½ quarts water

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

For the onion confit:

3 large yellow onions

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 bay leaf

For the tomato sauce:

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1/2 tsp. finely ground pepper

To finish:

1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 Tbsp. minced fresh winter savory, or 1 tsp. dried

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

In a large saucepan, combine the beans, water and 1 tsp. of the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the beans are tender and have no hint of crunch when bitten, about 2 hours. Remove from the heat and drain, reserving 1 cup of the broth.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the onion confit. Finely slice the onions, then chop them. In a skillet, melt the butter with the oil over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the onions, salt and bay leaf and stir to coat the onions with the butter. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and reduced in volume, 10-15 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are quite soft and lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.

To prepare the tomato sauce, in a small saute pan or other small pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the garlic and saute until soft, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, thyme, salt and pepper, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble, in a large Dutch oven, warm 1/4 cup of the onion confit over medium heat, stirring to avoid scorching. Add the tomato sauce, 1 tsp. salt, 1½ tsp. of the thyme, and 1½ tsp. of the fresh winter savory (or 1/2 tsp. of the dried) and stir to mix well. Stir in 3/4 cup of the reserved bean broth and remove from the heat. Add half of the beans, and half of the remaining onion confit and fold the beans, confit and sauce together with a wooden spoon or spatula, being careful not to crush the beans. Add the remaining beans and the remaining onion confit and fold together gently just until evenly mixed.

Put the bread crumbs in a small bowl, drizzle with the butter and toss to coat evenly. Add the remaining 1½ tsp. thyme and remaining 1½ tsp. fresh winter savory (or 1/2 tsp. dried) and toss to mix well. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top of the beans.

Bake until the juices are bubbling around the edges and a deep golden crust has formed on the surface, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. To serve, break through the crust with a spoon.

I used the quick-soak method recommended by the recipe–2 hours on the stove.


soaked beans

Then the kitchen was filled with the delicious aroma of caramelizing onions. I used my favorite orange clay pot to bake the layers of beans and onions with breadcrumbs on top.


beans on table

I prefer very very soft beans, so will use the extended soaking method for the next ones, but I love this bean and this dish. The beans are sweet and mild, their juice mixed with the onions and tomato paste makes for a incredibly rich mouth-watering “gravy” and I am really enjoying the leftovers.

beans on plate

Even if you don’t intend to order anything (although I dare you to browse through the offerings and resist), visit the Rancho Gordo website. They’ve got a great blog, a variety of free recipes, and plenty of information about their amazing XOXOC project, community and new world agriculture.

Pretty soon I’ll be placing my own personal order…because I’m dying to try their stone-ground chocolate!


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Another Nordic Crime Writer…

Anne Holt-an award-winning Norwegian crime writer and lawyer who also served as Minister of Justice. I discovered her through a list of the “Best Murder Mysteries of 2012,” which recommended 1222, starring police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen, nominated that year for an Edgar award (although it was published in 2007 in Norwegian).


There’s the first book in the series, Blind Goddess

Not only was the book itself a fantastic snowbound twist on the locked room mystery, Hanne Wilhelmsen is a complex and unusual heroine. When I “met” her (3 books into the series) she had undergone a huge, life-changing event…and it’s hard to evaluate how I would have gotten to know her reading the books in order starting with Blind Goddess. It did make me realize that many series writers keep the big things unchanged in their detective’s private life, letting changing take place in home life and surrounds, but keeping the essence of their protagonist the same. I think what Holt has done is remarkable.

I also love that Hanne is professional, intelligent, private, extremely good at her job, and just happens to be a lesbian in a loving, committed relationship with a doctor from the Middle East. I don’t know if it’s cultural, but it was refreshing to come upon a book with a lesbian protagonist. I hope that more and more, we find a range of main characters in mystery novels (and others) that reflects the wide range of people in professions all over the world.

shot the dog

The dog is fine. Nobody shot the dog.

Closing with a trio of quotes from another favorite crime writer (this one from Scotland):


“Anne Holt is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.” ~Val McDermid


and two I need to remember as I blast through another scene today:


“Just do it:  hammer through your first draft until the end.”~Val McDermid


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Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Two More

I don’t know where the last two weeks went, but I’ve still been reading and writing all the time. Since I’m writing so much (my own fiction), it seemed a good time to recommend good published novels by others. Here are two more in the ongoing Nordic Crime Fiction series…with two more to come tomorrow:


You can see two of Nesser’s books here: “Borkmann’s Point” and “Woman with Birthmark”


Swedish author Hakan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren series. He won 1993 Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Prize for New Authors, a prize for Best Novel in 94, and the Crime Writers of Scandinavia’s Glass Key Award in 99 “Mind’s Eye” is the first in this series, but I didn’t find that reading them out of order was confusing at all. I liked Van Veeteren and his colleagues are appealing and believable. Classic, old-school, detective novels. I have not yet read any in his most recent series starring Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti, a Swedish police inspector of Italian descent.


I love this cover!

Kristina Ohlsson, another prize-winning Swedish author (and alarmingly seven years younger than me) has been a political scientist who worked for the Swedish Security Service and served as a Counter Terrorism Officer. Her main character is an Investigative Analyst, Fredrika Bergman. As in the best crime series, the other members of her department are well-developed. In several places, I saw her Police Superintendent, Alex Recht, listed as a co-star of the series. Usually fast-paced with tons of psychological tension.


It was good weather for reading…

As I race to the end of the novel I’m writing (a scene a day until I’m done…so very close now), I will keep posting a Scandinavian author or two here as inspiration.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”~Neil Gaiman

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We Believe in Jamie

That would be Jamie Oliver, author of cookbooks, school-lunch revolutionary, TedTalk giver, chef, restaurant-owner, husband & dad:


By Karl Gabor [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sure, he likes anchovies more than we do, but in general every recipe we’ve tried has been delicious. We were a little worried about his Baked Sweet Potato with Grated Salad and Crunchy Seeds (a HelloFresh meal this week). I was especially worried about the reception my decidedly non-vegetarian family would give it. But it was sweet and tart, crunchy and juicy, and really really delicious.


My husband and I ate every bite, our 11-year-old did very well, and every Ms. Picky (age 8) ate several bites…and called it colorful and pretty. Bonus: other than some grating and a little toasting of seeds (with maple syrup!!), it’s easy peasy lemon squeezy…as Jamie might say!

You can find the recipe on his website here:



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1+1=Pizza Dough

Today for Pizza & a Movie Night (or Pizza and a Basketball Game night, as Jane has a game at 8pm on a Friday!) we tried a recipe shared with me by my mom from Delish.com.

It sounds crazy, but in a nutshell it’s 1 c yogurt + 1 1/4 c self-rising flour


we did find the kneading very sticky icky, but it only took 10 min. Then we struggled to spread it out in the pizza pan, but frankly I always have trouble with this.

spreading dough

Because it wasn’t quite as thin as recommended, it took maybe 5 minutes longer to bake, but came out puffy and delicious.

We would make this again, for those times we want a thicker, puffier crust. And since I couldn’t taste the yogurt in the crust, I used a yogurt-based dressing on my salad. yum!

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Cold Day Recipe

Today there were snowflakes throughout the air (although none on the ground) and it was so so so cold.


Spicy Cabbage Soup (Courtesy of Sona Tikidjian) from Soup for Syria 


eaten and enjoyed by my son

recipe available here

and a pic of my secret guaranteed-to-warm-you-up ingredient



Good Book


Going for a little non-fiction.

Hot Tea in a Good Mug (courtesy of my husband, who knows me well)


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Scandinavian Crime Fiction: 1st 5

Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Part One

Let’s just start with five…because my list keeps getting longer and longer: 

  1. Roslund-Hellström-I literally started reading their crime novel Box 21 immediately after posting yesterday…and I’m almost done with it. Luckily, I have 2 more by this team lined up. Gritty and fast-paced, with equal attention given to the criminal underbelly and to the police. According to the back flap, Anders Roslund is “the founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Sveriges Television in Sweden” and Börge Hellström is “an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts.” 

  2. Camilla Läckberg-award-winning author of a series set in her home town of Fjällbacka on the west coast of Sweden. I would describe them as police procedurals featuring detective Patrik Hedström and writer Erica Falck. My favorite part of this series really is the insight it gives into family life in Sweden. From what you might eat for dinner to where you might go on a date to what shows little kids watch, it’s all there…sprinkled in between the grisly, twisted crimes.


    Fjällbacka photo by Chell Hill

  3. Henning Mankell-a heavy hitter, called the back in 2005 the Washington Post published this article. My mother clipped it out and mailed it to me, I looked him up, and I was hooked. In October of 2015, Henning Mankell passed away, and his loss is keenly felt. I haven’t read any of his plays, and I haven’t exhausted his catalog of around forty books, but I have read every novel featuring his Detective Wallander that I could find. Maybe you’ve seen Kenneth Branagh in the BBC version on PBS…but I think the Swedish version starring Krister Henricksson  (subtitled in English and currently available on Netflix) really captures not only Wallander, but also the other members of his department, his daughter, and Ystad, Sweden itself. Ian Rankin (another of my favorite authors) wrote for the Guardian that “Mankell used the crime genre as a means of critiquing politics, big business, social unrest and corruption” and “He showed us the human condition, warts and all, as seen through the eyes of an engagingly flawed but deeply humane central character, and paved the way for every Scandinavian detective who came after him.”


    Krister Henricksson

  4. Jussi Adler-Olson-this bestselling Danish writer has created quite a character in Carl Mørck, a character so difficult and disliked by his colleagues that he is relegated to the basement, where he heads up Department Q, investigating cold cases. In each book this misanthrope and his increasing team of misfits solve one sensational “big” crime after another. 


    This man also has the best/funniest CV of all time on his website. Read his books..but also his CV!

  5. Cecilia EkbäckWolf Winter is a first novel (although I read that she’s working on her second). This historical mystery set in Swedish Lapland in 1717 was a fascinating window into a world I never imagined and incredibly well-written. I picked it up a few months ago on a whim, and some of the images–a dark figure on a hill, the lonely walk from farmhouse to “town,” the creepy community–stayed with me. Poetic and suspenseful and chilling.wolfwinter

I’m going to close this one with a quote from Cecilia Eckbäck’s website:

“The expression ‘Wolf Winter’ in Swedish (Vargavinter) refers to an unusually bitter and long winter, but it is also sometimes used to describe the darkest of times in one’s life — the kind of period that imprints on you that you are mortal and, at the end of the day, always alone.”


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