Sunday, September 10, 2006


He has no butt. He wears his jeans too high—nearly to his ribcage—and appears unable to cleanly shave the silver stubble under his chin. His face is unremarkable, one that wouldn’t catch my attention if I saw it anywhere other than on stage. But, with that guitar, scarred, signed by nearly every musical luminary of the past fifty years or so, marked with a splintery puncture hole, Willie Nelson made Los Angeles stand in thunderous applause last night. No one in the audience could help but pay attention.

Willie and his family band played their hearts out to us. His sister pounded away on the piano while his son gave Stevie Ray Vaughan a run for his money, making the electric guitar wail like a woman weeping over lost love. Willie’s long time buddies, including the famous Paul (of “Paul and Me”) played and sang with him the way they’ve been playing for years. We all know that the life he loves is “making music with [his] friends,” and last night, the audience could feel the love he has for his life. His music is rough; it has texture. The lyrics are simple, usually about women he’s done wrong or his own music-focused lifestyle, all sung in a Texas twang, yet somehow they brought all of us together, and it felt great. In fact, a couple of times, I even got a bit teary. I’m not one to feel remarkably patriotic. I enjoy the freedoms living in this country offers, but I have a hard time saying what this country is. I’ve lived in enough different cities in the United States to know that the differences between the cities is extreme enough to make each seem likes its own nation. However, last night, seeing Willie Nelson sing and play, I felt a deep love for this mixed-up country.

In the second half, the LA Phil left and it was just Willie and the band. The almost-full moon rose, huge and orange, over the hills, and a cold breeze made sweatshirts futile. It felt like fall feels everywhere I’ve lived. The crowd of thousands sang along with familiar songs, just like any other Willie Nelson crowd would. Wannabe rebel punkers sang, the wrinkled couple holding hands sang, the gay men in wire-rimmed glasses sang, the Asian kid with the handheld video game sang, the middle aged married couple in leather vests and cowboy hats sang. I sang.

It was as American as American could be. American like baked beans.

Patriotic Beans
ECG and I hosted a barbecue last weekend to celebrate the end of summer, the start of school, and our now official cohabitation. Working his magic on the grill, ECG fed the crowd smoky tri tip and burgers. I made baked beans from scratch, and I’ve got to say, these are the best baked beans that I’ve ever had, even though there is no baking involved. I adapted the recipe a bit from’s Blue Smoke’s baked beans recipe—it says it feeds twenty, but it doesn’t really. They’re too good and they go too fast for twenty people to get to them. They’re sweet, smoky, and have just the right bite. Even better, they’re thick and chunky. The combination of a couple types of beans means that the softer pintos or cranberries cook down into a velvety base for the perfectly intact, but very tender navy beans.

Beans—a legume native to the Americas—flavored with chili—also native to our eclectic continent. How much more patriotic could you get?

To cook the beans:
1 lb dried cranberry or pinto beans (or a mix of the two)
½ lb dried navy beans
4 peeled carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 small onions, peeled
4 bay leaves
4 generous branches of thyme
4 teaspoons salt

Soak the beans separately overnight and rinse the next day. Cook the cranberry/pintos in one pot, and the navy beans in another. To each pot, add two of the carrots, one onion, two bay leaves, and two branches of thyme. Add enough water to cover the beans and ingredients in each pot by two inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook for about an hour or so—just until the beans are tender. The two pots may take different amounts of time to cook, even up to two hours. Just as the beans are finishing, add two teaspoons of salt to each pot. When the beans are finished, drain, reserving a couple cups of the cooking liquid. Discard the spent carrots, onions, bay leaves, and thyme. They’ve done their duty. Now you can dump the separate beans all in one bowl. (You can do all the of this they a day or two before you plan on finishing the beans. They’ll keep if covered in the refrigerator.)

To finish the beans:
6-7 ounces of bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
1 red-ripe jalapeno, chopped very finely
1 ¾ cups ketchup
1 ½ cups bean cooking liquid
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 ½ tablespoons spice mix (see note below)
1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon spicy mustard
1 teaspoon chipotle Tabasco
¼ teaspoon smoked (Spanish) paprika

You’ll need a large stockpot or Dutch oven in which to make the beans. Over medium heat, cook the diced backon until the fat has rendered and the pieces are crispy. Add the onion, garlic, and peppers and cook until the onion starts to get the sweet brown edges that we all love so much.

Add everything except the beans, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the beans and bring to a simmer, cooking for at least 30 minutes. Truthfully, you can let the pot simmer for much longer, occasionally stirring to keep the mixture from sticking, as all the flavors combine into bean-y deliciousness.

Spice mix note: Blue Smoke calls this mix Magic Dust and deems it the spice cabinet’s culinary gift to all of mankind. I took the original recipe and added fennel. Why? Because I like it and think nearly all barbecue-y spice mixes should include fennel seed. This makes more than you need, but the spice mix tastes wonderful rubbed on a skirt steak before tossing it on the grill, or sprinkled on buttered corn-on-the-cob. Don’t worry. You’ll use it.

To make the spice mix (aka Magic Dust), combine:

¼ cup paprika
3 tablespoons ground dried medium-hot chili
2 ½ tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

Keep it a glass jar in your spice cabinet.

P.S. I'm having issues posting pictures on Blogger lately. Has anyone else been having any trouble? Do you have any advice?


delight said...

I've had the same problem with posting pictures. Try adding the pictures before you write, sometimes it works better. I think that we are encountering problems because Blogger now has a Beta blogging site which they want old users to switch over to. Unfortunately, that means starting over from scratch. I recommend using word or notepad to write your post, then copy and paste it to the posting text box. I’ve had a few incidents where I would finish writing a post and tried to publish it when it just refreshed the page. Blogger has been acting strange for a while now. I’ve had these problems for at least a month now. I’m surprised that you are just starting to get them. Good Luck. If you have any other questions just ask.

Christina said...

Thanks for your advice design411. I appreciate it!