The Sorcerer’s Black Beans

We are most of us familiar with the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a 1700s poem by Goethe used in the film Fantasia. For those unaware, the apprentice is set to fill a cistern with water, and he enchants a broom to carry the water so he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting.

But he isn’t adept enough to stop the broom once the tank is full. Hacking the broom in half to make it stop makes it turn instead into two brooms and double the rate of water flooding the house. You can see where this goes: by the time the master arrives home and sends the brooms and the water back to their proper places, the apprentice is near drowned, terrified, and much more humble about his magic abilities and the need for manual labor.

As part of ongoing work with commodity food nutrition and medical education–think doctors telling their patients to eat better and patients laughing because they can’t afford or access fresh produce–my non-profit has access to gleaned leftovers from area farms. We take the veggies and fruits to an apartment complex where occupants pay 1/3 of their income, whatever that is, for their apartments.

This week, as part of a medical education exercise, we sent two such boxes home with medical students who help staff the project and I took one. The idea is to see how long the box lasts (literally in terms of freshness and using up the stuff) and how expensive it is to pair the veggies with cheap meats or other proteins and starches, balancing meal costs and calories so you’re not hungry later with nutritional content.

All good, right? So smart professor here decides she is going to use only the foods that we have given away at the project in the past, and can the veggies as part of meals in a jar, and reckon up the costs per jar.

One of the foods we cannot pay people to take at the project is black beans. They are everywhere, in one pound bags. People are so sick of these, given them so often, that we literally use the beans as counters on bingo games, beads to glue on art projects, and other silly non-eating activities.

So I took six pounds of rejected beans, all the peppers and squash and tomatoes from the box, and started canning. I figured I had two canner loads.

That was true for the first day. Day two, I was still using soaked beans–which double in size when you overnight them in water–and had run out of tomatoes. I opened a commodity can and kept going. The huge bowl of black beans in the sink grew as I bottled them up and put them in the canner. Four loads later, the bowl looked fuller. Out of commodity vegetables, I started canning the beans in onion gravy, still a cheap way to use up food but make it tasty for later adding to chilis, tacos, and other staples.

The beans kept coming. Day three I had canned six full loads (think seven quart or 12 pint jars per) and there were still beans in my sink.

I gave up and threw the remainder to our chickens. They didn’t like them any more than the people in the housing project do. Next spring, where I threw the last handful in a desperate attempt to regain control of my kitchen, I expect a large beanstalk to spring up and head for the sky.

The Privilege of being Busy

Our last blog was Sept. 22 because that’s just before Jack went to Boston on a holiday with beloved friends. I stayed home because I’m going to a conference that starts Monday and somebody needed to watch Bruce, the cats, and the chickens on our sweet little homestead.

It’s gonna be okay

On Monday the garbage disposal went out. No problem, I can bail the sink.

On Tuesday, driving home from a meeting two hours away, my vehicle began making horrible sounds and got left in a town an hour away. A friend drove me home. (Thanks Donnamarie and it’s a wonderful thing to have friends who will make round trips for you.) Neighbors across the street, fighting their own battles with serious health issues, took time out to run over and let our doggie Bruce out because I was stranded so long. It was unexpected, catching up with Donnamarie after not seeing her for over a year. So pleasant, even if the ride was forced by difficult circumstances.

On Wednesday I drove our farm truck to an awards ceremony in a posh location. I resisted the urge to park my sheep-smelling vehicle in valet, but oh it was a temptation. I went to the posh location because one of our volunteers at the Inman Village Community Nourishment Project was receiving an award for being awesome and running a food program over the summer when we didn’t have any student volunteers to do it.

On Thursday I sent query letters on my first serious piece of fiction to four agents, and covered our garden in prep for winter. And had ice cream for supper, in a waffle cone.

Today I am headed back to Inman in a rental–they didn’t have one Wednesday which is why I drove the farm truck–to run our monthly outreach of free food, fun crafts, and listening to questions the Inman Village residents have about access to services. And hopefully answer them. I was able to get the rental because another beloved friend picked me up at home and took me to the rental place, despite being up to her eyebrows in care needs for her own extended family, including three elders and an accident-prone brother. It was lovely to catch up with Nora, in forced circumstances again, but we sat in the rental lot and talked for 15 minutes, just filling each other in on grace under pressure, aka Adulting 101.

Everything that happened this week was hard, and everything is based on something wonderful and resulted in something wonderful. I have a back-up vehicle. We have awesome volunteers. I can afford a garbage disposal, and chickens on my little one-acre homestead. My husband got to spend a week with dearly beloved friends from his home country. Covering the garden started with annoyance at wind gusts and curious chickens trapping themselves under the tarp, and ended with me laughing so hard I had to sit down as the chickens danced with the fluttering plastic.

Gratitude is an amazing framework. Not comparison, not denying our feelings, but being grateful for what we have.