All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Food

Why the Story of Your Food is Important

Food isn’t just sustenance. Food is experience. Food is sharing. Food is community and culture. Without the story, your dish is just a powerbar slammed to get you from point A to point B with no appreciation for the deep connections we share as human beings. And if I may, perhaps there is a cultural component to “food as means to an end” vs “food as an end in itself.”

In many places in the world, people share a deep special bond with the histories and stories around their shared dishes, secret recipes passed down through the generations, peculiar rituals surrounding the preparation of the ingredients, etc.

We don’t come together merely to stuff our faces and satiate our bellies. We’re really filling our souls.

Black Bean Burgers – I Think I Did It!

I’ve been experimenting with black bean burritos for a few years, and I’ve never been satisfied. Too beany! Mouthfeel wrong! Bah. They were good sometimes, but I wasn’t satisfied. You’re never going to achieve meat nirvana, but the closer the better, no?

Why all the work? Why not just eat meat?

There are a couple of reasons, I suppose. I’ve struggled with my weight for years, hovering around 240 at 6’2″, while not obese, it’s about 40 pounds heavier than I should weigh. It’s a drag, but it’s so hard to stop eating. I exercise, so I’m fit, but I just can’t stop overeating.

Over the years, I’ve learned there are some foods that satisfy me quickly, as fast as my impatient gobbling self can eat. Beans of various kinds do this. When I eat beans, I don’t want to follow up munch on sweet or salty snacks. If I have a real hamburger, I have to have fries, salty chips, or onion rings. So good. With beans, though, I just don’t want those things. The beans don’t leave me wanting.

So there’s that.

We’ve also been trying to minimize our meat intake, because of all the bad news over the years about meat in the diet, the meat industry’s affect on the global environment, and the inhumane treatment of the animals we kill and consume. I don’t doubt that someday humanity will mostly stop, but for now, we’re at least reducing.

I think I have solved it. I have made the perfect black bean burger, or at least close enough to perfection for my palate. Here’s the recipe:

One bag (16 oz) of dehydrated black beans. Cover them in water (about 2 inches over), add a cup of brown rice, a tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of MSG, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 whole bulb of garlic (mashed with the salt), a teaspoon of cumin (your preference), and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Let it soak overnight (about 8 hours). After the beans have re-hydrated, cook them for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker on medium heat.

In a bowl, 2 cups of instant oatmeal, a cup of bread crumbs, a cup of flour, and one finely chopped onion. Once the pressure cooker is safe to open, dump the still boiling beans into the bowl with the oatmeal/breadcrumbs/flour and mash/stir it with a potato masher. You’ll be breaking up some of the black beans, but not all of them. You’ll still want some texture in your burger, not a puree.

Let it set and once all the ingredients have come together, mix in 4 eggs, and then form the mixture into patties and sauté them with the oil and skillet of your choice. I like to add a dash of worchester sauce and then a slice of cheese.

Some Recent Photos

Totally accidental latte art. It looks like stylized logo graffiti that one sees on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Totally accidental latte art. It looks like stylized logo graffiti that one sees on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Pumpkin from my latest harvest. Nice deep beautiful orange.

Pumpkin from my latest harvest. Nice deep beautiful orange.

Always nice to kick back with the wife and a 40. Class it up with a wine glass. "Colt 45, it works every time."

Always nice to kick back with the wife and a nice 40. Class it up with a wine glass. Colt 45, works every time.

Religión, la Familia y el Cerdo

Yesterday was the 25th of July, el Día de la Constitución en Puerto Rico (Constitution Day). It is a big holiday very much like the 4th of July in the US. We began it going to the funeral mass of, get this, the brother of the husband of the sister of Laura’s father.  You get that? It all boils down to el hermano del querido tío Benny. I call him Tío Benny too. We always gravitate towards each other during family functions and end up talking compost and farming and whatnot. I’ve learned a lot from him. So when we heard his brother had died, it was a given that we would be there.

This is how Puerto Rico is. Cousins removed – cousins of cousins, cousins through marriage… they’re all primos and we all celebrate and share together. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but still, I appreciate watching and pretending. I suppose it’s as close as this gringo can get.

The funeral mass was held for Pedro Alberto, a local school director and beloved character in the town of Guayama in the southeast of Puerto Rico. The mass was packed, the homely strange, and the words spoken few, but everyone was there, extended relatives from all branches. My wife’s parents were there. We were there with our four children.

As is my usual manner, I contemplated my place in the assembly, the upsides and the downsides. On the general downside of having a huge interconnected family, we attend a lot of funerals. There are so many extended relatives, you just can’t help but be called upon to go and show support. It’s not pleasant, certainly. Who wants to face their own mortality, be reminded of it regularly. Can’t we all pretend that life just goes on forever?

For the kids too, do we really want them to be here? Is it too hard? I don’t think it is, in fact, I think it’s good for them.  It is probably good to be exposed early, to get to know pain and mourning and the loss of a loved one, because it will find them later in life, and they should be accustomed to the process. “Javier, this is the mass for Tio Benny’s brother. I’m sure he misses him. You would be so sad if you lost one of your brothers, no?” Yes, he said, and I know he appreciates his brothers. They all hugged each other and gave each other kisses. Such cariño; it brought a tears to my eyes.

There’s an upside too, more in line with my previous post about beauty and pain. Life is beauty and pain. Living is painful, but life is beautiful. A funeral mass is the acknowledgement of that duality. There is relief for the dead; the long journey is over. There will be no more tears to cry, no more pain to endure. You are dead, you finished your work. For the living, the frailties of the departed loved one become less important as time passes, until la vida is purely sanctified and beautiful.

This mass, this ritual is the coming together to process and find acceptance, to deal with the passing and in the end to say, “It’s all good.”

When it was over, I was tired, but at peace. I thought it fitting that we celebrated this Constitution day doing something important, something that I feel is the best part of the Puerto Rican culture, la familia.

We have passed from religion, to family, and now we finish with another typical and important part of Puerto Rican culture. I will leave it here so that we end on a light note with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.

We stopped in Guavate and ate lechón, slow cooked pig on a spit, with rice and gandules, mofongo, amarillos, yuca y morcilla.

From family and religion to the tasty pig, it doesn’t get more typical than that.

La Cosecha


Javier picking a peck of unpickled peppers. He crawled all over and under these huge pepper plants, selecting red ripe sweet ones for sofrito. I love this photo, the contrast of his reddish hair with the green and the fruit.


Dat calabaza! A big green Caribbean pumpkin squash. We use them in tons of things, from beans and rice, as a soup thickener, as a soup, and yes, in pie. Delicious. This one weighed 37.5 lbs (17 kg)


Homemade cinnamon rolls.

Frosted cinnamon rolls. They are cut up to spread the joy.


And some more croissants. They came out extra flaky this time. My process is improving. Look at those striations.


Made with wild yeast!

Pie Party

Having fun baking pies for a pie party tonight.  Apple and blueberry.





Wild Yeast (sour) croissant.  Delicious.

Pita and Hummus

Just wanted to post a quick note about the delicious hummus and pita that I made yesterday. It was good, but that’s not why I’m posting this.  Why then?  I really don’t have a reason, I suppose.  Perhaps it is just a testament to doing it from scratch, not that I am special, but that it better reflects process than destination.  Sure, I ate some hummus and pita bread.  If that’s all it was, then I guess I should post nothing.  But the journey and the ritual matter.  People have been cooking these things for thousands of years (well flatbread anyway). There’s something to that.

The pita bread came from my wild yeast and oh how it rose, each of the nine flat breads popping up like little microwave popcorn bags in the oven.  Perfect.

I didn’t grow the chick peas, but I did cook them from dry.  Then I used my new food mill to extract the skins and seasoned it with tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt (Laura re-seasoned with more of each). Dinner was pita pockets with fish, hummus, and tomatoes and lettuce.  The kids tried to get around eating the hummus.  haha.  I cleaned their plates with some extra bread.

Wild Yeast Pita Bread

In keeping with 1st century themes during this Lenten season, I decided to capture some wild yeast and make bread the old fashioned way, no tricks, no fast acting instant yeast.  Real men hunt their yeast from the air.  haha.

The last time I did this, we lived in Oakland and the San Francisco sour dough wild yeasties were awesome, and much weight was gained.   This time, I set out a mixture of water and flour the consistency of pancake batter and just left it out, uncovered, nestled in a corner of my open, unairconditioned constant eighty degree kitchen.  In accord with ancient Belgian beer brewers, I left my container uncovered to the flies and little critters that fluttered and scurried about.  It sounds terrible, but those little critters bring the yeast, baby, dropping it from their legs into my little culture.  At day four I filtered out their corpses, and sealed my container up.  In no less then six days, the frothy mixture smelled of beer.

Did you hear that?

Beer!  That’s the lovely smell of yeast in action.

Ever impatient, I pressed my yeast troops into action, ready or not!  And I was not disappointed.  The pita bread came out beautifully, an air pocket opening up the middle for stuffing, and the flavor had a subtle sourness to it, just enough to give it some character.

Give it a try.  It’s so easy, and every yeast/bacteria culture will have a different flavor depending on your region.  At first evaluation, the Puerto Rican yeast/bacteria from our little valley is top notch for vigorousness and flavor.

© 2024 El Gringoqueño

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑