“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
So said twentieth century poet and pacifist Edith Lovejoy Pierce. Pierce was born in Oxford, England but married an American and moved to the US in 1929. She drew her writing inspiration from history, religious mysticism, the Bible, and the words of Mahatma Gandhi.
The New Year is a chance to wipe the slate clean, to begin again, to reinvent oneself. It always has been. From the Babylonians, to the Ancient Romans, to the Pagans and the Medieval Knights – essentially for as far back as we can trace – there have always been ceremonies to welcome in the New Year and all have been connected with making good, atoning wrongs, and improving one’s self. The Medieval Knights for example, celebrated the New Year feasting on game and bread washed down with ale and mead while reaffirming their commitment to chivalry.
And as much as we scoff about such rituals and mock the likelihood of the success of our intentions and resolutions, the fact of the matter remains that there are few amongst us who deep down do not welcome the chance to improve ourselves and move on to the proverbial next chapter – whatever that chapter may be.
Just like the knights – we bring in the New Year with food and alcohol while embarking on New Year’s resolutions that are more often than not, linked to health, fitness, sobriety, and food.
Food is a way of telling our stories. We cannot think about the important dates in our lives without remembering the food involved. Almost all our major cultural and religious celebrations including Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Ramadan are linked in some way to food. Weddings, funerals, and childhood birthday parties – all are marked with food and remembered by the food we ate. We cannot think of cavemen without thinking of hunting and gathering. We cannot think of Australia without the “barbie,” Japan without sushi, Germany without sausage, Italy without pasta, Britain without fish and chips, India without curry, or France without croissants.
So it is hardly surprising then, that when we have the chance to reinvent ourselves, we so often start with food. If you’re making resolutions about healthier eating, you might want to consider some achievable no-fail resolutions – such as eating more simply, eating less fast food and more slow food, or eating vegetarian more often. This recipe for a bean hot-pot will help you accomplish all three of those goals at once. It’s an easy, inexpensive, rustic and perfect winter dish that you can make in the slow-cooker while you go off to work or go skating or cross-country skiing. The original version of the recipe calls for bacon but is easily adaptable as a vegetarian dish – in which case you will no longer be able to claim like the cook in the movie Atlantis, “I got your four basic food groups! Beans, bacon, whisky and lard!”
Serve the hot-pot alongside a loaf of good bread. If you’re apprehensive about opening so many cans – you can start with dried beans. The standard procedure for replicating one 19 oz (540 ml) can of beans is one cup of beans soaked overnight, rinsed, covered with fresh water and simmered for 45 minutes to one hour.
Wintergreen Bean Hot-pot (adapted from A Taste of Wintergreen)
2-3 tbsp olive oil (or a half pound of bacon, fried and diced, reserve the fat for frying the onions)
2 large onions, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 19 oz (540 ml) cans mixed beans / bean medley, drained and rinsed
2 14 oz (398 ml) cans baked beans
1 can green beans, drained and rinsed
1 can yellow beans, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp dry mustard
If you are using bacon – cook the bacon, remove, and reserve the bacon fat.
Cook the onions in either the olive oil or bacon fat until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two.
Add the brown sugar, molasses, cider vinegar and dry mustard. Stir and continue cooking for about five minutes or until the onions are slightly caramelized.
Remove from heat, add the beans (and chopped bacon) and transfer to a crock pot. Cook for about 4 or 5 hours (or more but you will need to check it is not drying out) on low heat. Alternately – cook in a large casserole dish for about one hour at 350 degrees F.