Three-Bean Slow-Cooker Chili

  • 2 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 green or yellow pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1/2 can whole tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1/2 cup bacon grease
  • whole cumin
  • oregano
  • basil
  • splash vegetable oil
  • about 1 cup water, maybe less
  • grated cheddar for garnish
  1. Day 1, morning: Put 2 cups pinto beans in a large mason jar (1/2 gallon) or bowl. Cover with water. Soak all day.
  2. Day 1, evening: Drain the pinto beans and put in a large pot, covered with water plus at least 1 inch more. Bring to a simmer and boil for about an hour.
  3. Also, prep vegetables and put them in the slow cooker. Put puree in slow cooker. Refrigerate. Chop the onion and reserve.
  4. Day 2, morning: Sauté the onion in the vegetable oil. When it starts to get glassy and soft, add the ground turkey or beef. Stir to break up chunks of meat.
  5. Add chili powder, be liberal about it. It should smell like chili. Then, add the bacon grease. Stir until melted and everything is coated. Pour into slow cooker.
  6. Add the herbs and spices. Stir.
  7. Last, add enough water so the chili will not dry out and singe. This may take practice with your particular slow cooker. Mine calls for maybe a cup of water or less. You don't want to submerge the beans/meat/veggies in water, but have liquid at least halfway up.
  8. Set on low and cook all day (for me that's about 10 hours). If someone is home, it can be stirred 2-3 times during the day.
I find the result to be an amazingly creamy, hearty dish with nice chunks of beans and meat and carrot, also a great smooth sauce with a superb mouthfeel. That would be from the bacon grease. Lately we have used Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon for our grease source, and when used in chili it imparts a subtle, smoky flavor that is quite a treat.

Sorting kid's toys and clothes

If it's Friday it must be project:simplify. We're up to hot spot #3, children's toys and clothes.

It turns out that by attacking the last two hot spots, closet/wardrobe and paper clutter, I had a head start on this week's projects. I'd sorted some kids' clothes along with my own, and I tidied up the paper/drawing area that's in our pantry areas. And we're pretty tidy anyway: The preschooler's toys live on closet shelves. We keep the baby's toys in a little basket on the floor, which also gives him a reason to try to wriggle/crawl over there and get at them. (He is just starting to crawl.) This left two problem areas:

I took everything from this nasty basement pile and from the "art closet" (actually a shelf in our linen/games/equipment closet) and strewed it on the living room floor. Some things got put away elsewhere. Some things got thrown away. Some things got consolidated into two boxes.

These are going back in the basement, labeled and waiting for the day when we need Something To Do Quick. (Our house is too small to have all the kid stuff available at once.)

Look, now there's room for "linens" in the linen closet.
Also candles, binders, frames...

I also sorted out kid clothes with the preschooler's help. She only wanted to part with a small pile of her stuff, and I've set it aside for donation ASAP. And I have a pile for baby clothes where I put stuff as soon as we find it doesn't fit him any more.

One note about this project: it doesn't seem to have much room for sentimental value. Nostalgia is a big, important part of my life. I love keeping things that used to mean something to me a long time ago. I've gotten myself down to about 2 small bins at this point. But I'm hoping to pass down my love of the past to my kids. That means that even if we're done with tiny baby clothes, I'm still going to keep some of them in case they're wanted for my grandchildren or some other precious babies. They're in giant Ziploc bags, sealed away for the future.

Song of the Week: "Find Your Peace" by Geotic

Geotic is one guy, Will Wiesenfeld, who already has another band (Baths). But he tore through creating a new Geotic album, called "Mend," in under a week just a few months ago. He is generously offering the whole album as a free download at the link above. Here's one of the songs, "Find Your Peace."

Can you scroll down and press play now, then scroll back up? What do you think? I find it gorgeous. It reminds me of the 80s, but the introspective, ambient side of the 80s. Like if you're at the mall, and you just watched Local Hero, and you're feeling kind of transported and want to be quiet and get away from the crowds. So you go to a little Japanese restaurant where you can just sit quietly and sip some miso soup behind the paper screen, still in your big shoulder-padded jacket. Maybe a massage later. This song would be an excellent accompaniment to all that. Extremely soothing.

This isn't on soundcloud, thus the Youtube link. I dare you not to think of a mall and shoulder pads and at least one Bill Forsyth film. (I guess I am really talking about Mark Knopfler soundtracks. The Local Hero s/t is so pretty it makes me weepy.)

Tackling paper clutter

This Friday means hot spot #2 in Simple Mom's project:simplify 5-week decluttering program. (Can I call it a program? I just didn't want to say "project" twice. Oops.)

This week's hot spot is paper clutter. This post will be a combo of bragging and equivocating.

Maybe this is silly, but I can't bring myself to show our household filing system to the Internet. Heaven forbid, but I feel like it's saying, "Hey freaky stalkers, come break in and look RIGHT HERE for the good stuff!" So this post will not be a grand tour of how we file our bills or keep our passports or tax returns or whatever.

BUT, I am proud to say that I think these things are pretty much under control anyway. We have a nice system of in-boxes that's up and out of the way in the kitchen, one per family member. Mail and random paper stuff gets put in trays as soon as possible. Once a month we meet to talk about money and do household filing, and every month or so I go through my own in-box and sort things out into my filing system. We recycle lots and rip stuff up because we don't have a shredder. So that kind of paper clutter is in good shape.

But look, what's that on the coffee table?

A drift of preschool artwork, and piles of magazines stuffed underneath? Let me just take care of that.

That's better. Our child is an amazing artist and creates at least 3 new drawings a day, so there's no way we can winnow down to 3 pieces that will represent this whole year of her life, as suggested. The kid artwork is filed away in the banker's box wedged under the coffee table. But I did make a big pile for her Grammie to have. I also left her most recent pieces (green for St. Patrick's day) on top so there would be no emergency situations like "WHERE'D IT GO MOMMMMM?"

I also recycled some of the magazines I'm in charge of, which isn't many. However the other paper clutter person in the household is pretty good about sorting these out every few months. They are tidily criss-crossed by magazine title. I have a terrible feeling that once they are older than a few months they get stashed in boxes in the basement. But basement cleaning is a later and larger project, and most of it is stuff that does not belong to me *cough* PACKRAT *cough*. That's it! How's your paper clutter situation?

Buttery rich cabbage with sausage

I invented this cabbage dish recently and it is so rich and delicious. It's hard to believe it is not laden with cream and truffles or something. I think the key is to have a LOT of cabbage and to slice it very fine. It transforms into something soft, almost sweet, and totally mouthwatering.

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thin (I used the slicer attachment on the Cuisinart)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 chicken bouillon cube, crumbled (I use Knorr cubes, which are soft and crumbly)
  • 2 sausages of your choice (I used chicken-mushroom from the local coop)
  1. Heat oil in skillet on medium-low heat, add cabbage.
  2. Pour water over the cabbage, add butter and crumble bouillon cube over all. Cover and let steam-fry for 5".

  3. Stir, make sure there is water left (if not, add some). Cover for five more minutes.

  4. Stir again. Cabbage should be very soft and wilty, but not browning (because of the water). Leave the cover off and move the cabbage to make space for sausages. Turn up the heat a little.

  5. Cook and turn the sausages until they are done, maybe 10 more minutes depending on the size of your links.
  6. When the liquid starts to steam off completely, the cabbage will start to brown. Try to time this so it happens pretty close to the end. (In other words, if the cabbage is drying out and the sausage is not done yet, add a bit more water.)

We had this with buttered quinoa. It was all very beige but a flavor explosion.

Simplifying the Closet

I'm trying out Simple Mom's project:simplify, a group blog project where everybody declutters and otherwise shapes up 5 "hot spots" in the home over 5 weeks.

The first hot spot is wardrobe/closet. (Phew!)

Here are my BEFORE pictures.

I went to a clothing swap recently so got rid of some stuff already, and picked up some clothes I actually like. Still, there's more to do here.

I've had this dresser since I was about 5. Some people (hi mom!) think I should get a grownup dresser someday. That would be nice. Meanwhile, look at all the T-shirts stuffed in the bottom drawer there!

Tsh said to gather ALL my clothes, so I even hauled up my "seasonal" bin from the basement. It's full of summer stuff right now, like halter-neck shirts and sleeveless dresses. The other bin is for part of my "after" plan.

At first I was bummed that this project was Monday-to-Friday only, because I only really have time to do stuff on weekends. Then I realized that this is actually a good thing. I don't need more projects in my already hectic weekends. Basically, I only have about 90 minutes a week to devote to to this project. Luckily that's all it took to go through everything. I even looked at my jewelry like I was supposed to. I trashed and weeded out a lot of stuff. Very satisfying.

Better! The basket in the lower left is where the T-shirts ended up, along with other running gear including my sneakers. I want to have it all in one place so I can rummage through early in the morning and get on the road without making much mess or ruckus. Basically the closet looks the same, but with less stuff.

The bottom drawer is empty now. Not sure what my plans are yet. The middle drawer has camisoles/tanks. In summer I can fill it up.

Here's the exciting part--the bag of "toss" stuff, the bag of "give" stuff, the seasonal bin repacked (on the right). And the best of all, I created a "dress-up" bin. No way am I getting rid of all my cute dresses and outrageous bizarre outfits, even if they don't fit or I would NEVER wear them again. My children will love them down the road, if my children are anything like I used to be.

That's it. Except I kind of want to put the two closet photos side by side, just to see.

Homemade English Muffins

It's crazy, but I got it into my head to make English muffins from scratch. Totally inspired by a recent post from Utah Deal Diva, she has some lovely muffin photos that sealed the deal.

I've made my own pitas and my own naan, and neither of them were worth the trouble. I'd rather just buy the stuff. But I might be into making my own English muffins. They didn't seem as easy-as-pie as advertised, but they weren't too bad. And they seem... just like English muffins.

Rather than frying in grease, these English muffins are fried in cornmeal. Wait, did you know English muffins are made on the stovetop and not baked? I didn't.

Not a lot of nooks & crannies. But I also cut this open with a knife instead of a fork, I am crazy that way.

What's in the bucket?

Well someone was prepared!

It was back during Bush II, January 2007, when a friend of the family put together a well-provisioned emergency supply kit. I'm not sure what the complete provisions were, but there were at least two large white buckets, sealed, full of staple foods in case of some apocalyptic incident.

These buckets are now 4 years old, and it's high time to "rotate the stock." This is a key part of emergency preparedness! It's not enough to put together a supply kit. You also need to make sure the stuff is fresh and usable should The Day ever come. Because our friend just moved to another state, we inherited one of the buckets to unpack and use up.

It feels a little like opening Al Capone's vault! What's in there?? Actually there's a list with checkmarks on the side & top of the bucket so I'm pretty sure it will be beans & peas, quinoa, sushi rice and couscous.

An exciting amount of sushi rice! It was poured over the top of everything to fill every little crack and crevice.

I was inspired to break out the scoop. The bucket contained some 15 pounds total of rice when I got it all scooped out and bagged up.

Everything that wasn't rice was tied up in small cloth bags. What could this one be?

Yep, split pea soup will be on the menu soon.

I've already made up a big batch of Texas-style black-eyed peas from this bag below (jalapenos, bacon, and chili powder were involved). They're good hot or cold.

Interested in learning about preparedness? Try the CDC or for all kinds of info and lists.
One note: Dried beans and peas and grains are great staples to have packed away, but this would be for a real long-term disaster, once you've established a water supply and cooking methods. For short-term preparedness (like for a power outage), pack yourself stuff that doesn't require a lot of cooking or extra water. (It's best to save water for drinking & washing.) So that means pack a lot of canned stuff that could be eaten straight from the can, or dried items like cereal bars, crackers, pbj. And plenty of sealed drinking water.