Steve Sando under the beans.
Illustration by Margalit Cutler
Steve Sando has had a big bean frenzy. His company, Rancho Gordo, is the supplier of choice for chickpea freaks, and overwhelming orders have resulted in shipping delays for regulars and the semi-famous Bean Club. Most people understood. "But someone called me reprehensible," says Sando, who recently published the Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Guide. Sando lives alone in Napa, California, where he grows “obscure vegetables”, cooks for his mother next door, and trades beans for duck eggs, wild mushrooms, and other foods with neighbors. The bean boom also has Sando, who works six days a week, but he still cooks the way he likes it: reusing and reusing ingredients with Californian sensitivity. You could find him cooking his weekly pots of beans, marinating chicken thighs and pickling mushrooms, and baking his favorite corn bread.
Thursday April 30th
I drink Peet's French roast from an Italian moka pot. Whole milk. I used to use sugar, now I use BochaSweet Kabocha sugar. It's not that good, but it's not bad – like most artificial sweeteners.
Super dark European coffee is what I grew up with when it was a total trend in San Francisco. I picked it up there. There is now a trend for light coffee. I know people like to say that dark roast is burned and a waste of good coffee, but I think they're crazy. I'm sorry, I prefer to drink coffee in Italy than almost everywhere. I think they know what they're doing. I don't get a blue bottle at all. In the early days of the farmers market, they always wanted to trade with me, and it was so, ugh, no, I don't want that.
I ate a lot during the quarantine. I get a CSA box on Tuesdays from a local sausage shop, Fatted Calf. (They wrote In the Charcuterie – the breadth of their knowledge of Italian, French, and even Mexican sausages is just shocking to me.) The box is full of vegetables from the Riverdog Farm, but I also get a lot of meat, dairy, and Spanish chorizo by Fatted Calf while I'm there. I also tend to get Straus Family yogurt.
Sometime later in the week I also go to a local Mexican market, La Tapatia, where I get tortillas, chicharrones and vegetables such as onions, limes and chilli. I often get a pound of the carnitas they make there, tortillas, salsa and call it a day because it's really good. I've only been to the conventional grocery store once since the block. It was very uncomfortable and I would avoid it at any cost in the future. It was no fun. I'm pretty good between the Mexican market, Fatty Calf, and my CSA. I also have all the beans I want, which definitely helps.
I was hit by the Napa fires two and a half years ago. We were evacuated for two weeks. then we had these rolling blackouts; and now we have it and it's like I don't trust anything. I also think when I have a garden it's like I'm a little off the grid, I'm out of the system and I'm a little more independent. Now I'm not freaking out, but I don't like going to the store when I don't have to. At night when I get home from work I think you know what? I can skip another day. Which is really bad for these companies in general, but for me it is satisfying to say, “I can actually do a lot less. And it's even more fun. "It is a good thing that results from it.
For breakfast, I had some leftover kale from my CSA box (made with Fatted Calf Pancetta), which was tossed with previously cooked Ayocote Morado beans. I prefer dandelion green, Swiss chard or rapini over kale, but with enough pancetta everything is delicious. With kale, it's kind of a penance – it feels like you're doing your duty. I love the bitterness of the dandelion and the slightly sweet chard. I just think they're more versatile.
I'm alone here. My mother lives right next door, so I see her and I have another family living on the property, but mostly I am alone here at this point. I have extra food and take it to my mother.
Snacked on mixed nuts. I buy a bag of almonds, cashews and pecans and mix them myself at Trader Joe. I make a living from it.
Mashed chicken legs roasted in the pan, with roasted asparagus, which was warmed up in the pan juices with a little chicken broth to get the pieces from the cooking of the chicken. The asparagus was in the CSA box. I've steamed them all the time, but I think it's great to throw and roast them in olive oil.
I like to buy boneless and skinless chicken legs and hammer them before I marinate them. I marinated them in olive oil, banana vinegar from Veracruz, salt and pepper and oregano indio. I'm not exaggerating. I try to keep it as neutral as possible, but the banana vinegar is out of this world. They are real rotted bananas and plantains. I think a lot of the fruit vinegars are simple fruit-flavored vinegars.
You can heat a steel pan or cast iron very hot and cook for about six minutes on each side. Let it rest and cut it open. It has the same satisfaction as steak for me. I usually buy a whole chicken and cut it up and use it as needed, always making broth, but I got it from the supermarket when I left. They were so cheap that I thought I would do it.
My thing is, you just want to keep reinventing the ingredients you have. There's this great book, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. I love the whole concept. Your thing is that food will never be as fresh as if you brought it home from the market. So prepare yourself as best you can. If you are tired you will not sit there and create this beautiful vegetable vegetable. But if it sits there in a container and is ready to go, you can heat up some vegetables and call it a day. Then pick up beans and, for me, either the sausages or the marinated chicken legs – you can get everything done pretty quickly once you've laid the groundwork.
Ended my night with Strauss Whole Milk Euro Yogurt with Bocha Sweet Kabocha Sugar. This yogurt is so good that it takes the place of ice for me.
Friday May 1st
Beans. More Ayocote Morado (and bean broth) with roasted cauliflower, a pinch of burlap cumin and our own allspice. I had made a pot earlier in the week and then made this dish with them on Friday morning. It just keeps going.
I'm on the jag, and this week I was just on that jag of allspice and cumin. Not enough to see what either one is because I think you have used almost too much, so only a small amount. It's just this great combination. But I love thyme more than anything. I don't think there is a better herb in the world until I choose rosemary.
Chicharron con Carne too. When I went to my Mexican market to buy tortillas, I couldn't resist the great carnitas and chicharrones they have. It's not just the skin. I don't know how to describe it, but I'm sure a complete diet would cause gout. You are scary good. The fat melts in your mouth in an appealing way. I don't do it often, but sometimes I get one for the street. It is this perfect mix of meat and fat and thin. It's not grossly fat. Pig fat in itself is disgusting to me. I don't know what to do with it, but it's great.
Chicken tacos with crushed chicken legs, white onions, coriander, limes and Cosecha Purepecha Chipotle Salsa. This is from Michoacan. When I was there 15 or 12 years ago, we actually went to the factory because my friends who live down there said, "Oh, that's great stuff." And I just loved it. I noticed on the spot that they had it at Tapatio and I just heard it. We do a chipotle salsa at Rancho Gordo that is excellent, but with things I love I don't limit myself to ourselves. For example, I still buy other people's beans, and this chipotle salsa is just great.
Saturday, May 2nd
Prepare a soup with the last ayocote morados and their broth, a scoop of Hongos en vinagre made from wild mushrooms from the forest. Connie Green is a local collector who wrote a great book, The Wild Table. She lives up here on the mountain, so we will act sometimes, and because she was really connected to cooks, she got stuck with all those fresh mushrooms. I had way too many, so I put them in.
There are many recipes for Hongos en Vinagre online, but I tend to follow Diana Kennedy's instructions. If you have a lot of mushrooms like me, this is a great way to extend your life and you always have a good snack on hand. It is another fast food. (I just come home from work and put a tortilla in it and make a pickled mushroom taco, and that's fine. I wouldn't serve it to society, but it's great to get through the night.) The vinegar from the Mushrooms were a perfect piece of acid for the rich bean broth. I used normal chicharrones as croutons. They make a real snap crackle pop sound and are delicious in a soup like this.
This soup was one of the most successful things I've ever done. That's why you're making beans for yourself so you can have things like this bean broth. It was mostly bean broth and mushrooms and vinegar. For me, the most exciting thing is when you cook leftovers and come up with a great dish like this. I would probably write about the soup that was so good someday.
I haven't baked sourdough yet, but the fact that people like sourdough – some people roll their eyes – I think it's one of the best things that can happen. It's all about control. Can you control the rise of water and flour? That must feel great. I think about it with beans, I can turn this stone into something creamy. Maybe I'm wrong, but it's small places where you can control things that help you do it.
The dinner consisted of roasted duck breast (from Liberty Duck in Sonoma) and sauteed red Russian kale. I have a strange love for the duck breast, it's kind of a challenge too, because there is nothing like it and there is nothing worse when you overcook it, it will become rubbery. I just made salt and pepper and then cooked the pan with the kale. I hadn't put the pancetta back in and thought it was so rich, it didn't need it. I also thought how great that would be for two meals. Well, it wasn't. It hardly made one.
Sunday, May 3rd
Red Russian kale with pancetta, a roast duck egg that I swapped with a neighbor for – I bet they both thought we were ahead – and Antebellum cornbread from Anson Mills' coarse white corn flour. I used the pan bread corn recipe, but replaced part of the milk with goat yogurt. I think it's great that they don't use flour in these recipes.
There is no match with Southerners. Despite what you hear, some say that you need to add sugar. Some say it has to be buttermilk. It's tiring and since I'm not a Southerner and grew up with really crappy Jiffy corn flour, I discovered the rough grinding of the Anson Mills and nothing is better with beans. The corn flour changes the game compared to what I had.
You can heat the pan with the fat on the stove, pour the dough in and it sizzles and then put it in the oven. It's 20 minutes and there's just nothing like it. I'm just shocked at how good it is. When the pan is hot enough when the batter opens, it forms a crust that is not very deep, but is almost like eating cheese, and the crystalline thing is running. It's the most subtle, sublime crunch to corn bread ratio. The only problem with this corn bread is that it is not durable. And the other problem is deciding what the word part means. "Can I get away with the food?" You just become such a pig because it is so delicious.
You whip it in with butter and it's hot and you can hardly even say it's so good. Or you add beans and bean broth or even kale and the kale potlikker and you think, why don't we do more of it? I'd rather learn more about it than an obscure Italian preparation. There is so much great simple food at home that it is frustrating that we do not make more of it. A Southerner told me that I took the corn bread, broke it into a glass, and then poured buttermilk over it. I thought that sounds as disgusting as it gets. I tried it and it was absolutely delicious.
I later made a quesadilla with onions, coriander, Cosecha salsa and manure jack cheese. Mexicans don't actually use jack cheese, but they do use mild cheese, so I don't think it's such a crime. When I went to the grocery store, I only bought a ton of it because it was super cheap and the expiration date was far away. It's so funny where I'm a snob and where I'm not. There's a line I won't cross, but crappy cheese is fine. It has its place.
I also had a salad with chickpeas, Spanish chorizo with fat veal, marinated red peppers from Trader Joe, onions, Jones Gata-Hurdes olive oil from Extremadura, Spain (home of allspice and the conquistadors), chives and sherry vinegar. I love salads, I like salads well, there are all sorts of interesting ones. But living alone is really difficult to deal with salad, and I've found that it's this creamy, crispy combination that makes a great salad when I have super crispy things and beans. Lately I love shaved fennel. Not for themselves, but mixed as part of something else.
Monday, May 3rd
Repentance, somehow. Even for me it was about four days. "Okay, we have to drive a little slower here."
I try to avoid breakfast as much as possible. I had half a cup of homemade sauerkraut this morning, which would be a typical breakfast for me. Just having that so I don't die, it works for me.
I always do it. This winter we got a lot of cabbage from the CSA. I have a nice fermenter. I tend not to season it while it is fermenting, it is probably fine, but I am always worried that it will float a bit and cause problems. However, I think you need to add tons of onions, which makes it ten times better. I've also added tons of carrots and I like the red cabbage more just because it looks cool.
Swiss Chard and Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice. I had pancetta leftovers and opened a can of tomatoes, so I chopped some tomatoes and added them too so that it was a little more of a sauce for the kale. There's a brown rice I love, Massa from Chico, California. It's like eating nuts. But I had the Carolina Gold, and with this rice you want to keep it as simple as possible.
For dinner I had manchego cheese, a little more Spanish chorizo, mixed nuts and a sherry. That's all. I said, "I just have to slow it down a bit." But I wanted to start over the next day. I had the CSA come. It was just a day of simple eating.
I don't care about the shelter until I do, and then it drives me crazy. I really don't like going out to restaurants unless they're really special – I'm not doing it casually. But almost every week I have a dinner party here, I have a few friends, and that's what kills me. I can almost stand it all, but this part seems nice, and it seems like we could take smarter, calculated risks if we had mass tests. But it is not worth it at this point. That's the thing: I want to open this door and see someone on the other side – I would be very happy.
I would much rather cook for more people. I live for these meals and there is that little bit of melancholy that comes at the end as if it were done. Quarantine is a pleasure, and now it's done. I'm looking forward to the day that passes, I would say.
Eat like the experts.
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