By: Rachel Shenk

Photo Credit: Flavor 574 photo / Rachel Shenk

I, like many, am happy that February is a short month. Wintry January is gone, at least until next year, and March will follow with its promise of spring. And even though February is only two days shorter this year, it still gives me a mental boost. This is something I need, especially since I have been hit with the dreaded cough and cold going around. All I can do is drink tea, snuggle under the comforter on the couch and sleep it off, things that seem hard to do when there is work waiting!

This month of ups and downs, both in temperature and mood, challenges me. Can I get my creative juices flowing when all I want to do is sit? Luckily, outside forces intervene. Someone orders a set of woodblock prints. So I put my thinking cap on and my pencil to paper and come up with a few new designs. A friend organizes a country western concert and brings folks together with this sharing of music. No one takes themselves too seriously and a good time is had by all.

And in the kitchen? I’m already thinking of the first rhubarb and asparagus, but know they are weeks away. So I follow a two-pronged approach: Lots of beans since fresh vegetables are not as available locally, and a little pre-Lent and Super Bowl indulging.

One of my reliable recipes for beans takes me back to another February when I had the chance to experience the Haitian version of Fat Tuesday. I lived with a young Haitian couple on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. My Haitian “father” knew someone who had a float in the Carnival parade and we were allowed to participate along with them. But before even joining the huge city parade, I spent time with the cook of our household.

She was not well treated by my Haitian “parents” and slept in a small room off of the courtyard of the house. But when Carnival came, she got out her best dress, put shoes on her usually bare feet, and followed one of the local bands that came past our house. It was a motley group of musicians with handmade instruments that squeaked and banged and clanged but somehow made a beautiful rhythmic sound, which set us both to swaying.

Then I followed my “father” into town until we found the float we belonged with, and for an afternoon and evening we danced along the route of the carnival to the music of that float. I was sweating in the heat, exhilarated by the music, energized by all the human motion, wide-eyed with all of the swirling colors, and I almost found myself in a trance, no longer picking out one individual note or one individual person but becoming part of a mass movement of rhythm and joy.

When I can only feel the damp chill of February, I transport myself back to that sweltering, colorful, swaying crowd and I remember that warmer days will soon be here. And this easy recipe for black beans and rice might give you a taste of that part of the world.

Cuban black beans and rice

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like it spicy!)
  • 2 cans of back beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1, 28 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chocolate
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Fry the onion and the garlic in a little bit of oil until soft.
  2. Add the pepper and spices and stir-fry for two minutes.
  3. Add the beans, wine and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five to ten minutes.
  4. Add the vinegar, chocolate and salt and stir until the chocolate is melted.
  5. Serve on brown rice.
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