Just want to say hello!


I haven’t forgotten about you, poor lonely blog!

Busy is no excuse, but how about overwhelmed? I have so much to share from all the lovely overwhelming things, but for now I just want to make sure I’m writing something. Reminding you that I do think of you, every day. And get scared that I’ll never write on you again.

So I’m writing on you again!

I will do a real post soon! I’ll post about our Irish honeymoon (and the culinary basis of the very word!) and about the Thanksgiving dinner we hosted (haven’t figured how I’ll sneak some history in there, but the food part is definitely taken care of!) and do another garden check-in now that it seems to have stopped raining for the moment.

For living in the desert, it sure has been pretty damp lately!

For now, though, I’ll just say hello!

And goodbye for now!

Garden Update, October 2nd

Fear in a handful of beans (my apologies to T. S. Eliot). Okay, it’s not even a handful. But I grew them and they’re pretty cool!
Daikon doing their job, hopefully!
Grow artichoke, grow!
Pretty, wispy asparagus sprouts.
Baby leafy green.
Baby leafy green doing yoga.
Baby leafy green makes friend with baby artichoke.
Baby tempura.
Hang in there, Mr. Butternut!
The onion trio.
Tiny ‘tatoes.
Garden mascot <3

I did some garden cleaning on Sunday and found a few more pods of beans that I had missed during the spring. Apparently a grand total of three (that I could find) of those lovely scarlet runner flowers had been successfully pollinated (they resulted in the larger, purplish beans). Honestly, that’s more than I was expecting! So I’ll have some second generation beans growing in the garden next year. This time I’ll set my expectations lower for those guys and just think of them as a lovely crimson accent to the garden that may result in a bean or two (or three). They definitely need trellises on the next go, though, they toppled the corn plants I’d hoped would support them!

The dragon’s tongue beans I planted did much better! I’ve only a handful of them dried, but I snacked on quite a few when they were fresh. I think they were too fuzzy for my husband, but that just meant more for me! I look forward to a second generation of them, as well. I think I’ll aim for more plants next time, since the one plant I had this year was low-maintenance and such a good producer.

We’re still working hard on getting the garden into a non-messy, completely usable state. There’s tufts of daikon doing some hard work aerating the soil, and we’ve trimmed back the tomatoes (the plant has decided to be a perennial for the time being) so they don’t succeed in escaping the confines of the side planter. We put them over some not-so-happy garden spots to help feed the worms (very healthy, wiggly worms). We’ve still got a ton of dry patches thanks to spotty sprinkler placement, but that’s on a more long-term to-do list. At this point, I’m not really sure I could handle the whole garden being filled with plants.

We’re working on that, too, though! I sprouted some artichokes (have you ever seen a blooming artichoke flower? It’s going to be hard to pick those before they bloom) and we’ve got a couple of those into the dirt in the side planter. They should grow pretty big, but I don’t think they’re meant to produce for at least a few years. Got to start somewhere!

I’ve also got some really really cute asparagus sprouts that I have to get into their permanent homes soon. Just have to find good places for them. They’re another plant that won’t produce for a few years, but I don’t think they sprawl as much as artichoke. I think they just get tall and stalk-y like corn.

And we’ve got a smattering of leafy greens that we’re trying to grow. Weather is super weird, though, so I might have to put down another round of seed to get a good number of those. I think we’ve got kale, chard, spinach, and cabbage trying to grow. Don’t know which is which, since I’m a disorganized mess, but it will be a fun surprise!

We’re growing a kabocha squash plant that we’ll hopefully get to make some yummy tempura from.

And we’ve got a random butternut squash plant that decided to grow by itself (I didn’t plant it) and has already given us one delicious squash and is still hanging in there and trying to give us more.

We’ve got some happy little onion sprouts growing from some onion sets we purchased at the farm supply store last time we got mulch. Around those I planted a sprinkling of scallions, then watermelon radish, purple carrots, bok choy, and purple-top turnips (I think purple vegetables are gorgeous. The cabbage will be purple, too!) Their little sprouts are starting to pop up, now! I think I picked a good place to put them, they all look very happy. It’s going to be hard to thin them once they’re large enough.

Our volunteer potato plant (probably sprouted up from some kitchen scraps I buried outside for the worms) finished its life and withered away, so I dug it up to see if there were any potatoes. There were, but they were super small and something had already started eating them! I put a couple back in the ground to see if they’ll pop back up next year. The rest I’m leaving out in the sun to see if they’ll sprout. I’m not particularly hopeful.

Our younger kitty loves the garden, too, and was kind enough to sit for a photo shoot out there the other day.

Here’s hoping you’re all having a lovely fall, and that the weather gets a little more predictable soon!

Surprise legume: tamarind

Tamarind! They kind of look like very malformed kiwis. Kiwi? Kiwis.

Hi folks! I’m back on track today with another leguminous adventure through history. Well, I’m mostly back on track, cause I’m not actually going to talk about the bean part today. No, today I’ll be taking a look at the history and use of tamarind. Tamarind is actually the pulp from inside the pod, not the seed (or bean) itself. While the beans can be used to make oil, it doesn’t seem to be used in cooking. Instead, it looks like it’s used as a food coloring and also to make vermouth (interesting!). Maybe I’ll look into that vermouth thing later (distill your history?), but for now let’s look at the part of this legume that makes it into our tummies.

I’ve probably had tamarind mixed into other things before without really knowing or thinking too hard about it (this blog helps me pay a lot better attention to what and how I eat), but a few weeks ago I got to experience it as a star player in a fantastic meal. My cousin (and currently also my roommate) had his girlfriend over and she offered to cook for us. She made us Pork Sinigang (pronounced sin-uh-gong) and asked us if we were okay with sour food. I was expecting the souring agent to be some sort of vinegar, but it was a spice packet. When I checked it out, the main ingredient was tamarind, and I was excited to see (or taste, rather) what it would do to the dish.

Sinigang. Not the one we ate, I was too excited to eat it to take any pictures!

Oh my goodness I’m in love. It’s such a wonderful medley of sour and earthy and crunchy vegetables and melt-in-your-mouth pork all served over tender rice. I didn’t know boiled (technically, but it was so much more than that) meat could be that good! I know I linked a recipe already, but I’m going to try and get her to write up her method because she just whipped it up like it was no big thang. Also, because I would very much like to re-create it!

So tamarind and I are buds now. As such, I figured I should look into its past and see if I could find anything interesting! Guys, I had no idea it was a legume. I was so excited when I found out! If this blog achieves nothing else, I hope it can at least help people learn new things about their food and their history. Even if it’s just me here learning by myself, it’s a worthwhile endeavor in my book.

The word tamarind is very straightforward. It’s Arabic for Indian Date (tamar hindi) because, while the plant is likely indigenous to tropical Africa, it was grown and used in India for so long that those naming it believed that was where it originated. It still grows wild (it’s a leguminous tree, by the way) all over Africa and in parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It was already in South Asia, likely through human intervention, as early as several thousand years BC. It’s all over, from Australia to China, Southeast Asia to islands throughout the tropical belt. In one Indian myth it was literally declared the king of trees.

As for food, it also gets around. It’s used as a souring agent, as I experienced first-hand, but is also used to pickle things and can even turn a particular poisonous yam in Ghana into something edible. It’s used in chutnies, curries, and candies.  It’s apparently even used in Worcestershire Sauce!

Beyond its culinary capabilities, tamarind is also used in fold medicine throughout Southeast Asia, and has been showed to lower the cholesterol in eggs when given to the chickens laying them.

I’m glad I met tamarind. It sounds like it might be hard to find it in a non-powdered form where I am, but maybe the internet can help me out and I can try my hand at making some of these things! Tamarind candy sounds delightful, as do tamarind-aided pickles.

I’ll see if I can get us all that Sinigang recipe, too!

Off-topic: we did a thing!

The beginning. Well, a few cuts in anyways!

As the title says, this post is completely off topic. But I’m so excited to share what we did!

My husband and I have been sleeping on our sweet latex mattress on the floor since we’ve got it. We’d never had a king-sized mattress before, and just kept putting off the purchase of a bed frame. King bed frames are pricey, even from IKEA!

Used a pretty dark walnut stain to make the pine look super fancy.

We finally own a home, now, and don’t plan on moving anytime soon, so we decided it was about time to stop sleeping on the floor. I still didn’t like the idea of spending a bunch of money on a bed frame of questionable sturdiness (my husband loves to fling himself with abandon into bed), so I started doing some research online.

Putting the nice looking outer wood onto the sturdy frame. We added two slats of 3/4” particle board for extra-zealousness.

After some searching and deliberation, I settled on this DIY bed frame plan. It looked like a sturdy, simple construction plan, which was perfect since I haven’t ever done a carpentry project without my dad’s guidance and supervision. I’m really happy with the choice I made.


Right-side up!

About six weeks ago we got everything (almost, we ended up needing more screws because I am overzealous, and we borrowed a bunch of tools from our families) we would need to build, stain, and finish our own bed frame. I was terrified, sure I would get halfway through before giving up. Or fail completely and regret my delusion of being a DIYer. But we finished it (last week, actually)! And it looks amazing!

All done and made. Bonus kitty!

My overzealousness with the screws also paid off, and the frame doesn’t so much as make the smallest creak when the husband catapults his pajama-wearing self into it.

So I wanted to share our triumph, even though it has nothing to do with food, history, or beans. I do hope it will help to explain my absence over the last couple weeks, though! I’ll be putting up a delicious on-topic post about tamarind soon, so please stay tuned.

And keep eating your history!

People named after beans

~Marcus Tullius Cicero, by Bertel Thorvaldsen as copy from roman original, in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, but you can just call me Mr. Chickpea.

No, I’m not talking about Mr. Bean!

It turns out, that legumes were so important (or at least prevalent) in ancient Rome that multiple great families shared their names with one species or another of the plant. As you’ll see, the names actually weren’t always born of respect for the legume, but the names and the people who wore them still give us a very interesting window into how these beans were viewed at the time.

To begin, let’s talk about this guy to the left. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman and prolific writer whose works give us some of the best primary material concerning Roman history. He was born six years before the first century BCE and lived to be 63, before having his heat cut off on the orders of Mark Antony for having given a series of speeches condemning Antony (these are the Philippics). He is considered the master of Latin prose and credited with transforming the Latin language. He was admired by Erasmus, Martin Luther, and John Lock. He influenced the culture of the Renaissance and the penning of the Declaration of the Independence. He has been loved and loathed as a writer, statesman, and philosopher for millennia.

And his last name means chickpea in Latin. Literally.

I could apparently do an entire article on this guy, he’s got so many interesting stories and works to explore, but most of it’s not related to food, so let’s look at how he got his name. Luckily, Plutarch wrote about Cicero in his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies Plutarch put together probably only a few centuries after Cicero had lived. In it, he writes that the first of Cicero’s forebears to have been given the family name due to a dent in his nose that apparently had made it look like a chickpea. When it was suggested to Cicero that he drop the name upon his entrance into politics he instead promised to make the name of Cicero even more famous than those of Scaurus or Catulus. Funnily enough, those names mean “Swollen-ankled” and “Puppy” respectively. Apparently the Romans had a thing for silly nicknames.

So you got the name of chickpea if you had a funny looking nose. Okay.

Let’s look at another leguminous family, the gens Fabia. One of the most ancient patrician families in Rome, they claimed to be descended from Hercules. Maybe you can put this one together after our long talk about Pythagoras, but Pliny the Elder claimed that their name was derived from the word faba, for fava bean, since the family was supposed to be the first to have cultivated the plant.

You get the name of fava if you have a hand in agricultural revolution. That’s pretty neat, if true!

Another is the Piso family, named for peas. This family included Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the father of Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife. According to the entry for peas in Christopher Martin Cumo’s Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia, a wealthy family taking on the name of the humble pea was a way for them to identify with those of rural origins. It was a shorthand way of claiming that their family valued thrift, self-reliance, hard work, and piety. Sounds about right for politics!

The Piso family has even managed to get pulled into a contemporary conspiracy theory about the invention of Jesus. It also makes me wonder if the name of the city of Pisa has anything to do with peas, but a quick search didn’t turn anything up.

You get the name of pea if you’re trying to cultivate an image of a down-to-earth politician. Clever!

According to Emma Borghesi’s The Beans & Grains Bible, there’s supposed to be another family, Lentullus (after lentils), but I couldn’t find anything about that family. So we unfortunately don’t get to find out how you get the name of lentils.

Well that was a really fun brush with Roman history. Found a couple of cool books I’d like to check out, and learned a lot about Cicero that I didn’t know. I’d call that a win!

Beans: progress report and a recipe

Husband made the drink. It’s very strong!

I just got back from returning my beans book to the library. Well, not just just, since I’ve been putting off writing this post for about half an evening now. Guess I just needed to get enough martini-glass margarita and World of Warcraft in me to get enough of the creative juices flowing. Now that they’re going, I thought I’d treat you to the recipe I’d promised quite a few posts ago. The dish my husband and I spontaneously made on a weekenight and just-as-spontaneously added some garbanzo beans to. It was the right move. So we re-created it last night, and it was just as good as remembered.

I also took better (visual) notes of the process, so I could more accurately share it with you!

So, let’s go through this step-by-step. It’s super easy, and nearly everything comes from a can. I’m pretty sure we got everything except the garbanzo beans, coconut milk, and vegan Worcestershire at Costco. But you might be able to get all those at Costco as well!

First, put some oil, salt, and pepper into a pan and start heating it up at medium heat.

Add a layer of chicken breasts, thighs, or tenders (we’re using frozen chicken tenders from Costco). Cover each piece of chicken with a smear of tomato paste.

You can add a second layer of chicken and tomato paste if you’d like. This was actually the first time I’d tried it this way, and it worked very well! Then pour on a good glug of Worcestershire sauce (we used a vegan version because it’s what I had in my fridge, and I think it’s more interesting than the regular version).

Then pour on a can of lite coconut milk (can go heavy if you’d prefer!), and two cans of pineapple chunks in juice. Do not use the ones in syrup. I did that once and it was a nasty, sticky mess.

Then, for the pièce de résistance, add in a nice, huge can of no-salt garbanzo beans! Salt and pepper liberally (maybe not terribly liberally, use your judgement). We also added a good dusting of garam masala (maybe a couple tablespoons?), two big pinches of fenugreek leaves, and a bunch garlic powder.

Give a good stir, making sure all the pieces of chicken are submerged, then set the heat to high until bubbling. Once it’s bubbling, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes to…. pretty much however long you want to. You can double check if the chicken is done with a meat thermometer to make sure everything’s properly done, if you’d like.

We served it with brown rice.

Last night, since hubby had to work later than expected (and I underestimated how long brown rice takes to cook), the meal simmered for over an hour and the chicken was still nice and tender when we dug in.

This meal is also super yummy if you use frozen salmon, instead!

It’s a variation on a meal my mom often made for the family on weekdays. Really yummy flavor profile, really easy prep, and usually a good amount of leftovers to have for the rest of the week!

Couldn’t recommend it enough.

As for the progress report, the book has been read and a lot of inspiration has been gathered. I have many (actually, too many) ideas for future posts, but I think a few of the ones that I’m most eager to write are:

Beans: To Catch A Killer (this one was not actually inspired by the book, but by a TV show I happened to watch this week)

Famous people named after beans (sounds like a Jeopardy category)

Hello Dahl-y (I actually can’t help myself): beans in India


Soy, the sacred grain.

There are plenty more where that came from, but we’ll see how long I want to run this bean marathon before starting to sprinkle in other subjects!

Quick bite: eat your jellyfish

It looks so tasty! Wonder if I can find some nearby…

We went to the aquarium recently, and in the room with the (gorgeous) jellyfish, they had a display touting jellyfish as a snack food. I had never in my life heard of eating jellyfish before, so I was immediately intrigued! It looks a lot like dried squid, which I think is delicious. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t have a lot of taste by itself, but it’s more than happy to soak up whatever type of seasoning or sauce you want to put it in. The aquarium even provides a recipe on their site for a cold jellyfish salad, which I think definitely sounds worth a try.

Reading up on it, jellyfish harvesting has an interesting history, too. They’ve been eaten in China for over 1700 years, often as part of wedding banquets. It’s now eaten all over Southeast Asia, with Japan importing 5,400 to 10,000 tons of jellyfish products per year. While jellyfishing is one of the state’s largest fisheries in Georgia, I’m not sure how easy it is to find Jellyfish here in the states. Most of the jellyfish harvested in the US are exported to those Southeast Asia countries that are already familiar and enamored of the food.

However! I’m going to try my best to scrounge up some jellyfish from somewhere. I’m hoping my local Japanse market might have it nestled away somewhere. If not, I can always pay exorbitant prices to have it shipped to me from Amazon (it’s not Prime eligible, I’m afraid). Once I’ve managed that, I plan to try out that jellyfish salad the aquarium recommends!

Be careful, though, or he might suck your lumps!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, as a parting gift and an apology for our departure from our regular bean-centric programming, here’s a picture of the way-too-adorable Lumpsucker that also had a house at the aquarium.

Etymology of Beans, Part Two

Homemade hamburger buns! First attempt. Next one will have more sesame seeds!

Time to go back down the etymology rabbit hole, as promised!

I admittedly did not dig deep enough last time, but I hope to rectify that with some guidance from Ken Albala’s example.

Also, sorry for the wait! I threw the husband a raucous birthday barbecue last weekend and then came down with some nasty bug as a reward for all my hard work. Unfortunately, no beans were involved in the barbecue (though I do now wonder what smoked beans would taste like, or how one would even achieve such a dish), but there were plenty of other tasty foods that I’ll hopefully get to show off in pictures over the next few posts!

Ok, back on topic.

Last we spoke, I resolved to do a deeper dive of bean etymology, starting with looking into the words that Ken Albala had written of in his book. Let’s start with legume. First off, the English word legume can mean the fruit or seed of leguminous plants (peas or beans), the pod containing the fruit or seed of leguminous plants, or the plants themselves. The English word legume comes from the French word légume (from the earlier legun), which has now (since around 1827, it seems) come to mean any cooking vegetable. The French word, in turn, comes from the Latin word legumen, meaning the same as the English legume. It is also speculated that the Latin legumen is connected to the Latin legere, which means to gather. As Albala points out in his book, it’s not a reach to think that the word ultimately began as a descriptor of how the beans were obtained. Despite their later large role in agriculture, they began as an easy-to-gather food for peoples who relied on being able to hunt and gather all they ate.

Not only was that a lot more informative than my previous attempt at etymological research, but it was actually way more fun, too. Watching the historical transformation of a food word through time is nearly as fun as watching the transformation of the food itself!

Next, let’s look at pulse. I started with legume because it’s (I think) a much more commonly used word that people reading are more likely to have encounter. I personally had not seen the word pulse (or at least don’t remember having seen it) used as a synonym for legume until reading Albala’s book. It apparently has a very narrow definition in this context: “Any annual legume yielding from 1 to 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, and used as food for humans or animals.”

It also has a longer history as a word, possibly stretching back to the Proto-Indo-European language, the hypothetical (thanks, history!) common ancestor of all Indo-European languages.

It seems that the origin of the word pulse is intimately linked with the use of beans in porridge. The English word pulse comes from the Latin puls, for meal or porridge, which is probably from the Ancient Greek póltos, also for porridge (specifically, porridge made from flour), which, in turn, is from a Proto-Indo-European word pel, for dust or flour.

So this word for beans that I’d never encountered before not only describes a common usage of beans, but the history of the word itself is a testament to how long humans have been using beans in that way. This makes sense, considering that we have evidence of people cooking beans over 10,000 years ago.

Probably not what the Ancient Greeks meant, but I can kind of see the bean shape…
Author:Franklin Vera Pacheco / Franklin.vp at en.wikipedia

Finally, let’s take a look at the word phaseolus. Since 1753, Phaseolus has been used as the name of the genus of the Fabaceae (legume) family containing New World beans. Before then, it was used as a name for the black-eyed pea, and Old World bean. The word is borrowed from the Latin phaselusmeaning a bean with an edible pod. It could also mean a light boat, similar to a canoe, that is similar in shape to a bean pod.

So! Etymology! A lot more work went into the research this time, but I think the results are also a lot more interesting!

Don’t be discouraged!

Aren’t they beautiful? I promise they’re related. Keep reading!

Good words to live by, but hard.

I’ve gotten through the first three chapters of Ken Albala’s book on beans, and for as lovely as the journey has been so far it’s also been pretty intimidating. Albala is a fantastic researcher, storyteller, and author, and it’s hard to feel like I can really add anything to the conversation. It’s so tempting to just throw in the towel and let better minds than mine continue their journeys through food history while I hang back and watch. I’m a newbie to this field (one without a relevant degree, to boot!), and I’m way eclipsed by those I’m learning from.

Take, for example, how badly Albala schools me concerning etymology. At first, he finds pretty much the same things I do. Bean in English is similar to the word for bean in many different languages (also, it seems like italics are the preferred method of setting a word apart when etymology-izing it, not single quotes as I’d used). None particularly interesting or particularly different from the word ‘bean’ itself. But then he looks at the words legume and pulse (which, it turns out, is an old synonym for legume that comes from the Roman word for a dish of cooked bean meal, puls). And the word Phaseolus, the term referring to New World beans. I’ll do an etymology part two to cover the cool stuff he covered and see if I can’t get any deeper myself, too.

So that was fascinating, illuminating, and…discouraging.

But I learned something from it — more than what Albala was teaching. Looking at just the word I’m interested in is not enough. I have to look around it, too. I have to learn to think less shallowly about human language. And that’s a good lesson!

I also learned that one of my favorite Monty Python sketches has another layer to it that I never knew! You see, lupines (one of my favorite flowers, and pictured above) are a bean! I can’t believe it. It’s so cool. And part of the joke is that the character in the sketch that’s stealing lupines to feed the poor doesn’t understand what part of the plant is eaten (the seeds). It’s silly but I am really glad to know this new information.

I also learned that lentils are an Old World bean. Like, really really Old World. As in, the earliest remains of cooked lentils are from 11 thousand BCE (in Greece, if you’re wondering). Lupines are both Old and New World, which turns out to be uncommon.

I’ve learned a lot from this book and this blog already. Most importantly, though, I think I’ve learned I don’t have to be the best. I don’t even have to be good. I just have to be better. Not better than anybody else, but better than myself. I just have to keep learning, keep trying, and keep growing. And I win!

The future of beans

It’s arrived!

I can’t pretend to know where beans will go or what they will do in the world, but I do know where they’ll be heading on this blog!

I got to bicycle to my local library after work today (oh my it was so hot outside, but so worth it!) because the book I’ve been waiting to come in had arrived! Well, actually, it had arrived yesterday, but the library is closed on Sunday so I don’t know why they emailed me to let me know they had it. Such a tease!

But it’s here now, in my hands! I’m sure I’m going to learn more than I ever thought there was to know about beans, but I’m also sure I’m going to love every minute of it. I’ve never actually read  any of Ken Albala’s professional works before, only listened to him through the Great Courses lectures he did (and yes, I’m going to keep linking that until you listen to it, too!), so I’m really excited to read this book.

I don’t know what I’ll read in there, but it will almost certainly give me plenty of food for thought (har har!) regarding beans and what I want to write about them. I already have a few ideas of my own, though! I want to look deeper into the importance of beans for lent and other religious observances, and I also want to look at the differences between Old World and New World bean varieties and which varieties are which.

I know at least one, already! Fava beans are Old World. Cause how much more Old World can you get than Ancient Greece!

Well, time to dig in!