What I Used To Do.

Caroline, a friend of mine from back in Atlanta once told me, “You’re a sponge for one.” While it may sound strange as it’s seemingly out of context, and pretty random sounding, I understood perfectly. Although I have been rich with friends and friendships throughout my life, I have pretty consistently concentrated on one major friendship at a time. And I would always put the majority of my energy and stock into that friend, even to the detriment of romances running concurrently. I don’t think this quality made Caroline very happy at the time because she felt shut out. I don’t blame her. I was putting all of my friendship eggs into another basket.

My main bestest friend throughout almost all of my "adult" life, Paz, and I grew up together. In collusion we attended middle school, high school, college, and then moved to Atlanta. We planned to go to college together – in Ohio, mind you. We were dorm-mates there. We returned to Richmond together for vacations, holidays, lived in Mexico together, she videotaped my dad’s wedding, and even moved in with my boyfriend and me after college when I went to Atlanta. And in a different time and house in Atlanta, every Tuesday night, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then got all dressed up together before we went and worked the door at a bar where our dj friends performed. I felt badly for our various boyfriends over the years as we were almost like a package deal.

Don’t get me wrong, we also fought like Scotsmen, but Paz was my family. I would throw myself in front of a train for her.

Another thing to point out: while Paz has been very prominent and consistent, there have been quite a few other friends for which I was sponge for one-ing throughout my life. My mom tells me I was exhibiting that tendency from a very early age.

About 8 years ago I moved to Los Angeles, and – without going into too much detail because it’s irrelevant now - although Paz and I were falling apart at the seams, I think my move was the nail in our coffin. We didn’t speak or see one another for over 5 years. Until recently.

Interestingly, not long ago I had a watershed realization: in the past 5 years, slowly but surely, I am no longer a sponge for one. Not at all. In this big, scary, massively populated city I have found a wealth and abundance of friends, all very close, all very special and important. Everyone may play different roles at different moments but no one stands above anyone else.

Maybe some of this is a result of moving here without Paz - the result of being thrust into anonymity and having to swim without those puffy arm things. But I still could have just found my one super friend again, right? Now I have super friends. Together, they are my network, my team. I feel overwhelmingly fortunate to have every single one of them.

And the awesome-est thing? As mentioned above, Paz and I have recently reconnected. We literally ran into each other on the street late last Summer while I was in Richmond – on her birthday actually. Since then we have seen one another when we can, on whichever coast one of us happens to be on at any point; we email, we text, and we have phone conversations that last hours at a time. We talk about boys (men now, I suppose), our insecurities, our dogs, food, and all of our old private jokes and language have relevance again. It’s wonderful.

The recipe I’m sharing with you here is one that originated in some form from Paz’s mom, who is from the Dominican Republic. Paz has been making this dish on her own, with her own touches, since even before our food co-op in college. She has always referred to it as her world famous recipe. Even then.

I hope she can visit me out here again sometime soon. I want her to meet all of my friends and I know they are dying to meet her.

Although it may seem more of a hearty, Winter dish, I beg to differ. The cilantro brightens it right on up and ushers it gracefully into Spring.

This is her recipe verbatim. However, I have added my two cents in italics.

Paz’s World Famous Rice and Beans

Serves 6
1 can each kidney, black and white beans (drained)
1 can of diced tomatoes (for fun, try the ones with green chilies in them)
1 small onion, diced (I used a Vidalia)
1 green, red, or gold bell pepper, diced (I used a red pepper. Green peppers make me want to drive off of a cliff)
1 heaping tbsp of ground cumin
1 Tablespoon of Italian herbs (I used fresh thyme, oregano & marjoram from my garden)
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional) (I, personally used a lot more heat, more like 3/4 teaspoon Chile de Arbol would be a beautiful addition as well))
1 small bay leaf
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4-5 cloves of fresh garlic finely chopped
1 handful of fresh cilantro coarsely chopped

In a large pot, stir in beans, tomatoes, cumin, Italian herbs, cayenne and bay leaf over med-low heat. Stir until it begins to bubble, then turn the heat down to the lowest simmer ever (so it doesn’t burn). In a frying pan, sauté onion and green pepper in extra virgin olive oil until the onions become translucent and the peppers are softly browned*. Add them to the pot of beans. Add the finely chopped garlic (raw) to the beans. Slow cook beans for 45 min to one hour stirring occasionally. Add cilantro and cook in for the very last 10-15 minutes.

Serve with rice and sour cream (optional, however very good if you accidentally added too much cayenne).

*I would sauté the onion & pepper in the pot, first then add everything else. The ingredients marry better and you have fewer dishes to do.

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