It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, and for that I usually look to the kitchen. My resolutions always seem to revolve around food. One year I resolved to eat more potatoes. The next year, to eat more beans. The following year, to eat berries every day. Another year I pledged to make a pot of soup per week, and though I missed a few in the heat of summer, I made up for it through the winter months.
I admit, these may seem like odd resolutions at a time when most people are making more serious pledges for self-improvement such as weight loss, debt reduction and work-life balance. But how long do those resolutions last? By focusing on food, an activity I do anyway three times a day, I start the year confident my resolutions will stick. At least to my ribs.
My first food-related New Year’s resolution came in 2005 when my husband and I pledged to eat almost nothing but locally grown foods for a full year. Ninety-five per cent of our meals began in Saskatchewan and the other five per cent made the most of it. For example, a bit of cinnamon for a bread pudding or some olive oil for an authentic pasta primavera. This was a hard resolution to keep, not because the local bounty is lacking, but because it was hard to find. Back then, there were few if any websites, grocery stores or newspaper columns touting the benefits of eating locally and where to source it. We did all the groundwork ourselves. I bought organic lentils by mail, rode a combine through a field of coriander and learned to identify a chanterelle from a charlatan. I took up canning and put up herbs. I got a chest freezer and filled it with half a steer and a whole pig. I even went duck hunting. The year was so good and so fun I wrote a book about it, Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner. I was on a roll.
My resolution to eat more potatoes was easier to keep. My dad grew enough potatoes to feed a small army so this resolution was also easy on the budget. To kick the year off, I cooked a New Year’s dinner with potatoes in every course: an appetizer of blue potato pakoras followed by a Spanish omelette, tartiflette (a French concoction of potatoes, bacon, cream and cheese) and, for dessert, mashed potato chocolate chip cookies. And a shot of potato vodka, of course.
For the year of eating beans, I planted several varieties in my city garden. This resulted in a colourful if scant few cups of beans. Fortunately, I made up the deficit with locally grown lentils, chickpeas, pintos and fababeans.
For the year of eating berries, I canned, froze, dried, jellied, jammed and steeped in vodka.
Two years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to eat myself out of house and home. To clean out the pantry, empty the canning cupboard and dig to the bottom of the freezer. So I could start all over again.
Which brings me to 2016. This year I have resolved to have more picnics. Winter, spring, summer and fall. And once again, I begin the year with the satisfaction of knowing I cannot fail to meet my goal. All gain and no guilt.
I discovered this old Mennonite recipe during my year of 52 soups. I believe the term “ripe bean” refers to mature dried beans, as opposed to fresh green beans. Feel free to substitute a different bean and make it your own.
Ripe Bean Soup
- 1 pork hock, smoked or salted
- 2 cups dried white beans
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 tsp. salt
- Sour cream for serving (optional)
Put pork hock in a stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 1 hour. Place peppercorns, bay leaf and star anise in a spice ball or sachet. Add the spices and beans to the pot, cover and simmer 2 hours, topping up with water if needed. Remove pork hock. Add chopped onion and cook until the beans and onion are very soft, another hour. Meanwhile, remove meat from bone, chop and add to the pot. Remove spices. Season with salt as needed (this will depend on the saltiness of the meat). To serve, it is optional to stir a bit of sour cream into each bowl.