Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other’s behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I’ve become well acquainted with his holey “sick sweater,” his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I’ve ever known. Also, I’m learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don’t eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
Also, something funny happens when you both work largely from home. You have to find a certain rhythm to make it work. I think it’s largely unspoken — you discover the other person’s patterns and moods. I can hear Sam pitter-patter into the kitchen around 3 p.m. and I know a cup of coffee or a pot of tea is happening. He knows when I’m in my “efficient kitchen mode,” organizing, baking, cleaning and perhaps photographing, and he quietly sneaks away to his office.
So we’re figuring it out. In the midst, there are many shared evening beers, new-to-me music from Sam’s collection, exploring the Ballard farmer’s market, and walks around our neighborhood (the library! the hot chocolate!). I’ve set up my writing office and am getting used to working in the cold. The writing office doesn’t have heat. The mornings are brisk.
It’s all quieter than our visits which were often packed with restaurants we wanted to show one another, plays and beaches and movies and road trips. And I love it even more — the everydayness of it all. The holey sweaters and old lady slippers and eagerness to get the mail. The pot of white beans simmering on the stove all afternoon. And the fact that we get to sit down and share it together. Whenever we want.
A note on this recipe: This stew is oh-so-loosely based on a recipe Melissa Clark has for a White Bean and Farro Stew in her wonderful book, Cook This Now. In her directions, there are a few very specific steps she takes in preparing the stew — some of which I kept here and some which I altered. I added kale for a more complete meal and used barley because it’s so nice in soups and stews this time of year. In her version, Melissa Clark cooks the farro separately and then spoons the beans over it. I took a hint from her, cooking the barley separately but I mixed it into the stew along with the kale at the very end. This way, while cooking, the barley wasn’t hogging the moisture from the beans.
White Bean, Barley and Kale Stew
Soaking the beans overnight is always a good idea if you have the time. If not, the beans will just take a few hours longer; there’s something nice about a pot simmering away on the stove all afternoon anyway. Also, for an even heartier stew, you could add bacon or sausage to the pot.
1 pound dried cannellini beans (or any other white bean)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 celery stalks, cut in half crosswise (reserve leaves for garnish)
1 large onion, halved lengthwise from root to stem to it holds together
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon tried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 cup barley, rinsed and strained
1 bunch kale, washed, stemmed and roughly chopped
flaky Maldon salt, for garnish
lemon juice and grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional; omit Parmesan to keep it vegan)
If you plan on soaking your beans, put them in a bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let them soak for at least 4 hours –overnight is ideal.
To cook the beans: drain (or rinse if you didn’t soak overnight) and place them in a large pot along with the oil, 3 of the whole garlic cloves, celery and onion over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and salt. Cover with water, stir gently, and bring to a boil. Once the pot boils, reduce heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer, partially covered until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on how long you soaked your beans (if at all) or how old your dried beans are. You know your beans are done when they’re soft in the middle but still slightly firm on the outside. You will likely need to add 2-3 cups of extra water as the beans simmer and the water is absorbed–you always want to have the beans just barely covered with liquid, so do keep an eye on your pot every now and then.
Cook the barley: In a small saucepan, add the barley to 3 cups boiling water and stir together. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low, allowing the barley to gently simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until it has absorbed the water and is no longer crunchy. Note: Cooking time on barley can vary quite a bit depending on if you’re using hulled or unhulled grains (hulled has only the outer shell removed and takes longer to cook).
Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic. When the beans are done cooking, remove and discard the onion, celery and bay leaf. Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced garlic and puree. Return the pureed mixture to the pot. Add the cooked barley and chopped kale and allow the pot to simmer on low for just a few minutes. This will allow the kale to soften into the stew nicely.
To serve: spoon into bowls and drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, flaky Maldon salt, red pepper flakes, a few chopped celery leaves, grated Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon.