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A Certain Rhythm

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.

beansAlso, 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.

lemon and parmesanSo 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.

white bean and barley stewIt’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.

Serves: 6

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)

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.

  1. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

    You can tell Sam I eat a whole grapefruit at breakfast, too.

  2. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I, too, love sharing the ordinary moments with someone, learning their rhythms, and working together on the practical things. It’s not always dreamy but I certainly find joy in building a shared life.

  3. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Everydayness. I love that.

  4. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Horray for everydayness. Enjoy these new moments friend. :)

  5. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I eat entire grapefruits at once too- and this recipe looks delightful. Hooray for the everyday.

  6. Jill
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I eat the whole grapefruit too!

  7. Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    My husband calls my long sweatshirt cardigan “the housecoat.” It looks a little more stylish than a ratty bathrobe, but I have to begrudgingly agree with him on this one.

  8. Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I love the everydayness of it all! It’s so lovely to share simple, quiet moments with someone you love without feeling any sort of rush about it. Such a lovely post, Megan.

  9. Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Wonderful post- after almost 5 years of marriage I still cherish these everyday moments: walking the dog, sitting on the kitchen counter while he empties the dishwasher, and sharing a tub of strawberry Haagen Dazs ice cream. Beans and barley is perfect for the snowy day here in Colorado.

  10. Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Great recipe! We love it (and we love kale because we grow it)! We’re going to feature it on our Facebook page, so everyone can come here and see for themselves. Please come LIKE us on Facebook if you wish — https://www.facebook.com/Cut.n.Clean.Greens.

    –Your friendly farmers at Cut `n Clean Greens

  11. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Randy is obsessed with mail too. He will check multiple times a day, even if he has already retrieved it. I love that you guys are settling in and eating lovely dishes like this together. Can’t believe I haven’t seen you since you’ve become a Seattle-ite!

  12. megang
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Oh I miss snowy days in Colorado! Yes, beans and barley were basically invented for them :) There might be nothing better than sitting on the kitchen counter eating ice cream, is there? Have a wonderful weekend — romp a little in the snow for us!

  13. megang
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Ohhh, the “housecoat.” Yes I have a few of those, too, but they’re currently in hiding. A writing gal’s got to be comfortable, right? Have a great weekend, Casey. Hope you’re doing well!

  14. Posted February 24, 2012 at 1:49 am

    “see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters” love this sentiment. I completely agree that the more you see of a person and the more ordinary they become makes them all the more special. I’m sure my housemates are shocked by the amount of oats I eat and how early I wake up, but I’m always amazed by the amount of cereal they go through and the kind of music they like.

    On the food side of things, this soup looks divine, I’ve been loving the idea of adding kale to soup recently.

  15. Posted February 24, 2012 at 5:40 am

    This looks so wonderful and soothing. I remember first moving in with my husband, fiance at the time, and thinking how quickly we got used to our little everyday intricacies. And you’re right, those everyday things are the best.

  16. Maggie
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 6:45 am

    I nearly cried reading this. My new husband and I have spent our entire relationship (2 years) long distance, only seeing each other on the weekends, constantly traveling. Now, in April, we’ll have a house together, and moments like those you’ve described are something I’m looking forward to more than I can express.
    I came for the recipe, but I’m thankful for the glimpse into your life.

  17. Celestine
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I’m appreciating a new everydayness too. My fiance moved to Norfolk, VA from Ontario after a year of a long distance relationship. There is a moment each evening that we look at each other without speaking a word and crack up laughing at the thought that we are finally living everydayness. Who knew?

  18. megang
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Thanks so much for the sweet comment, Maggie. Ah yes…the traveling. Congratulations on your soon-to-be house together. There are definitely moments when I look at Sam in the morning or late at night and feel like, “ahhh, you’re here! I’m here!” Have a wonderful weekend; I think you’ll like the stew!

  19. Posted February 24, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I love those everyday moments. As for the grapefruit, it depends on my mood or just how tasty I’m finding it, but I can easily eat the whole thing in one sitting. But sometimes I like to save the other half as an evening snack. Love your meal, perfect for a wet and rainy and cold day.

  20. Staci
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    “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.” I love this part so much, in part because I know that’s how B and I will feel when we finally, permanently, start co-habitating. (Soon!) :)

  21. Posted February 25, 2012 at 7:34 am

    The longer my husband and I are together, the more I enjoy the everyday moments, like having breakfast together, or listening to the puzzle with Will Shortz on NPR on Sunday morning. It’s those little things that make life so sweet.

    Loved this stew, and we also made it with barley. We enjoyed it on a blustery January day and it really hit the spot.

  22. Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I feel your joy and pain. We have been finding the comfortably sweet spot, for almost 10 years. Now that we are officially working from home all the time, we are rediscovering about “being” in the office together, all the time. My breaks are spent cooking/photographing as well as walks to get the mail. :) A little bit of you and Sam! You will settle in nicely; just takes time, and sweet patience.

  23. Jessica
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Megan, I am glad you are in Seattle. If you ever want a new friend to explore the city with and marvel in the culinary wonders, I’m your lady.
    Please, don’t hesitate.
    -Jessica

  24. Posted March 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I never eat grapefruit at breakfast – I like it in salad or a cocktail!

  25. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

    made this last night and we loved it :)

  26. megang
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Great, Shannon!
    So happy to hear that. Happy almost Friday, m

  27. Dawn
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    This is the first recipe I have tried from your blog, and it’s amazing. I look forward to trying more in the future.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By I love lists, Friday! › shutterbean on February 24, 2012 at 12:01 am

    [...] Soup. Words. Rhythm. I love this all. [...]

  2. [...] is such a versatile green, I love experimenting with it. I plan on making this hearty White Bean Barley and Kale Stew (with added sausage) next [...]

  3. [...] is such a versatile green, I love experimenting with it. I plan on making this hearty White Bean Barley and Kale Stew (with added sausage) next [...]

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