Posts Tagged ‘cornbread’

A Sign of Good Things To Come

February 4, 2010
At the moment – at this very moment – I’m broke. Like freelance writers everywhere, I am dependent upon the whims of editors and their bookkeepers to ensure I receive payment for my work. Unlike many freelancers, I know how to cook and that makes my life a little easier.

Part of the beauty of knowing how to cook, even in the face of abject poverty – whether it is temporary or long term – is knowing how to make the best of sometimes very limited ingredients. If I have staples on hand, I feel secure. Even in the direst of circumstances, I can at least turn out a solid meal that will not only sustain me physically – hunger is hell on the body – but emotionally. Dreary food is hell on the spirit.

Tonight, I made one of the dishes I grew up with, pinto beans and corn bread. I love beans and I make damned good corn bread. What I love about beans and corn bread, even more than its tiny impact on my budget, is that even when I’m feeling flush, I still love to cook it. Even when money is the very least of my worries, a pot of beans simmering away on the stove top with a ham hock or two bobbing about amidst the legumes is remarkably reassuring. It is comforting in the way a warm house is comforting when one comes in from the cold, or comforting as the return of a loved one is after a long, unsure absence.

Corn bread, too, baking in the oven is a source of surety. Pouring the batter into a scalding iron skillet – hearing it sizzle and watching it bubble around the edges of the pan as it hits the melted fat – is a call not only to the taste buds but a wealth of scents and sounds. Corn bread is enveloping comfort at its best. Simple to make with none of the fussiness of yeast breads, corn bread’s gritty bite is substantial with flavor and nourishment and reliability.

Once the bread is done and the beans are finished simmering, I love to dunk the buttery slices of bread into the pot liquor, letting them soak up as much liquid as possible while still being able to get the piece into my mouth before it disintegrates from the weight of the juices. I always eat too much corn bread when I serve it with beans; the combination of flavors is irresistible.

I wasn’t aware that not everyone felt as highly about beans, or corn bread, until I was living on my own. A woman with whom I was friendly and I met on the street. This was in my hometown, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I must have stepped out to pick up something because I had beans cooking on the stove at home and in the course of chatting, I invited her over for dinner.

“Oh, no,” she insisted. “I’m planning on making curry. Come to my house, instead.” I remember, too, she was from Illinois, or someplace like that, and like many of my friends was a student at the university. I did have dinner with her at her house, but I was disappointed she seemed so uninterested in what I had planned. Beans and corn bread, I came to realize, was not a dish highly prized by everyone.

Nearly 25 years after that encounter, though, I still prize them and tonight, even with an empty checking account and a sense of impatience as I wait for the mail carrier to push those highly anticipated checks through the mail slot in the door to my flat, I feel that same sense of satisfied pleasure that only comes with a meal one truly enjoys. Beans and corn bread mean everything is, and is going to be, just fine.