Black Bean Croquettes

The position of Mrs. Patmore, the cook at Downtown Abbey rotates – informally and unofficially. Nobody has the proper outfit. It would be beyond irregular at Downton Abbey to have Mr. Carson cooking in the kitchen – but he’s often in charge there at Downtown Abbey.

It’s teamwork – and a pleasure to chop vegetables, get distracted with Lady Baby, then come back to find those same vegetables sautéing or in the oven or a salad. Beans put to soak by one person, get cooked by another. And then on this last trip, get made into bean cakes!

Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Black Bean Croquettes” has been forever marked as a possibility in my copy of “How to Cook Everything,” so I was glad to hear they were on the menu at Downtown Abbey.

Wanting to make them back home, I read the recipe and Bittman’s “Basics of Bean Cakes.” Bittman says well-cooked beans are necessary and, because you can add “so many flavors,” canned beans work. (We made plain ones, but he gives recipes for bean croquettes with Southwestern or Asian flavors.)

I chopped two cups of drained, cooked black beans in the blender (don’t puree Bittman says, leave a few chunks).

The recipe calls for half a cup of chopped onions, but I used a mix of shallots and scallions (end of the old and beginning of the new CSA). Then combined the onions and the beans in a bowl with a lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper.

At this point in the recipe at Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson used a half-cup of crumbs he had made with bakery bread in the food processor and some coarse cornmeal. Because it was handy, I used the panko I had left from the not meatloaf.

You want to add enough of one of these to help the cakes stick together but not be dry – (putting the mixture in the fridge for while before forming into patties helps). This amount makes four generous patties, looking very burger-like.

Mr. Carson heated an eighth-inch of oil in a heavy cast iron skillet and fried his, about three to five minutes a side by Bittman’s instructions. I used the other suggested method, and placed the croquettes on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 400° oven, turning once, for a total of 20 minutes.

Mr. Carson’s tasted best. Hands down. Crunchy and flavorful. We ate them straight up.

Well, with ketchup of course. A bean croquette is a fine platform for ketchup – or salsa or some exotic chutney – enjoy!

Lady Baby

The chauffeur picked me up at the airport, on my May trip north to Alaska, and I joined Lady Baby riding in the back seat. She gave me a welcome (so it seemed to me) smile, but it might also have been her general good humor on display.

She’s grown – definitely a solid cherub package now, with strong legs and arms. But she retains her cheerful nature – willing to give the staff a chance to do their jobs without issuing imperious demands, amused at our antics. She seems often to be thinking: “What will they do next? – Oh well, I’m game!”

Pure looking is still enormously important to Lady Baby, but when she sets her eye on something now, she uses her hands with more coordination to deliberately reach, clutch, and hold fast. She’s very fond of grasping hoodie strings (often part of the staff uniform at Downtown Abbey).

Portraits of ancestors line the stairway there, and when going upstairs for a change of clothes or scenery, she likes to pause and hear a few portrait stories. I tell her about her dad, 6 years old in Chester, England with book tucked under his arm, or her maternal grandpa, young and posing by a “Welcome to Alaska” sign, her aunt and uncle smiling and happy, on their sunny summer wedding day.

Joining us at the dinner table, Lady Baby ate her first solid food while I was there –– rice cereal, bit of banana, and mama’s milk in a well-mashed and well-received combo. She sits in her pink-padded highchair with shoulder harness, like an alert and eager paratrooper about to launch.

Her low down seat is also great fun. She’s happily entertained there for periods of time – becoming the audience for Granny Katy’s “cooking show.” I hold up individual asparagus spears and a red colander – explain cumin and sweet potatoes. I ask her if she thinks we can cook five or six tortillas on one baking sheet?

She looks quizzical when I ask such a question – and sometimes answers with her sounds of effort – low down and throaty or excited and loud. I’m not sure of her meaning, but she’s amiable about my performance and cheers me on while we get dinner cooked. We have such a good time together.

And Alaska summer is coming – we sat on Downtown Abbey’s tiny front porch and watched the neighborhood world on view – kids playing across the street and passersby on the sidewalk.

Her birth in the winter’s nadir seems so long ago, when snow fell endlessly and her dad called her “a true child of winter.” Now with long daylight and budding trees – Lady Baby is a summer baby!


It’s May, it’s May – the merry month of asparagus! (And so far, rain and cold, but never mind.)

When I made the vegetable loaf recipe, I had a handful of extra asparagus. Even after several green spears posed on my drawing table for collaging, I was able that night to nestle them next to potatoes to be roasted and enjoy (olive oil and salt and pepper, 400° till tender).

The next day I remembered this by Heidi Swanson:

so added the roasted asparagus to the avocado I’d slathered onto some bread for lunch (avocado being my most favorite sandwich these days). “Avocado on Garlic Rubbed Toast” is Willi Galloway’s more elegant version.

And, to add a third real food blogger to this asparagus day, another Heidi – this one a young Alaska woman who cooks so well. In this post she tells how to simply and perfectly roast asparagus:

These cooks say it all, so enjoy! Enjoy spring!

100 Objects

Busying part of the brain with words helps other parts stay engaged in hand work. In the olden days, quilting or painting stems or petals (“coloring in the lines” my friend Joanna Isles used to say) could only be accompanied by music, books-on-tape (if organized), or whatever the radio offered at that moment.

But now the wide world of podcasts means I could listen, while painting and making collage flowers for the show in June, to the British Museum’s series, “A History of the World in 100 Objects.”

The director of the museum, Neil MacGregor, narrates as he examines individual objects chosen from the collection, and includes interviews with experts in history, art, or archeology. Scholars from an object’s country of origin, or practitioners of modern day arts might weigh in – reacting to ancient forms of what they do today.

Some of the objects are rare and unique, some ceremonial, and others utterly common and ordinary. They trace human efforts in a variety of materials from bronze to a plastic credit card (I’m not there yet).

An ancient piece of papyrus titled: “The Correct Method of Reckoning for Grasping the Meaning of Things and Knowing Everything, Obscurities and All Secrets” – seems an early self-help book, says the narrator.

A very early clay tablet – a trader’s notebook – keeps track of beer. Other tablets reveal the magic moments when oral stories began to be written down – giving us the lasting ability to “inhabit the thought worlds of others.”

A stone, carved and chipped to be knife-like and used for skinning animals or similar tasks, appears more chipped than need be, more complicated. MacGregor says that’s a human tendency – to bring complexity, to imagine something extra – a tendency that he describes as leading to art. MacGregor says “making things and coming to depend on things turned us into the humans we are today.”

You can see photos of the objects on the museum’s website, but these objects often live best through words. It’s a good listen – a perfect accompaniment to making things!


Do we all lament our procrastinating? I happened upon a little time-management self-help book that addresses the problem of procrastination – often a troublesome side effect of re-entry after a trip. (My husband pointed out that a fine way to procrastinate is to read a book about not procrastinating.)

In all such books the suggestions are probably similar (the men in my family have been reading “The Four Hour Work Week” this winter): set goals, plan, organize, prioritize, make lists! Still I always need reminding, need encouragement to allow planning time and disallow over-frequent email checking.

This time I (quickly) read Tracy Brian’s “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.” Brian says, “Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task,” the one you are most likely to avoid. For him, the crucial thing is to do that task first.

But even figuring out that task can be challenging, and rewarding, for our brains do love to accomplish. In his book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Jonah Lehrer writes about people who definitely dine on their biggest frogs. Lehrer explores the latest scientific findings about the brain’s activity during creative work, and he upends some long-held assumptions about creativity. He tells us that numerous studies of outcome reveal the ineffectiveness of traditional brainstorming, and assert the importance of constructive criticism.

I loved a chapter on Milton Glaser, the inventive New York graphic designer who thought up “I ♥ New York” (while riding in a taxi stuck in traffic). As an artist Glaser thinks as much as he manipulates media, and says about creating: “It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming the idea into something real.” “If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”

Ideas happen when brain cells make new connections – “sheer serendipity” but serendipity that can be encouraged – if we stick with it, if we work (and sometimes if we take a perfectly timed break and go for a walk or talk to a colleague). Lehrer would say the trick is to know what kind of “stuck” you are.

He’s is full of examples, from Bob Dylan to sticky notes, and says, “Every creative story is different. And every creative story is the same. There was nothing. Now there is something. It’s almost like magic.”

It’s interesting to know more about how the brain operates, but the frog book gets us in place, inspires us with suggestions like: make a list (a detailed step-by-step list), contain the distractions, seek clarity about what needs to be done, and break jobs into manageable bits.

Both books help, and I made a sign for my desk of one of Brian’s admonitions:

Meatloaf (not)

On this visit Lady Baby’s mother and I talked about our fond memories of meatloaf from our childhoods. So I was delighted when Lady Baby’s mother’s mother, as she was leaving town, delivered pans full of “Vegetable ‘Meat’ Loaf” – without the hamburger and with many vegetables – for the Downtown Abbey staff!

It’s enjoyable to make, delicious, and brings back all the memories! The recipe comes from “Cooking Light” (here).

Begin by cooking vegetables:

Cut two large bell peppers (green and red) in half lengthwise, discard the seeds and membranes, and broil (at high) for 12 minutes skin side up (till blackened). Put the peppers in a paper bag, close it tightly, wait 10 minutes, then peel and finely chop the peppers.

Using two pounds of roughly chopped cremini mushrooms, place about a fourth of them in a food processor and pulse 10 times. Repeat three times till you have done all the mushrooms. Then in a large pan over medium high heat, sauté the mushrooms until the liquid evaporates. Combine the mushrooms and bell peppers.

Wipe out the sauté pan, add a cup of half-inch asparagus pieces and half-cup of chopped red onion and sauté until just tender (about six minutes). Add the onion mixture to the mushroom mixture.

Spread panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, in single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350° till golden. Add the breadcrumbs to the mushroom mixture and stir well.

Then add, and also stir well, a cup of chopped and toasted walnuts, two tablespoons of chopped fresh basil, a tablespoon of ketchup, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, half a teaspoon salt, half a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, four ounces of grated Parmesan cheese, and two large, lightly beaten eggs.

Whew! Spray a 9”x 5” loaf plan and press the mixture gently to pack. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.

And the topping. This is not your mother’s ketchup topping from childhood (or at least not mine) – combine two tablespoons of ketchup, one tablespoon of vodka or vegetable broth (we used vodka), and a quarter teaspoon of Dijon mustard in a small bowl. When the loaf is finished cooking, spread this topping over it and bake for ten minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Some staff at Downtown Abbey added ketchup at the table, but I thought the loaf was savory and perfect. There were no leftovers. When I made it here, we did have leftovers, and the next day we took meatloaf (not) sandwiches on the ferry to Seattle – dressed with ketchup!

A Change in the Header

WordPress has stopped putting author bylines on blogs written by just one person. It took me weeks to notice this, and weeks more to notice that my name didn’t actually appear anywhere on the blog!

That’s a woeful absence in the blog world, so in rectifying my anonymity, I found myself reconsidering the subtitle. I am still really fond of the concept of spirits rising, but in the last three years the blog often strayed from house and, very often, far from garden.

Initially, in setting up “Her spirits rose..” I tried to fit better into the categories of house and garden. But I wrote an early post about the importance of the everyday to me, about the possibility of nurture from ordinary doings, and added the quote I love by Fiona MacCarthy: “Art is what you choose, how you arrange things, permeating and sustaining everyday life.”

Virginia Woolf says it best of course, in many forms. Through Lily Briscoe in “To the Lighthouse”: “What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”

So now I’ve changed my header, thinking the “the art of everyday” might more accurately express what I’ve come to look for and hold most dear – “arranging things” “little daily miracles” “lifted spirits.”

Family Visiting

On the trip to Anchorage, we flew through Burbank (this requires a little geography manipulating but the rewards are great), and encountered three West Coast springs. In Anchorage, six feet of rotten snow covered the garden. Here in Washington daffodils and cherries bloom, and tulips begin. But in Southern California the garden center parking lot held many cars and customers’ little wagons many plants.

It’s been a joy to watch our California son and his sweet friend become gardeners while making a garden from an empty back yard. Permaculture beds built last year contain rich soil now, and the early plantings of lavender, dianthus, and alyssum flourish. This winter the garden gained unimaginable things (to me) – lemon, orange, and pomegranate trees, even an olive tree!

Saturday morning, the first day of three-day visit, we made a list: build a sturdy trellis for tomatoes, spread compost, weed the winter’s invaders, plant two trees in containers, shop for plants, plant the plants, paint the garage door (and the trellis).

April mornings in Southern California mean sunshine and a perfect temperature for eating breakfast under the sun umbrella. Middays heat up – and by the time we wandered the garden center, we were hot, and hotter yet at the lumberyard. We persevered – getting wood and recommendations for tomatoes and beans – buying a watermelon plant(!), hot peppers, and some drought tolerant flowers like cosmos and nepeta. We worked with a lot of jokes and also pride in our achievements.

Then we went north to join the staff at Downtown Abbey in food gathering and preparation, laundry, and dog walks. We made a list the first day there also – meals to freeze and meals we’d eat – stock, soup, and beans.

One day we “tag teamed” pizza prep – dough from the local pub, caramelized onions, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, peppers, tomato sauce, roasted cauliflower, steamed broccoli, pepperoni, and grated cheese, and invited our young friend and her parents to dinner so we could talk about London.

London is good for so many stories – we’ll be telling them to each other for a long time, perhaps till we visit our young friend when she is there on her own to study!

And maybe her parents will visit and grocery shop for her – or help in her tiny London garden – who knows? And who knew all this work could be such a joy – it’s flavored with love, that’s why.