The Comfort of Beans

Dad’s Black Beans
Dad’s Black Beans

I’ve had many abrupt shiftings and turnings in my life, but the events of the past month have been by far the strangest and most sudden, as for millions the world over. 

Just like that it’s a new world. 

A global pandemic.

No work.

Economic breakdown.

Closed borders.

Nationalism and xenophobia.

An online global community.

Sequestered in our homes.

Suddenly, there’s time to do things like save Callan’s bath water to water the garden. It’s something I want to do, but there’s little time for extras with Callan, freelance, house work, being a good partner, cooking meals, cleaning up from meals, and all the other big and small things that make up a busy day. 

This new world is stress, anxiety, fear, and tension juxtaposed against home-cooked meals, household projects, domestic tranquility, and family time. 

In Michigan, my parents are making maple syrup. A comfort in family traditions that haven’t changed in forty years. 

Momma collecting maple sap
Momma collecting maple sap
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup

In this moment in Mexico, I’m listening to the welders down the alley welding the metal security bars we ordered for our windows. 

New Safety Bars
New Safety Bars

No tourists means no work for almost everyone on Isla. 

My friend Cristi, who is Isleno, makes me feel stronger. “We’ve weathered hurricanes. We can survive this,” she tells me. 

I place maple syrup making, Isleno strength, and the survival tactics my father taught me in my “basket of hopeful things” that I hold up to the light like agates when I’m feeling afraid. 

Like so many others, I find solace in the kitchen. 

Sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil puts order back in the world. 

I’ve written many times about black beans. They’re sustenance, history, and connectedness for so many people.

Full circles for me. 

My daddy discovered his love for the little black-pearl legumes when we first visited Isla when I was a teenager. The soup we ate at La Lomita forever changed the trajectory of his cooking, his garden, and via those things, mine as well. 

He went back to Michigan and planted black beans that summer. 

During long winter days, he shucked the dried and crackling skins into bushel baskets that rustled like corn husks when you moved them. 

He began cooking the beans in the morning. The house filled with aromatic steam from the epazote and oregano he crushed between his calloused palms and stirred into the bubbling pot. 

Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans
Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans

Around five o’ clock he began making the tortillas. Pressing the dough and watching it puff and crisp to a perfect toasted finish in the well-used cast iron pan.

I conjure those meals as I survey our stock-pile of dried and canned beans. 

Beans that need to last for days, more like weeks. 

A winter’s worth of beans
A winter’s worth of beans

For centuries, beans have meant survival for people’s all over the globe.

Today is no different.

What follows are Recipe Concepts and Ideas for making your quarantine-bean stash a little more interesting when it comes time for dinner.

Black Bean Enchiladas (other beans would work for this too!)

Ingredient Ideas:

  • Canned or dried black beans (could use red beans or pinto beans)
  • Tomato Sauce:
    • There are so many ways to make a tomato sauce for this. Basically, if you add garlic and chili powder, it will make a good tomato sauce. I’ve mixed together leftover marinara and cooked it down with fresh tomatoes, then blended it and ta da! Enchilada sauce!
  • Shredded cheese—put inside the enchiladas and on top.
  • Diced onions
  • Diced peppers
  • Avocado—for the top
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Lettuce—I like to eat my enchiladas on a bed of lettuce so it’s kind of a weird salad, but that’s just me.
  • Sautéed white cabbage
  • You can add, beef, pork, chicken, or even seafood to these and they’ll be delicious.
  • Rice (a great way to use up leftover rice)
  • Tortillas—large flour are easiest to work with, but whatever you have can be made to work! It all ends up a gooey, delicious mess anyway J

Heat Oven to 375 (or in my case somewhere around there since my oven is a bit silly)

Put the tortilla on a plate and add beans, cheese, and whatever other ingredients you have. 

Add a dollop of sauce. 

Roll the tortilla and put in a baking dish.

Fill baking dish with rolled tortillas.

Spoon on more sauce and lots of cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling. Tortillas will be crispy on the edges, but don’t let them burn.

Enjoy with sour cream or yogurt.

  • Easy to freeze for future meals!

Taco Salad

Ingredient Ideas: This is an easy to adapt recipe that absorbs a lot of leftovers. 

Start with a bed of greens. Lettuce is preferable, but spinach or other leafy greens would be good too. 

Other ingredients:

  • Beans: Refried, black beans, white beans, canned or from scratch
  • Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, tofu—most any protein! Toss on some chili powder when you’re cooking to add flavor.
  • Crumbled corn chips. Good way to use stale corn chips or tortillas. Toast in the oven and crumble over salad.
  • Raw or Sautéed Onions/Peppers/Cabbage (purple or white)
  • Avocado
  • Diced tomato
  • Grated or shredded cheese
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or other roasted seeds or nuts
  • Dressing of choice ( I really like homemade ranch). 


Take any of the above ingredients and sprinkle them over corn chips and bake in the oven until cheese is melted. Kids especially enjoy making and eating nachos.


This is one of my favorite recipes to make with black beans. I always prefer to make beans from dried, but canned beans are good too.

You can use other beans for this recipe too.

  • Purée beans and some of the bean liquid/water with olive oil, a couple garlic cloves (roast the garlic for a different flavor), salt, pepper, and whatever spices/seasonings you have on hand. Chili powder works well. As do cumin, coriander, and oregano. 
    • A delicious addition I discovered when experimenting one day, is adding a spoonful of tahini, as you would with hummus. Makes any bean purée creamier. You can also stir in a spoonful of sour cream or Crema, which is delicious too. 
  • Add cheese, diced tomato, salsa, diced peppers (roasted are delicious), chopped sun-dried tomatoes, etc.
  • Bake in the oven until cheese is melted
  • Serve with tortilla, bread, pita, sliced veggies, or corn chips

White Beans (Garbanzo Beans can be substituted here)

I think white beans are such comfort food. They’re hard to get on Isla, but if you have them:

Mix and match with what you have:

  • Sausage
  • Garlic
  • Chicken
  • Bacon
  • Greens
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes (fresh, roasted or sun dried)
  • Over-easy or hard-boiled egg

Serve with buttered bread or toast.

As the house fills with earthy aromas of cooking beans, I feel the connectedness that cooking this time-honored food brings. A connectedness to the other homes in our global community, where beans are a necessary staple during hard times—during these times. 

It’s a way of cooking together, even when we’re apart. 

Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Quarantine breakfast in the garden
Quarantine breakfast in the garden

A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment

One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.

Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt
Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt

When I cook, many of my ideas are a hodgepodge of inspiration gleaned from reading cookbooks, studying menus, ogling food blogs, listening to food podcasts, and hearing stories of wonderful meals cooked by other people.
The only real way to discover what works and what doesn’t, is experimentation.
There’s nothing I love more than brainstorming ideas for a meal with the odd assortment of things I might have in cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I like the challenge of pairing ingredients on hand, rather than always following a recipe.
One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.

What follows is a collection of ideas and musings that I hope will inspire you to get creative with your breakfast.

In addition! A recent friend—Nikki Drake— overheard my homesick wishes for pickled beets, and on her next trip down to the island she surprised me with a jar. Not only was it a happy, delicious, and soul-satisfying surprise, it was also a wonderful way to connect with someone. Now we have this shared food moment/experience in common.
So. I’m putting out a little challenge to my readers: If you’re visiting Isla Mujeres, feel free to bring down an ingredient of your choice for me to use, photograph, and feature on my website. I would like to give you recognition as well, but if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, simply let me know.
My hope is that this little food writing project will serve as inspiration for my kitchen to your kitchen, and create a network of people connected across the globe through food.
Delighting in pickled beets from Wisconsin in my Mexico kitchen…what a wonderful thing.
Thank you.

Oatmeal Inspired Breakfast Ideas:

Many believe that eating healthier is more expensive, which is indeed often the case. But not with breakfast. Many also believe that oatmeal is bland, plain, and gross. But it doesn’t have to be.
What follows is a collection of ideas and ingredients for a delicious, healthy, sustainable, inexpensive, versatile and adaptable-for-you oatmeal breakfast.
The purpose is to give you ideas to create your own version based off of what you have available/in season. Mix and match. Play. Then write me and tell me what worked and what didn’t—I would love to hear from you!

Fresh Picked Blackberry
Fresh Picked Blackberry

Breakfast: The meal to eat lots of healthy things that taste yummy and sustain you for the day.


A warm bowl of sweet, creamy oatmeal in the morning can be like dessert for breakfast, while also being simple to prepare, especially if prepared ahead of time and reheated.
I’m Scottish, and it’s a well established truism in Scottish culture that a bowl of “parritch” (porridge) is a necessary component to your day to: “keep you regular.” I stand by my people on this one.
Processed foods create havoc on our insides, and a bowl of oatmeal every day or so goes a long way to help keep your insides on track and moving along.
Especially as a new mother, the benefits of oatmeal for breakfast are innumerable, particularly as oats are known to help fortify breast milk and the additions mentioned below are also beneficial.

Topping the oatmeal with sugar free, organic/local yogurt is a simple, tasty way to do something beneficial for your health every day. Yogurt has active cultures—probiotics—that are good for your digestive system, and ladies, this GOOD bacteria is also good for your lady parts.
Make sure the yogurt is sugar free, as added sugars can decrease health benefits. That’s an issue I often have living in Mexico: finding yogurt that doesn’t contain sugar.
In terms of texture and flavor, I always go with full fat Greek yogurt. You’ll be glad you did too. It’s creamier and more satisfying.

Many cookbooks have recipes for specific cooking times for the different grains, and the packages will as well, but I’ve found that adding the grains to hot water (making sure there is at least a cup more of water to grain ratio) works just as well.
I like to make up a big pot ahead of time, and keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days so that it’s easy to reheat.

Oatmeal Grain Combinations:
o Rolled Oats
o Steel Cut Oats
o Scottish Oats
o Whatever other kind of Oats…
o Quinoa
o Barley
o Amaranth
o Flax Seeds
o Chia
o Hard Wheat Berries

Use one, two, or a mixed combination of these different grains and seeds for both added health benefits and textures.


o Add a splash of vanilla and/or a dash of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice.

My husband likes his oatmeal so drowned in brown sugar that the milk turns brown—and I get it. But there are also ways to accomplish making your oatmeal taste like dessert without giving yourself immediate cavities:

o Local honey is always a good option. Eating local honey has many health benefits such as helping your immunity to local allergens, as well as tasting delicious.
o Maple Syrup. Despite being from California, my husband has a passion for homemade maple syrup. Luckily for him, my Michigan family makes it, so he has a direct source.
o I’ve recently experimented with coconut sugar. It tastes a bit like molasses. If you live in the north, this might not be the most sustainable option, but for those further south it’s a good sweetener.

I’ve tried it all, but unsweetened coconut milk is my favorite. I also really love a high cream content milk, which makes oatmeal taste really decadent.
Be aware that some of these milks have high environmental costs (almond especially). Research and educated choices make a big difference as a consumer.

o Milk/Cream/Evaporated Milk
o Coconut
o Soy
o Almond
o Rice
o Macadamia

Fruit Toppings (Fresh and Dried):
If you’re using dried fruit, a lot of times they’re already sweetened, so be aware of that as you add them. Dried cranberries in particular. If they’re organic they’re often sweetened with pineapple juice, but if not they’re heavily sweetened with sugar. These fruit toppings can make your breakfast oatmeal taste even more like dessert.
o Dried Cranberries
o Dates
o Figs
o Raisins
o Blueberries
o Raspberries/Blackberries
o Cherries
o Mango
o Strawberry
o Peach
o Apple
o Banana
o Papaya
o …And more!

Fresh Picked Blueberries
Fresh Picked Blueberries

This is a good place you can mix and match ingredients for flavor so your routine doesn’t become too bland, and for health purposes. When studying nutrition, I’ve noted repeatedly that those cultures who eat regular, small quantities of nuts are often healthier, and breakfast is a good way to add this healthy component to your every day routine.
o Almond
o Pepita (Toasted pumpkin seed. One of my favorites)
o Walnut
o Cashew
o Macadamia
o Pecan
o Pistachio
o Peanut

Other Toppings:
More health/flavor ingredients:
o Ground flax seed
o Sweet potatoes
o Shaved coconut
o Hemp Seeds

I’ve titled this crazy breakfast combo: “South American Influences Oatmeal.”
Oatmeal cooked with:
o Quinoa
o Ground Flax Seed
o Vanilla
o Nutmeg
o Ginger
o Cinnamon
Topped with:
o Yogurt
o Coconut Milk
o Pepitas
o Dates
o Dried Cranberry
o Diced Roasted Sweet Potato (I also bake up a big batch of Sweet Potatoes and keep them in the fridge to snack on whenever I feel the urge.)

It is my sincere hope that reading “A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment” has given you inspiration in some form, whether it’s to be more experimental with your breakfast, trying sweet potatoes with oatmeal, or packing a food item and bringing it down to Mexico to become famous on my website.
It’s what I’ve always loved about food: When recognized, it can be so many things: whole health, satisfaction, and our connecting point.

My Kitchen Table
My Kitchen Table