Darwin started preschool this year. Two mornings a week, his Dad drives him downtown and escorts him into a room of smiling teachers and hand puppets and alphabet posters.
They call it "drop-off," which sounds like some kind of cliff, or the part of the ocean where the sand bottoms out, and I find this aptly mysterious. It's hard to get information out of him about school, or what he thinks of it. When I ask, he's usually vague and positive ("it was good.")
Later, out of the blue, he'll start singing a song I've never heard before, or he'll say something like, "I made a new friend in class today."
"You did?" I'll ask. "What is your friend's name?"
"I don't remember. She brings a big blanket to school every day."
"Oh," I'll say, "well, that's cool," and I'll blink a little in amazement.
While Darwin is apart from us, singing and building things and fusing synapses of all sorts, I cook. It's almost the opposite of school: a meditative erasure. I do beans a lot on school mornings, because I can soak them the night before, and because I love and believe in beans, in a not-entirely-explainable but essential way.
These particular, delicious beans, my "cheater" beans, get their tiny southwestern kick from regular old jarred salsa. Like all beans, pintos come with plenty of protein, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. They're savory and satisfying, speckled with kid-friendly veggies like chopped zucchini and sweet corn. Darwin, who'll eat almost any of my bean concoctions, likes this one the best.
He comes home from school with some be-pom-pommed craft in his hand and I give him a kiss and a bowl of beans, and then we go on with our day, filled up by good things.
Cheater Refried Beans
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
1 sweet onion, chopped small
1 small zucchini squash, sliced into quarter moons (optional)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
1 cup of good jarred salsa
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbls. butter
Toppings: fresh cilantro, avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, etc.!
Cook pinto beans in a pot (cover with water and simmer one hour or until tender) or a pressure cooker (our method--much faster!)
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, saute onion in butter over medium heat for about fifteen minutes, stirring frequently as it softens and begins to brown.
Add zucchini, if using, and saute five minutes.
Drain cooked beans and add to the soup pot.
Add salsa, and cumin, and salt, and bring the mixture to a bubble for about ten minutes to deepen flavors. If the beans begin to stick, add water a quarter cup at a time.
Add corn and remove from heat.
Serve garnished with shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped fresh cilantro.