30 November 2015

It didn't feel ordinary at all

My hands are cold, the feet shuffle, the wait for the elevator feels long. I reach in my overcoat pocket and there is a whole tangerine, forgotten since morning, still fragrant, still carefree. I focus on its optimistic, arresting orange and the unblemished, glossy skin when the elevator finally arrives. I pause to look back outside the glass entrance door then step in. I think I heard hastened heels behind me.

Respirez, vous êtes sur FIP.” I lean against the wall as the elevator starts to ascend. A French music radio station is streaming on my phone. “Breathe, you are on FIP.” 
It was a warm September day, two years ago. My friend and I walked down the hilly roads away from Montmartre. We were about to cross over when a bus slowed down in front of us at a stop. We made our way around it, and I felt the heat of its exhaust fumes on my bare ankles. It felt soft and pleasant, like a human breath. I thought then that it could have happened anywhere, but in Paris it felt less ordinary. Or rather in Paris it didn't feel ordinary at all.

Third floor. A neat arrangement of red gardenias in the hallway, in matching pots.

Fifth floor. I had to stop, stand still. I'd seen the Eiffel Tower countless times before, all through the eyes of others. Now I was looking at it. Here you are.

Sixth floor. I squeeze the tangerine a little, look into the dull elevator mirror. I'll buy a train ticket to Paris, yes, that's what I'll do. 
Eighth floor. I step out of the elevator to hear the roof rattling. I turn the key in the door: inside the apartment the windows rattle too, and the curtains are unsettled. I connect my phone to the soundbar. Respirez, vous êtes sur FIP” fills the rooms -- jazz, classical, world, film music in smooth succession. 

I turn on the stove to make a pot of simmered black beans for dinner, a wonderful, powerful, flavorsome thing. I'll finish the tangerine, too.

Simmered Black Beans 

Adapted from The New York Times
Serves 6 

Pardon my bossiness, but make this dish, really. To soak the beans overnight, to remember to do it, is the hardest step, which is another way to say it's an easy recipe. I'd even take it further and say it's the easiest way to the best pot of beans, which to me means soft, well-seasoned, meaty beans suspended in a thick fragrant broth, which is achieved by languidly simmering them in their soaking water with plenty of garlic, onion and cilantro. I like them plain, with a hunk of good sourdough bread, or with cubed avocado, a ring or two of jalapeno, and a few shreds of roast chicken. But enough with lengthy sentences.

450 g black beans, washed and picked over for stones
2 L water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
15 g (a good handful) chopped cilantro (coriander), plus more for garnish
Salt to taste

Soak the beans in the water for at least six hours or overnight.

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it starts to soften, about three minutes. Add half the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute. Pour in the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by at least two cm of water. Add more if necessary, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer one hour.

Add the remaining garlic, cilantro and salt. Continue to simmer another hour, until the beans are soft and the broth is thick. Taste. Add more salt or garlic if necessary. Let sit overnight in the fridge for the best flavor.

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