Best ever black bean soup, and “bids for engagement”

If you love someone, set them free. – Sting

I’m sure Sting knows, like a great many of us, this is colossal B.S. They never should have been unfree to start with, and if they in fact were unfree, then you’re some kind of sicko captor, or else they were their own captors and needed you to release them from their cages, which feels just as wrong.

It’s not as bad as “Every breath you take… I’ll be watching you,” the perfect theme song for a stalker, but it’s not too far afield of it.

Of course “If you love someone, set them free” is not so wrong when we’re talking about parents and children. Very different spin – little kids aren’t free, penned in by rules to keep them safe, and freedom is typically doled out in small chunks as they grow and learn to handle it. Yes, do set them free, let them fledge and at the same time always know where home is and what their roots are.


If you love someone, respond to their “Bids for Engagement.”

With couples – spouses, partners – a key issue we’ve seen over the years is how mutually supportive (or not) they are, and whether or not they respond to what psychologist John Gottman – founder of the Gottman Institute in New York – calls “bids for engagement.” As Emily Esfahani Smith wrote of him and his work in The Atlantic over three years ago, a “bid” may appear relatively trivial, but it’s seeking a positive response. She writes:

For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy.

Utter failure in a “bid for engagement.” The boy’s body language is one of the “bids” here – the most important one, and the one most likely to be ignored. (my photo)

See the full article  by Smith in The Atlantic here. Good stuff, solid help for healthier relationships.


Best-ever Southwest Black Bean Soup

This is a repost, but I still love this soup!

We’ve lived in Maine only five years or so (after 7 years in Taos and about 10 near Atlanta), so I can’t say if Southwest-style Black Bean Soup is any kind of a local favorite, but I suspect not, since we’re as far from the American Southwest as you can be without getting wet. But whether you’ve ever made it or not, this recipe is a tried-and-true winner – it’s sometimes reduced our guests to near tears of joy, and it’s ragingly simple to make. You’ll love it!

Note the color of the chile – that’s the good stuff! (my photo)

You’ll need:
  • 1 lb. dry black beans
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 of tube of uncooked Jimmy Dean Sage Sausage (or other sage sausage: the sage is crucial for flavor!)
  • 1 49 1/2 oz. can chicken stock – a standard size large can. Or use 1 1/2 quarts.
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. medium-hot red chile powder (note: this is an important ingredient! Find an authentic chili powder that has some kick to it!)
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • pepper to taste
  • dry sherry to taste
Now do these things:

Put beans, vegetables, sausage, stock and water in a large pot, bring to a boil for a minute or so, then lower the heat. Skim off the foam if you want (I don’t bother). Add chile powder, cumin and pepper, and simmer for 2 hours, covered. When it’s cooled off a bit, run everything through a blender – including the sausage – until it’s velvety smooth, and return to the pot. Add sherry to taste – 2-4 ozs. should do it. If you don’t think it’s got enough “heat,” add some cayenne to taste. Serve with dollops of sour cream, some jalapeno corn bread, and a sturdy red wine.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a quality medium-hot chile powder. We get ours online from a store in Santa Fe, one of the few sources I trust for a genuine chile. The chile powder should be a rich, dark red, and a bit on your fingertip should give you some “heat” when you taste it.


My Maine dress code…

Writers like me, and other work-at-home people, have it easy here in Maine with their dress code. I wear whatever I want, which comes down to a regular rotation of three pairs of sweatpants, two pairs of shorts, three or four tee shirts, and one sweater. That’s it. Everything else that’s hanging in the closet is just visual ballast, ready to go to Goodwill (it will, someday). I don’t change when I go into town. Maine is great that way – nobody cares. You wear what you want, what’s comfy, what’s cool in summer and warm in winter.

The last time I put on a tie was 19 years ago. I wore a sport coat (jacket) two years ago for my sister-in-law’s memorial service. I love it this way, the very essence of Thoreau’s line, “Simplify, simplify.”

Of course, if he really meant it, he would have said the word just once.


There it is, for today.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.