Mike and I were lucky to have Mike’s family visiting us from Michigan to help us celebrate the Fourth of July, our first major holiday together in Scotland. Our happy band was also fortunate to include Megan, another American expat living in Glasgow, whom I met through the social networking project called CouchSurfing. Together we cooked a tasty meal of simple but hearty food and spent the evening sharing family stories and talking about the rewards and challenges that uprootedness brings. Mike described what it was like to move around frequently as a child–from Ohio to Phoenix to Michigan–and how this has helped to inform his experience relocating to Scotland. Megan talked about staying with long-lost relatives in China and discovering how much she was able to communicate with them other despite the language barrier. I told a story of how community activism forged strong bonds of friendship and brought recent transplants together in my old neighborhood in Washington, D.C. As we passed steam bowls of bean stew and crème fraîche, all of our conversations in one way or another led back to the transformative effect of food and the important social experience of preparing and sharing a meal with others. Whether in America, China, Croatia, or Scotland, we found that there is something special indeed about the space around the shared table and that it may yet be the best place to create and strengthen a common understanding.
Latin Bean Stew with Bacon and Onions
1/2 lb thickly sliced bacon, sliced into matchsticks
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 15 1/2 oz cans of Roman or small red beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped cilantro, crème fraîche, and lime wedges to serve
Put bacon into a large skillet, cover, and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 7 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel to drain and pour off all put 2 tsp of fat from the skillet.
Add sliced onions, cover, and cook over medium heat until onions soften and release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp salt and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently until onions are golden brown–about 20 minutes.
Add bacon, broth, vinegar, bay leaves, and sugar to the onions and reduce to a simmer over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook stirring frequently until thick and stew-like, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaves and adjust seasonings. Spoon beans into bowls and serve with freshly chopped cilantro, crème fraîche, and lime wedges.