Oh hey, guys! Guess what? I got married. No kidding.
Almost two weeks ago, Brendan and I flew to Austin to meet up with our best friends and enjoy the SXSW music festival. After three days of fantastic live music, BBQ, Tex-Mex food and craft brews, we were married in a short and sweet civil ceremony presided over by Austin’s finest Senior District Court Judge. After the ceremony, we all drove down to Driftwood to eat an enormous lunch of BBQ at The Salt Lick before parting ways and heading home.
And so, we are back in the Bay Area, settling into our happily married life. It’s not much different than unmarried life, save for a couple of shiny rings on our fingers and a whole lot of excited relatives and friends wanting to celebrate our union. In case you didn’t know, it turns out that when you try to avoid planning a wedding, you basically end up doing the whole thing in reverse. In the coming weeks we’re having a big family dinner, going to a cocktail party thrown by some close friends, and then getting down to the business of figuring out how to throw together some sort of bigger (but not too big) celebration.
Like most couples these days, we were living together for months before we tied the knot. We both feel like we hit jackpot with our current digs — the place has a small yard with a high fence, just right for our curious and mischievous beagle, and we’re about a three minute walk from Trader Joe’s. The neighborhood is safe and quiet, with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay just a few blocks’ walk uphill.
It’s really nice here, a lot nicer than both of our previous living situations. Like many millennials, I had been living at my parents’ place, which comes with its own set of challenges. Meanwhile, Brendan’s house was in a less-than-safe area of town, so dining options nearby were fairly limited — pizza guys wouldn’t even deliver to the neighborhood.
The one saving grace of that place was its proximity to some of the best Caribbean food in the Bay Area. Takeout from Back A Yard Grill quickly became a date night favorite — we’d set ourselves up on the couch to watch episodes of Brisco County Jr., our plates full of jerk chicken and salmon, steamed vegetables, stewed collard greens, and my favorite side dish, rice and beans.
The rice and beans dish served at Back A Yard is referred to in Jamaican cuisine as Rice and Peas, as the most authentic versions feature pigeon peas. They can be hard to find in most grocery stores, and kidney beans are a fine substitution — they’re used in the version at Back A Yard as well as my own recipe below. I also used a habanero pepper in lieu of the more traditional scotch bonnet variety, as they are much easier to track down in my neck of the woods.
We enjoyed our rice and beans with some grilled sausages, as well as vegetables roasted with Outer Spice, a tasty mix of herbs and Himalayan salt. Tossed with olive oil and the spice mix, then roasted at 425°F for about 40 minutes, this side dish of sliced fennel, bell peppers, and eggplant rounded out a well-balanced, healthy dinner.
Jamaican-Style Rice and Kidney Beans (printer-friendly version)
1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice
2 cups water
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup coconut milk
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 green onion, smashed
1 habanero pepper, left whole
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1. Combine rice and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Let soak for one hour.
2. Add remaining ingredients to saucepan and stir until combined — the garlic cloves, green onion, and habanero will float at the top of the liquid.
3. Place the saucepan over medium heat, bring up to a boil, then turn down to low and let simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, until rice is fluffy and all of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
4. Discard the garlic cloves, green onion, and habanero pepper. For a traditional presentation, scoop the rice and beans into a cup measure or bowl, patting down with a spoon to create a firm mound. Flip over onto a plate, unmold and serve.
▪ Whenever I cook a rice dish, I let it stand off the heat for 10 or 15 minutes before serving. This allows the moisture and heat to redistribute throughout the dish, unsticking any stubborn rice from the bottom of the pot and fluffing it up a bit, too.
▪ If you’d like a spicier dish, use a toothpick to poke holes in the habanero (or scotch bonnet if you can find one) before adding it to the pot. Left whole, the pepper will add aroma and a bit of spice to the dish, but not much in the way of discernible heat.
*Outer Spice seasoning was provided to me for review, free of charge. All opinions are my own.