Making Dinner: Enchilada Version

The beautiful, beautiful groundwork.

I teach my first yin yoga class at Yoga Tree in Hampden tonight (at 8:15; come join me), and tonight the theme is time. In her book To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf writes the following:

“Let the wind blow. Let the poppy seed itself and the carnation mate with the cabbage. Let the swallow build in the drawing room and the thistle thrust aside the tiles and the butterfly sun itself on the faded chintz of the armchairs. Let the broken glass and the china lie out on the lawn and be tangled over with grass and wild berries.”

No matter where we come from, what race we are, how much money we have, or what our political beliefs are, there is a singular universal truth that unites us: time passes.

As The Child nears the end of her high school experience, I am realizing more the precious and fleeting nature of time. It is hard to move through the world without letting things pass you by; we are so busy assigning stories to what happens to us and thinking about what happened before and what might happen next that we forget the thing that is happening now. Now. Now. Now.

Each second as it passes is gone forever, a kind of tick of history, tangled over with grass and wild berries.

The chance of us missing everything, good and bad, rises exponentially in proportion to our inability to quiet the mind, slow down, and just be where we are when we are there.

Spoiler alert: You are here, so you might as well be present.

The practice of existing in the moment that is happening occurs most often for me on the yoga mat, but it also happens out in nature and in my kitchen. In the kitchen, the difference between Missing It and Being There is most pronounced in the distinction between two seemingly similar concepts: I love to cook, but I hate making dinner.

There is a HUGE difference; making dinner is about getting something done to move quickly onto the next. Cooking, for me, is about creating and exploring and experiencing and being exactly where I am in each moment.

When I make enchiladas for dinner, I open up a can of refried beans, open up a can of artificially red enchilada sauce, open up a bag of pre-shredded cheese, and open up a bag of dry tortillas. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes, from opening cans to sitting down to eat, and it costs less than five bucks to feed four people. They taste good, they are fast, and they get the job done, efficiently and cheaply.

But I finally got sick of doing it that way. Even though I know I can always come back to this when my family is flapping their gaping maws at me, clamoring for dinner and starting to root through the cabinets for the chips and cookies that will fill them up and ultimately leave them “not hungry” when food hits the table, I wanted to see what I could do when I felt like cooking.

This is what I can do, and the difference is astonishing. Homemade beans, homemade enchilada sauce, and homemade corn tortillas. I stopped short of homemade cheese, although I have done that and don’t doubt that would be a delicious (and fairly easy addition). It’s hard to know which part about this I like more; I don’t love beans (and they are no fan of me), but I didn’t have the usual…reaction to this dish. And the enchilada sauce is complex and subtle and comes at you with layers of flavor and just a little tiny bit of spice.

There is something about making this simple, humble dish that takes literally most of the day to prepare that forces you to slow down. Even the flavors reveal themselves slowly, unfurling over the tongue like a flag.

When you feel like cooking, skip the cans and make these. The recipe makes enough sauce and beans for two 8″ x 8″ baking dishes, so make one and eat it, and make one and freeze it. I made homemade tortillas, too, but the recipe I used is proprietary to the person I got it from and I am not at liberty to share it in public. It’s hard to go wrong with a Rick Bayless corn tortilla recipe, but you can also just buy some if you like. You don’t need a tortilla, press, though, and there is definitely something meditative about making tortillas. Why not give it a try?

Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

Start with the beans. They take four hours to cook, so you have plenty of time to make the sauce while they are becoming their beany delicious selves. Better yet, make sauce and beans one day, let them rest, then cook the tortillas and assemble on the day you want to eat.


Refried beans

2 cups pinto beans

Olive oil (for frying, about two tablespoons)

One large onion, large diced

5 – 10 cloves of garlic (I used on the 10-clove side of things)

1 teaspoon onion powder

Salt to taste

Enchilada sauce

4 dried ancho chilis

4 dried guajillo chilis

4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

10 cherry tomatoes, or two medium-sized plum tomatoes, roughly chopped

One medium onion, roughly chopped

1-2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, warmed

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon marjoram

Olive oil

1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey or agave)


Make the beans: Rinse and pick through the pinto beans, discarding rocks or discolored beans. Cover with water in a large pot and bring to a hard boil. Boil for 20 minutes, then drain, add more water, bring to a boil, and boil for another 20 minutes (this helps reduce the chances of gastrointestinal issues, IYKWIM). Reduce the heat and cover. Cook beans for four hours.

As you near the end of the bean cooking time, heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Add whole garlic cloves and continue to cook, stirring, until onions are deeply brown, very soft, and garlic is also soft.

Drain beans (reserve a cup of bean liquid) and add to onions and garlic. Sprinkle beans with onion powder and salt and cook, stirring, for about 15 minutes. Use a potatoes masher to mash the beans, onion, and garlic into a texture you like. If the beans seem dry, add bean liquid and continue to cook. Taste, season with salt as necessary, then set aside. These can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for later use.

Make the enchilada sauce:  Toast the dried chilies and garlic in a dry cast iron pan or on a flattop grill. You are looking for them to soften, puff up, and begin to char (not too much or your sauce will be bitter; see Recipe Notes).

Place toasted ancho and guajillo peppers in a bowl and cover with hot water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for at least an hour (or two or three).

Once your garlic skin begins to char and soften, peel the skin and let garlic cool.

Place garlic, tomatoes, and chopped onion in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Cook at low heat until tomatoes, onions, and garlic soften.

Retrieve your chilis from their now-dark soaking chili water and remove the stems. Place chilis in a blender and use a slotted spoon to add the garlic/tomato/onion from the stock. Add cumin and marjoram. Allow these to rest and cool briefly while you reduce the stock with the chili soaking water.

Add chili water to the stock in the saucepan and heat. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce heat. Cook at a low boil until the sauce is slightly reduced. This step is not necessary but will concentrate the flavors even more.

Add some of this reduction to the vegetables in the blender and blend. Continue to blend and add chili water until you get the consistency you would like, and then blend until smooth. You may not use all of the chili water/stock.

Final, and most important step: Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, and carefully pour the blended enchilada sauce into the pan. This will splatter, so have a splatter guard (or some aloe) ready. Cook the sauce at a pretty good boil for about five minutes. You can add chili water/stock as needed to maintain the consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup.

Let come to room temperature before using. I like to cool it overnight to allow the flavors to really come together.

Assembly: Place a solid heaping tablespoon of refried beans onto a tortilla, then roll and place in a greased 8″x8″ glass baking dish (or a rectangular one if you like). Really wedge those babies in, and continue until you have used all your tortillas or are satisfied that you have enough to feed your people. Pour about a cup and a half of enchilada sauce (or more if you like them juicy – I do) evenly over the tortillas, and top with shredded cheese of your choice (totally inauthentic, but I am a Colby-jack fan. Sue me. It’s delicious.).

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake until cheese is brown and bubbly. Serve with sour cream and extra hot sauce if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • Enchilada sauce can turn out bitter for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is over-toasting the chilis. If this happens to you, you can remedy it by adding a bit more sweetener or even adding 1 teaspoon of baking soda. I recommend adding sweetness, not baking soda.
  • To freeze a pan of enchiladas, assemble all the way up to baking, then wrap tightly. When you are ready to cook them, defrost and then cook as usual.

Hustle And Stack: Vanilla Ice Cream With Tamarind Caramel And Spicy Peanut Crumble

I am not a rise-and-grind, hustle-and-stack kind of girl.

While I recognize the value in this philosophy for some folks, it just doesn’t feel good for me. It feels frantic and crazy-making and doesn’t leave any space inside it for enjoying the fruits of your labor.

It’s a grind. A slog. An ongoing rush to get something more than what you have.

My dad, in his day, and all of the days I had with him, was a hustle-and-stack OG. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and given six months to live. I quit my job and flew back East from Seattle so he could get to know his infant granddaughter in whatever time he had left. Although he positively doted on her (for the next six years), he was often too busy to do more than come up from his basement office and say hi. He traveled for his work constantly and worked through multiple bouts of chemo and radiation and many courses of experimental treatments.

In a moment of frustration, I asked him once what amount of money it would take for him to stop working long enough to come out of the basement and enjoy his family before he died. He had no answer – it was literally the hustle he liked, I think, more than the progress towards any goal.

Part of this compulsion to grind stems from fear. Fear of not having enough, being enough, or deserving enough.

But then I read this quote from Osho:

“Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move.”

Yes. THIS.

Fear is oxymoronic in that it can alternately hold us back and compel us forward. Fear is the trigger that serves our flight, fight, or freeze instincts, the ones buried so deeply in our brains that we don’t even recognize that this compulsive need for hustling and stacking is just a modern-day version of fleeing from a saber tooth tiger.

The other side of this compulsion is that we never truly get to experience whatever it is we say we are seeking to experience if we are constantly hustling. There is no ease, no balance. No repose. No rest.

Of course, this ease and repose can masquerade as lazy, and the whole world will jump to tell you that time spent slowly is time wasted.

As all three regular readers of this blog can attest, I disagree with the whole world in this regard. I don’t think you can really know what it means to feel something without slowing down to feel it. You might think that “hustle and stack” has little, if anything, to do with feeling, but think back to a time when you won something. That rush of adrenaline; that quick flush of victory. For some people, it’s positively ADDICTIVE.

Today in my yin yoga class with Jessie Kates, she talked about the idea that having goals and plans in this life are good, but sometimes we get so distracted by them that we forget to slow down to take detours to do things that give us joy just because. Maybe the detours don’t make us money, or they don’t increase our social media reach, or otherwise elevate us to the lofty, random standards that others set. But WOW.

Joy? The possibility of joy? The potential to do something just because it feels good for your soul?


That I would rise-and-grind for.

I will also rise-and-grind for:

  • an early morning camping trip
  • a road trip
  • my birthday
  • Sicily’s birthday
  • Khristian’s birthday
  • most people’s birthdays, if I am honest
  • complicated cooking projects
  • a long walk in the woods
  • a heart-opening yoga class

I am done rising-and-grinding for the sake of itself, and I am certainly not making the hustling and the stacking a priority. I sound like your grandmother, adding “the” in front of “hustling” and “stacking” (as I often do with The Facebook, except that’s what it used to be called, but I digress), but know that it’s a writing device and is not accidental and since I know the rules I can break them so there.

I like the idea of a leisurely morning on my balcony with coffee and three trees’ worth of birds twittering and flitting. I like listening to little kids walking to the park across the street and watching dogs with their zingy little bodies flinging themselves around with sheer delight at being outside because they can. This is not time wasted. This is time spent rooted in the essence of respect and awe, and wouldn’t that be a lovely thing to do?

We can actually construct a life that has built into it more time for joy and awe and respect and wonder and zingy-body flinging, so long as we are willing to shuffle off the mortal coil of Stuff and Striving. I suppose it’s a bit of striving to make this happen, too, but in the very best way – the shedding part of striving, where you shed the illusion that you have to Do and Be and Go in order to be considered Successful.

(and true and weird thing that just happened: as my brain wanted to type “Successful,” my fingers typed “Suzannah.” STRANGE.)

The best parts of this will come together with less effort than one might think necessary. Just like this ice cream. Khristian and I are cooking our way through Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India, and as we finished up one meal and began to plan the other, these flavors came to me. Sweet. Sour. Spicy. Salty. The balance of flavor was not instantaneous, but that’s just the way things go, mostly, in ice cream as in life.

Take a detour with me here, and then tell me the best detour you ever took in the comments.

New feature here, for your edification, this was on the blog two years ago today: Galentine’s Day: Coffeecake and Connection

Vanilla Ice Cream With Tamarind Caramel And Spicy Peanut Crumble


Ice Cream

4 cups of dairy (see Recipe Notes)

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1/2 cup sugar

4 egg yolks

pinch salt

Tamarind Caramel

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 or 3 teaspoons of tamarind concentrate (see Recipe Notes)

Peanut Crumble (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian Indian)

1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

1/3 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Make the ice cream: Place dairy and vanilla bean (or extract) in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and heat until small bubbles appear around the sides (do not boil).

While the dairy is heating, place egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

When dairy is ready, remove from heat and begin to slowly add to eggs, whisking constantly. I cannot emphasize enough the words “slowly add” and “whisking constantly.” If you add quickly and don’t whisk, you will make sweetened scrambled eggs. Pour a few drops of dairy at a time to begin, gradually working your way to a thin, constant stream of dairy, whisked into the eggs.

Once combined, place the saucepan back on the stove with a fine-mesh strainer on top of it. Strain the milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, for about ten minutes (or until the mixture begins to thicken). Eventually, the mixture will thinly coat the back of a spoon, and you will know it’s done.

Place the fine-mesh strainer over another bowl, and strain dairy mixture into the bowl. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the dairy mixture and place in ‘fridge to cool completely. This can be done a couple of days ahead of time if you prefer.

Make the caramel: While the dairy is chillin’, make your caramel. Caramel is not hard but requires patience and a tiny bit of finesse. Combine sugar and water in a high-sided heavy saucepan over medium heat and swirl gently to mix (don’t use a spoon; pick up the saucepan and swirl it around).

You can leave the sugar/water mix briefly to combine the heavy cream and tamarind extract in a separate bowl. The tamarind extract immediately makes the cream thicken. This is totally fine. Do not panic. Set aside.

Take a look at your sugar/water mixture. You are looking to see if the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. The bubbling will cause sugar deposits to climb up the side of the pan; use a pastry brush dipped in water to encourage those crystals to rejoin the liquid, but do not stir in.

Once your sugar mixture turns a light golden yellow, remove from heat and whisk in the cream and tamarind concentrate mixture. The sugar will bubble up (hence the high sides of the saucepan), so work quickly to incorporate the cream mixture. Stir and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture begins to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Place in a jar or other container and let cool to at least room temperature. Set aside.

Make the crumble: Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until you have medium-fine crumbs. Set aside.

Put it all together: You will process the ice cream according to your manufacturer’s instructions. I pour my custard in and process for about 15 minutes, then add the peanut crumble for five minutes (until totally incorporated) and then the completely cool tamarind caramel. I like there to be chewy streaks of caramel throughout, a little tartness to cut the sweet.

Recipe Notes

  • A word on dairy: I generally use 50% heavy cream and 50% whole milk in my ice creams, but you can use whatever is on hand. The more cream, the creamier (which makes sense). You can also be vegan AF if you like, but I have not tested this with plant milks (the ice cream or the caramel). Both might be very delicious with coconut milk.
  • I ordered my tamarind concentrate from the interwebs; it’s also referred to as tamarind paste, and I used the brand Madhur Jaffrey recommended.