Blue nights, golden days and a 21st-century three-bean salad

Joan Didion has always been a bit diaphanous, a bit hide-and-seek for my tastes,  probably never more so than in “Blue Nights” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), a gauzy remembrance of the 2005 death of her daughter, Quintana Roo. You have to Google Quintana Dunne Michael to find out how she died. Her grief-stricken mother offers only shadowy hints of suicide, alcoholism, mental illness, maybe because a terrible chain of several incidents preceded Quintana’s death. This allows the writer-mother to circle — were the incidents related, weren’t they? — poetically or with preciosity, depending on your bent. All I’m sure of is that I never want the opportunity to write such a work.

“The name of the condition that seemed to apply was this: ‘borderline personality disorder.’ Skipping to a 2001 New England Journal of Medicine review of John G. Gunderson’s  book on same, Didion quotes: “Such patients may seem charming, composed, and psychologically intact one day and collapse into suicidal despair the next…Impulsivity, affective lability (unstable emotions), frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, and identity diffusion are all hallmarks.”

I see myself in varying degrees at varying points of my life in that description. Quintana Dunne Michael died at 39. I’m going to be 67 next month and have had some time to level out, something my shrink promised 25 years ago would eventually happen. And, look, he was right again!

In Didion’s single brief mention of her daughter’s drinking she says, “She was depressed. She was anxious. Because she was depressed and because she was anxious she drank too much. This was called medicating herself. Alcohol has its own well-known defects as a medication for depression but no one has ever suggested — ask any doctor — that it is not the most effective anti-anxiety agent yet known.”

Substitute “eating and food” here for “drinking and alcohol.” As the problem with all the Just Say No-type drug education programs is that they’ll never say how good it feels when you do most drugs (at least immediately afterward if not long-term), I don’t know a weight loss program that says food, also, is a most effective anti-anxiety agent.

You’re anxious. You eat. You eat some more. You decide to skip the walk and eat even more. Pretty soon you’re Jabba the Hutt. You’re grotesque, but you’re not anxious —  just ill-tempered and large.

Now, to Dr. Oz’s diet “secrets” in this Parade magazine two Sundays ago. He always eats carrots and plain almonds for snacks, he says, because he doesn’t want joy associated with food. That’s nuts, and I don’t mean almonds.

I want a life that’s more than food, and that life must be joyful. One of the joys of life is good food, especially when shared with good friends and/or family.

This was a joy — to put together this glammed-up three-bean salad with green beans, peas and baby red onions (all from the Thursday evening farmers’ market in Statesville, NC). Along with many, many traditional recipes, three-bean salad needs to be dragged into the 21st century with its crisp, fresh tastes and somewhat lighter calorie counts. This one’s a winner — so good that He Who Makes Faces at Green Beans packed some in his lunch for work.

Three-bean salad for the times

6 pieces bacon, cooked and drained on paper towels, crumbled, drippings reserved

1 pound fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and snapped into bite-size pieces

4 small red spring onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pounds sugar peas, shelled, steamed for 2 minutes, plunged into ice water and drained after cooling

1 14-3/4-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

After cooking bacon, saute onions, garlic and green beans in drippings. Pat dry with paper towels when beans are crisp-tender. Toss green beans with cooked peas, black beans, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Cover tightly and chill for several hours to allow flavors to meld.

Garlic from the garden, waiting to be braided. Hat full of lavender, Texas tarragon, oregano and sage blossoms.



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