The massacre at Virginia Tech a few weeks ago has undoubtedly shaken the nerves of this country, and its chilling impact is being felt as far away as India, Israel and Peru.
The story itself has all the makings of a CSI episode that includes a law-enforcement probe into the creepy, mysterious twists and turns of a psychopathic mind and the battle between good and evil.
For the media, it's a story with long "legs," which means it's going to stick around for several weeks to come, casting a dark shadow over the collective skies.
With the mass mourning and hand-wringing comes a certain glued-to-the-tube-ness that ultimately feeds only the media frenzy. A more effective way of healing the collective consciousness is if we loosen that glue, head into the kitchen and feed each other instead.
I am as guilty as anyone, cocooning myself from interaction with people in my life, be it older relatives who relish a phone call or the neighbor who's just lost a spouse or a job. Time eludes us, and all of a sudden, a year has passed, and now that neighbor is a stranger. I promise you though; it's never too late to reach out, particularly if food is involved.
Food is the ultimate healer and peacemaker, warm and beautiful like a patchwork quilt, and cooking is the needle and thread.
If you're stuck on how to get started or think I'm too warm and fuzzy, consider experimenting with a pot of soup.
All you need is a few ingredients -- in the recipe below, I use dried beans, a carrot, onion, some garlic and fresh herbs, which all get thrown together, to mix and mingle over low, slow heat. A few hours later, your pot of miscellanea has transformed into sustenance, not just for you, but also for several of your fellow citizens. I promise you, no one will turn down this random act of kindness, particularly now, when that kind of medicine can also help heal our wounds.
Random-act-of-kindness Bean Soup
1 pound dried pinto beans (I recently discovered the heirloom beans from Napa, Calif.-based Rancho Gordo, which are amazing. The "Vallartas" will put all other pinto beans to shame.)
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into fourths
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Liquid of choice: warm stock, water or brewed tea
Other possible add-ons: canned tomatoes, 2 ounces of your favorite bourbon or whiskey, maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak beans in a deep pot, in enough water to cover, plus a few inches, for at least 6 hours.
When ready to cook, add onion, garlic, carrot and herbs to the pot, plus additional liquid to cover beans adequately. Cook over medium-high heat and bring up to a boil; cook at a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes, and up to 10. Reduce heat and cover pot, and cook at a simmer until beans are fork-tender.
Add additional liquid as necessary. Add bourbon or tomatoes if using, after first hour, and increase heat to allow it to boil off. Remove onion, carrot and herb sprigs, and season with salt and pepper as desired.