On minimalism, illusions, and barley

The unheard of is happening: it’s raining! We’re supposed to take the kids to the fair tonight but I’d rather not go. I’d prefer to stay at home and luxuriate in the foreign sound of pounding rain on metal roof.

Plus, it’s chilly outside—perfect for baking nectarine tarts and making spaghetti sauce.

Plus, I made a library run this morning and I adore the sounds of the kids slishing pages, books thudding to the ground after they finish them.

So tell me, why would I want to go out on a night like tonight? To some godforsaken field the whole way across town where the lights glare and the music blares and my kids are bound to get a frightful case of the gimmies? I am not a proponent of fairs.

I am a fair proponent, however, so because we said we’ll go, we’ll go. I will stop my whining right now.

The other night for supper, I threw together a hodgepodge of a meal which ended up delighting me down to the tips of my paint-flecked toenails. I got the idea from a fun blog called Stonesoup, the focus of which is minimalism. (Which is not a word, I know. Humor me, okay?)

I am not, let me state for the record, a minimalist. I routinely make my life as complicated as possible and then take perverse pleasure in trying to wiggle my way out from under. Just ask my husband.

And, again, for the record, I get irritated with modern thinking, the kind that tries to lump everything you’ve ever known into three categories, or perhaps five. You know what I mean: The top three things to look for in a man. Or, Three kitchen gadgets you simply can not do without. Or, Cleaning your house in five easy steps. We are a people flooded with too much stuff, too many desires, and too little wisdom. Compartmentalizing life helps us to feel like we’re in control.

To which I say hogwash. There is no such thing as being in control of life.

Though the illusion is quite charming.

Oh my goodness. Now where in the world did that speech come from? I must be feeling peevish.

But, since I brought it up…

The top three things to look for in a man:
1. work-worn hands
2. twinkly eyes
3. straight teeth
Bonus points for a tool belt.

The top three kitchen gadgets you simply can not do without:
1. a sharp knife
2. a grater
3. band-aids, because knives and graters are dangerous things
Bonus points: food to chop and grate.

How to clean your house in five easy steps:
1. Eliminate the word “easy”
2. Put everything back in its place
3. Dust
4. Vacuum
5. Wash windows
Bonus points for not crying.

And to think I started out this post telling you about my supper. Sheesh. I’m not sure I even remember what it was anymore. I’m starting to feel guilty for sitting here when I have dirty windows and all my bookshelves are, quite simply, chaos shelved.

Supper was (quick! before I run down another bunny trail!) beans, barley, and sausage simmered in tomatoes and red wine.

The top three components of a good dinner:
1. scrumptious
2. easy
3. filling
Bonus points: it gives you the illusion you are in control.
Extra bonus points: the kids like it.

Barley and Beans with Sausage and Red Wine
Wildly adapted from Stonesoup

I used barley because it’s what I had on hand, but pasta would work fine, as would (wild) rice.

1 quart chopped tomatoes and their juice
1 onion, chopped
1 cup red wine, plus a splash more to deglaze the sausage pan
1 pound sausage links
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 19-ounce can Cannellini beans and their juice
3 cups cooked barley (or another grain)
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Parmesan cheese to serve, optional

Cook the sausage links in a kettle over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, turning frequently (or according to package instructions). Transfer the cooked sausage to a plate, cut each link in half and set them aside.

Put the olive oil in the now-empty sausage pan and add the onion. Saute for about five minutes.

In a large-ish kettle, dump in the tomatoes, red wine, and the sauteed onions. (Splash some extra red wine into the dirty sausage-and-onion pan and cook for a minute or two, scraping the bottom to loosen all the flavorful bits. Add the wine-y, oily juice to the pan of tomatoes.) Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for about 45 minutes until a bunch of the liquid has evaporated and the contents have cooked down a bit. (If you want the final dish to be more soup-like, cook it for less time.)

Add the sausage chunks, barley, beans, salt, pepper, and oregano. Simmer for another five minutes. Taste to correct seasonings.

This is delicious served with a flurry of Parmesan and some slices of warm, buttered toast.


  • Anonymous

    It took me awhile to figure out where the bare feet were myself. At first I thought that there must be a picture that I wasn't seeing. This could become a meme specific to this blog.

  • Karen

    You crack me up! I am with you on your #1 & #2 for things to look for in a man and for me I'm gonna make #3 – slightly quirky, but not in a creepy way.

    Also, I'm wishing my husband didn't have an aversion to barley because your barley and bean dish sounds amazing.

    Now, I have to go read my book on how to have perfectly well-mannered children in 7 days.

  • Barb

    This recipe looks amazing, I will be trying it sometime soon, probably when the dreaded (in my humble opinion) cold weather approaches…thank you!

    I found your blog through "Stairstep Boys".


  • Mama Pea

    Do you talk the same way you write? If so, does anyone understand you? No problem for me 'cause I can reread what I don't assimilate the first time through. (You know I'm just giving you a hard time. I'd give anything to be able to write the way you do.)

    Yeah. The sexiest thing a man can wear is a tool belt.

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