a pot of beans

I laughed out loud as I read this fortune, after finishing dinner with Todd, Diane and the girls last week. It was our final meal in Seattle, just hours before we boarded a plane. The Perillo Girls had their first adventure in a post-Mikey world.

All I could think was what cruel bastard stuffed that fortune in a cookie destined for me. I joke a bit here, and know fully that fate has better things to do than hand me a loaded fortune like this one, but still you have to admit it's pretty hysterical.

I mean my husband died 58 days ago—life is anything but a piece of cake right now. I wish I could breeze through days, but all I keeping thinking about is 16 seconds—how is that 16 years feels like 16 seconds?

My mind is a database of moments, each one a memory of the time we spent together. When I go to this place, tears ultimately trickle down my cheek. Please don't tell me these moments are okay. I'm fully aware that they are—I've gotten used to the taste of salty tears running down my face in public, crying as suddenly as a three year old's mood changes.

Just because they're okay doesn't mean they are easy to deal with, or that I don't feel like an ass as I stare into a store window fighting back tears. Grieving sucks the life out of you, and the best you can hope for is being able to smile after the floodgates have closed.

Sometimes it's a joke I hear.

Sometimes it's the thought of his deep chocolate eyes that make me smile.

Sometimes, it's just knowing I have to stop asking why—why did this happen? The why question will gnaw away at your soul, leaving nothing in its wake if you don't keep it at bay. There will never be a good reason for why the love of my life, best friend and father to my children died so suddenly.

And so I go about my days, filling them with chores. I try to include lots of walking, reminding myself that one foot in front of another is how this healing thing will eventually unfold. My footsteps sometimes guide me to places unexpected, as though Mikey were drawing me near to say it'll be okay one day. That is how I happened upon Fanelli's last week—it's where we had our third date 16 years ago.

As the days pass, I'm trying to create some order and consistency for myself. I'm back to writing my Food Network column, Simple Scratch Suppers, and my final draft of the book proposal is in my agent's hands. For those of you wondering if the scope of my book project has changed, well, essentially no.

Yes, my feelings about cooking have changed the last 58 days. Mikey will never again taste my recipes. That is very hard for me to accept. That is why I'm working through the experience in my own special way. That story has yet to unfold, so I cannot write it, let alone even think of drafting a proposal about it. I just have to live it for now.

This current proposal captures my cooking life before Mikey died. The effortless one, where recipes popped into my head as quick as kernels of corn pop in a hot pot of oil. I don't believe I need to beat you over the head with memories of him in this book—he was alive and vibrant as each recipe was created. Hell, he came up with the name for the book over dinner one night.

Tonight, I'm going to find comfort in a humble pot of beans. My cooking from scratch approach in the kitchen is a perfect metaphor for repairing my heart and soul right now.

A Not So Simple Pot of Beans

I originally posted this recipe back in April. I figure since many of you are new to the blog, it would be a nice introduction to see how simple, and satisfying, it is to cook from scratch.

Don't let the title of this recipe fool you. There's nothing fussy or difficult about cooking the beans. It's what you add to the pot that elevates them from humble peasant food to culinary excellence. The cooking liquid is quite flavorful too, so feel free to stir it into soups and sauces in which you plan to use the beans too.

1 cup uncooked navy, black or pinto beans, picked over and rinsed

4 cups cold water

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

Generous pinch of sea salt and finely ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a 4-quart pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce flame to lowest setting. Cover pot and let the beans cook at a gentle simmer until tender, anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on the freshness of your beans.

Remove the pot from heat and let the beans cool. Transfer to a container with the cooking liquid, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze for up to two months.


  • Savorique

    You can make yummy lentil soup pretty much the same way (I add celeri and carrot).
    Ah those fortunes… Nothing to believe in, always something to laugh about.

  • Jenny

    My mom (who wasn’t the best cook – she had a few great meals in her arsenal but mostly she was a so-so cook) would make the best navy bean soup. Your post reminded how much I loved that. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I would be first in line to buy your book – but you’d have to promise that if I come to Brooklyn to visit my friend – you’d meet me to sign it and give me a hug. xoxo (icywit on twitter).

  • Jessica / Green Skies and Sugar Trips

    Love your honesty hun. I hate the “why” it’s the question in my life plagues me the most. You are right, it eats away, gets to me and can sometimes ruin a good portion of any friggin day. If you find a way to stop asking it let me know! 🙂
    JP’s Note: The irony Jessica, is that after I posted this, I found myself buckled over crying “why” on the couch. How I wish I had that answer.

  • Mimi

    34 years and I still cry every stinkin time I think of him…it doesn’t go away, it just gets easier…I wish I could tell you different but I can’t, when you TRULY love someone they are embedded in your heart forever…how do you stop loving someone? I wish I had the answer to that…
    your beans could use some pasta…

  • Judy

    I look forward to your posts. Although you probably don’t see or feel it very much, healing is in progress. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Stella Rose

    Do you soak beans overnight? Welcome home from your trip. Missed you. Stella
    JP’s Note” No soaking necessary Stella 🙂

  • Tricia

    One day you will look back and marvel at how you were able to do anything during this time. And LOOK at what you are doing: showing your kids the West Coast, a book proposal, inspiring readers to make good food, and cooking brilliant beans (not to mention cookies!). Plenty of accomplishments even if there were there not another thing going on in your life. Bravo to you!

  • sarah

    I’m excited to test out this bean recipe. I’m finally trying to get away from relying on canned beans and yours will be my third attempt. The first was successful, but relied on beer & bacon… not that those are bad things 🙂 and the second was a slow cooker recipe that just wasn’t that great. Perhaps the beans weren’t fresh enough? Hopefully this third time is the charm!
    It’s nice to hear that you’re writing and working again. It most certainly must be a sign of the healing process even if it’s just a tiny hint. Sending you internet hugs as always… you are one inspiring lady.

  • Stephanie

    thank you for the excellent and simple bean recipe. just got some beautiful heirlooms at my farmers’ market, and this will be perfect for a cool fall evening.
    i am very excited for your book! you’re so talented, i know it’s going to be amazing. know that with each step there’s positive energy beaming your way from the midwest. we may not know one another beyond the computer screen, but i surely do care about and wish the best for you and yours.

  • Amanda

    I like your metaphor of walking Jennie. Sometimes, all we can do, is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and try to remember that while there is no end to grief, the pain will eventually lessen. You are an incredibly strong woman, and I admire you so very much. Keep walking. 🙂

  • Tammy H

    I appreciate how honest and raw you are about living life without your Mikey. You are smart to not make any promises as when healing will begin.
    I saw a quote I wanted to share with you “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” – Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1890 – 1995

  • Denese

    your story breaks my heart, in a good way. i’m inspired by your honesty, by the love you and Mikey shared and by the way you’re processing this. you’re reminding me to appreciate the little things, all the love in my life, to encourage each other to be our best selves.. and to keep my heart open to whatever life brings. thank you for doing what you do and being who you are.

  • Chez Suzanne / The Wimpy Vegetarian

    We’ve never met except through our recipes on Food 52, but like many others I’ve followed the sharp left turn your life took without a warning blinker. You have such a support network here and elsewhere in your life, and you have your writing, which is so important these days – and hopefully rewarding. Sometimes that’s all we have, but it needs to be enough to get through another day, for ourselves and others who depend on us. I know that with all the love out there this community has for you, at the end of the day, you’re the only one actually living through this experience. Hugs to you and your daughters who are living their experiences of this at the same time. I’ll be at the photo workshop at Todd and Diane’s new studio and saw you on the list. I really look forward to meeting you!

  • Melissa

    I started laughing at this post and my eagerness to try making a pot of beans. All I can hear is my 2 sons singing the “Beans” song. “The more you eat the more you…” They do anytime I make anything with beans. So for you and for laughter in my home, I will make these beans.
    You touch my heart with every post. Keep Walking. <3

  • kat

    jp-this isn’t for you to post on your blog as I see that you read before posting each comment.
    i found your blog two weeks ago. my husband and i were fighting, again. i have two little girls, 5 and 6. i read every word you wrote, drank them in, they settled inside of my soul and i could not contain the tears that streamed down my cheeks. my girls sat in wonder and somewhere in the background, i could hear them asking, why? mama, why are you crying. i think about you and your girls every day. i find myself sneaking away and checking your blog, not for food, but in hopes that i catch another glimpse of your heart, your pain, your girls, your lives. my heart aches for you, for them. i picture my Mr. our girls just got their two wheelers this past summer and i picture the lesson – i picture him instead of Mikey. it jolts me. it is two weeks later and we just don’t ever seem to stop arguing. it could be over. at 5:52, it could be over. you’re mad at God, why would He take him? why? why would He do this to you, to your girls? JP, His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are higher. Your story, I suspect, your throw it out there and who gives a s**t what they think, this is my life, my pain, my story and i will tell it as i live it touches the core of our beings and gives life to those who haven’t yet lost it. it gives hope to the living still. hug your girls, throw your arms around them and soak them in your tears. tell them stories or write them out for them now, while they are fresh. live in the pain and weep. it is right. it is good. it is real. it is now. you won’t be the same, you know that. you shouldn’t be. they won’t be the same. you will cry for the rest of your life, at each first. you were so blessed to have found Mikey and to have 16 years of memories with him. May God bless you and your girls. May He be merciful enough to gather you under His wing and comfort you and your children. I will continue to pray for you. To love you. To hope for you. K.

  • Tiffany

    I love cooking from scratch. It took me a long time to get good at it, but now I love it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other!

  • Jen

    as a daughter who lost her father at a young age, i admire my mother SO much for the strength she has showed my sister, brother and i. there is no doubt that your girls will (and may already) feel the same about you. know that your writing brings comfort to those who have experienced similar (and at times exactly the same) grief. thank you.

  • Kara

    Although we don’t know each other and our paths may never cross, I feel I owe you a thank-you note. I have been so moved by you! Thank you for your honesty, with yourself and with all of us. I applaud your bravery, both before and during this difficult time. Thank you inspiring someone who did not realize she was looking for inspiration! Your love for Mikey, which was evident for as long as you have written this blog, has inspired me to be a better, more patient wife. Your cooking has inspired me to be more adventurous in the kitchen. I think of you often and hope you know that there are so many people rooting for you! Write your book knowing that I will buy a copy for myself and for everyone I know. Thank you for dreaming big.

  • Louisa T.

    Wow….just wow. You’re smiling again, even though it’s through the tears. I bet 57 days ago you thought you might not smile again for a long, long time. Yeah, sure, something somewhere would make you smile, the girls, the tv, something. But, not so much when thinking of him, of Mikey. The heart never forgets, the soul always feels. The brain will make it survivable and YOU will make it possible to move on. You’re already moving forward with that foot in front of the other. What else is there to do? As you are finding out, life can sometimes be the train wreck and it can sometimes be the amazing. From what you have said, you had 16 years of amazing with a few collisions along the way. You are surviving the train wreck now each and every day. You can do this. There should be no doubt. Hoping again for you to gather yourself off that sofa and keep moving forward. Peace to you.

  • Sally

    This is very similar to how I make beans. Sometimes I use bacon drippings instead of olive oil, sometimes onion instead of garlic ( sometimes both), but essentially the same. I also frequently make them in a slow cooker and cook them for about 4 hours. I start them on high and cook until they’re bubbling, then turn the heat down to low for the remainder of the time. No matter which method is used, they’re very good. As Savorique wrote, I also do lentil soup this way.
    I’m now in my seventh decade. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes the best answer to why anything happened is “because it did.”
    I read your post before I took my dog for a walk this morning. While I was walking I realized something. There’s no doubt that losing someone you love is a life-altering event. Many years after my mother died I realized that her death had changed my life in ways that I would never have imagined or anticipated. There were people in my life that I wouldn’t have met had she not died. I’d had experiences that either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have happened in the same way if she hadn’t died. They’re (nearly) all very good, very positive things in my life. But they wouldn’t have happened had she lived.
    I would never have known my step-mother (and probably at least 200 other people) had my mother not died. In a different, but equally good, way she became as profoundly important in my life as my mother. I learned things from her that I could never have learned from my mother. Her death reintroduced me to an old friend who was able to help me through a problem months later.
    Similarly, I wouldn’t have met my husband had my father not died. I wouldn’t have been where I was when I was to meet him. Had I not met him, I wouldn’t have the wonderful children I have. In fact, I very well may not have had children.
    As I look back, I can see that the most painful events of my life have led to some of the most wonderful people, events and joyous experiences of my life.
    Life is strange — and wonderful.

  • Cheryl S

    Always enjoying reading your blog Jenny. The book sounds exciting and knowing you are moving forward on a new path is wonderful…while finding bits of happiness along the way and in your memories. Keeping you close to my heart and wishing you peace. Keep on writing…and cooking from scratch! 🙂

  • Louisa T.

    Another thought…..I have noticed the few recipes you have posted the last month and a half have been very much comfort type foods. A simple pot of beans, chocolate cookies, scrambled eggs. Even peanut butter pie could be included in that. All true comfort foods. Maybe you have found the subject for your next cookbook. Comfort food, I don’t know, New York style maybe! Just a thought.

  • Kim in MD

    That fortune stinks, but one step at a time sounds like a great plan, Jennie. One step and one day at a time…

  • stephanie

    i’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now, but i wasn’t really sure if it’s a good idea to write you something (and sorry, if my english isn’t very good, im austrian :-))
    a very close friend of mine lost her son when he was 8 years old. he was hit by a car, so – just like you – my friend had actually no time to “prepare” for that situation. she had no chance to say goodbye. and she once told me, that at NO time she asked herself “why”. she told me, she forbid herself to ask why, because there is no answer. you won’t get one.
    but until now she always keeps in mind, that it just was his time to go, and if he hadn’t gone that time, maybe something “worse” would happen to him – “worse” in sense of maybe he would have become terribly ill or something.
    it helps her to get over all that and not to go crazy. it just was meant to be at that moment and nobody could’ve done anything about it.
    it is really hard for me to describe all that in english, since it isn’t my mother tongue, and i hope my comment won’t be misunderstood…
    some posts ago you wrote, that you’re no religious person and maybe that makes it harder to “understand” (if anyone can…) what i’m trying to tell you.
    anyway, i wish you all the best!

  • Sandie

    when my husband first died (5 yrs 3 months & 20 days) I’d see a man older than my husband of 34 yrs and wonder why God took him but let this old man stay with his family. Then I thought how selfish I was. Tears still fall unexpectedly now. I know where you are. I hope you’re better at moving on than I have been.

  • Kathleen Richardson

    I discovered In Jennie’s Kitchen just a short time after your husband’s death. Although I came for the food, your heartfelt and well-written words kept me coming back and I plan to remain.

  • Bevi

    I am attending a food52 party and am taking a jar of your Sweet and Savory Jam to everyone who attends. Cooking your recipe has given me lots of time to think about you, even though I don’t know you personally. But I guess it’s my way of keeping good thoughts for you – to cook your recipe. Many people will be looking forward to your cookbook. It must be awful to reflect on not being able to share that success with Mikey – who was so key to inspiring you in the kitchen. I did want to tell you that an unwatched jam pot elicited tomato Barbeque sauce one day, instead of jam. But it is still great in its smokey goodness.

  • Claudie Frid

    Jenn I just lost my mom today, and even though she lived to a ripe old age of 92 it still hurts no matter what.
    My eyes hurt, my head hurts I’m going to bed to scream in my pillow.

  • Margie

    Beans, beans, the musical fruit….
    My grandmother taught me that song while the two of us danced about her kitchen. Thanks for bringing me back to this beautiful memory.
    Olive oil really does elevate a simple pot of beans. I happened upon its use when I discovered that I was out of bacon or salt pork. It gives a wonderful nuance that simply has to be discovered.

  • Tara

    Your honesty, your awareness, your willingness to be reflective and to share your journey in this way is beautiful and inspiring. Thank you. Still sending warm wishes and hugs to you and your girls,

  • Lynn Harron

    It’s okay to ask ‘why?’ But ask ‘Why was I so blessed to have such a wonderful man love me?’ That’s my ‘why’ question. It will be four years on Sunday that he’s gone and while that raw pain has subsided, I think of him every day; we, too, expected to grow old together.
    I kept cooking and entertaining others; it made me feel good, it was part of my past and when you have friends in, they invite you back and you don’t lose that connectionto your friends.

  • Jan

    Jennie I was led to your blog by another site that referred to your tomato jam recipe. I cannot tell you how much joy your tomato jam has brought us. In fact we have made enough to include it in Christmas baskets we are creating.We actually look for things to put it on even if it is only a spoon!!
    I want to say that not only do you have wonderful recipes but your openness about your family has really inspired me. Thank you for allowing us in to your kitchen and your life. God Bless you and your family.

  • gloucester

    I’m a new reader, sending warm thoughts your way as this pot of beans helps warm up my kitchen on this fall afternoon. I am so sorry for your family’s loss.

  • Elizabeth A. Summers

    Oh, my…made a “pot of lentils” with the simple additions in your recipe vs just water and they are THE best!