Arroz con Cranky

5 Jun

I fear I’m not always 100% truthful with you, especially on one very salient fact.

West Village Puddle

New York City and I do not always get along. From the timbre of many of my posts, you’d think I walk around in some sort of Disney princess bubble enveloped in a halo of chirping birds and hopping bunnies, magically making my way untouched through the seething throngs of grumpy commuters, clueless tourists and the hopelessly deranged. But this is not true.

Japanese Maple, Raindrops

Sometimes, for no conceivable reason, the city just pisses me off. The anger is not acute. No, it’s not usually one specific thing that sends me round the bend, it’s more of a crescendo of annoyance.

The mockingbird imitating a car alarm for hours. Our upstairs neighbor playing GTA IV at 5am. The ingrate that forces me to miss my train into work. The destruction of yet another piece of my city’s gritty heritage. Almost being hit by a bike messenger (again) careening the wrong way down a one way street. Yet another endless line full of tourists with no sense of urgency at my favorite coffee place.

May Showers, May Flowers

Yes, they’re little things, and probably make me sound a little petty, but man, sometimes, a girl just can’t take it anymore. We New Yorkers live so close together, so cheek by jowl with one another, so constantly in each other’s faces that it can really begin to wear on a being.

Nap Time at the Dog Spa

I try pretty hard to stay positive. I say excuse me when I run into someone, I smile at the checkout girl that’s just had to help the umpteenth pensioner from Spain figure out how to pay for his coffee, I grumble under my breath as the train-I-needed-to-be-on-so-I’d-be on-time-for-my-meeting pulls away without me, and I take photos in an attempt to help remember those old spots that won’t be there for the next generation.

But sometimes, a girl just needs to snap.

Won't Be Needing These For Awhile

Take this past weekend for example. I should have been buoyant and joyful; the weather was beautiful, my work was done, all I had to do was sit back and enjoy 48 blissful hours of sun, fun and food but no, I was cranky. The trains were all kerfuffled, the sky opened up and let fly like it was Armageddon and the farmer I wanted to buy baby kale from wussed out and left the West Village greenmarket early.

Statues & Man

So there we were, Isaac and I, skirting the edge of Washington Square Park, heading for the Union Square greenmarket, when I just snapped. I stopped like a stubborn donkey and began stomping my feet like a two year old mid-tantrum. I wanted to go home. The city, its chaos and closeness, its clamor and commotion had done me in. I was beaten.


We got back to the apartment and I ran for the solace of my kitchen. I began chopping: spring onions, green garlic, jalapeños. Some went into a pot of Steve‘s magic beans, some went into a pot of rice, some went into a red salsa and the rest went into a green salsa. After a few hours of stirring and prodding and chopping and tasting, I finally felt better.

Vaquero Beans

And who wouldn’t if they were sitting down to a meal like this? Spicy rice, tender, fragrant, achiote-marinated shrimp, zippy pico de gallo, sublime salsa verde and, of course, those perfect, wonderful, fragrant, intoxicating beans. It was a perfect meal.

And yet, I woke up with the crankies again the next day, and the next, and the next.

But then, on Tuesday morning as I was harumphing and grumbling my way through my commute, I pulled my nose out of my Economist and noticed the gentleman sitting across the subway car from me.

Camarones y Arroz con Cranky

He was amazing.

In his 80s, he was impeccably dressed. A perfect summer-weight pinstripe suit, beautiful tan leather shoes, a flawlessly tied tie with matching pocket square, a straw fedora that was a work of art, waxed handlebar mustaches, Col. Sanders beard, and to top it all off, a yellow rose in his button hole.

Suddenly my outfit, which I had been so proud of earlier in the morning, felt completely disheveled. And yet, I was happy. This man, this one single man, who seemed pulled from another time; a kinder, gentler, more caring era, sitting next to a rockabilly-tattooed hipster chick, plastered a smile on my face that still won’t go away.

Vaquero Beans

Perhaps I’m a little hard on myself. Perhaps I really am just a giddy, wide-eyed, New York City optimist. Or, perhaps, I’m just a real person in love with a difficult city. Disagreements are bound to happen, but we’ll always make up.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Arroz y Camarones con Cranky.

Beans ala Steve

prep time: 10 minutes + 4-6 hours ~ cooking time: 2 hours

  • 1 Purple Onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 heads + tender stalks Green or Spring Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño, sliced
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 cups Vaquero, or other delicious heirloom beans

Wash and pick-over the beans and place in a bowl to soak for 4-6 hours.

When ready to cook the beans, place a pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and sautée the onions until just beginning to soften. Add the garlic and jalapeño, cook a few minutes more.

Add the beans and their soaking water plus enough to cover by about 1 inch (if necessary).

Bring to a boil then reduce to the barest simmer.

As Steve says: “I like to see how low I can go and still get the occasional simmering bubble.”

Allow the beans to cook in this way, stirring occasionally, for about two hours (my beans were done a little sooner, so make sure you check, no one likes mooshie beans, unless that’s what you’re after). Add salt at the very end, allowing it a few minutes to be absorbed by the beans.

Arroz y Camarones con Cranky

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 35 minutes

  • 12 superjumbo Shrimp, heads off, shells off
  • Achiote powder
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Vinegar
  • 2 cups Basmati Rice
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, Sliced
  • a few cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 1 Jalapeño, sliced
  • Salt

Rinse the shrimp and place in a ziploc bag. Sprinkle over a little achiote and pour over enough citrus juice and vinegar to cover the shrimp once the bag is sealed and all the air is removed. Place in the fridge to marinate at least 1 hour and up to 3.

In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, add a glug of olive oil and cook the onions, garlic and jalapeno for a few minutes until the onions begin to lose their opacity. Rinse the rice. Add 3 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Turn the heat down very low and clamp the lid on. Cook 20 minutes, no peeking. Turn off the heat and allow to sit 10 minutes, again, no peeking.

While the rice is resting, remove the shrimp from the marinade and pat dry. Heat a little oil in a sautée pan and cook the shrimp briefly, 2-3 minutes, on each side.

Serve the shrimp and their cooking juice over the rice with Steve’s beans, Ann’s new favorite salsa verde and a fresh pico de gallo. Enjoy!

Ann’s New, Most Favorite Salsa Verde

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: none!

  • 2 heads Green Garlic, minced very fine
  • 1 Jalapeño, minced very fine
  • Dried Coriander
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • 1 very large handful Cilantro leaves, chopped very fine

Mix the green garlic and jalapeno together in a bowl. Add a pinch of dried coriander, a very big pinch of salt and add a glug of citrus juice, a large dash of vinegar and a big glug of olive oil. Stir to combine and taste. Adjust seasonings to your taste. It should be zippy, but not overwhelming. Add the cilantro leaves and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings again. Set aside to allow the flavors to meld and deepen at least one hour. This is delicious over shrimp (and probably other fish too) and sublime stirred into rice. Enjoy!


18 Responses to “Arroz con Cranky”

  1. shelley June 5, 2008 at 7:44 am #

    Ick, I hate a case of the pre-summer blahs. Thank goodness you found a prop-ah Su’thun gentleman to help you through it.

    Rice and beans are one of my favourite things! Still wouldn’t be able to tempt Dave with shrimp, so I’ll just salivate over your delicious photos.

  2. Ann June 5, 2008 at 9:37 am #

    I do know what you mean. When we rolled back into Brooklyn via the Triborough Bridge and the BQE last Saturday I was so happy to see the skyline again even if most of it was obscured by clouds. But then it just rained and rained and there were no groceries in the house and I seriously didn’t want to deal with getting groceries, and I thought about all of the rolling farmland I drove past during our trip… and I said, “I think I might be done with NYC now.”

    Happily I like it again today.

    Your rice and beans look fabulous!

  3. michelle June 5, 2008 at 10:02 am #

    i have a bag full of achiote that i got with my last order of fresh spices, and i haven’t done anything with it yet. can i just throw it in the spice grinder as is?

  4. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) June 5, 2008 at 4:11 pm #

    I often get a big case of cranky when I’m in New York these days, and I never thought this native New Yorker would say that! How nice that you cooked your way out of it. The heirloom beans are gorgeous.

  5. Teri Tynes June 5, 2008 at 6:47 pm #

    This is some beautiful writing. Thanks!

  6. Helen June 6, 2008 at 4:36 am #

    I know exactly what you mean, I am a Londoner and although I love this city, occasionally I do get REALLY annoyed. Only very occasionally though. It is the proximity that is the problem, and rudeness _ I can’t bear rudeness. like when people push past each other on the tube without even mentioning a word.

  7. ann June 6, 2008 at 5:31 am #

    Shelley — Yeah, he did seem Southern, but also very Eastern… Like I said, he looked like someone from another time. He was fantastic. Too bad about the shrimp, they do really add something to this.

    Ann — Ah, good, I’m glad it’s not just me! Coming home from vacation is so hard, especially when you’ve done an epic trip like you guys, but I’m glad you’re back and happy again.

    Michelle — Are they the little nubbins of achiote? I bought some of those once. Man, they are as hard as rocks. I tried pounding them in a mortar and pestle. Nothing. At that point I was too scared to pop them into my food processor for fear of breaking it. I buy the achiote powder and it works pretty well. Hope that helps.

    Lydia — It’s funny, I feel like there’s less grace and kindness in the city than there was a few years back, but that might have been because of some, uh, extraordinary experience. Either way, I makes me tired sometimes… What is it about beans? They are soooo beautiful. The fact that they’re also healthy and tasty is like icing on the cake, but better!

    Teri — Thanks so much, that’s such a nice compliment. And I absolutely adore the icon “the alogrithim” came up with for you. It’s so swirly and elegant. Funny.

    Helen — Ha, we should me up and wave at each other through the telectroscope. We could send each other cranky messages ;-)

  8. silverstar98121 June 6, 2008 at 6:16 am #

    Lovely pictures, lovely writing, lovely looking food. I think I could hate you. I am extremely envious, from my public housing apartment in Seattle, that you have room now for “the kids.” I must ask, is Issac a dog, and is he one of the doggies in the window?

  9. Mary Coleman June 6, 2008 at 6:30 am #

    I’m sorry you had to get cranky to come up with such a great meal, but that works out for all of us, doesn’t it!

  10. Julie June 6, 2008 at 10:45 am #

    New York got on your nerves? Say it isn’t so! (I love New York from afar so I see only it’s good qualities and am unbothered by any less than good qualities.)

    Looks like it was a delicious meal. I keep saying I’m going to send my Rancho Gordo order in and I never get around to it. Once again, I’m inspired. Maybe this time I’ll actually follow through.

  11. Christina June 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm #

    Oh Ann, usually Pasadena-proud I know that I seem biased and blind to Pasadena’s faults; but, right now, this city has done something that makes me so mad I just want to spend hours snarling at city hall with my hackles perpetually raised. I understand how even a well-loved place can occasionally wear at the heart.

    As always, my friend, you have cooked up a winner. My dry beans are just beginning to come in. I can’t wait to cook with them.

  12. Elizabeth June 6, 2008 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi, Just found my way over here from Pink of Perfection and, as a fellow New Yorker, I absolutely completely can relate. My “I can’t take it anymore” moments usually come on the subway, when its crowded and stinky and someone is loudly singing along with their ipod with no regard for the rest of the passengers. But then, one beautiful spring day on my block in Brooklyn, with the flowers blooming and the air smelling sweet, and New York is once again the best place to be.

  13. ann June 9, 2008 at 6:47 am #

    Silverstar — Hi and welcome! Its funny you ask… Isaac is actually my boyfriend, those pups in the window are just some random sleeping dogs, but they sure are cute. What’s funny about your question is that one of our neighbors just happens to have a dog named Isaac, too. It’s very confusing. There’s no way you can hate me today, it’s going to get near 100F here today. Oy vey.

    Mary — Lol, that’s a good way of thinking about it ;-)

    Julie — Hehe, sorry to burst your bubble! You should totally order some beans, they’ll change your beanie perceptions forever!

    Christina — Oh no! I hope your beans can bring you comfort and joy.

    Elizabeth — I predict at least a half dozen of those “I can’t take it anymore!!” moments today. Can you believe it’s going to be almost 100? That ride into work this morning is going to be hell.

  14. Luisa June 11, 2008 at 5:45 am #

    Sweet, I love this post. It’s so true that sometimes New York just pisses me off and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Wait it out and we end up making up just fine. :)

  15. Ulla June 11, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    This blog post was a more eloquent version of what goes on in my head sometimes. My boyfriend lives in the suburbs and he is trying to convert me into thinking they are the way to go but I find New York as inspiring as I do frustrating. It is the individuals that new york attracts, yourself included, that make our city such a creative mad house. It is an inspiring place but goodness it can take its toll. Lovely pictures and great writing.

  16. Anne June 11, 2008 at 10:02 am #

    Been there, for sure. There are times when I wonder if I’m insane for living here. Then I go to the suburbs and come back with open arms. But those cranky days? Oh, they keep a comin’.

  17. Terry B June 11, 2008 at 4:33 pm #

    A wonderfully eloquent post, Ann. I can understand your occasional crankiness caused by the crush of humanity. Even here in Chicago, one can experience this. But it is precisely because city life is filled with such non-homogenized moments and individuals as your fellow passenger on the train [and the perfect juxtaposition of his seatmate] that we persist. Anytime I’m somewhere smaller and less hectic, I am struck by the lack of diversity, the sea of sameness that sends me running back into bedlam. And when I get there, I can just feel myself relaxing because I’m home.

  18. ann June 12, 2008 at 6:47 am #

    Luisa — I sometimes find that a trip to City Bakery helps ameliorate the crankiness as well. What can’t a melted chocolate chip cookie fix?

    Ulla — Hear! Hear!! I don’t think I could ever leave permanently, but ooooh boy! Last weekend I sure could have used someone with a house outside of the five boroughs. Thanks for the lovely compliments, too. They’re mutual, as you know.

    Annie — I knew you would commiserate with me.

    Terry — I bet Chicago can bring on a case of the crankies! I’ve never been (someday, someday) but I can’t imagine how your massive swings in weather couldn’t bring on a big ole case of the frustrations sometimes. But yeah, man, I feel you on the suburbs thing…

    And about that punk girl? I couldn’t believe it when she sat down next to him. If I wasn’t just *that much* too timid, I would have asked them if I could snap their photo. But actually, I think I like the mental image better :-)

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