Monday, February 9, 2009

White Bean and Tarragon Soup: On Saving

Among other things, The Boyfriend and I are scraping money together for a wedding, a house, and a bed that doesn’t make us look like Will Ferrell from Elf. It’s tough sometimes, because certain necessities go unpurchased for months. I’ve needed new bras for awhile now, and my favorite pair of Cons is finally starting to wear through. And we won’t even discuss my adventures in discount hair color. We’ll just shake our fists at the sky and curse genetics for giving us our first gray hairs at 17.

Despite universal cutbacks (especially food, natch), most of the money we save comes from one place: our apartment. For the space, the rent is ridiculously low - about half of what I’ve paid for other, smaller places. It allows us to stash several hundred extra dollars a month into savings, which makes a gigundo difference in our bankrolls.

Sadly, accommodations-wise, we get what we pay for.

A 110-year-old Brooklyn "brownstone" (sarcastic quotes intentional) that hasn’t been updated in 109 years, our building’s located on a major highway, one house away from the ongoing construction of a 10-story condo unit. The walls are cracking, the linoleum is permanently stained, and I’m fairly sure the basement is the seventh circle of Hell. Our bedroom is alternately freezing and sweltering. There is a constant stream of litter on our front steps, thrown there by assorted lazy-ass Brooklynites. We had a hole in our ceiling for six months before the landlord acknowledged our existence. In the fall, the construction site started attracting rats, which made their way into our backyard. It’s since been fixed, but … RATS?!?!?! Jeez. Honestly, I have no idea how we’ve never had an insect problem, but everyday I knock on a million pieces of wood that it stays that way.

Despite this, our place is relatively warm and cozy, and we do the best we can with what we have. Ten years of post-collegiate furniture and décor helps, as does a positive outlook. Occasionally, though …

Look. Yesterday around 1pm, our ceiling started to leak. The upstairs neighbors’ toilet overflowed, and they couldn’t plunge fast enough. This was nothing new, and it only required a few buckets and two hours of constant surveillance on our end, but the leak was in our BEDROOM this time, perilously close to our tiny mattress. I almost lost it.

Because some days? Like today? When my PMS is particularly bad? I want a nice place RIGHT NOW. I want insulated windows and plumbing that’s been replaced since the Coolidge administration. I want a front door that locks ALL the time, not just when I put my back into it. I want a KitchenAid standmixer, or at least the room to store it.

But if I want it, and I want to stay debt-free and financially solvent, I can’t have it right now. I can have it in two or three years, when our savings culminates in a Place of Our Own. And that’s okay. It really is. I still splurge. I’m not living a life of denial or deprivation. Instead, I’m living a life of simplicity and moderation with occasional frustrated outbursts. And in the longterm, that’s a good thing, rats notwithstanding.

Oh – and the nice part of our current apartment? No matter what it looks like, our future house is going to seem like Xanadu.

Anyway, on to today’s meal: White Bean and Tarragon Soup, a lovely, savory alternative to the usual Tuscan White Bean variety. If you should make it (and you should), a few things to know:

1. Since tarragon has a very subtle anise flavor, the soup does, too. I DESPISE anise, but it melds incredibly well, especially by the next day. So don’t fear if you, too, are among the haters. You’ll like this.

2. I used Progresso cannellini beans, which my spellcheck switched to “cannelloni” every time I typed it. Weird.

3. There’s a little more fat than usual in this soup, but I bet you could lose a teaspoon of butter and two teaspoons of olive oil and be just fine. Also, the 12+ grams of fiber per serving should make up for it.

And that's it.

White Bean and Tarragon Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from Serious Eats, who got it from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

2 19-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 scallions, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or 2 cans)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped

1) To a large pot or Dutch oven, add butter and olive oil. Heat 'em both over medium heat until butter melts and just starts foaming. Add scallions. Cook 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrots and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally.

2) Add beans and stock. Turn heat to high. Once stock starts boiling, add bay leaves and tarragon. Drop heat to medium-low. Simmer 15 or 20 minutes, "until the beans are falling apart." Then, with a stick blender, regular blender, food mill, or potato masher, mash/puree soup until it reaches your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with "remaining chopped tarragon, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh black pepper."

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
328 calories, 9.1 g fat, $1.54

2 19-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Progresso cannellini beans): 899 calories, 0 g fat, $2.78
3 bay leaves: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.09
2 tablespoons butter: 201 calories, 22.6 g fat, $0.16
1 tablespoon olive oil: 118 calories, 13.4 g fat, $0.11
5 scallions: 40 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.71
1 medium-sized carrot: 25 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.10
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or 2 cans): 20 calories, 0 g fat, $1.20
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped: ~6 calories, 0 g fat, $0.98
TOTAL: 1313 calories, 36.4 g fat, $6.17
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 328 calories, 9.1 g fat, $1.54


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