My first introduction to Bobbie Ann Mason’s writing was in a literature class in college. We read the short story, “Shiloh” and I was amazed at how she was able to build characters with such depth in only a few pages. By chance, I found an old hardback of “Feather Crowns” at a garage sale for 50 cents and snatched it up. The book was not the quick read that was “Shiloh,” instead it was a very long book where she intricately built her characters. At any other time in my life, I wouldn’t have had the patience for such a slow story, but you know sometimes there is divine intervention.
It was over a decade ago when I read this book. My mother was recovering from a brain surgery and though I didn’t know it, I had quite a few months ahead of me, sitting in the quiet limbo of hospital rooms watching my mother sleep. Every weekend, I would drive home to sit with her while she slowly relearned how to do almost everything. During those quiet voids when her body succumbed to the exhaustion of recovery, I picked up my book and started visiting with Christianna Wheeler, a small town Kentucky farm wife who gave birth to the first recorded set of quintuplets in North America. I was transported back to the atmosphere of 1900, where this young woman unintentionally creates a national sensation and her family is suddenly thrown into a swirling storm of public attention as thousands of strangers descend on their home, all wanting too see and touch the “miracle babies.”
What does this have to do with Mexican Tomato Rice? Nothing really, other than I was making my bed this morning and caught myself beating the pillows to make sure I beat apart any “feather crowns” that may be forming. A superstition that caught my imagination when I read this book.
Evidently, back in the 1900’s when someone died in their sleep, a family member would look in the pillow for feathers forming a circle where the dead person’s head was, indicating that they went to heaven. I guess it really resonated with me at the time, because I found myself beating out my Mother’s pillow every time she went to physical therapy and I have continued to do it time to time with our pillows here. Silly, I know, but I have an unstoppable imagination sometimes. Anyway, things come in and out of your life when you need them which was true for that book and is the same for this recipe now.
Continuing the theme of moderation, this would be another example of a “normal” meal in our home. I’ve been making this dish for years, because really it hits all the marks for me. First and foremost, it is tasty. Additionally, it uses up leftovers from taco night, which makes it easy on the purse strings. It is fairly clean and healthy. Of course, you could make it healthier with brown rice, if you are so inclined. I have not made it to that place yet, baby steps. Definitely a wonderful recipe that you can whip up quickly; great as a side dish and is substantial enough to be a meal on it’s own.
Mexican Tomato Rice with Black Beans
Makes enough for 6 side dishes @ approximately 150 calories each or 4 full meals @ approximately 220 calories.
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion or shallot, chopped
1 cup medium grain rice
1 cup salsa
1 cup stock
1 (8 oz) can low sodium black beans, drained and washed
In a medium sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and bell pepper. Saute for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add dry rice and cook for about 5 minutes or until rice grains become white and not clear. Add in broth and salsa. Stir it up and bring to a boil. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and add black beans. Cover 10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Taste for salt and add if necessary. Serve immediately with a side of lime and chopped cilantro.