The numbers we hear from the federal government may say recession but don’t tell that to my nephew, the Phoenix based architect with a big mortgage and no work. I have recently heard from a number of friends and family members asking for advice about surviving the coming hard times. These are teachers, managers, salespeople and chefs. These are not the faces we are used seeing in line at the food pantry.

When I write and speak about being self-sufficient in a crisis, most often people are thinking about a time-limited crisis and certainly, everyone should be prepared for those dramatic events. But this crisis is here and now. What is necessary for many is not time-limited survival but rather long-term changes in the way we live. The building in dry, overbuilt Phoenix is not coming back. The jobs lost are not coming back. The easy future we envisioned for our retirement is not coming back.

My daughter in Florida call me last night. Her husband, a sales rep used to a good salary, has seen his work dry up in the past several months. She is considering putting her toddler in childcare and returning to work. She wanted advice on how to best do this. She did not like what I had to say. What she needs is not to attempt to recreate a life that is not sustainable. She needs to create a new life that works in a changed world.  The 5 bedroom house in the gated community with three pools and a golf course has to go. The association has huge fees and does not allow vegetable gardens or clothes lines. The dinners out, the cable, the two cars and the gym membership all have to go. The expensive playgroup, new clothes and monthly professional photos all have to go. This family needs to trade down to smaller and simpler. They need to walk more. They need to raise some food. They need to join a co-op. They need to eat more locally. They need to learn the difference between need and want, luxury and necessity, surface and sutbsance. To try to get back what is permantly lost is a recipe for grief and disappointment. I am going to send my daughter a recipe for something else. Rice and beans. It’s not quick but in this new life we will have more time than money. It’s not fancy but in this new life we will learn that fancy is overrated. The ingredients can be purchased in bulk from your co-op or grown in your backyard garden.

Soak a 1 pound bag of red beans in plenty of water. The next morning, drain the beans. Save the water to water your plants. Cover the beans with fresh water and bring to a boil. Add a ham hock, some chopped celery, a chopped onion, a bay leaf and some pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are done and the sauce is thick. Remove the ham hock and the bay leaf.  While the beans simmer, cook 1 cup of rice in two cups water. When the rice is done add about a cup of diced tomatoes with the juice. You can add other spices at this point. One of the best things about rice and beans is how forgiving it is. You can add cumin or red pepper. If you have leftover ham or sausage, add that too. I like my beans mixed with my rice. Some people like the beans served like a gravy. It occurs to me that I don’t have an actual recipe. I kind of throw things in and hope it taste good. It usually does. If it doesn’t, we eat it anyway. It’s never terrible. If you are Latino, you probably have a family recipe that is a lot better. If so, send it to me. I guess the point here is that all meals are not gormet. Some are just good and filling and inexpensive. Good enough.

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