Culinary adventure

“Cooking is an art, but all art requires knowing something about the techniques and materials.”

—Nathan Myrhvold, former Microsoft CTO and author of Modernist Cuisine

At a restaurant during our recent vacation, my health-conscious husband ordered a black bean burger. I don’t recall him ever eating one before. For the better part of his life, he’s been a hearty meat eater. The man loves food…his reaction upon tasting this vegetarian concoction: “AMAZING! I can’t believe how good it is!”

Then, with a subtle batting of his eyes: “I wish you could make these.”

—Was that a throwing down of the gauntlet, at my very feet?

Call it inspiration, determination, seeking to please, or self-challenge, whatever: I decided on the spot. I would do this.

I’ve never made black bean burgers before.

As a rule, I don’t like veggie burgers. They’re mushy. The whole idea of a burger is, you know, substance.

And so I do my research. I find a recipe entitled “The Best Black Bean Burgers I’ve Ever Had.” Seems a reasonably good starting point (why settle for less than the best?).

It doesn’t seem too complicated, really. While I organize and prep the ingredients, however, doubts seep in…if this tastes awful or falls apart, maybe we’ll go get Mexican

I learn a couple of things in this new undertaking. It’s essential to get as much moisture as possible out of the beans. The drier they are, the better the texture, so the recipe says. Not only do they need to be drained, rinsed, and patted dry, they need to go in the oven on a baking sheet for a few minutes. I discover that cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder, and Worcestershire blended with the dried beans create a surprisingly grilled taste.

One big concern: Will the burgers hold together after baking? Sometimes my regular hamburgers don’t. Not enough bread crumbs, maybe? How did my Grannie ever make those phenomenal, flavorful burgers of my childhood? She could have sold them and made a mint. I’ve never been able to duplicate them. The scent of Worcestershire stirs the memory with a wave of intense longing…

Furthermore, I’ve decided not merely to make these black bean burgers, but to recreate the one my husband thought was so amazing. I’ve looked up the restaurant menu for the toppings: avocado, tomato, arugula, red onion, spicy mayonnaise.

— What IS spicy mayonnaise?

More Googling. Mayo mixed with hot sauce, apparently.

“Hey,” I say to my husband, who’s washing his hands after cheerfully helping to shape the patties for baking, “pick the hot sauce you want to go in this ‘spicy mayonnaise.'”

He has a whole collection of hot sauces.

He picks Texas Pete.

All righty then.

And, if nothing else turns out…we do have gorgeous homegrown tomatoes that have been given to us. They are another reason I love summer, these tomatoes. I think, as I slice into their luscious redness: We could just have cheese and tomato sandwiches in case of disaster…

My husband has also chosen Brioche buns: “The bread at the restaurant was really, really soft.”

We take the burgers out of the oven and—wonder of wonders!—they hold together when we lift them off the pan.

I put them on the buns, layer on the toppings. They’re pretty, but the final test awaits…

My husband takes a bite.

He closes his eyes.

“This is the BEST. THING. I. HAVE. EVER. HAD.”

High praise from my former give-me-steak-and-fries guy.

He eats every blessed crumb for the next three meals.

—Mission accomplished.

The black beans combined with finely chopped onion and green pepper create good texture, much like a tender hamburger.

Pretty proud of my culinary work.


As an educator I could make many analogies between this experience and teaching or writing. We see effective or impactful things that we wish to duplicate. Things we’ve not tried before. It’s daunting. Risk of failure is involved. So is risk of succeeding, if you will. There’s an art and science to writing and teaching, just as with cooking. Myhrvold’s quote on knowledge of techniques and materials at the top of this post struck me as foundational; this is the beginning of process. Knowledge combined with a spirit open to experiment can yield surprising results and discoveries; what you experience and create will not be exactly like your model nor a complete replication what others have done before you. It shouldn’t be. You are making something your own. The work reflects the uniqueness of the artist.

Wishing sustained strength and inspiration to all my fellow teachers preparing to return to school with the residual effects of 2020 still lingering. Here’s to aiming for the best. And to our own learning.

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life writing community, ever a safe, nourishing place for creative strivings and growth.

15 thoughts on “Culinary adventure

  1. Oh you are reminding me of the bean burgers my daughter in law used to make and I loved. Had an avocado topping I think. These look amazing and so full of love. I also love the analogy to teaching and creating. Our need for mentors, our passion, our spirit of adventure, making it our own, learning, thinking, creating, shifting, trying. I love thinking of your happy husband enjoying every morsel!!! Beautifully expressed once again, Fran. I may be trying these soon, so thanks for the inspiration and memory!!! Can’t wait to see what other tricks you have up your creative sleeve!!! But it is the love that shines through I think that inspires me the most.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations on your efforts and your success (process AND product), both with the burger and this piece of writing.. I really liked being able to read both the steps and your thoughts/connections throughout. I too get associations from the smell of Worcestershire sauce. Maybe I’ll try this process myself, though my pallet is less discerning. I had an impossible burger last night with so many add-ons (tomato, avocado, pickles, lettuce, and chipotle sauce) that I really could have been eating Farley’s kibble on that loaded brioche bun. Still…the process.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have family members who are vegan and have attempted various alternative burgers. I think you hit on it when you wrote about the importance of moisture. I’ve made my share of dry ones.Congrats on a successful first attempt.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your willingness to try new recipes and learn new ways of preparing food ( moisture out of beans) is such an admirable quality that I love about you. Your eye for perspective is always so inspirational the way you share your travels and your life – the trips, the talents of your family, and the way you see the world! Once again, uniquely Fran! Those burgers look delicious – makes me want to invite myself to dinner! I tried fig preserves this week and it connected me with my late mother. Comfort and love in food!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I just began a plant based diet and this looks really good. You have given me confidence to give these burgers try.
    What a unique comparison of cooking to writing! That is so creative and insightful.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love the way your thoughts and your cooking intertwine as you write – and I love how you include your own doubts as you work. I also really appreciate your post script relating this to writing; sometimes I think I’m the only person in the world who relates everything back to teaching. Good to know I have friends 😉 Finally, as I consider ways to incorporate “how to” writing into my teaching, I’m wondering if I can use this as a mentor text? I want my students to see that even informational writing can be quite personal. And now, off to suggest this recipe to my husband…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. These sound absolutely amazing! My son is dating someone (my son is dating someone!?) who’s vegetarian and gluten-free. I may have to give these a go! And of course, there I went, scurrying down to make a comment as soon as I saw that gorgeous sandwich you made, and then BOOM. You bring things into such sharp, clear perspective. Yes. There is something to be said for taking a risk, for trying something that’s exciting despite (because of?) the fact that it frightens us a little bit. That vulnerability. That’s what’s so critical. Thank you, Fran. And yes, I’m clicking on that recipe. Right. Now.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You have my mouth watering for those burgers now…perhaps I can make them while my daughter and son-in-law are still in town, as they are more prone to try them with me than my meat-and-potatoes husband. This is a good analogy for the coming year, this going into the familiar-yet-new territory. I feel like last year didn’t really “happen” in the library, that I really am starting from scratch even though it’s my second year there. But I have the techniques and conviction in place, so here’s to marching forward. Thanks for the thoughtful boost, Fran.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Fran, I am so glad I came back by to read this. What a win! And such a gift to your husband and you too. I can’t wait to try this recipe, as I have looked for the best veggie burger myself for years. Your detailed post is great. Thank you! And I love the extension you always do so well to connect to life:
    “Knowledge combined with a spirit open to experiment can yield surprising results and discoveries” Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

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