Happiness is a Crock of Beans

Between Kansas and Colorado there is a hand painted sign on a train depot by the side of Highway 70 that reads “Happiness is a Crock of Beans.”  We passed it a few years ago on the pilgrimage from Florida back to California after Shaun’s graduation. It felt so affirming at the time. I scribbled it on the back of a receipt and shoved it in my wallet, saving it. Savoring it.

Turns out, if I have learned much about happiness in the three years since that road trip, it has probably been precisely that it’s all just a crock of beans. It’s simple. Unfussy. It lacks elaborate construction or planning. Just a crock of beans. You get where I’m going with the metaphor, right? I have experienced more joy and collected the best memories in the simple presence of a cup of coffee, deck of cards, and a few good friends and family than in the throws of any other world-class adventure – and believe me, I’ve been spoiled with more than my fair share of them. We move so fast sometimes trying to get from point A to point B in order to become more successful, get more done, and be more “happy” that we forget that all we really need to be content is an old rocker on the back porch with the dog, a glass of wine, and a hand to hold.

We all have our crock of beans, right? Those moments, those things that force us to slow down and really feel satiated by the goodness in our lives. They’re always there, waiting for us to see them, to have a good soak in them. As I begin to lay the stones for the next chapter in my life, I try and recall my own “crock of bean” moments of times past to help guide the little bits of the path that I actually have control over. Where were you? What were you doing? Who was there? If I can answer these questions with honesty, I know they will not lead me astray.

This is a perfect light dish for this unseasonably warm winter. Crispy raw celery and onions with a peppery kick from the cress reminds of sandals in spring. Do yourself a favor and use dried beans if you can manage. They taste leaps and bounds better plus there’s no risk of BPA from those pesky cans. I used Garbanzo, Great Northern, and Cranberry Beans, but use what you have. Skip black and pinto varieties.

Mixed Bean Salad 

  • 6 cups soaked and cooked beans
  • 6-8 stalks celery
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 head watercress
  • 3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt/pepper to taste
Combine soaked/cooked/cooled beans in a large bowl. Set aside. In a food processor with the blade attachment, run the celery through to finely slice. Use a mandoline or a sharp knife to cut the onion. I used nearly the whole onion, but I listed one cup. Adjust to your preference. Rinse and roughly chop the cress, remove and toss the roots and stems. Add the veg. to the bowl of beans. Stir together with olive oil, juice of three good lemons, and season to taste with a few grinds of sea salt and black pepper. Let rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes to develop a deeper flavor. 
  1. sara

    maybe some of your best photos yet, just gorgeous. thinking of you and your “laying of stones”, friend.


  2. Kasey

    I needed this post, Kelsey. Right now, life is kinda moving a million miles an hour and sometimes I wonder: what is it that makes me happy? Am I missing out on things because I’m doing so much now? But I think it’s simple, as you say. It’s all just a crock of beans :) And analyzing it so much isn’t really necessary!


  3. Nicole

    What a great phrase to stumble across on the highway! I was just saying to Andrew the other day how glad I am that we can have beans for dinner and be perfectly happy. It’s really the simple things, isn’t it? I’ll have to try this recipe soon. Perfect for our weeknight cooking.


  4. Jacqui

    What a great phrase to see on the side of the highway, and I love your interpretation of it too. Sending waves of happiness your way friend! As I type I even have a bowl of beans soaking on the counter too : )


  5. Amy

    I love when I read your posts and I get a reminder on perspective… we all need to take that step back sometimes and recognize the real, good things. It all comes down to a crock of beans anyway.

    Oh! And I have to say, after following you on pinterest and everything I think we align very well with music taste/celebrity worship such as neil young, bob dylan, robert redford, etc… anyway, just thought I had to let you know I love your taste (food and otherwise, haha).


  6. allyn

    uhm, the title of the post itself was enough to make me want to make this. i ‘m always looking for bean recipes! your pictures look fantastic. thanks for sharing!


  7. Jacqui

    I find that when I read your posts, the only response I can think of is “YES.”


  8. Veronica

    Beautifully written, Kelsey! If only more people realized and appreciated their crock of beans… Too many of us take such simple joys for granted… living our entire lives allowing beautiful things to pass by unappreciated… Your genuine reflections on life make you a truly special person. I hope each day brings you a crock of beans :)


  9. Margarita

    Hi Kelsey, your writing moves me. These days, everyone is always worrying and fussing about getting somewhere, getting ahead, living somewhere else, wishing to have a better job, and just forgets to appreciate how good life really is, despite its little imperfections. I, for one, am guilty of this and I’m glad I read this. It helps put me back in place. Thank you for the beautiful words.


  10. Margarita

    Hi Kelsey! Your writing moves me. These days, everyone worries about getting somewhere, getting ahead, living somewhere else, having a better job, and forgetting how good life really is, despite its slight imperfections. Thank you for the beautiful words. I need to be put back in place.


  11. la domestique

    Beautifully put! As I grow older, I crave simplicity. We don’t need all that much to be happy, do we?


  12. celia

    This looks so wonderful, and fresh!


  13. sarah

    Another beautiful post. Lovely lovely photos. And yes, happiness is so simple. That’s why it’s so complicated for us. Hearts to you.


  14. Keri

    I seriously love your blog, Kelsey. Your words and recipes never disappoint- always so lovely and refreshing! :)


  15. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Such a smile to my face! I too love dishes that are simple and have bright flavors (just like this recipe). They are what I always crave, no matter what season we are in.


  16. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    *This brought such a smile to my face

    (this is why I shouldn’t type comments on my iPhone)


  17. adrienneats

    You’re so right. It’s the simple things that matter most: a walk with a friend, discussions over dinner, a good book. These beans sound honest and reliable, something that would show up on my table time and time again.


  18. Jess

    Thanks- I REALLY needed that….


  19. thelittleloaf

    Lovely sentiment and a gorgeous, simple recipe. Happiness definitely lurks in the simplest things – comforting, familiar, unexpected.


  20. Jo

    This looks absolutely delicious. Would love for you to share your gorgeous pictures with us at foodepix.com.


  21. Liren

    Oh, it’s so true. There have been so many moments these last few months where I have realized more and more that the most precious are the simplest. And this recipe reflects that. Simple and fresh is just so good for you.


  22. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence

    Love this salad! Seems so fresh and healthy. I really need to start using dried beans rather than canned.


  23. Damaris @KitchenCorners

    This looks fabulous. I agree, dried beans are leaps better.


  24. El

    So true. Simplicity is best and should be cherished. Lovely recipe too.


  25. El

    So true. Simple moments are the only things we really have to hang on to. Lovely recipe too.


  26. alyson

    wow, this is looks so beautiful and that it would be delicious and fragrant!


  27. Katie

    I want that sign! Too funny.


  28. Cookie and Kate

    So true, Kelsey. Since I committed to move away, I’ve been savoring those little moments with friends more than ever. I’m struck with overwhelming gratitude in between the laughs. It’s the way to be. Also, those photos of the celery and watercress stopped me dead in my tracks. Stunning.


  29. Nicole Franzen

    I want this now! Love bean salads, cress and celery being huge favorites. Must try :)


  30. molly

    ooooo, that is my kind of salad! and yes, there is little that makes me feel deeply at peace and slaphappy like a beans set to soak. well, and bread dough rising. okay, and granola toasting…

    oh, the comforts of the kitchen!


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  32. Sara

    A good bean salad is always nice! (PS I have those ikea towels too–can’t help grabbing a pack whenever I go!)


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  34. Katy

    Just made this to eat from for the week–subbed arugula for the watercress (my grocer didn’t have it) and it’s delicious! Easy, healthy, tasty–my fave. Thanks for the recipe!


  35. MaryPat

    YUMMY recipes and soothing stories–thx for sharing <3


  36. Lindsey

    I grew up just a few miles from that sign. I remember being grossed out about it as a kid (I didn’t like beans back then) and my dad always giving me a hard time about it. Thank goodness I now love beans and that sign always reminds me of home on our farm in Eastern Colorado.


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