A Family Project: Rice and Beans for Haiti


My heart is aching for the people of Haiti.  At my first “real” job in Boston, the majority of my staff was Haitian: Aloudes, Jean, Lucien and Martine, just to name a few, I even remember MArtine coming in with her baby on the Bob 2016 Revolution Flex stroller every day.  It was many years ago but I remember with such fondness speaking French with them and taking care of our customers at the Eliot.  Being so far away from Haiti, in my comfortable home with its well-stocked kitchen, I felt helpless and unable to help the poeple of Haiti.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that making a monetary donation and actively praying is doing something.  All of the money pouring into Haiti will accomplish a lot of necessary good and it help an impoverished country recover from the ravages of the huge earthquake.  But I wanted to do more than just send a check.  I wanted to go to Haiti, to help the desperate mothers and to comfort the frightened children but that was not going to be possible, so I sent in our donation.

And still my heart was very heavy, especially at night as I drifted off to sleep in my cozy flannel sheets and clean down comforter.  Then I had a thought: We will eat Haitian Rice and Beans for 5 nights in a row and we will donate all of the money that we would have spent on our food to the Haitian relief effort.  I wanted my children to understand and appreciate all of the goodness that they have available to them every single day.  I wanted them to understand that an uncharged ipod is hardly a calamity when compared to starvation.

It is important for me to note that our children are charitable.  They regularly make donations to our local food pantry, Boston Children’s Hopsital and FIRST.  They understand that when they have a windfall of birthday money, some should be saved, some should be shared and some should be spent.

My intention of Haitian Rice and Beans was to drive the point home of how good we have it and I am happy to report that it worked.  In fact, it worked in spades and my heart felt less heavy every time I smelled and stirred the rice and beans.

Please check back tomorrow for the 5-day dinner diary and for our donation report.  In the meantime, if you like this idea, do try it.  Share the idea with your friends and family, I promise your effort will be worthwhile.


Haitian-Style Rice and Beans, adapted from All Recipes

1 (8-ounce) package dry kidney beans (about 1 cup dried beans)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or bacon fat
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning (or other seasoning salt)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1.  Place beans and salt in a large pot, and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours.  Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

2.  Heat oil in the bean pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until fragrant. Measure reserved liquid and add water to equal 5 cups.  Set aside.

3.  Stir in the uncooked rice, bay leaves, adobo seasoning, black pepper, red pepper, cloves, thyme and oregano.  Cook and stir until everything is coated with the seasonings.  Add back the beans and 5 cups of reserved cooking liquid.  Bring the mixture to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes until rice is tender.

Some of the many organizations contributing to Haitian relief:

Much Ministries
Doctors Without Borders
International Red Cross
Partners in Health
Catholic Relief Services

If you are not a cook or cannot commit to homemade rice and beans, do not let that deter you from trying out this enriching excercise.  Go with boxed red beans and rice.  This Goya brand was available at my grocery store for $2.50/box.

At age 4, we let Vincenzo off the hook but I did not cook for him. He ate cereal, cheese sticks and hard boiled eggs. Maverick (almost 9-years-old) did eat rice and beans but began to complain loudly on the 4th night. Our 11-year old, Lollie, managed to find other places to eat dinner for 4 of the 5 nights and then wanted to know why she couldn’t “just have rice?” She proceeded to pick at her dinner opting for a heavy dessert of apples and bananas.

For me, the humility began on day one when I placed my pot on the stove thinking that many women in Haiti probably don’t even have access to their pots. I was grateful for the raw ingredients, the clean water supply and the steady stream of natural gas for cooking. I was even appreciative of the loud complaining at the table because at least it meant that there was food to complain about.

The aroma of the rice and beans mimicked the scent so redolent in the employee break room at the Eliot and it brought a smile to my face. Making Haitian rice and beans was a simple way for me to honor the people of Haiti, to recognize their hardships and to save a little money to send their way.

Other than dinner, we did not make any changes to our eating routines. Breakfast, snacks, lunch and dessert remained intact. We did not serve any drinks with dinner and then when they kids announced that they were thirsty, we asked them to imagine how thirsty the Haitian children must be. During grace, we said special prayers for the people in Haiti and for the people trying to help them.

Amid the intermittent protests, we did have some fantastic conversations:

What do you appreciate about living in the United States?
“Vincenzo has good doctors.”
“I like that girls and boys can go to school.”
“Libraries and sledding hills.”
“I like that we have a real house and that we are not frozen at night.”

What do you think the children in Haiti are sad about?
“That their families got killed or hurt by the earthquake.”
“That their houses are broken.”
“That everything they know is destroyed.”
“That there is no safe water to drink.”

If you could do anything for the people of Haiti, what would you do?
“Give them $1000 of my own money.”
“Let them come live in the United States.”
“Give them my toys.”
“Make sure the USS Comfort stays until everyone is feeling better.”

What did you learn from eating rice and beans for 5 nights?
“I don’t like rice and beans.”
“We are lucky that to have grocery stores and money to buy food.”
“The kids in Haiti would love to eat dinner at our house.”

What do you want for supper tomorrow night?
“Scrambled eggs with bacon and toast”
“Corn and potatoes and a big, giant steak”
“Hamburgers with chips and pickles too”
“Any kind of salad”

We also had an in-depth talk about how life goes on, even in the midst of tragedy and sadness: How babies are born, how birthdays are celebrated and how championship football games are played.  We discussed difficult situations around the globe from violent civil wars in Africa to illiteracy in Appalachia.  We concluded that we are very lucky, that we should remember to share our blessings and gifts with others less fortunate.

The combined cost of the rice and beans was $5.70. All of the other ingredients were in my pantry.

In the end, our family donated an additional $84.00 to the Haitian relief effort. This mama was super proud when Maverick suggested we skip “Friday pizza night” and eat pasta instead. He then concluded that “We could donate the money we save to the kids in Haiti.”

My experiment worked!

Some of the many organizations contributing to Haitian relief:

Much Ministries
Doctors Without Borders
International Red Cross
Partners in Health
Catholic Relief Services

For the original post on Haitian Rice & Beans, click here.

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