Moving to Washington, D.C. - Black Beans and Rice Chipotle Bowls
Moving to Washington, D.C.
I moved to Washington, D.C. in August 2011. Meaning I graduated from Dickinson College in May, traveled around Southeast Asia in June and July, and moved in August. At that point, Will and I had been dating long distance for over a year. And to be honest, we were both exhausted by the emotionally taxing nature of the effort. Keeping in touch seemed like a full time job. So, we reached an ultimatum: Either I moved to D.C., or we would end it.
We met in D.C. in Spring 2010, and that summer I would often take the Bolt Bus on the weekends from New York City to D.C. I was interning full time at the Benenson Strategy Group, a political polling firm in New York. Those weekends were great. Everything new. But, we’d eat out for every meal.
By Fall 2010, I was back at Dickinson, which fortunately was only a two hour drive to D.C. I would visit often. He came to a field hockey game. I recall always postponing what time to drive back on Sundays. One more hour. Okay, just one more hour! My senior year was my fourth year of playing field hockey, while serving as President of College Democrats. I was an RA, but also fortunate to work at the Career Center for work study. It's where I learned to network--a novelty for me. Moreover, I learned the benefits of an informational interview. So, my trips to visit Will were combined with at least three informational interviews with folks in the political realm. The point is to ask how the interviewee got their start. People love talking about themselves. Then, if a position opens up down the line, your name is on their radar. To this day, it's my primary advice to any young person looking to work in Washington, D.C.: informational interviews. Those weekends visiting Will my senior year were defined by informational interviews, and an embarrassing number of dinners at Chipotle.
Here's networking at it's finest. My youngest sister's babyhood’s friend’s mother’s college roommate worked in politics. I called her to conduct my standard informational interview. I concluded the interview by asking if there’s anyone else she recommended I get in touch with. I may note, a great leading last question. She recommended her good friend and Director of the House Radio TV Gallery.
I followed up, and combined the informational interview with a visit with Will. The interview went great. In so many words, she said, “you’re terrific, but you’re vastly under-qualified.” It was the truth--I had no legitimate work experience. She recommended I work on Capitol Hill and to keep in touch. That's all I needed to hear. I was sold. I knew I wanted to work for her.
Fast forward to August 2011, I was on a rampaging search for this so-called Hill experience. But, without connections, you're hard-pressed to get an entry-level job in any Congressional office. One Friday when I visited Will, I went door to door dropping off my resume. I arranged some interviews with legislative directors ahead of time, but mostly, it was on a whim. I contacted every office in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegation—my hometown and college ties. I was repeatedly turned away. Thus, I was shocked when one office said they would take me on. No, not as a Staff Assistant, but as an unpaid intern. Sure, I’ll take it. It was something. Enough of a something to pack up and give D.C. a real try.
There was a lot on the line. I wanted a job in D.C., but I also wasn’t ready to end my relationship with Will. So, my full-time, unpaid internship for a congressman was a start. I had one day to find an apartment, and ultimately lucked out with a group row house in the Dupont area. I took a job as a hostess at the restaurant, Circa. I worked every day on the Hill 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and most weeknights as a hostess. I also picked up weekend shifts at the restaurant.
I gave myself a six month time frame to find a job with a full salary, or I would have to move back home. I remember those first few months in D.C. quite vividly. I sat at the front desk in the congressman's office, answering phones, managing constituent mail, delegating constituent casework. Primarily, I was a greeter and welcomed people as they walked in for meetings. As a hostess at the restaurant, the nature of the job was literally, greeting. I found smiling, yessing, and being constantly "on" tiring. Although most weeknights were at the restaurant, on Thursdays I would go to Will’s. And we would get Chipotle. Every Thursday night.
Not yet fully employed, I was on a tight budget. Will was always generous, but going out every time we saw each other added up. One Thursday, I proposed I’d make dinner. I was confident I could recreate our meal at Chipotle for a fraction of the price. Growing up, Cuban black beans and rice was a staple dinner. My mom adapted the recipe from her eldest sister who lived in Miami. My mom’s version included sautéed onions and green pepper, plus black beans with the liquid and letting it simmer. She'd serve it over over rice, topped with cheddar cheese and a plate of chopped fresh cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. I made a quicker version for me and Will.
It was the first meal I ever cooked for us. So, our Thursdays started to transition from going out to Chipotle to making black beans and rice for us. My mom’s versions became my own, as I drained the liquid, added corn and mixed in a cooked brown rice medley. I added my own seasoning, but was always heavy handed with the cumin since my mom was. Eventually, we adopted vegetarian enchiladas to our Thursday repertoire. Will always got a burrito at Chipotle, so it seemed appropriate. We started spending more evenings together, knowing Thursdays we would cook. To this day, Chipotle bowls are in our weekly rotation sometimes more than once a week. I make it when I don't want to be creative. It's second nature at this point. Sometimes I add kale rather than edamame or top it with an egg rather than good cheese. But this recipe was one of my earliest versions. It's not exaggeration when I say it remains Will's favorite dinner.
Black Beans and Rice Chipotle Bowls
3/4 cup brown rice medley, dry
1 15.5 oz. can Goya black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup sweet corn, defrosted
1/2 cup edamame, defrosted
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 medium green pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. sweet and spicy barbecue sauce
2-3 tsp. Sriracha
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper
To make the brown rice, heat 1 3/4 cups of water
Once it boils, add rice, reduce heat and cover to let simmer at an extremely low heat
Meanwhile, dice onion, green pepper, mince garlic
Heat large saute pan with olive oil, cook until translucent
Add green pepper, cook for about 3 more minutes
Add minced garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper, and cook for 1-2 additional minutes
Add drained and rinsed black beans and barbecue sauce, let simmer
Add a ladle of starchy rice cooking water to loosen the beans, more if needed
Add corn and edamame until just warmed through
Combine the rice and beans once done cooking, mix well
Add sriracha, salt and pepper, more to taste
Divide rice and beans between two bowls, and top with freshly grated extra sharp cheddar