There are no black beans in France

Before I moved here, I knew that some common American foods were rare in France. Plain Cheerios, for example, can only be found in specialty import stores where they sell for €12. Same with boxed macaroni and cheese.

I’d read that kale was only recently re-introduced to France. While I love kale, I can live without it for a year. France has plenty of other delicious green vegetables.

But France doesn’t have black beans. And this is a problem.

I love black beans. I eat them almost every day,1 as does my daughter. For years of her life, most of her calories came from black beans and rice, lovingly prepared by her Honduran nanny.

In Los Angeles, black beans are ubiquitous. Any given supermarket will offer six brands of canned beans in a variety of sodium levels. My favorite is from Whole Foods, where you get a discount when you buy a case of 24. That’s every month for us.

So our first week in Paris, we went looking for black beans.

The stereotype of France is that it’s a bunch of tiny little shops. A butcher here, a baker there. And while those definitely exist, there are also a ton of supermarkets. There are at least ten in easy walking distance of our apartment, each of them bigger than your average Trader Joe’s.

Inside you’ll find aisles of candy and cookies, including American brands like Oreos. Head over to the refrigerator case to marvel at more varieties of yogurt than anyone could ever sample. In one corner, you’ll find Chinese and Thai foods. Near the pasta and rice, you’ll find quinoa grown in Ethiopia.

But you won’t find black beans.

We looked in expat forums and food sites where we found others struggling to find black beans, and other foods from Latin America.

Ultimately, we were able to find dried black beans (haricots noir) at two stores: a Peruvian market in the 15th, and a chain of organic groceries called Bio c’Bon. They cost about €4 per pound — considerably more than the U.S., but hardly a deal-breaker.

Dried black beans aren’t nearly as convenient as canned, but it’s not that much work to cook them. Just follow any recipe you find online or, if you want maximum flavor with minimum effort, invest in a pressure cooker.

Back in Los Angeles, we use an Instant Pot IP-DUO50. I was happy to find Amazon has a 220-volt version for Europe and the UK. They look like crock pots or rice cookers, but with lids that lock on tight. Pressure cookers seem intimidating, but trust me, they’re easy.

And suddenly, it’s a food blog

Here’s my recipe for making a big batch of black beans in a pressure cooker:

  1. Dump one pound of dried beans out on a tray, or a wide bowl. Pick through them, tossing out anything that doesn’t look like a perfect black bean. Sometimes tiny stones end up in the bag. I don’t know why, but it happens. So don’t skip this step. It takes two minutes.
  2. Rinse them in a bowl or a colander. Can’t hurt. Plus it makes them look all glossy rather than dry and dusty.
  3. Dump the beans in the cooker. Add one small yellow onion, cut in half. (Or half of a larger onion.) Add 3/4ths of a teaspon of salt. This seems like too little, but really, it’s fine. Add one dried bay leaf. (They’re called “laurel” in French, which is awesome.) Then add six cups of water. That’s 1.5 liters.
  4. Attach the lid and turn on the machine. Set the timer for 37 minutes. Let it start. The little valve in back should be set for “pressure” not “vent.”
  5. Walk away. Return in about an hour for delicious black beans.

You don’t need to release the pressure valve. It will come back to normal by itself, at which point the lid will unlock. The beans inside will be hot and steamy, so keep your face away when you first open it.

With a spoon, retrieve and discard the onion and bay leaf. You’re done.

This recipe produces way too many black beans to eat at once. Fortunately, they freeze well. And they’re significantly tastier than even the best canned black beans.

You American monster

I suspect that about ten paragraphs back, several readers rolled their eyes and asked, “Why don’t you just eat something else, something French?” or “Why live in a foreign country if you’re just going to make it like Los Angeles?”

These people have a point. I suspect they also don’t have kids.

Also, living abroad is about cultural immersion, not assimilation. If we insisted immigrants only eat the dominant foods of the U.S., we wouldn’t have Tex-Mex or pizza or Chinese take-out, all things we now take for granted.

Black beans are the food of my So-Cal culture. It’s great to have them back.

In my next installment, I’ll be teaching you how to make Cheerios from scratch.2

  1. I’m the one person you know who still eats Tim Ferriss’s “slow carb” diet.
  2. Step one: gather sawdust.

I live in Paris now

Two weeks ago, my family and I moved to Paris. We’ll be here for about a year.

I’m not here for work, or to escape this nightmare of an election. Rather, this sojourn has been in the planning stages for several years, going all the way to back to a screenwriters trip organized by Film France back in 2009. My daughter is attending sixth grade here. We’ll head back to Los Angeles for seventh.

While I’m here, I’ll be writing Arlo Finch. And we’ll still be doing Scriptnotes. We recorded a new episode this week. I think we’ll be able to keep up with our normal weekly schedule.

The biggest adjustment so far has been learning how to navigate Paris as an inhabitant rather than a visitor. For example, setting up a French checking account is a nightmare, but it’s a prerequisite for almost everything else (phone plans, electricity, transit passes). Paris busses are remarkably handy in ways I never considered as a tourist. We don’t have a car, but so far that’s been a plus.

Ex-pat American writers living in Paris is a complete cliché, so I won’t be blogging or tweeting about it much. If you want to see what I’m doing during my days, I’m an active user of Instagram stories. So follow me on Instagram if you want to see lots of pictures of kids carrying baguettes and dogs in restaurants.

Sheep Crossing Roads

Scriptnotes: Ep. 265

John and Craig discuss obstacles, those things your characters hate but desperately need.

We also follow up on the great Peter Dodd episode and answer listener questions on writing action, anecdotes as IP and other topics.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 9-02-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The One With the Agent

Scriptnotes: Ep. 264

Craig and John speak with agent Peter Dodd about what he looks for in a writer client, and how he sees the relationships between writers and agents and managers and executives.

We ask all the questions: How does he find new writers? Do competitions matter? How about query letters? And once he has a script in his hands, how much does he read before he knows if wants to sign the writer as a client? Peter answers everything candidly. Even we gasped a few times.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 8-26-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions about Screenwriting

Scriptnotes: Ep. 263

John and Craig introduce “The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Screenwriting,” a curation of questions from

We also take on the Three Page Challenge, with stories from Sinaloa, Mexico to the mind of Mark Twain.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 8-19-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Tidy Screenwriting

Scriptnotes: Ep. 262

John and Craig apply the principles of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” to screenwriting. How can screenwriters learn to let go of beloved scenes, characters, and entire scripts?

We also answer listener questions, including the recent plagiarism ruling in favor of John Carpenter in a French court.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 8-12-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.