Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ruminating on lunch

I recently reread The Wind in the Willows, which you may have seen if you follow me on Twitter because I’ve talked about it a lot. In addition to being just about the most charming, perfectly lovely book I’ve ever read (even better now that I’m an adult), it has several passages of really appealing descriptions of food.

One in particular, near the beginning when we are just starting to get a feel for the friendly, quirky animals that live in this pastoral world, started me ruminating on the topic of lunch:

“…after a short interval [he] reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket… ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wiggling with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water–‘
‘Oh stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘it’s only what I always take on these little excursions'”

The Wind in the Willows

Image from books4yourkids.com

Yes, I know I don’t even eat many of the things in Rat’s basket, but for some reason this scene just tickles me. And more to the point, it made me realize that I’ve managed, over the last couple years of grad school-induced austerity, to get into a pretty good habit of making my lunch and bringing it with me (to school, or now, work) as opposed to buying it every day like I did for so long. I am quite proud of this habit – and how often can you say that about a habit? – so it seemed like something worth sharing.

The recipe in my lunch repertoire that I’m most excited to talk about is for a lunch salad. Womp womp. Yes, I know, I know, but hear me out. The problem with lunch salads in my experience is that they are either too virtuous – vegetable-only affairs that leave you hungry, or too heavy – sure it has fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing in it, but it’s a salad! And neither of those are what I want for lunch. This salad is different though: it’s healthy yet filling, but not too heavy, and it has lots of different textures and flavors – veggies, protein, salty olives, crunchy pumpkin seeds, creamy avocado. In short, it’s the perfect lunch salad.

mix-ins

Oh sure, I’ll bring other things for lunch as well. I tend to bring leftovers from dinners during the week, mixed and matched together to create something new. Recently I tried this twist on a tuna salad sandwich and really liked it. While working on this post, I found that one of my favorite food websites put together a list of lunch recipes that take 5 minutes to pack, which I will definitely try out. But where my luncheon basket is concerned, I keep coming back to this salad. It hits all the right spots, and leaves me feeling both satisfied and healthy.

salad

An Ideal Lunch Salad

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4 lunch-sized salads

The key to getting this salad (or any salad, really) to work with me is prepping it ahead of time. So, on weeks that I want to have this salad for lunch, I spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday evening to get it ready. Assuming you may want to do the same, my instructions below are for this scenario. If you are making this salad for lunch on a weekend, or perhaps a leisurely picnic, then you could obviously prep and mix it all up at once – just make sure to wait on the dressing until right before serving, as with most salads.

Mix-ins:

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15 kalamata or niçoise olives, chopped

Toppings:

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 small ripe avocado, sliced

Dressing:

1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons (depending on how loose you like your dressing) water or any type of unsweetened milk
a pinch of salt (or more, to taste)

Greens:

2-3 handfuls of whatever greens you prefer (I’ve tried it with spinach, romaine, arugula, mixes – you can’t go wrong)

Prep

Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes – until it is fork tender, but not mushy.

In a large container, combine all the mix-ins and store in the fridge until ready to assemble your salad.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and store in a separate container on the counter.

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding as much of the milk/water as desired. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Store the dressing in a glass container in the fridge.

Assembly

In a med-large container (I use one that holds 1 quart), first lay down a bed of greens. On top of the greens, scoop about 2/3 cup of the mix-ins. Top with 1/4-1/2 of an avocado. (I store the other half of the avocado – pit still in it! – in a container in the fridge and it keeps just fine for a day or two).

Bring the toasted nuts and the dressing with you to work. When you are ready to eat lunch, top the salad with about a tablespoon of toasted seeds and as much dressing as you like. Put the top back on your container and then shake it up – I find this is the best way to distribute the dressing throughout the salad. Enjoy!

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Food Books I Love: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

Food can stir up memories like almost nothing else. Perhaps it’s because we eat with so many of our senses at once? Take coffee for instance. I hardly ever drink it, I’m more of a tea girl, but the smell of coffee brewing in the morning makes me think of my dad every time. I blink and I’m seven years old, the smell wafting into my bedroom where I’m still warm under the covers and half asleep, knowing he’s up and getting ready to leave for work, waiting for him to come kiss me goodbye, his mustache tickling my cheek and the smell of coffee on his breath.

Or blueberry pancakes. While a lovely idea, the sight, the smell, or (god forbid!) the taste of them will forever start my stomach quivering with the memory of a particularly bad flu I had as a child. I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve talked about this idea before. Here in reference my grandma, and how she is so connected to Italian food in my mind that almost anything with red sauce conjures her up before my very eyes. And here, when I told you about this decidedly un-hip Snickerdoodle, one bite of which drops me in the middle of the kitchen floor in my childhood home.

It’s a theme I can’t help repeating though. It is the key to why food holds such an important place in my life. It turns out I’m not the only one. In the book I just finished reading, Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, food is the center around which Julia Pandl’s family orbits.

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch

Her parents own a restaurant and, at the age of 14, Pandl is conscripted into the family business just like her eight (!) brothers and sisters before her. The coming-of-age story that unfolds from this event is punctuated with food: from a scarring breakfast sausage to smoked trout with a hangover to fiscal responsibility as taught by a can of peanuts.

It is certainly cliché to say “I laughed, I cried…,” but I did both. Pandl has an understated, self-effacing, but steady humor that had me chuckling through much of the book. And when fear, loss, and grief creep in and take that humor’s place, as they of course do in life, they are all the more moving for its absence.

The book is broken into two distinct halves. In the first we grow up with Pandl and get to know her family, especially her parents, through the lens of the restaurant, Pandl’s in Bayside. In the second half, we go along for the ride as Pandl wrestles with life, examines her faith, and explores her relationship with her parents. My only slight complaint is that the halves are too starkly different. That one moment I’m surrounded by the warm, comforting smell of brunch in the restaurant and the next I don’t get so much as a pancake for chapters. That is also, I suppose, how life is though. You think you’ve figured out what your life is all about and then it turns out that’s not it at all. The loss of what we think is important can be one of the surest ways to show us what is truly important.

For Pandl and her family, as for me and I’m sure many others, food is the vehicle through which memories are formed. It is the catalyst for them to be shared and related to. Ultimately, however, it is the people we love who are the substance of our memories and the true sustenance of our lives.

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Life happened

Um…hi! That was a longer break than I planned. As I weighed how to return to posting here after so (so!) long, I hemmed and hawed and considered not picking it up again at all. I found that idea made me really sad though.

So here I am.

Since we last talked life happened in a serious way. I graduated from grad school in June.

grad diploma

W00t!

I was super fortunate and got a job right away. Before the summer was over we (me, boyfriend, and pets) moved to Oregon for said job.

pretty oregon

And I am now a real, live librarian!

librarian

It is still a little surreal that I pulled this career-and-major-life-change off, but I am happy I did. We are settling into our new life in Oregon, grateful to still be in the lovely Pacific Northwest, exploring the area, trying to make friends and become a part of the community.

As part of that settling and expanding into this new life, I’ve been working on becoming a human again with interests and pastimes and things I do outside of work that don’t involve studying (imagine it!). And that’s when I got to missing this space. I missed the creative outlet it provided me, the sense of community I felt with you who read the stories I had to tell, not to mention the excuse to cook up delicious things, read delicious books, and then talk about them.

So, I will be doing that again and I will be honored if you are still interested in reading.

See you here in just a few days when I will tell you about a wonderful book I’m almost done reading…

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