On and on

Nearly every day after school when I was a kid, I would go over to my best friend Ashley’s house and go inside without knocking. Their kitchen was a galley-style affair, with black appliances and a side-by-side refrigerator before the days when those were even really popular. The refrigerator was closest to the entrance and so, the first thing I would do when I went inside, sometimes before even yelling ‘Hey!’ up the stairs to Ashley, was to open the refrigerator and look inside.

Because my brother was a Type 1 diabetic, and because my mom was a semi-health-nut (the kind who made granola before that became a cool, hipster thing to do), the foods we had at home were rarely ones that I was excited to eat.  For instance: Frookies.  I am trying to think of how to describe the taste of a Frookie, because (in a ‘nam-style flashback sort of way) I still do remember the taste and the smell of them, but I am at a loss for words.  They were like a soggy unsweetened graham cracker, maybe?  Or perhaps I could describe them to you as: the only cookie in the world that, when you offer them to a child, the child will say “No thanks.”

In contrast, Ashley’s house always had Keebler Soft Batch cookies (that were best warmed for 8 seconds in the microwave on a paper towel) and Oscar Meyer bologna (best eaten folded in half, with many small bites taken out of it in order to create an abstract sort of meat-snowflake or a very creepy/sad rendition of a human face).  On the bottom shelf of the far corner cupboard was a gallon-size crock of Penrose hot sausages, neon-pink and alarmingly sour, their strange combination of pucker and heat that was enticing after the first bite, but too nose-wateringly overwhelming for you to finish even half the sausage.

And then there was the chocolate frosting.  It lived on a lower shelf of the refrigerator door, and this was not frosting that was leftover after making a cake or cupcakes; this was frosting that was bought specifically for eating right out of the jar.  So my afternoons usually started like that: with a spoonful of chocolate frosting which, taken straight from the refrigerator, had a taste and texture reminiscent of Christmas fudge.  It was not against the rules to go back and have a second spoonful of frosting, but if you did, you ought to get a clean spoon.  I don’t have to tell you that it was waaay better than a Frookie.

I still have the habit of fridge and pantry-snooping. When I go over to my parents’ house, the first thing I do is open the fridge and look on all the shelves; next I move on to the pantry, then the cupboards, and lastly, the freezer.  When I stay overnight with friends or family, I take stock of their refrigerators; if I’m staying longer than a night, it’s likely I’ll find out what’s in their pantry, as well.

It’s not that I’m even hungry; I just like to see what’s there and maybe, if it is something that sounds good or intriguing, I will (mentally) talk myself into having a snack even though, if I had been sitting at a table and you had asked if I wanted anything to eat I would’ve told you, “No, thanks.”

And this is how Andy and I got ourselves on a tabbouleh kick.

While visiting Aunt Suzy and Uncle Bert in Maine last summer, and rummaging through their pantries, in the dark forgotten depths I found two half-empty packages of bulgur; a dusty can of hearts of palm; a small and nearly-expired jar of artichoke hearts; and in the crisper drawer of their refrigerator, various vegetables that were quickly losing their crisp.

With just some boiling water, lots of chopping and can-opening, within twenty minutes we were all enjoying some healthy, hearty tabbouleh alongside our sandwich lunches.

And whenever I come across something that is made with whole grains and/or vegetables that Andy actually enjoys (i.e. does not complain about) eating, I make a mental note, and then I try to make that thing as often as possible.

Which is to say: our workday lunches have been going a bit like this: tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouleh.  I make a double batch on weekends, and we scoop it into tupperwares and eat it all week.

I’ve been making it with quinoa for added protein instead of bulgur, also because I don’t ever have bulgur on hand but I always have quinoa (thanks, costco!).  I tried making it once using millet, but the texture of the millet after it had been refrigerated was unappealing (it was like the texture of cooked rice after it’s been refrigerated, i.e. sort of hard instead of chewy).  So, we stick with the quinoa.

Quinoa ‘Tabbouleh’ Vegetable Salad Recipe
3 c. cooked quinoa (or whatever amount you get after cooking 1 c. dry quinoa in 2 c. water; or what I usually just do is cook 2 c. dry quinoa/4 c. water and have some with dinner, and whatever is leftover goes in the ‘tabbouleh’).
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced*
1 very large (‘hothouse’ type that is shrink-wrapped in plastic) or 2 regular cucumbers, diced
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1-2 teaspoons other dried herbs (I usually use a combo of thyme, oregano, and Italian seasoning)
1/2 c. crumbled feta
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
~1/3 c. pine nuts, optional but highly recommended; for garnishing
Combine all ingredients except pine nuts and stir gently until well-mixed.  Add a few pinches of salt and pepper, and more herbs/vinegar/lemon juice/feta if needed to suit your tastes.  Serve garnished with pine nuts.
*The color of the bell pepper is just for looks, really.  When I make a double batch I’ll use one orange and one yellow, but if all you have on hand is a green or red pepper, feel free to use that instead.

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