There are times when I am convinced this world is a very bad place in which to live.
A dark and stormy mood descended upon my entire town this past weekend. From Friday to Sunday, everybody seemed to be crabby. My boss peppered me with unhappy e-mails on Friday, causing my thoughts to spiral down the “What will I do if he fires me?” ladder. At the bottom of the ladder, I always conclude that leaving grad school, and academia in general, might be a blessing in disguise, but goodness, who wants to be unemployed during these shaky times? Certainly not I.
On Saturday, I went out to get provisions for dinner. Ammie was coming over to cook dinner with me, and I was looking forward to some quality time in the kitchen with her. At the front door of every store, I was practically run over by people trying to leave. The way it worked was this: I would approach the front door and see that one or two people were trying to leave. I would step aside as they moseyed out the front door, so slowly that I wasn’t sure they actually wanted to leave. Then as soon as I thought I’d walk inside, four more people would run outside, determined to knock me over if necessary, if I stood in the way of their freedom. After a few rounds of this, I started to long for the tranquility of my own home. But the worst was yet to come.
Whole Foods now has carts in three different sizes. They have the gigantic “family size” carts, which I never use because they’re too big. They have the teeny-tiny carts into which you can place two shopping baskets. I like the teeny-tiny carts, but sometimes they are just a bit too small. The medium-sized carts are my favorite. They are green, with two layers of cart space. The bottom layer sticks out farther than the top layer, and I am constantly underestimating how far it sticks out. I like these carts when I have a lot of produce to pick up. On Saturday, my neighborhood Whole Foods was packed. It was crazy: food demos everywhere, people wandering in all sorts of unpredictable patterns. It was chaos. As I exited the produce section on my way to the cheese displays, it was single-file only. Inside my head, the fear of crowds was starting to get the better of me, but I tried to stay calm and breathe. Then, all of a sudden, I bumped into this older woman with my cart, and she turned around and snarled at me. For a moment, I forgot where I was and thought maybe I’d run over her cat. I stammered an apology, blushed profusely, and waited for her to finish hissing at me. I don’t deal well with confrontations, so I just stood there mutely until she had her say and then I scooted over to the cheddars and pretended to be mulling over my choices while inside I was flaming with embarrassment and not just a little anger.
I’m a firm believer in not yelling at people—ever. Patience, gentleness, and allowing imperfections are part of my value system. I’m also a big believer in apologizing if I’ve done wrong. I was the one who had injured this woman with my cart—however minor her pain was, I was the culprit. It wasn’t intentional, though, and I never assume that if someone has hurt me, it was intentional. Okay, every now and again I wonder if it was, but I act like it was an accident. So it’s always jarring and upsetting if someone acts as though I have tried to hurt them, like this woman in Whole Foods. I’m very sensitive this way. It’s really hard to apologize when someone is yelling at me; my throat mysteriously swells up and I can barely squeak out, “I’m sorry.” So Snarling Woman in Whole Foods, I really am sorry about that cart incident. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me.
The best thing about bad moods, though, is that eventually they go away. In the meantime, I’ve got my friends to soothe my spirits. Ammie and I had a dinner that induced sighs of delight and contentedness. Have I mentioned how awesome Ammie is? Because she is really awesome. I like her a lot. I especially like cooking with her. We made luscious little pan-fried falafel patties and ate them on pitas with tahini sauce, tomatoes, and Romaine lettuce. The tahini sauce was made with whole-milk yogurt, and it was so, so good. Usually I buy lowfat yogurt, but my goodness, that rich tahini sauce really made dinner feel festive to me. Alongside our falafel, we ate a stunning little salad which had my name written all over it from the time I first laid eyes on the recipe. It’s a toss-together mixture of celery, apples, excellent cheddar, and toasted pecans which is then plated on top of some pretty lettuce. It sounds rather humble, mostly composed of pantry ingredients, but it is a company-worthy salad. Maybe even Thanksgiving-table-worthy! For dessert, Ammie made us rice pudding, a fruity version featuring apples, currants, and lots of orange zest. It was a sweet healthy casserole of sorts, made with brown rice. It’s one of those desserts that can go undercover as a snack, maybe with a dollop of lightly sweetened yogurt on top.
Ammie’s company was a good antidote for all the short tempers around town. But when she wasn’t around, my thoughts kept returning to Nicole. She is my role model when it comes to treating people, including myself, kindly. Tomorrow is her birthday—happy birthday, Nicole!—and I adore her. Although I dropped her gift in the mail on Friday, I am positive that I could never give her as many gifts as she has given me. Her friendship is the very best gift, one that can’t be stuffed into a box with styrofoam peanuts. But there are other gifts she’s given me that are more tangible, like the cute snowball candles that smelled like mint. That was last year’s birthday gift. My favorite gift, given to me by example more than anything else, is Eating Well magazine. Nicole had a subscription to it when we were in college, and I took to reading her copies like a moth to a flame. I loved its balance between tasty cooking and healthy eating; it’s a magazine for foodies who don’t want to join Weight Watchers. Now every time I read it, it sparks my interest in the science of nutrition and has me reaching for my stack of post-it notes to mark the Must-Make-This recipes. Eating Well and I have a good track record in the kitchen; lately, everything I’ve made from its pages has been tasty. I’ve had the occasional dud, but hey, that happens with all of my recipe sources. I don’t hold any grudges here.
Nicole is such a loyal friend. She always makes me feel like I’m her favorite person in the entire world. If her husband is reading this, he’s probably thinking, Hey, I’m her favorite person! But I think Nicole’s got enough love for both of us, and the rest of her family and friends, so I’m not worried that she’s going to run out. Nicole, my dear, happy birthday. You are wonderful. Your present is on its way—pardon the delay! And thanks for Eating Well and everything else we share. I’m basking in the warmth of our friendship right now, despite the cold and the darkness and the distance between us.
Crunchy Celery, Apple, and Cheddar Salad
Adapted from this recipe in Eating Well magazine
Every time I eat this salad, I’m amazed by the combination of flavors and textures. It is utterly delicious. I like to use a really good cheddar for this salad, like a sharp cheddar from Tillamook. The cheese goes so well with the sweetness of the apples and the honey dressing, and it brings out the rich toasty flavor of the pecans.
I never do much in the way of fussy presentations when I’m cooking, but I do like to plate this salad when I serve it. I’ve used the delicate cup-shaped leaves from butterhead lettuce, but when all the butterhead is wilty, I’ll pick out some crisp Romaine lettuce and make a bed of Romaine shreds onto which this salad can be laid. Either way, it’s terrific.
4 stalks of celery, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp. fruit vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
2 apples, core removed and diced (no need to peel them unless you want to)
1 cup diced cheddar cheese
1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
Lettuce for serving, such as butterhead or Romaine
1) Set up a large bowl of ice water. Soak the celery stalks in the ice water for 15 minutes to make them nice and crisp for the salad. After 15 minutes, pat them dry and chop them into 1/2-inch pieces.
2) Whisk the vinegar, honey, and salt together in a small bowl.
3) Place the celery, diced apples, cheese, and pecans in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over them and stir gently to mix. Serve on a bed of lettuce as a starter course or a side salad.