Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On Lunch, Skybound and with Wheat Berries

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Greetings from an eastbound CTA train, dear reader! I’m aboard the Blue Line, enjoying a dusky Chicago skyline and looking forward to a night of sleeping in my own bed. I have completed my interview circuit and now I have a week to decide between two job offers.

I am of course grateful to have two awesome positions on the table, but more than that, I’m grateful I won’t be traveling anywhere for at least a month (hopefully longer, but I’ll try not to be greedy here). Traveling is exhausting; traveling for job interviews is strange sort of exhaustion. I’ve found that as long as I am “on,” I don’t feel the exhaustion at all. But as soon as I’m left alone, I collapse in a heap on the hotel bed, utterly spent by the sheer effort it takes to be pleasant, enthusiastic, and brilliant. My postdoc interviews have had this lovely break between late afternoon and dinner during which I get dropped off at a hotel and I can crawl into bed for a nice nap. Right before that, I strip off all my fancy interview clothes: high heels(!), stockings, skirt, conservative little sweater. My whole body breathes a sigh of relief and for a few blissful hours, we forget about science and trying to impress people. I wake up later, drunk with sleep, but refreshed and ready to rock and roll.

In science, we have a saying from Louis Pasteur that comes in handy: Chance favors the prepared mind. I think it’s also applicable to traveling. It’s important to plan wisely when trying to catch a plane. One never knows when she’ll be stranded in the Eastern Iowa Airport for three hours with nary a homemade crumb to eat, forced to suffer bad cheese quesadillas at a bar where not even a single salad is vegetarian. (I’m not bitter, really!) Traveling is hard on us control freaks because we give up so much of the thing that makes us tick: predictability. Who knows if the plane will be on time, if the weather will be favorable for airborne cruising, if the person sitting next to us on the plane will have a few cracks in his windshield? If I were a praying sort of person, I would pray that my god work these things out for me ahead of time, but instead, I just pack a lunch and know that even if everything else goes wrong, at least my noontime meal will be good.

As misfortune would have it though, an airborne lunch presents its own difficulties. My entire repertoire of soups is off-limits, unless I measure out an itty-bitty three-ounce portion to conform to TSA regulations on liquids. Anything else worth considering must taste good at room temperature; otherwise lunch will be disappointing. Lunch must not require refrigeration or else I can count on a rather unpleasant visit to the emergency room later that day. No meal is worth that.

So what’s left? In a word: salad. When I travel, salad is my friend. It doesn’t mind if it has to sit in my bag for a few hours. It won’t complain if it gets tossed around a bit on the journey. The flavors wait patiently for me to dig my fork into them. It easily passes TSA inspection, unlike my laptop computer which was swabbed for chemicals on my way to North Carolina last week. I don’t even know what I would have done if they’d confiscated that! But my salad didn’t even get a second glance, which made my belly happy. It would have been a much less pleasant trip if they’d taken my salad away, especially since my super-early morning made my belly grumble by about 11 AM.

Right before a trip, I am usually running around like a maniac, trying to get ten thousand things done before I leave. A salad that can be prepped well ahead of time is my traveling dream. How about a salad that keeps so well in the fridge that it can be dinner one night and—almost without thinking—a skybound-lunch the next day? Dear reader, I give you the recipe for an almost-magical wheat berry salad, courtesy of Vegetarian Times. It was featured in an article on make-ahead foods that keep and travel well. My heart pounds in excitement just thinking about this recipe! It features a jumble of unusual ingredients: chewy wheat berries, herbally crunchy fennel, salty olives, plump sweet raisins, creamy cheese, and the almost Cheez-It®-like flavor of roasted pistashios. (Surely I’m not the only one who thinks pistashios taste like Cheez-Its®?) If you’re fancy, you can serve the salad over a bed of crisp greens, but I have found that this salad is great even without the greens or the cheese. It’s a salad that tries to cover all its flavor bases, and it could have been a horrible clash of tastes, but somehow, it works. Magically, it works.

Even though I don’t plan to board any more planes for a while, I plan to make this salad all summer long. Maybe when I make my next bowlful, I’ll use that time to contemplate which lab I should join. If the salad helps me make that decision, I’ll declare it magical indeed.

Summertime Wheat Berry Salad
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes 4-6 main-dish servings

1 1/2 cups cooked wheat berries, cool or at room temperature (start with 1/2 cup dried wheat berries)
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small bulb fennel, sliced as thinly as you can manage
1/4 cup raisins
1-2 shallots, finely chopped
8 olives, any kind (pick your favorite; I like Kalamata olives), pits removed and coarsely chopped

For serving:
Several cups of chopped greens, such as spinach or Romaine lettuce
4-6 oz. cheese (pick your favorite), chopped into large dice (I use ~1 oz. per serving)
1/4 cup roasted pistashios, or more to taste, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp. honey

1) In a large bowl, toss together the wheat berries, chickpeas, fennel, raisins, shallots, and olives. Refrigerate this mixture if you aren’t serving the salad at this time. Otherwise…
2) When you’re ready to serve the salad, plate the greens. Pile a large spoonful or two of the wheat berry mix on top of the greens. Scatter some diced cheese and pistashios over that.
3) Whisk together the balsamic vinegar and honey. Drizzle some of this sweet-and-tangy dressing over the salad and serve.

*Travel version: Prepare a single serving as directed above but place the ingredients in a travel-ready container. This mixture will keep well at room temperature for a few hours, but I’m sure it’s better if “room temperature” isn’t disgustingly hot.

13 comments:

Jess said...

Wow, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate. Glad to hear that at least you've got this wheat berry salad on the side!

Rosiecat said...

Jess, I think a good salad can go a long way toward restoring sanity! Your broccoli salad looks like a mighty fine way to keep the knives moving even during times of extreme busy-ness. I absolutely love the idea of salads that keep well in the fridge and wait patiently for you. I feel better just thinking about it.

ttfn300 said...

cheeze-its, really? i don't think i've ever had that thought :)

I'm not a huge fan of raw fennel, but the idea of taking a salad is a good one. Can you make me one for my flight today? i have been running around like a chicken with its head chopped off, and the only thing i have already done is indian... not gonna chance it :)

congrats on your offers, where are you deciding between?

Rosiecat said...

ttfn, really? No thoughts of Cheez-Its while eating pistashios? Okay, maybe I'm just a complete weirdo.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like the fennel in this salad. I was skeptical, but it turns out to be delicious! I think the key is to slice in finely so that the other flavors in each bite are not overwhelmed by a huge hunk of fennel. I also think the crunchiness is nicer with thin slices.

If I could, I'd Fedex you a Tupperware container of salad for your flight!

I'm deciding between offers at Texas A & M University and the University of Iowa. This decision is very hard! I'm still not sure what I'm going to do.

Anonymous said...

RA,

Congrats on the job offers! Here are some pros and cons, Davidson-style. (Make that feminine Davidson style; J does not appreciate the greatness of Texas, which is terribly sad.)

Iowa food:
- Being a farm state, there will presumably be lots of fresh veggies and cheeses.

Texas food:
- Best BBQ ever . . . wait. That doesn't help you. Within 40 miles of the Dr. Pepper factory, REAL Dr. Pepper with REAL sugar. It's amazing!

Iowa entertainment:
- Cow watching.

Texas entertainment:
-Cow watching

Iowa visitation policies:
- We can drive there in one long day to visit you.

Texas visitation policies:
- We can visit you when we fly there to visit family. However, if said family (containing U-T alumni) discovered we were going to A&M, we might not make it out of the house.

Iowa sentimental value:
- None

Texas sentimental value:
- Lots. Love that beautiful open sky. Love the warm winter. Love those friendly people, including the friendly tractor drivers that pull over to the side of the road so you can pass them. Love the state capitol with its pink granite. Love the state parks (go to Lake Brownwood). Love that Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate ice cream. Love the Aggie jokes I will pull out of my elementary school memories.

Keep us posted. :)

Love,
AMPD

JD said...

Please completely disregard AMPD's post. She has a sick love for the Lone Star State. Lets talk a little about the REAL texas and not some imaginary fairtale version that lives in my Wife's head.

1. Texas is a VERY conservative state... George W. is from there.

2. Texas leads all states in number of people put to death each year. over 400 since 1976, 4 times as many as the closest competitor...so much for that friendly nature.

3. Blue Bell Ice cream tastes like Meijer Brand. Honestly, nothing special.

4. Everyone in Texas eats meat. in order to get a state ID, you have to eat a full rack of ribs in under an hour.

5. It is FREAKIN' HOT in Texas, and there is NO WATER.

Pick Iowa!

Anonymous said...

RA,

Disregard J's comments #3, #4, and part of #5 . . . they are not true. Hot yes, but there is water in the eastern half of the state where you will be. #1 and #2, sadly, I cannot argue with. You can call my grandma if you need some good Democratic support while you are there. :)

AMPD

Rosiecat said...

AMPD and JD, you guys crack me up. I'm glad to hear that SOMEBODY around here is a fan of Texas! I think Midwesterners are inherently suspicious of the South, but for some reason I've always felt pulled toward it.

The deadline for my decision is looming, so we'll see what the final decision is...

ttfn300 said...

haha, loved those comments :) i have no feelings about either state, but i'm sure you'll make the right decision!

Gena (Choosing Raw) said...

Salad is most certainly my travel friend, too! And he is my full-time friend as well :)

Gena (Choosing Raw) said...

Salad is most certainly my travel friend, too! And he is my full-time friend as well :)

Hillary said...

Yoplait used to make "Breakfast Yogurts" with fruit, nuts, and wheat berries. This was my favorite breakfast in eartly elementary school ... until it was discontinued when I was in third or fourth grade. So sad! I reminisce about it each time I come across something with wheat berries. They're the best!

Rosiecat said...

ttfn, I totally agree! If only I could use the comments section from this site to assist me in making this major, life-altering decision...

Gena, hello again! Salad is my full-time friend too, especially during these steamy summer days. By the way, even though I just left you a comment, I want to tell you again that I loved your response to the Self article about detox diets. What a brilliant, thoughtful piece! You amaze me.

Hillary, those Breakfast Yogurts sound perfect! We should bring them back, even if we have to make them ourselves. I'm really enjoying the texture of wheat berries these days--so nice and chewy! I've been adding them to my oatmeal a la Kath and they are scrumptious that way.