Thursday, June 21, 2012

inspired salad

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on June 20, 2012.


Last week I got an email from my pastor.

“I’m just now eating something so delicious that I had to tell someone,” she wrote. “Who would that be? Well, someone who loves food enough to write about it.” 

And then she proceeded to tell me all about her lunch.

She had noticed her cilantro was going to seed, so she’d harvested it all in one fell swoop and then had to figure out what to do with it.

“I had earlier pulled four pink beets—how can they be so huge already?—and set them to boiling in their skins,” she wrote. “Ultimately, I minced the cilantro, diced the cooled beets, and dressed the salad with olive oil, lime juice and a dash of salt. That’s it, but wow! It’s good two days later and looks pretty to boot.”

My pastor doesn’t usually tell me about her lunches. In fact, I think this may have been the first time. So I did the only logical thing I could do in such a situation. I walked over to the fridge where my grocery list resides and scrawled “cilantro” and “beets.”

Two days later, I went to the farmer’s market and bought some striped beets and a big bunch of cilantro. Back home, I called my pastor at the office (interrupting her sermon writing, no doubt)  to double check on the proportions. However, it wasn’t until the following Monday morning that I actually got around to making the salad.

And then I devoured the whole entire thing right then and there. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

I didn’t intend to consume the salad all in one go. I had planned to make it, taste it, and then save it for later. But once I started eating the sweet, juicy beets and pungent, earthy greens, I couldn’t stop. I shoveled it into my mouth via the serving spoon, in great enormous heaps.

The initial feeding frenzy over, I started experimenting with what was left. I added some cooked quinoa that was hanging out in the fridge, and then I tumbled in some crumbled feta cheese. Both additions were lovely, and before I knew it, I had sampled the salad into oblivion.

There’s a moral to the story, of course, and it’s this: if your pastor emails you a recipe, make it. It’s probably inspired.

Cilantro Beet Salad
Inspired by my pastor, Jennifer Davis Sensenig

This is more a formula than a recipe. It seems like a crazy amount of cilantro, and it is, but it’s all good. Trust me.

1 cup roasted (or boiled) beets, cooled and diced
½ to 1 cup chopped cilantro, stems and leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
cooked quinoa, optional
feta cheese, optional

Toss together and taste to correct seasonings.

How to Roast Beets
Trim off the stems and leaves. Scrub the beets. Put the whole beets in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 60-90 minutes or until the beets are fork tender. Cool slightly before peeling. Eat warm, with butter and salt, or refrigerate for later use.

How to Cook Quinoa
Cover 1 cup of quinoa with hot (not boiling) water and let soak for 5 minutes. Rinse and drain the quinoa several times. Both the hot soak and the rinsing help to reduce the bitterness.

Put the quinoa in a saucepan and add 1 ½ (scant) cups of water or chicken broth. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender.

Friday, June 8, 2012

sweet and tender, toasted

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on June 6, 2012.


Little footsteps pitter-patted down the hall. A tray clattered. I lifted my head just enough to see who was bold enough to wake me. It was my little boy bearing two pieces of toasted, heavily buttered, store-bought bread and two grease-smeared glasses of water.

I glanced at the clock. It was 7:01, the latest I had slept in three weeks. I moaned weakly and scrunched further down into the pillows. My head was splitting, my whole body nearly sick with exhaustion. At that moment, my day—nay, my life—seemed insurmountable. I wanted to cry and scream and break glass, but I was too tired.

Despite my righteous indignation, I was acutely aware of my boy’s golden sweetness as he bustled about, arranging the tray on the night stand. Scrambling up on the bed beside me, he chirruped, “There was a baby bird in the driveway, Mama. It was trying to walk!”

For the last several weeks, thanks to the community play I was involved in, I had not been around to help give baths, read stories, and do bedtime tuck-ins and kisses. I was home during the days, true, but I was distracted. My little boy missed me. I could hardly fault him for that.

The unappetizing breakfast wasn’t his problem, either. I had all but ceased to cook, and bread baking was one of the first things to go. It was much easier to pop a loaf of sliced air into a shopping cart than to deal with bowls, flour, and a hot oven.

I had, one day, in a valiant effort to be nurturing, tried to make some oatmeal bread—a treat in our house. Fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and jelly, it’s swoon-worthy. It’s sweet and tender, almost dessert-like, and makes excellent toast.

The golden, high-domed loaves had been a peace offering, of sorts, compensation for all the skimpy meals we’d been having. Tragically, they were underbaked, one more casualty of my fuzzy-headed stupor. We devoured the hacked-off crusts before tossing the doughy insides to the chickens.

doughy remains

That morning when my sleep was cut short much too soon, I did eventually get a handle on my roiling emotions and eat my greasy piece of tasteless toast. After swallowing the last bite, I finally turned to my little boy who was hovering close by, watching and waiting.

“Thank you,” I said. And I meant it.

Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.

This is the bread that I wouldn’t have had to throw to the chickens if my head hadn’t been in the clouds. Toasted, it’s divine.

1 tablespoon yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup oats, quick or rolled
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups boiling water
5 cups white bread flour

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

Measure the oats, whole wheat, sugar, salt, and butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and stir to combine. Let cool to lukewarm. Stir in the dissolved yeast and the white flour. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, only adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle the bowl with flour and plop in the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled.

Divide the dough into two pieces and shape into loaves. Place loaves in greased pans, seam-side down. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until dark golden brown. Remove from pans and cool to room temperature.