I was driving to the store, last Friday, when a Jeep Commander to my right cranked the wheel, hard left. Veered so sharply into my lane, I couldn't see his license plate. Or bumper. Indeed, what I saw mostly was him, the driver, which is such a bad thing to see when someone's moving into your lane.
To say there was a foot to spare would be generous. No, an exaggeration. Six inches, maybe. More like three.
It wouldn't have been a terminal crash; city streets; lightning reflexes; tons of steel. But it would've been ugly, should've been. Mostly on my end, a car corner gone. Maybe a car quarter. A strong maybe. That there was no kid in that front right quadrant is a fluke I'm still muttering startled thanks for a week later, over tea and laundry and middle of the night wake-ups that look a lot like instant replays.
That we missed each other at all, I credit to total attention; the Defensive Driving class I took at 16, which drilled home, "always watch what's ahead of you, and more importantly, what's AHEAD of what's ahead of you"; and my dad's insistence that it's hard to crash badly if you just go very, very slow. My dad was eccentric, brilliant, irreverent, right and wrong about many things. Also, always, always late. Still, I've stood by this particular advice, and to this day drive like I'm eighty.
All this meant that as the behemoth steered into my almost-flank, as I slammed on the brakes and held the center line and checked my mirrors so as not to cause a pile-up, I, too, saw the cyclist. Suddenly there, in the right lane. Popping out from between two curb-parked cars. Instantly in front of the Jeep. All but invisible in the harsh/dim dappled Ohio light. About to be barreled down by the tank. I think it's what they call a lose-lose-lose. Could've been. Should've.
(Luck ran wide and deep that day.)
It was one of those small ordinary eclipses, wherein two worlds align so exactly, reality alters itself, for a moment. It looked for all the world like the Jeep was oblivious, cocky, or texting, ignoring the road absolutely. A honk was in order, a laying on of horns, and probably a few well-hurled insults. I could have re-routed attention to that. Escalated. Mis-calculated. But a few old habits (and a double-dose of serendipity) let me see what he saw. This was so extraordinary, such an exercise in perspective-taking, this seeing of two sides of the coin, simultaneously.
Now, admittedly, I prefer to glean such insights via—how shall we say?—tidier means. NOVA, NPR, a nice Ken Burns special. More OnBeing. (Latest favorites: this week's Maria Popova; the wrenching, extraordinary Bruce Kramer; and among my most favored poets, the inimitable Marie Howe.) You know, good passive inputs, delivered in sixty-minute segments. With pause buttons. Definitely with pause buttons.
Saturday, the next day, was rough. We clean, Saturdays, which sounds so good and routine-y and diligent. And it is. It also signals a weekly rending of garments and a general tidal wave of gloom, as everyone rises to their first, accursed day of the weekend. "Wouldn't a week of Sundays be wonderful?", Zoë said to me, just this morning, the way a child speaks of eating ice cream for every meal, for always. Yes, please. On both counts.
But the house looks much better by noon; and there's cameraderie in the complaining; and the messes and dirt that accumulate are (mostly) set to rights, for another seven days. But this Saturday was unusually bumpy. Everyone was off. The week's heat had been fierce. The delicate dance that keeps five people moving forward kept losing its tempo, its rhythm. Bump, bump.
Three hours into my "cleaning", I still hadn't so much as begun, so busy had I been helping one child, after another, after another, with theirs. Which is when, sleeves rolled, scrubber ready, Number One would return, with need of more help, all incredulous I hadn't even started. What had I been doing, all this time?
Meanwhile, things kept popping up, good things; great things; Saturday surprises. But the machinery of family's a funny thing, sensitive to the slightest shifts, even grand ones. Drip 82% Valrhona over factory gears, and the thing will still halt. We screeched. At least, I did. And grouched. And groused. (I am so not mellow in these moments.) (I can also apparently hold minor miracles in my mind for a maximum of seventeen hours. Because clearly, any perspective I'd gained from the prior day's near-miss was, by then, in Brazil.)
So I went for a walk late that morning (some people call it exercise; me, emergency "I" time), leaving my cleaning mostly un-done. And mid-walk, I remembered another small stutter in our day, something regarding the boys and a when/where/how logistic I'd failed to communicate. So I texted home. Except, when my two left thumbs went to type "the boys", the screen read back, "those joys".
I snorted, right there on the road. Indeed. I had to give it up to autofail. It can set things to rights better than any bleach bottle.
And so it is on our table, in May, two worlds overlapping, crazily, briefly. I have fresh, local, excellent arugula coming out my ears. I adore arugula. But no fresh, local fruit to accompany it. The pears for this beloved salad are downright sad, right now. Beets and oranges for this favorite, so, so tired. So when I picked up Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life from the library last week, I stopped short at the XXXL Lady Salad.
There, on page 114, was a way with arugula to still my salad-hungry heart. Tosi tosses arugula with fruit, nuts, cheese, all the usual suspects. But to this, she adds quinoa, which when paired with arugula, is a game-changer. The tiny seed curls are precisely the right size and weight for the tender leaves, clinging without weighing down, adding crunch and chew where arugula offers little. Even their personalities are yin/yang, all mellow zen nubbins rubbing shoulders with that pleasant sharp zip-prickle. Together, they sing.
To this tangle of grains and greens, the cheese and nuts play their parts well, adding heft and lush and smack and crisp, pops of slap-happy amidst all that healthy. And then there's the fruit, which is where Tosi and I part ways, and where awkward May comes into its own as a grand thing indeed. In exchange for Tosi's blueberries (which outside of summer, never seem to me sweet enough), I swapped in mangoes, cubed, firm-ripe, sweet and tart and excellent and intense.
After a lackluster mango year, last year, we've enjoyed a spectacular season, this one, buying case after case of atulfo (champagne) mangos, those small, narrow, concentrated orange gems, at their peak about right now. Mostly, we eat them peeled and sliced, with breakfast; for snack; in salsa, over salmon. But the moment I chucked a heap into this salad, I've not looked back. It tasted like fate.
It's one of those heaven-made matches. Sharp greens, vivid fruit, tweedy pseudo-grain seeds; twangy with feta, punctuated with almonds, kicky with herbs, all bound together by one dishy dressing. Oh gosh, we haven't talked dressing. Tosi, being Tosi—she of the compost cookie and crack pie and cereal milk ice cream—has built a career upending convention in the kitchen, typically brilliantly. (She was also born in Ohio. Overlap that.) Her dressing's no different.
To a standard vinaigrette of acid and oil, she adds a bit of sweet (honey), a bit of burn (mustard), two touches I often overlook, though shouldn't. And then, she adds a glug of fish sauce. The Thai standard; the curry staple; a small half-teaspoon; a genius move. It adds this ineffable funk to the whole, salinity, yes, but more, umami. It's such a small splash; you'd think it optional. And for sure, this salad will soar without it. But oh, if you have a bottle of Red Boat lounging in your pantry? Pull it out, here. I think I've made four batches in half as many weeks. And eaten them all. And if the mangoes and greens continue in their lockstep alignment? I may just be getting started...
Arugula, Quinoa + Mango Salad
adapted from Milk Bar Life, by Christina Tosi
I favor atulfo (or champagne) mangoes, the smaller, oblong, pointy-tipped sort, for their firm texture and concentrated flavor. Tosi's original has several more steps: marinating and roasting the feta; multiple herbs; vinegar and lemon in the dressing. I simplified it to suit, from the get go. It's got good bones, that way. No limes? Sub in sherry vinegar. Vet those blueberries. Play.
I've written this as a single-serving recipe, which is how I most often prepare it in practice. The first day, I cook a full cup of dry quinoa, then partake all week. Ditto the dressing. Alternatively, you can scale up the whole by four, and feed a crowd with the full portion of quinoa + dressing.
1/2 cup cooked quinoa*
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
2 Tbs. feta, crumbled
2 Tbs. slivered almonds, toasted
1 scallion, slivered (optional)
3 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
3 greedy fistfuls arugula (3 cups)
1/3 cup lime juice (from 2 limes)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
To make dressing: Squeeze limes into a wide-mouthed, lidded jar. Add salt, honey, mustard and fish sauce, then swirl thoroughly to dissolve and combine. Add olive oil—I like a 50/50 lime juice/oil balance, but up the oil if you prefer a more traditional, less acidic dressing—then replace lid, and shake vigorously to emulsify. This will make enough to dress 3-4 salads, as written, above.
To assemble salad: In a wide, shallow bowl, add quinoa, cubed mango, feta, almonds and scallions, if using. Drizzle over a splash of dressing, and toss gently, to marry. Add arugula and cilantro, another good glug of dressing, 3-4 Tablespoons total, then toss again, gently, thoroughly, until greens and bits are all pleasantly jumbled. Dig in.
*Prepare quinoa: I follow The Kitchn's foolproof instructions, adding only this one step: after simmering your quinoa for 15 minutes, and before setting it aside off the heat for five, slip a clean, taut, doubled-over dishtowel under the lid. This absorbs excess steam, and helps keep the quinoa light, fluffy and wonderful. For this salad recipe, prepare 1 cup dry quinoa + 1 tsp. kosher salt in 2 cups water.
*Toast Slivered Almonds: Toast your slivered almonds on a rimmed baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, watching carefully; they burn in a blink.