As someone who considers herself an unabashed fan (and follower) of popular culture, I love trend-watching (and also soap opera-watching, and celebrity-watching, and style-watching. . . plus reading trashy magazines at the supermarket checkout line. . . I could go on, but really, haven’t I embarassed myself enough for one day?)
Over the years, I’ve noticed that trends in food, much like trends in fashion or architecture or music, tend to be cyclical. Something new makes a splash on the scene, there’s a frenzied public reaction, and everyone rushes to snap up the boots or to hang the accent mirrors or to buy the CDs from the stores. Eventually, the trend fades like a tan in winter and is forgotten. . . just long enough for everyone to discard any traces of trend-related goods they may own (though I could never bring myself to part with those hand-embroidered Lee overalls from my highschool days, even though they’d barely cover my kneecaps today).
About 20 years after it first appeared, said craze resurfaces as if it’s now been discovered for the first time (to wit, iceberg lettuce. I mean, was it even good the first time? And then there are bell bottoms–which have seen more than one resurrection, in fact. And Supertramp. Oh, and Rachel’s hair on Friends. Is it just me, or isn’t that simply a revamped 1970s shag haircut?). Only problem is, this new iteration, bearing enough resemblance to the original so you know it’s basically the same concept, also exhibits just enough variation from the prototype so you’re forced to purchase it anew if you wish to hop back on the bandwagon (so those original bell bottoms you lovingly preserved in tissue paper? Sorry, now they’re just slightly too wide at the base, and slightly too low at the hip to be “fashionable” today).
So it goes with gastronomy, as well. I am (barely) old enough to remember the first wave of hippie food that gained popularity. The trend, I believe, started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s. It was the era of Jane Fonda touting wheat germ in hamburgers (and lots of aerobic exercise), and the inception of the Moosewood restaurant and (then) curly-haired Mollie Katzen as its main proprietor and artist-in-residence. And the Seventies was when Frances Moore Lappe first publshed Diet for a Small Planet, of course. In those days, an overabundance of grey-hued, homemade tofu and crunchy granola gave “health food” and veganism a bad rap. Today, thankfully, the new wave of “healthy” foods can be both good for you and good-tasting.
Luckily for me, I’ve always loved the taste of healthy foods, whether in vogue or not. (Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t also love the taste of incredibly UNhealthy foods, which, if you’ve ever read this blog before, you already know). Still, I hold fond memories of living in my first bachelor apartment (basically, a glorified closet with a bathroom on one end) as a grad student. A step up from most bachelor pads, it boasted a “kitchen” (the wall that had the sink and counter affixed to it) as well as a “bedroom” (the wall that had the window cut into it), separated by a waist-high partition that jutted halfway across the room. Remember Mary’s original pad in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and how she had a semblance of space from the kitchen counter off to the side, with that lovely, bright central area flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling window, the area that featured a hide-a-bed sofa? Well, my place was nothing like that.
One of the first things I did living on my own was attempt to expand my culinary repertoire by branching into “health” foods. My main motivation at the time was purely pecuniary, but I now realize that my choices introduced me to vegan foods as well. In those days, single and sans wheels, I was happy to tote along a “granny cart” (basically a steel basket on wheels), haul it onto the city bus, and travel an hour each way for my weekly pilgrimmage to the one bulk store in the city.
Once there, I faced dozens of plastic bins, brimming with dried beans in varied shades of grey, white, brown, and green; nubby grains ranging in size from pinpoint to pencil eraser (with strange names like quinoa, teff, or amaranth); exotic flours from carob or fava beans, which I’d only just encountered; and assorted candies, soup mixes, dog biscuits, nuts and seeds–well, I could easily browse for a couple more hours before picking and choosing my purchases (not to imply that I ate dog biscuits in those days, or anything–just that they were there, laying the mental foundation for my current forays to the local bulk store, in which The Girls and their appetites always figure prominently).
This salad is from one of the first cookbooks I bought, called Horn of the Moon. As you can probably tell from the title, it was a “health foodie” book. Most of the recipes reflect its early origins: falafel, lentil burgers, tofu stuffed mushrooms. Maybe it was nostalgia for those first heady days living entirely on my own; maybe it was a need for something simple, hearty, and evocative of fall; maybe it was my way to reintroduce an earlier trend; in any case, I had a craving for this salad last week and promptly pulled out my worn copy and prepped a batch.
And while the HH found this too “plain” (seems his 2008-era palate, now accustomed to cilantro, garam masala, mysterious fiery jalapenos and the like, has rejected such rudimentary gustatory pleasures), I still loved this dish. With its chewy buds of beige-hued barley and oats, and sweet, toasty crunch of hazelnuts or crunchy bits of carrot and celery, this salad offered up a welcome mouthful of memory, warm and tingly, and a perfect way to reminisce about the past.
from Horn of the Moon cookbook
An unpretentious, hearty salad that’s straightforward and unambiguous in its nutritional offering. It’s easy to eat a large serving of this as a meal on its own–which is a good thing, since this recipe yields a huge amount (it may be halved if you have fewer than four people in your house).
1 cup uncooked organic barley (preferably pot barley)
1/3 cup wheat berries, kamut berries, spelt berries or oat groats (I used oat)
2-2/3 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 3 large lemons)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
4 large cloves garlic, minced (not a typo–it’s mellowed by the grains and dressing)
1/2 cup halved or chopped roasted hazelnuts (filberts) or almonds
In a large pot, combine the barley, wheat berries, and water. Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed. Allow to cool.
When the barley is cool, combine in a medium-sized bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and black pepper to taste. Add the chopped veggies, parsley, garlic, and nuts. Stir and check seasoning. It’s best if it sits a few hours, refrigerated, before serving, to allow flavors to meld. Serve on a bed of salad greens, if desired. Makes 4 dinner servings or 8 side dish servings.