Today I just cooked.
I didn’t worry about the rent, or my overdue Visa payment, or the ants that are taking over my bathroom.
I didn’t stress over my job or my career path or why my boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet.
I didn’t even consider whether I’ll have time to have babies before my ovaries start shriveling or how the hell I’m ever going to be able to buy a decent home, or whether I should pack it all up and move back East to be a pharmacist or a barista or something.
There was none of that. There was just me, my knife and my stove.
I was in control, a feeling I can’t say I’ve experienced for quite some time now. For the past few months, I’ve been more or less rudderless and confused, struggling to figure out exactly what happened to me and how I get out.
My plans backfired. I’d done everything right – worked my way to the top of the class, elbowed into my dream job and had, as far as I was concerned, “made it.”
But they don’t teach you in journalism school how to look your colleagues in the eye as they’re walked out the door. They don’t prepare you for the reality of surpluses and restructuring or whatever other buzzword flies around when an industry is on the edge of collapse.
What I did today was cook – because at the end of the day, that is all I can do. I put my knife in my right hand and a sweet potato in the other and I just chop. I slice away my anxiety and worry and frustration and tears and I make food that nourishes me, soothes me. I take control of my kitchen and I make something beautiful.
This salad is my latest obsession. Bursting with fresh seasonal produce, hearty barley and topped with a creamy avocado and lime yogurt dressing, it transcends salad territory, edging its way into summer comfort food.
Glowing Grain Salad with Dreamy Avocado Dressing
Makes 5 servings.
1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed
2 tsp olive oil
2 5-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch lengths
2 cups loosely packed baby arugula or spinach
1 pear, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup plain 1% yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp sea salt
1. In a large saucepan, add barley and enough water to cover by 1-inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain well.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat oil on medium. Add chicken and cook, turning once, until golden and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and use 2 forks to shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
3. Fill a pot with 1-inch water and fit with a steamer basket. Bring water to a simmer and add asparagus to basket. Cook until tender-crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water until cool, then drain and set aside.
4. Prepare dressing: In a blender, combine avocado, yogurt, lime, salt and 1/2 cup water. Blend until smooth, adding additional water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with additional salt and lime juice, to taste.
5. In a large bowl, combine barley, chicken, asparagus, arugula and pear. Toss to combine. Divide among serving bowls and garnish with cranberries. Serve with a dollop of dressing.