This week we went back to school. After two weeks of langorous days of drifting, I was rudely awoken by the alarm clock again. No one could accuse me of being lazy — hours of sitting in front of the computer, working on a project, pacing the living room and trying to make my thoughts stick to the page — but I did work in my pajamas over break. I’m not meant for a strict schedule, at least one that relies on me waking up at six am, and swinging my feet over the edge of the bed with a grand attitude. I can’t. In the mornings, I blunder and mumble. Eight am is just an ungodly hour to expect me to teach.
We all feel this way the first week back. I suppose I’ll grow used to again.
But I wasn’t prepared for the bombs of coughs in the lecture hall, the onslaught of sneezing on the stairways, and the bombardment of germs pummeling the air. It’s January. Everyone’s sick. One-third of my students, half of my colleagues, and some of my friends: head colds galore. I’ve been trying to avoid it. So far, I’ve been semi-successful. No agonies yet. But I have been feeling the first pricklings of pain in my head, the tenderness along the arms that usually signals I’m going to be ill soon. This time last year, I would have already been out. Before my celiac diagnosis, I caught every bug that whispered through the school. I felt perpetually unwell. But now, since I’m eating nothing but whole grains, fresh vegetables, and meals made from scratch — and no damned gluten — my immune system is sky high. (One friend of mine and I have been joking that I need a super-hero costume with GFG written across my chest: Gluten-Free Girl rides again!) With two days’ worth of Airborne –and yes, it is gluten-free, luckily — I’m feeling only tired, not the utterly miserable of people around me.
Still, it’s good to have a Saturday.
Last night, the cliche of Seattle actually felt true: it rained. Rain lashed against the window so hard that I could hear it pelting over my music. Windswept puddles pounded the asphalt. Cars hydroplaned down the slick street. No point in going out in that. Time to stay in a little, after a long week.
Time for some vegetables.
Baby bok choy showed up in my organic produce box, delivered on my doorstep. More tender and spring-infused green than traditional bok choy, the leaves unfurl no larger than the size of my hand. And this small version of the popular-in-Asian-cooking vegetable tastes more gently insistent than its larger counterpart. It’s also a good vegetable for the winter, since it’s rich in vitamin C, full of folic acid, and has more beta-carotene than any other vegetable in the cabbage family (brassica, to be precise). And the slender stalks have a celery-like resilience, without the stringiness. They’re great in salads or soups, and especially good in stir fries.
I love making up recipes on a Friday night. The entire weekend before me, everything else left behind. In front of the stove, I have plenty of time to relive the best parts of the week: seeing my beloved seniors first period in the morning the first day back and hugging every one of them hello; walking down the street with Pete, bantering on our way to class, hot coffee from Bauhaus in our hands, no need to make sense; hatching a plan with the journalism class for yet another wacky publication; eating lunch with Daniel and Lisa at Green Papaya, an exquisite Vietnamese restaurant, hearing Daniel’s stories about being in Vietnam over Christmas; meeting a new class full of students, knowing nothing about them, knowing that within a week they will be indelible in my mind again.
Somehow, this dish tasted of all this. Baby bok choy with pumpkin seed oil: green infused with autumn. And spring coming soon.
I guess 6 am isn’t really that bad.
Baby bok choy, pumpkin seed oil, and goat cheese
It’s easy to over-season vegetables when you’re sauteeing them, but resist that call. Add just a pinch, a tiny dash, enough to flavor but allow the natural taste of the vegetables shimmer through.
four baby bok choy
two tablespoons pumpkin seed oil
one teaspoon wheat-free tamari
pinch of ginger
pinch of anise seeds
sliver of good, soft goat cheese
Cut the ends off the baby bok choy, then wash them gently. Pat dry the leaves, then stack them up on top of each other. Slice up the stalks and separate from the rest. Then, roll up the green leaves of the bok choy and cut them in a chiffonade. (You might have to do this in two stacks of leaves.)
In a good skillet or wok, on medium heat, pour in the pumpkin seed oil. When it has heated, add the stalks of the baby bok choy. After sauteeing for a moment, add the wheat-free tamari — no more than a small splash, really. Add the pinch of ginger and the anise seeds. Sautee until the stalks have grown a bit tender, perhaps three minutes.
Throw in the chiffonade slivers of green leaves. Sautee for one minute. When the leaves have grown even more green, add in dabs of goat cheese throughout the skillet. Stir until it starts to melt a bit, which will happen almost immediately. Take the skillet off the heat and serve it that moment.