Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pot Luck

Northwest did not have a cafeteria worth boasting about. Dimly lit, a raggedy assortment of tables, a salad bar that held little in the way of actual vegetables, and a food display of today's menu items left me desperate for my own home cooked food. Whenever I joined my coworkers for lunch in the cafeteria, I brought my tupperware filled with goodies and refused to share. Then one day my coworker Caitlin had a brilliant idea - we should have a pot luck.

Everyone loves a pot luck (at least if you have friends who can cook and or can bring the alcohol and tubs of Haagen-Dazs). In your typical foodie pot luck, you might see a tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella salad, scalloped potatoes with blue cheese, or peach cobbler. The host will pull a hot roasted chicken out of the oven, or make a big vat of spaghetti bolognese. Three new year's eves in a row, my friends and I had themed pot lucks. The first year we had to make a "new" dish - something we had never made before, which resulted in homemade crackers with mushroom pesto, stuffed pork tenderloin, and a chocolate bombe cake. The second year, everyone had to bring a dish containing apples, and the third year our secret ingredient was nutmeg. The themes, the rules, and the competitive spirit (my dish has to be the best) of pot lucks are why I love them.

But a pot luck for the common, every day affair of lunch in the cafeteria was novel. I never thought of filling my tupperware with food to share. Because we were the only ones around that really cooked, or maybe because we were slightly selfish, the pot lucks were dubbed "Two Person Potlucks" and we kept them completely exclusive. Other coworkers would sit down with us at lunch and stare as we dolloped homemade salad dressing over abundant produce, or sliced slabs of lasagna in half. When you cook for yourself, you don't take as much care, but when you cook for another person, even if they're eating out of your tupperware, the effort you put into the food skyrockets. Suddenly I took more time to determine if the food I was bringing would be good, healthy, and interesting. That ruled out bologna sandwiches completely. Instead, I found healthy salads, hearty risottos, and one happy occasion for which I wrote a song, egg rolls.

Two Person Potlucks are only one of the things I miss about working in a place where I have real friends, people who support me and who listen no matter how many times I complain about my job. People who give advice when I don't know what to do, who believe I deserve better, and who will devour the food I bring them in plastic containers.

Here's a favorite from a Two Person Potluck. It's a perfect dish to take for lunch. Some advice on quinoa - washing it will drive you crazy because it sticks to everything. It's like styrofoam peanuts. You may want to skip that step.

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa (Gourmet)
Makes 4 servings

  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve each time.

Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don't worry if lid doesn't fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes.

Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

1 comment:

  1. Dan says the cafeteria is even worse at KLM! I was surprised how hard he was laughing as he told me this...I guess it really is THAT bad. I remember how much he always liked lunching with his NWA pals. Too bad he never caught on to the potlucking part (I don't think). You could have had something from a Great Harvest bag every day of the week.