Move over cilantro, quinoa is here to stay.

Everywhere I look, it’s the Quinoa Network: All quinoa, all the time.

It’s not that the stuff is shockingly tasty. Even the typically enthusiastic Whole Foods website describes it with qualifiers, such as its “somewhat nutty flavor.” But it’s called the “Mother of All Grains” for its healthful properties and versatile nature.  It works in just about any recipe and it’s hard to ruin when cooking. When The New York Times is pushing quinoa pancakes, you know the stuff is hot.

(An aside: Why does everyone feel that pancakes need to be improved upon? What other dish gives us the chance to have butter, maple syrup and bacon on the same plate without raising eyebrows? Leave the pancakes alone, people.)

Quinoa (say “keen-wah”) is thought of as a grain, although it’s a closer cousin to a tumbleweed or spinach than it is to wheat. It’s usually described as a “pseudo-grain” which is sort of like calling it a cross-dresser.

A mouthful of the stuff is seemingly healthier than a week at a spa.  It’s got essential amino acids and lots of fiber. It’s nutritional pedigree is fabulous.

I wondered how this beloved-by-the-ancient-Incas food happened to take the culinary world by storm in the last year or so.  A gang called the Quinoa Corporation promotes itself as the first to bring quinoa to the US. When was the last time you heard of a company taking credit for bringing a desirable new substance into this country? I mean, besides the drug cartels.

Actually,  research reveals that quinoa is just like those actors who are described in People and US magazines as “overnight” successes.  Quinoa been quietly taking bit parts in the US for more than 20 years–a trade group of  producers formed in the late 1980s. It’s been waiting in the wings for a break, and finally it got the culinary equivalent of a miniseries on HBO, the network that made even President John Adams a hot character.

The food’s popularity is a direct result of the influence of vegetarians and the growing number of gluten-avoiders who have risen up and demanded foods that won’t (a) offend them politically; (b) make them sick and (c) cause dinner guests to gag.

I’ve been wondering…is there anything bad about this dish? The only criticism I could find was that too much quinoa can be bad for people who need to avoid oxalates in food, which can cause or aggravate inflammation among other bad experiences.  But if there is a food or drink out there (besides water) that has less controversy, I can’t name it.

So, hike on over to the store (or the internet) and buy a bag. If you don’t like it, you can always sprinkle it on the sidewalk to create traction during freezing spells. Step over the squirrels eating it and be on your way.



The moving van, vehicle for personal growth.

I am not as reflective as I pretend to be.  It’s just that I am at my most introspective when moving, and I have packed up and changed addresses at least 40 times in my adult life.

In this latest move, urban-to-suburban, I learned some things about myself. Things beyond the realization that I am now, absolutely, too old to move again.

“Being in the moment” is an impossible goal for a constitutionally worried and self-absorbed person, one who believes that she can keep bad things from happening by paying close attention to detail and examining a situation from all sides, looking carefully for bits of static catastrophe that might cling together and suddenly present an actual problem. But I’ve learned that this same person can, in fact, live in the here-and-now when moving. She can decide in an instant to toss things instead of packing them, as a means of conserving her energy. Even things that will be needed in a few days: balls of heavy twine; paper clips, dimes and pennies; chocolate syrup, twist-ties for the medium trash bags.

Likewise, in-the-moment moments can come while packing books. Finding an old friend, unread for years, is the perfect excuse to sit down and read a few pages.

Other things I realized upon moving into this house:

–I don’t understand the chemistry of natural gas, nor do I grasp the nature of combustion issues around hot-water heaters or dryers in small, unvented rooms. When I carefully crack the windows, I am no better than the ancient pagan who thought boiling a goat would keep the floods away.

—A cheap garden hose is exactly like a cheap shoe.

–A frosted-glass bathroom window, when installed backwards, affords the person outside the house a clear view of the person inside. The person inside, conversely, cannot see out.

–Home Depot would have delighted Kafka, as would appliance warranties.

–Squirrels are the gang members of the animal world. Afraid of nothing, they dare each other to do dangerous things and terrorize innocent bystanders.

–The definition of completely exhausted is when one sees and feels a spider head up her pant leg and instead of stirring herself to shake it off, she wearily slaps it flat against her own skin.

Moving, to me, has always seemed like a tiny death. Even when I wanted to move, which was probably 39 out of the 40 times, there was always a drop of sadness. In both a move and a death, it’s necessary to buck up and make snap decisions. It’s necessary to be nice to a diverse group of people, many of whom I would ignore on a normal day. Every decision costs money. Drapes, casket linings.

Strangers bring offerings of food, friends want to help, and have no idea what would actually be helpful, nor can the moving/bereaved person enlighten them. What do I need? I have no clue. I know it when I see it, though. The friend who showed up and quietly loaded dozens of flattened cartons into her car and took them away might as well have brought me a diamond bracelet.  I could tell she was surprised that I didn’t have any twine to tie them up, but she didn’t say a word.