Sunday, January 27, 2013

It was just lunch: how one meal rekindled old feelings

We made plans to meet in a place miles from home. It's just lunch, I told myself.

I'd never done anything like this, so I suppose it was normal to be nervous. I was excited and hungry. It felt wrong, and yet right. With first date-type jitters I put on fresh lipstick in the parking lot, checked my hair one last time in the rearview mirror, and headed in.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some ladies from the office and instantly got nervous. Would they see us? What would they think? Would they tell someone? Should I just turn around and leave? It's just lunch, I reminded myself. 

Then I saw him, took a deep breath, and decided to go for it. 

And just like that, for the first time in our ten year marriage my husband and I met for lunch in the middle of the week.

We've always worked far away from each other, with commutes that take us in opposite directions, so I guess the opportunity never really presented itself, or we never presented the idea to each other. But on this particular day, an otherwise unassuming Thursday in January, business brought us to the same part of town at the same time.

"Why don't we meet for lunch?" he suggested the night before, and we agreed on 12pm at one of our favorite locations (Let's just get all the "nooner" jokes out of the way right now, it was JUST lunch, people).

I thought about it all morning. 9:30am meeting = 2.5 hours until my lunch date! 11am conference call = get to the point people! 11:45am traffic jam leaving the office parking lot = SERIOUSLY???

And then there we were. He was waiting with a pot of my favorite tea and that same floppy hair I fell in love with more than a decade ago. 

Sure, we have regular date nights, but there was something so easy about this. No babysitters to arrange, no racing around to prepare dinner for those staying home so that we can leave and go sit somewhere and talk about those staying home before heading back home. No toddler clinging to one leg on the way out the door, leaving a firm coating of guilt and goldfish crackers on my skinny jeans. No warnings to stay on your bottom or else and no complex negotiations involving a requisite number of bites took place. No referring to oneself in the third person, and no third, or fourth, or fifth person at the table. It was just lunch. 

I'd love to say we discussed something deep and meaningful, but we didn't. Just some basic talk about work, about home, about plans for the weekend and an upcoming vacation. It was ordinary, and yet not. The same, and yet different.

In our every day lives we are so entrenched in the roles that we play: Mom, Dad, daughter, son, sister, manager, employee, etc., that it's easy to forget that were are also just us. Two individuals: Mona and Mark, who very much enjoy each other's company. And lunch.

So for 48 minutes we gobbled up as much we could. Then we put our many layers back on- coats and gloves for the cold, multiple hats for the roles we play, superhero capes for good measure. We went our separate ways: back to the office, back to business, and eventually back to the home we've created together.

I was just lunch, and it was absolutely delicious.

And for the first time in a long time, I felt perfectly full. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tofu: It's What's For Dinner (Really. And You'll Like It. Really. I Promise)

Many of you have asked over the years how I get my kids to eat healthy foods, and I know a lot of you have also made New Year's resolutions to change your diets for the better, so I thought I'd start sharing some of our favorite recipes here.

Keep in mind that I am Egyptian, which means I was born without the exact measurement gene. I grew up surrounded with incredibly delicious food and incredibly vague instructions. If I ever dared to ask how long to bake a certain dish, I'd hear "Just cook it until it's done." Duh. So what did you use to flavor that dish? "Enough salt so that it tastes good, but not so much to make it salty." Perhaps it was all an elaborate ploy to ensure that the recipes were not replicable and the chef was the only one capable of producing the desired results. Well played, Egyptian ladies.

Somewhere between there and Martha Stewart-esque precision is my happy place, which we'll call The Land of Non-Recipes.

I'm a firm believer in meal planning and spend most of Sunday afternoon prepping meals for the week ahead, but tonight's non-recipe, Tofu Veggie Unfried Rice can be easily and quickly thrown together after work.

Start with some tofu. That's right, I said "some." We're very technical around here. However much comes in a package. Drain the water then cut it up in cubes, or better yet- buy the stuff that's already cubed. Some people go through an elaborate ritual of pressing the tofu between plates and freezing it for better texture. Some people are also professional lion tamers.

And that's right, I also said "tofu." I know you've heard it before, but I'll say it again- it's good for you, it takes on the flavors of whatever you put on it, and it really CAN be delicious.

I brown the tofu in a wok with a tiny bit of canola oil. Resist the urge to push it all around the pan with your fancy Top Chef moves, and instead open a bottle of wine. Let it get nice and brown on one side, then stir a bit, then drink more wine.

Take the tofu out and add some aromatics. That's a fancy term for stuff that smells good like garlic, ginger, and onions. I use "some" of each. A handful of chopped green onions, a clove or two of minced garlic, a little grated fresh ginger. Add some veggies, whatever you have on hand. Crunchy stuff like carrots need longer to cook. Try to chop everything the same size, or else the food police will come and arrest you. Or your food won't cook evenly. I'm not sure which, so I don't take chances. Also try not to chop your fingers off.

Meanwhile, make some brown rice and set it aside. (You'll note that "some" is a fairly standard unit of measurement in my non-recipes.) I usually make a big batch of it on the weekends and use it in recipes throughout the week.

Then comes the sauce. Mix a few tablespoons of soy sauce (I like the low sodium stuff), a few more of rice wine vinegar, and a heaping spoonful of hoisin sauce. If you haven't tried hoisin, I highly recommend it. It's thick and molasses-y and oh so flavorful, and best of all you get to sound like a bona fide foodie when you say it. Like this: "Honey, I need to run out to get more hoisin sauce." Now you're cooking!

Add the rice and the tofu back into the wok with the veggies, then add the sauce. I like to thrown in some frozen peas at this point because they add color, and because my 18-month-old needs more projectiles to throw at us during meals. Let it all cook for a few minutes and then you're done. It took much longer to write this than it did to prepare it.