Lately I’ve been employing a strategy I came up with when we lived in Saudi Arabia. A strategy of appreciating the moments even as they present a challenge. Of recognizing that while this time in which I find myself feels permanent, it is not. The hours march steadily on regardless of heat, violence, illness, smoke. On the hottest of days in the desert, when it seemed as though the afternoons stretched on endlessly in a heavy silence that was broken only by the call to prayer, when the heat pressed down into our very bones, rendering us sleepy and sticky, it was difficult to believe this was just a fleeting moment in our lives. I never imagined then that four years later I might miss that experience, and yet I do. This morning as I sat in Sierra’s room helping her with math worksheets in an unnaturally pale light that was filtered through layers of smoke, I thought about how in a weird way I will miss this too — maybe not the daily struggle to make school at home an attractive or at least somehow viable alternative to real school, but the quieter days at home, the feeling that we are surviving this together, even if imperfectly (and believe me we are very imperfect).
It’s been a little while. Things have been happening. We endured over a month of pretty smoky and unhealthy air and started the school year at home, two occurrences which unfortunately coincided. We’re now in another fire situation, and waiting to see how that plays out, with windows sealed. Our neighbor gave us a swallowtail caterpillar that has morphed in a chrysalis we check daily. We had a very close encounter with about ten bats who were cozily ensconced in an outside structure currently being remodeled by my husband. We’ve seen squirrels burying nuts in the front lawn. Fall is in the air. I’ve incorporated a few new recipes into my routine, including this terrific one from the New York Times, a quinoa-vegetable dish infused with coconut milk, grated ginger, and garlic.
Not to belabor it, but this year has been tough for most of us. I didn’t find myself overly inspired to cook in the early days of quarantine though I kept at it because it is always a necessity — simple stuff, lots of soup and no-knead bread. Maybe you did the same? But as the summer has waned I’ve tried a few new options, and this one in particular is here to stay. I have altered the recipe a bit from its original — I omit the tomatoes, roast a head of cauliflower, leave out the pepper, and double the quinoa so I have leftovers, and add toasted, sliced almonds if I have them. I serve it with baked salmon with lemon (tofu for me) or just extra vegetables like roasted sweet potatoes or broccoli or both. Leftovers are repurposed later in the week with scrambled eggs and spinach or leftover chicken or chickpeas. I love it because it’s light yet nourishing, wholesome yet interesting. Always a fan of quinoa, the addition of coconut milk and salt elevates the flavor into something special.
As we continue on through this unique year, I hope we can find ways to hold on to the moments, even if difficult and frustrating (note to self). I hope we can find the glimmers of goodness that emerge from these days at home, especially since there is no clear view on how long they will last. One day when we are beyond this time perhaps we will look back and miss it (though I could do without the smoke and worry about wildfires) — in a way I already do.