"It's like you are buying flowers for his family," The Apple Store sales associate had told me on Friday night when I was purchasing my new iPod Nano.
"I totally am!" I'd practically squealed, unable to contain my delight at his clever justification of my unnecessary, but totally necessary purchase. "It's even pink!" I'd said with pride.
It had seemed ironic earlier in the day when the sound on my three-year-old iPod had stopped functioning in the middle of my bike workout at the gym. After I'd gotten past the initial horror of having to finish my workout sans musical accompaniment, I'd realized it was almost appropriate given the recent passing of Apple Co-Founder and former CEO Steve Jobs.
Usually this type of technical failure would dishearten me -- another expense to add to the ever-growing list -- but I'd felt empowered that day. "I'm just going to buy myself a new one!" I'd thought defiantly, not letting myself think about the expense of my recent car repairs or the Chicago trip I have coming up at the end of the month.
I felt like a fierce, independent woman as I strode through the Grove shopping mall that night, shiny new iPod in hand. I'd even allowed myself to flirt with the tattooed associate for a few minutes before getting embarrassed and saying, "I have plans when some girl friends," when he'd asked me what I was doing after.
It felt like a victory to me -- a declaration of adulthood and my ability to buy myself what I wanted at the precise moment I wanted it. Just like when I'd bought myself my MacBook computer nearly five years ago. Just like when I'd signed the check on the deposit for my first one bedroom apartment. Just like when I'd slapped down my credit card and said, "Let me get this one," when I'd taken a friend out for dinner a couple months ago.
So today, when I found out the software on that five-year-old MacBook is incompatible with the version of iTunes I need for my new iPod, I felt like a child again. I stared blankly at the Apple Store Genius as he told me that I needed to buy the new software update so I could download the most recent version of iTunes.
"But my disc drive doesn't work any more," I protested. "Isn't there any other way I can get the update? Can't I download it online?"
He shook his head.
"Are there any older version of iPods available that would be compatible with the iTunes I have now?" I pressed, not wanting to believe that there wasn't an easy way to correct the situation.
He shook his head again.
I sat dumbly on the bench, waiting for him to come up with some "genius" solution. How he could telepathically update my computer so I wouldn't have to replace my disc drive just so I could actually use the iPod I'd triumphantly purchased two days prior. Surely this couldn't be it. Surely he or the tattooed associate could employ some Jedi mind tricks and just wave their hands over my computer to make everything work exactly as it should.
This was the Apple Store -- the land off possibility, not shaking heads.
"So, there's really nothing you can do?" I asked one last time.
He shook his head once more, a curt, definitive motion that made it clear this was the end of the road. It was time for me to get up and leave and let him not help the next person in the long queue of customers waiting for their Genius consultation.
I walked slowly toward my car, clutching my bag from the Farmers Market that contained a jar of whole grain mustard I had purchased to make my lunch. The pride I'd felt so vividly on Friday was gone, replaced with an overwhelming sense helplessness. There was nothing I could do to fix my problem in that moment.
All I could do was go home and make lunch.
Lunch I can fix.
Lunch makes sense to me.
I know that if I toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes, they will emerge crinkly, crispy and tender to the fork. I know that if I make red quinoa with just slightly less water than the ratio of two parts liquid to one parts quinoa it will fluff up perfectly. And I know that if I combine whole grain and Dijon mustards with apple cider vinegar, honey and a splash of oil, I'll have an assertively tart and sweet dressing ideally suited for an eclectic mix of sprouts, quinoa, dates, almonds, and sauteed tofu.
This I know.
Without using a single Jedi mind trick.
Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dates, Almonds and Red Quinoa
This salad is inspired by one of my favorite deli salads at my beloved Los Angeles cafe Joan's on Third. Collapsing Brussels sprouts are tossed with an assertive whole grain mustard dressing that is counterbalanced by crunchy almonds, manchego cheese and sweet dates. My version includes red quinoa and tofu for a little extra bulk -- my way of turning the side dish I always want to eat a pint of into an actual main course. Feel free to adjust according to personal taste -- leaving out the quinoa or swapping in manchego for the tofu. I think apples might do quite nicely in here as well.
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, stems and outer leaves removed
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed well
10 ounces extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/4 inch thick, 1/2 inch sticks
6-8 Medjool dates, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice each Brussels sprout from the top down into four even pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven safe baking dish for approximately 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to scrape up any leaves that start to stick to the edges of the dish. Sprouts are down when they can easily be pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, bring 1 3/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for approximately 25-30 minutes. Red quinoa takes longer to cook than white, and is done when the white shells have visibly separated from the red kernel. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
Heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a teaspoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the base of the pan. Add the tofu, reduce heat to medium and stir fry until well-browned on all sides, approximately 7-10 minutes.
While salad components are coming to room temperature, prepare dressing. Whisk together both mustards, apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust accordingly.
Toss quinoa, Brussels sprouts, tofu, dates, and dressing together. Chill at least an hour.
Just prior to serving, stir in the almonds.