"What else can we do?" I thought as I started to drive my friend back to his apartment after our impromptu wine tasting at my favorite local wine shop.
"Go see the giant rock at LACMA? Stage a reenactment of The Hunger Games in the middle of Pan Pacific Park? Stage a reenactment of The Hunger Games at Mozza with the bacon, goat cheese, leek pizza?"
I didn't want to go home yet. I wasn't ready to be alone after spending the past 24 hours surrounded by people during a weekend trip down in Rancho Cucamonga. When I'd arrived back in LA two hours prior, I'd experienced the same sense of desperation -- the same intense craving for company to keep that high going.
Almost as soon as I'd walked in the door, haphazardly throwing my overnight bag onto my bed with no intention of unpacking it, I'd started typing out the text message.
"What are you doing right now?" I'd asked him. "Do you want to go to a blind wine tasting at DomaineLA?"
I couldn't fathom turning off the social energy that had been surging through my veins ever since my weekend had launched into gear with dinner that Friday night, and as I drove up to his apartment building two hours later, it was still there -- still fuming out of my nostrils like a dragon's fiery breath.
"Don't leave me yet! I can't go back to the monotony of cleaning/unpacking/mail-sorting! Distract me! Play with me! Keep these unprecedented extrovertedness alive before I stifle it with a sweatpants, a face mask and 'Mad Men!'"
"Well, thanks for suggesting this," He said, pulling on the door handle to exit my car.
I wanted to protest, to scream, "Wait! There's still 7 more hours in the day! We can go hike Runyon Canyon and mock the people wearing bug glasses! We can go drink more wine and pontificate on the subtle nuances of the Pinot Noir! We can go on a road trip... to the Target on Santa Monica and La Brea!"
Instead, I chirped back an overly enthusiastic "You're welcome," ignoring my impulse to super glue him to the seat.
As soon as I got home, the desperation to find company -- or at the very least, distraction -- came back. I blasted Rihanna on repeat while I started violently chopping celery and red onion to make curried couscous for my weekday lunches. I frantically tossed oats with nuts and brown sugar to start a fresh batch of granola for my morning Greek yogurt.
"Keep moving," I told myself, hoping the blur of activity would take my mind off how quiet it was in my apartment.
The discrepancy was too great. After a weekend of wine and lobster pops and fried chicken & waffles and 1 a.m. conversations about tacos, the sudden aloneness was almost traumatizing.
The gap could only be filled with one thing -- food. The social engagement that comes from chopping and mincing and sauteing and spending an hour or more on something that brings a different kind of fulfillment.
Last week, after a particularly long day at work, I found fulfillment in the form of this recipe for Red Quinoa and Lentil Pilaf from Chef Akasha Richmond via Food & Wine. The hectic pace of the day demanded an alternative kind of hecticness. A recipe that involved far too many steps for a Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m.
It brought me back to regular speed, back to normalcy, back to a place where the silent hum of my apartment didn't register as a threat to my sanity. It registered as home -- a place where I didn't need to find anything else to do.
Red Quinoa and Lentil Pilaf
Adapted from Food & Wine
Notes: I doubled the amount of garlic, quinoa, shallots, carrot, celery, and parsley, and also increased the amount of caulilflower. I didn't have coconut oil so used coconut chips to give the dish a tropical flavor -- an appropriate substitution in my mind. (Though I have been on a bit of a coconut chip kick in general so have been finding ways to incorporate it into everything.) Finally, I used dried thyme instead of a fresh sprig (I'm not currently stocking sprigs), and regular slivered almonds instead of Marcona.
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (use a fresh sprig if you have it!)
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 shallots, minced
2 celery ribs, minced
2 carrots, minced
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth (I used 2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon base mixed with water)
1/4 cup unsweetend coconut chips, crumbled
1 head cauliflower, coarsely grated
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds
Ground pepper, sea salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the lentils, bay leaf, thyme, garlic cloves, and onion. Simmer over moderately low heat until the lentils are just tender, but still slightly toothsome (around 20 minutes). Drain and pick out the onion, bay leaf, garlic, and thyme sprig if you are using it. (Note: Attempting to pick out the individual dried thyme herbs is not recommended.)
Clean out the pot and then heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shallot, celery and carrot and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until tender and slightly caramelized, but not brown. (About 8-10 minutes.) Add the quinoa and cook for another couple minutes so the kernels take on a toasty quality. Add the vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed and the shells have separated from the quinoa kernels. (About 25-30 minutes) Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and let rest for 10-15 minutes to "dry out" a bit.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the cauliflower and coconut chips and season with a pinch of salt and some generous shakes of pepper. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring every minute or so for even browning. When the cauliflower has attained some color and lost its sharp bite (about 5 minutes or so), toss in the lentils, quinoa, parley, and almonds. Stir to combine. Serve immediately or at room temperature.