I instinctively shrank back into the cushion of the seat, shuddering at the expectant look on his face. I could tell he was excited about this -- excited to confirm that we were compatible as friends because we both cried little baby tears the first time we heard Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
"I'm not really good with music," I responded shyly, my cheeks already developing a deep pink hue. "I mean, I like music... I just... I don't think about it that much."
"Well, what are your five favorite albums of all time?" He pressed, not content to let my lame answer float awkwardly in the air siphoning the oxygen out of the car.
I grimaced, not sure where to even begin.
"Umm...." I stalled. "I guess one of them would be U2's 'All That You Can't Leave Behind...'"
"That's a lie," I thought as soon as the words left my lips. The only reason I'd said it was because I'd seen it listed in one of those lists of "Best Albums of All Time" a few years prior. At the time, I'd been overly proud that I actually owned one of the CD's on the list.
Music was never a big part of my life when I was growing up. Sure, my family and I would listen to the Beach Boys and Neil Diamond on road trips up the coast, and I was fascinated by my mom's old Elvis Presley albums as a child (particularly the song "Hound Dog"), but popular music wasn't something we openly shared. Even when my brothers and I were teenagers, our house was disconcertingly devoid of lyrical sound. We didn't blast Pearl Jam or Nirvana from our rooms at excessive volumes or glue ourselves to the couch watching obscene MTV videos after school.
It wasn't that I didn't want to make my parents' ears bleed by playing Green Day's "Basket Case" on repeat while I was pretending to do Algebra homework, I just didn't feel comfortable exposing myself in that way since the precedent had never been pre-established by my older brothers. I followed their lead, studying to a silent soundtrack. It was only when no one was home that I would dare listen to whatever music my friends at school were talking about during recess.
Even today, as a grown woman completely comfortable in my skin, I struggle to define my musical tastes without the influence of others. I know what I like, I know what I want to play on repeat over and over again until my upstairs neighbor stages an intervention, but I still don't know how to confidently answer questions about my musical preferences without wondering how it reflects on me as person. It immediately takes me back to that vulnerable state I experienced as a teenager pretending to know all about No Doubt's latest single when I had no idea who the band even was.
Fortunately, my exposure to music dramatically increased in college and my authentic appreciation for it grew along with it. It was there, in a safety bubble of self-discovery, that I found a connection with the music that I still circle back to today because it represents what I still consider, as the cliche goes, "the best years of my life."
Of course, that doesn't make it any less embarrassing for me to share it out loud. To admit that I still think the Garden State soundtrack is the best compilation CD of all time, that Fiona Apple's "When the Pawn" spends more time in my CD player than any other in my collection, and that I still get unreasonably excited when I hear a song from Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway." I like Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head," Jack Johnson's "Brushfire Fairytales," Nickel Creek, Subliime, Jamie Cullum's "Twentysomething," and other bands and musicians that nobody would ever define as revolutionary or off-the-beaten path.
At the moment, I'm obsessing over Bon Iver (especially now that I know how to pronounce his name correctly), Adele, and Florence and the Machine. It doesn't make me any different or exciting to the true music enthusiast who bleeds the Rolling Stones and quotes lyrics like I do "Friends" episodes, but it does make me true to myself.
A girl who is not really good with music and sees nothing wrong with listening to Top 40.
This quinoa and tofu dish, my new favorite recipe of the moment, isn't all that different or revolutionary either. It's merely a remix of the cabbage cups I posted about last week -- the same ingredients, rearranged and prepared in a different way.
I've been playing it on repeat for the past three weeks, but I'm not in the least bit embarrassed to admit it. I'm blasting it out for all the world to hear.
Warm Quinoa Salad with Tofu, Shiitakes and Cabbage
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 10-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2-lb shiitake mushrooms, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, shredded
2/3 cup shelled edamame
1/2 cup chopped cashews, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
For Teriyaki Sauce:
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (depending on your salt preference)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar (unpacked)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the rinsed quinoa and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned, approximately 5-7 minutes. Bring 1 3/4 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Add the toasted quinoa, lower heat and simmer, covered, until all the water has been absorbed, approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork and let rest for 15 minutes or so to "dry out."
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together until well-combined. Set aside.
Heat the same pan used to toast the quinoa over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the onion, garlic and tofu cubes, and reduce the heat to medium. Saute, stirring frequently for 10 or so minutes until the onions are tender and tofu is lightly browned on all sides.
Add the mushrooms and shredded cabbage, and continue sauteing and stirring for another 5-7 minutes or until they have softened. Stir in the quinoa and shelled edamame, then add the teriyaki sauce. Increase the heat for 1-2 minutes to heat everything through and then stir in the sesame seeds. Serve immediately topped with cashews.