Saturday, March 1, 2014

How I Became the Quinoa Queen

I never intended for it to happen.

To be known as the "Quinoa Queen" - the girl who everyone associates with the super grain that's actually a seed. When I started documenting my every bite for the world to see, I didn't even know how to pronounce the word, and certainly didn't envision it becoming a core part of both my diet and my identity within the LA dining community.

It started as a survival strategy - a defense against the hazards of foodie-ism, a subject that Food GPS Founder Josh Lurie recently expounded upon in an exposition of the dark side of professional eating. The side that lurks behind those Instagrammed shots of housemade charcuterie, tonkotsu ramen and richly glazed donuts that are admired by envious eyes.

In his article, Josh pulls back the curtain, openly admitting what all of us who live and work within the dining industry secretly think and feel when we sit down to another seemingly bacon-inspired tasting menu or platter of buttermilk-brined fried chicken. In the moment, it's delicious. We lick the grease off our fingers, proudly capture the braised lamb neck pappardelle to share on social media, and go back for seconds without hesitation. The dictate to eat until you're 80% full has no place at our communal table.

Before I employed a blog (and long before I became a restaurant publicist), the whole concept of no-holds-barred eating was foreign to me. When I went to a restaurant, I ordered a single entree for myself, and would split an appetizer and/or dessert with my dining companions. It was a whole new world to me when I, as a blogger, began attending dinners with fellow food writers where the whole menu was up for grabs. My eyes would dance at the sight of the endless array of courses, and my fork would respond with equal enthusiasm until I'd reach a point of full that would make sleeping that evening an improbability.

As I'd lie in bed, arms wrapped round my swollen belly like protective gauze, I'd curse myself for taking seconds of the garganelli with sausage and finishing the entire butterscotch pot de creme sans assistance. The feeling would linger throughout the following day in what can only be described as a food hangover, an occurrence that would start to become increasingly common as I continued along a trajectory toward a career in the industry.

At a certain point, I knew that something had to give, and I wasn't inclined for it to be the waistband on my tightening skinny jeans, nor my health.

Rather than giving up the tricked-out restaurant meals I loved, however, I became more selective in the meals I attended, and when I wasn't eating out, committed myself to eating clean. I replaced the pastas and starchy foods I used to stock in my cupboards with quinoa, farro and whole grains, and found myself gravitating toward mostly vegetarian meals. Quinoa became a central part of my recovery plan - an easily digestible carbohydrate that would soothe my sore-ing stomach without rendering me hungry two hours later.

Admittedly, once I started to become known for my affection for quinoa, I played along with the joke, eating and talking about it more frequently until my survival tactic of eating and retreating transformed itself into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

An identity as the "Quinoa Queen."

Reading Josh's piece reminded me of the dichotomous struggle that we, as professionals who make our bread and butter from bread and butter, face on a daily basis. The challenge is to find a balance and achieve it - whether it's carb-free Mondays, a no-solo-boozing rule or an obsession with quinoa.

I'll let you know which one I choose.

Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad with Dried Fruit and Kale
Adapted from Russ Parsons/The Los Angeles Times
Serves 4

Notes: This salad is intended to be entirely wild rice, but I've recently become enamored with mixing wild rice with quinoa - for obvious reasons. I've made a few additional tweaks within the recipe in both technique and ingredient composition, including the use of pistachios in place of walnuts, dried cranberries rather than dried sour cranberries, and the use of baby kale in the stead of regular. With or without these tweaks, it's a delightful salad - the sort of thing that is craveable, yet wholesome - and, in my mind, the perfect antidote to the residual effects of a seemingly bacon-inspired tasting menu.

1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup golden raisins
Juice and zest of one orange
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
4 cups baby kale
Salt, ground pepper
1/3 cup pistachio pieces, toasted

Bring a salted pot of water to a boil. Add the wild rice and cook, uncovered, for 40-50 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.

In a medium pot, bring just shy of a cup of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, season with salt, and then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place dried cranberries and raisins in a small bowl. Cover with the orange juice (reserving 1 tablespoon for the dressing), and hot water as needed until the fruit is completely submerged. Let stand to soften until just ready to use. Drain, then using the same bowl, whisk together the remaining tablespoon of orange juice with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil to dress the salad.

Place minced shallots in another small bowl and cover with water. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before draining. (This will help temper the sharpness of the raw onion.)

In a large bowl, combine the wild rice, quinoa, soaked and drained dried fruit, shallot, orange zest, and dressing. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the kale with 1/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Lightly massage with your hands, then toss with the wild rice-quinoa mixture. Serve immediately topped with the pistachios, or refrigerate until ready to use.


Lynn @ said...

I wish more food bloggers would be as transparent as you guys are! xoxox

Diana said...

Lynn - Thank you! I know it's something we all think about - we just don't always put down words about it!

Esi said...

Quinoa Qlub for life! I still maintain that you should rename your blog The Quinoa Quronicles (grammar be damned!) Also, you should totes come visit me and eat at Protein Bar. Everything they serve has quinoa.

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The Duo Dishes said...

Continue to reign supreme. Let there be no shame in your quinoa game! Hey, if anyone knows about expanding waistbands, it's someone who eats, cooks and/or writes about food as a hobby or profession. A sad side effect of a wonderful existence.

The Duo Dishes said...

Continue to reign supreme. Let there be no shame in your quinoa game! Hey, if anyone knows about expanding waistbands, it's someone who eats, cooks and/or writes about food as a hobby or profession. A sad side effect of a wonderful existence.