Spring has been such a tease here. One moment, the skies are a clear pale blue dotted with floating cottony clouds, the sun soft and warm on your shoulders, and the next, they shift to gray, opening suddenly in a thunderous moment, the rain pouring down in a harsh, violent downpour. The trees, though, are no disappointment: branches reaching upwards, heavy with blooms- pink, whites, yellows, purples- soft, subdued, none of the fire of fall.
I’m sitting by a pond, the sound of water from little cascades at its corners easing me awake. It’s early, and the handful of people sitting around on benches are quiet, one person to a bench. Soon people will be here in pairs, talking more or less loudly, spreading out onto the surrounding stairs. But now it’s quiet and the only noise is that of running water. The pond is lined with trees filled with pompom-like clusters of soft pink petals; small breaths of wind send them twirling through the air. When I stand up, I run my fingers through my hair, shaking out petals of the palest pink. They litter the floor like spring’s confetti.
I’ve been spending my days at the library lately. I’ve found a quiet spot at the very back of the second floor; to get to it you walk through rows and rows of books, at the end of which a single row of double desks stretches across the length of a wall lined with huge windows. I have a regular seat. It’s towards the end of this row, where it’s even quieter, and where I can plug in my laptop, and to my left there’s a big window up in the branches of two large ancient trees whose branches intertwine, creating a lush green canopy. As I sit at the desk, my gaze is drawn to the window and its branches. Throughout the day, the light falls differently on the leaves, at times dancing through them, at times heavy, peering through in spots, at times casting long, dark shadows. I love how the leaves filter the light, the way they rustle gently in the breeze.
I can feel the allure of a treehouse, of being up in branches, above ground. There’s something soothing, reassuring, being surrounded by green. In my home, curtains seal us off most of the time. We’re at street level, so curtains provide privacy. I parted the curtains to take pictures of this salad- the window is right above the sidewalk, and as I stood on a chair taking photos, I watched our neighbor talk to his contractor, another neighbor watch over his kids riding their bikes, while a neighbor across the street lounged on his front porch. A liiittle awkward. So my curtains are drawn most of the time, giving me privacy, but also isolating me, in my four walls.
The library has its own set of distractions, like people who think it’s a great place to make phone calls or to chat up their neighbor, and then there are moments like these- when I look out of the window, and observe a man and his baby holding court, for hours on end. The people change, but the man is there holding up his baby for all to see, and his enthusiasm can be seen from this second floor window, although my iphone lens doesn’t quite do it justice. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this scene, had I not passed by this group of men, huddled together, on my way to purchase an iced coffee. My coffee long gone, my mind wanders from my books, and I notice they are still there. Tell me this is not a story, right there? But I let go, and bring my mind back to the Levant. So distractions, yes, and also discomforts, of which I shall not speak (suffice it to say: public restrooms). But also moments of quiet so intense that my mind slips into full focus, and everything else fades away, and I don’t even realize it, until someone comes over and asks me something, and I come up for air with a start.
At the library, sitting at a desk all day, I can really feel the impact of my lunch. I try to pack grain-centric salads, and when I don’t, I opt for a bagel with lox, after which I have to put my head down for five minutes. The grain bowls on the other hand, fill me with energy. This particular variation has energizing citrus and a tumble of green arugula, along with some goat’s milk feta which provides a creamy, soft contrast to the al-dente, slightly crunchy wheat berries. Dressed simply with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and a hint of cumin, the wheat berries gleam like jewels and make for an easy, filling and healthy lunch.
P.S. My wheat berries were from Massa Organics, and they are a steal at $1 a pound. I’m late to the Massa Organics party, which apparently, people have been raving about for years. But in case you haven’t tried them yet: their brown rice is wonderful, as are their roasted almonds (which Yaki claims are the best he has ever tasted, and the man knows his nuts), and their almond butter? It’s rich and creamy, and downright amazing. In fact, I’m going to have some right now. And, Massa Organics has no idea who I am (other than the woman who ordered 2 identical packages within 2 weeks of each other, if they’re paying attention to that kind of thing), so think of this as a PSA.
Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Arugula & Feta
The instructions on cooking the wheat berries are per Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks (or, the first place I look when I’m cooking an unfamiliar grain).
Makes a big potluck-sized bowl (or if you’re me: enough for dinner for 2 + 4 lunches for one)
1 pound (1/2 kilo) wheat berries
3 citrus (I used 1 navel orange + 2 red grapefruits)
2 limes, juiced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
5 oz (150 grams) goat’s milk feta
1 bag of arugula (about 4 cups)
To cook the wheat berries: Wash and drain the berries, and place them in a medium pot with 8 cups of water, and 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour- until the berries are plump and chewy, and some of them have split. (The texture is like pasta that is not yet al-dente; Heidi says they will remain that way for a while, so no need to stress about precision with the timing). Drain.
For the salad: Segment the citrus, and cut each piece in half. Reserve the accumulated juices.
In a large bowl, combine the wheat berries, the citrus and their juices, the lime juice, and the cumin. Douse generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the feta and arugula to the bowl, without tossing. Toss gently right before serving.
If I’m making this ahead for packable lunches, I will stop before adding the feta and arugula, and portion some of the salad into individual tupperware, topping each tupperware with feta, followed by (very dry) arugula, closing them without mixing. Keeps easily for 3-4 days.