I don’t know about you, but when I hear the theme from Super Mario Bros., I don’t just think of a laterally-oriented universe where my pixellated proxy — a tiny Italian-Japanese man with a mustache you could play Shakespeare on — ingests gargantuan ergonomic flora and engages hopping as his primary mode of attack. Nor does the theme merely conjure a cluster of scenes from my childhood, in which I traded in my equestrian posture for a serious lack of social skills and some killer hand-eye coordination.
No, what I think of when I hear that theme is the concept of lives, as in you have three of them, and can gather more through experience, and thus every mistake you make earns you a do-over. Because, really, we all internalized that song because we played the same level over and over again, accidentally jumping off cliffs and getting offed by otherwise friendly-looking tortoises, and getting better at avoiding those dangers every time. Super Mario World will always have a special place in my heart because it was where I learned that reincarnation is not just something that happens after we die: it’s something that we all do, all the time, as we prolifically and epically screw up on the way to our goals.
In the kitchen, the do-over isn’t just fun and games. It’s actually kind of the default. Every time I make something for the first time, I understand fully that it is just a draft. Even if it’s delicious and I want to make it again, it’s never going to come out exactly the same next time, and that’s usually for the better. I’ll improve upon it based on knowledge I obtained in the initial process, or I’ll be missing an ingredient and have to use another, or I’ll decide at the last minute that, oh man, some fresh rosemary would just take it up to eleven!
Cooking is kind of a living, breathing thing that depends equally on circumstances and strategy. For this reason, I knew that the salad I made at Lara’s was not going to be the same salad I made last night at home. There are a lot of reasons for that, I guess, not least of all that JM and I had only ingested juice for the preceding 24 hours. Some people call that a “juice fast” or a “detox;” I call it Accelerated Californization. You may have noticed that I haven’t been updating very much lately, and that’s because I’ve been traveling on the east coast. And while I did have some amazing food there, I also consumed two times my body weight in stuff I normally avoid: granola bars, french fries, Twizzlers, etc. (I don’t know what it was about Massachusetts that made me crave Twizzlers, by the way, since the Hershey company is headquartered in Pennsylvania)
Anyway, I think I might have purchased about half of the available produce options at Sprouts, but I tried to keep it simple for our evening breakfast. I also kind of liked the idea of beginning our return to Los Angeles with the same meal I’d had right before I left. A righteous do-over if ever there was one — this time, with feeling.
Arugula Salad with Millet, Pepitas, and Lemon Pepper Dressing
(serves 2 for dinner, 4 for appetizers)
-2-3 cups baby arugula
-1 pear (I used Bartlett), sliced ‘n’ diced
-2 celery stalks, sliced cross-wise (as thin as possible)
-3/4 cup dry millet
-1 1/2 cups water
-1/4 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds!)
-1-2 oz. grated sheep’s milk cheese (I used Iberico)
-1 lemon, zested and juiced
-1 tbs olive oil
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pick any weird black specks (seriously, what are those things?) out of your millet and put them in a deep pan that you have a cover for. Put the heat on medium and shake the millet around — not like Outkast (a polaroid frenzy), but more like Big Maybelle (a sultry sway) — until it starts to toast and pop and smell amazing. Now add your water and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to low, and stir everything well before covering it. The millet will take about 20 minutes to cook, but keep an eye on it, since it can also go Judas on you when you turn your back and transform everything in its path to carbon.
While the millet cooks, put your lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and most of the pepper (reserving a little for sprinkling over the top of the salad) in a small bowl and mix well. Behold your lemony dressing! Now take this opportunity to finish chopping anything you haven’t chopped, grating anything you haven’t grated, and just generally preparing yourself for what is likely to be a whirlwind salad assembly.
When the millet is done, scrape it into a bowl, mix in the pepitas, and set aside to cool a bit. Now it’s time to get the salad in order: put your arugula, celery, pears (and cheese if you want — you can also add it at the very end) in a large bowl, and toss together with the dressing. It’s okay if the millet is still on the warm side, since wilted arugula is one of the more delicious things a person can eat. Really, it’s right up there with french fries, I promise. Toss the millet in with the rest of the salad, top with cheese if you haven’t mixed it in already, and top with the remaining pepper. Do-overs never tasted so good.