Cooking Up Awareness

Have you noticed airport cultural diversity campaigns? Those corridors lined with posters show the same image with different definitions or different images with the same definition?

It makes the walk down gangways more interesting, definitely. And the message is delivered, clearly. But it’s nowhere near as effective as say, cooking a batch of barley.

It’s a happy little cook-a-thon afternoon. The music is playing, pots are bubbling and I’m dicing and slicing. Caught up in the joy of it all, I decided to cook up a batch of pearl barley. Those grains are just so darn good for you… The bag had been calling from the cupboard for a while.

While living in Indonesia, we always kept our grain products, pasta, flours, spices, grains, seeds, nuts… in the freezer to keep them from becoming bug food. We did the same when I was a kid in Huntington Beach—after big brother Joe and I whipped up and ate a batch of whole-wheat flour chocolate chip and weevil cookies.

In Trinidad, no one has warned us about bug issues with food storage. Sure it’s humid and hot and tropical—but it’s air-conditioned, a veritable fridge. So I didn’t think we had to freeze any of that stuff. Instead, I’ve been stuffing our freezer with important things: frozen margaritas, the corksicle, protein & chocolate bars!

Barley just takes so darn long to cook: 40 to 50 minutes. Caught up in cook-a-thon mania I’d decided to rescue the bag of pearl barley from the cupboard. Once I’d committed myself to putting in the time, I decided to do it right. Why mess around with cooking a few portions of barley when in the same amount of time I could cook a batch—all 50 some portions. (Where is that Food for 50 Cookbook anyway, John???)  Once it was cooled, I planned to season some up for eating today, then bag it, tag it, and pop the rest into the freezer to use in quick meals ahead. Rachael & Martha got nothing on me!

So, I dumped the whole box of pearl barley into a colander, gave it a good rinsing, clicked onto the Internet to find out the proper proportions of barley to water and cooking time, and got to it. Now if barley is good, wouldn’t barley with protein be better? That’s what I figured, too. So I added a couple more cups of water to the pot, set the timer for 20 minutes and measured out a cup of quinoa to add during the last half of the barley cooking time.

Fifty minutes later, I dipped out a spoonful for tasting. Blew on it. Chewed and called it done-and delish! I spooned it into a shallow 9x12 dish so it would cool faster and not cook more—no self-respecting cook wants over-cooked barley-quinoa blend—and went on about my way.

What the heck is quinoa—pronounced keen-wha! as in “how cool is this”—anyway? How come I had never heard of it until recently? It’s like those mysterious fish species that suddenly show up and fall off restaurant menus. Where have all the orange roughy gone?/Long time passing/How did all the tilapia and monk fish come?/Not long ago-oooooo/Oh will I ever learn?/O will I ev-ver learn… I’d never actually, for sure, definitively, held a quinoa, let alone cooked one before. Yes! of course, I’d eaten them (it?)… But always mixed in something else, usually a medley of grains, herbs and chopped veggies. So how was I to know what it (they?) would look like cooked?

Curtis moseyed into the kitchen around hungry time. While he was making his sandwich, he gave the dish of barley-quinoa, fiber & protein-enriched goodness a few stirs (and maybe a taste test or two) . . . it was after that that I took a good—then better—look.

Maybe when it (they?) cook, quinoa balls split apart and turn into little squiggles that look like half parenthesis or fingernail clippings? And maybe not . . .

Maybe quinoa stays in perfect tiny protein packed ball-shapes. And what, upon closer inspection, looked like baby pearl barley were (was?) quinoa. In that case . . .

What were those cute little half-parenthesis or fingernail clipping looking squiggles? They definitely look like worms. And didn’t one or two of them wiggle? (Which, if they did means they can withstand boiling then simmering for 50 minutes and survivalists ought to collect them for analysis.)

Had I, unknowingly, prepared a super, doubly-protein packed blend? One I might be able to sell to Atkins aficionados? Or, with a little effort, identify the optimal barley worm cultivating environment much the same way the Asmat of Papua have learned to cultivate sego palm worms. The WHO would surely award me some kind of metal for my efforts, wouldn’t they? (Not the musicians; the organization...although I wouldn’t mind meeting Roger-Baby.)

If this had been one of those power outage times when we operate by candlelight… or if I were in an unplug and tune in: let’s eat on the patio beneath the moon moods…or if we were in Papua or Pipette or some such exotic-sounding protein-deficient locale, that batch of super protein packed barley-worm-quinoa blend might well have been dressed, served and joyfully consumed.

But it wasn’t, I’m not, and we don’t—not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Need a Protein Boost?-Look Closer . . .