I usually get home from work about an hour earlier than Jeff, and in that time I check our mail, empty the dishwasher, pack my lunch for the next day, and start dinner. Sometimes I even, basically, finish dinner. It’s no surprise for him to walk in the door and say, “mmm, smells good!” “Yeah, I made a carrot ginger soup, and chopped the broccoli and cauliflower, and the salmon is on a sheet tray in the refrigerator ready to go when we are. I’m off to yoga now.” Which is to say, I’m efficient.
I’ve known this about myself. When I entered the workforce, I learned that I could do my work about 9x faster than my coworkers. This was particularly conflicting at the entry level, then became simply a fact, until it finally started to work to my advantage. At my last job, we took personality tests as a group, and one of my strengths was identified as maximizer. How can I get the maximum output from any situation of inputs? This is how my brain works, and therefore I check mail, put away dishes, pack a lunch, and cook dinner all in the 4:00 hour on a regular weekday afternoon.
But you know how they say that your strengths become your weaknesses? I’ve learned that I am efficient to a fault. Frequently I move too fast, which not only causes me to sometimes miss the small, joyous, spontaneous moments in life, but also results in actual physical damage. I bump into a lot of walls. I slam my fingers in doors, in drawers. I stub my toes, all of them. Jeff hears a thud, followed by oww and shouts from the other room, “Babe, you gotta slow down!”
Our honeymoon to Hawaii brought a welcome change of pace. Every morning I opened the curtains to catch the final moments of the sunrise that had woken us. Then I brewed Kona coffee and took it to the patio to commence our morning leisure. We noted the weather, how hazy or breezy it was, and the effect that had on our view of the neighboring island Molokai. We stared out at the Pacific looking for sprays of water indicating a whale was just below the surface, then we marveled at the whales and their jumps and their fins and oh, he jumped again! The first rounds of golfers streamed through hole three to our left and we took notes on their approach shots for our later round. We played cards and/or tennis, did yoga by the water, and sometimes all of this relaxing required a morning nap.
Eventually we’d get hungry and head to the burger shack by the water for mahi mahi sandwiches and mai tais, and I made a daily observation that I should really drink more rum. After lunch we’d cross over the sand dune to D.K. Fleming Beach and position our lounge chairs in a spot advantageous for people watching. There was the middle aged man who gave an enthusiastic wave and thumbs up to his wife ashore after every successful boogie board ride (tourist). The surfers who swam out to sea faster than I could swim a lap in my high school pool (locals). The twenty-something sunbathing in a bikini, blissfully unaware of the rising tide until it came over her. And a few dogs chasing sticks into the ocean. We rounded out our evenings with more incredible seafood, another round of gin rummy, and wine (red and white when I couldn’t decide) at the condo.
We did occasionally break routine, once to have dinner with Jeff’s uncle, who lives on the island and is known for wearing a t-shirt that says Relax! This ain’t the mainland. We made plans to meet at a food truck park, but that’s only if you consider this message to be plans: “ok see you at 5:00, but don’t rush, it can be 5:15 or 5:30 or 6:00 or whenever, remember this ain’t the mainland [gnarly emoji], and you’ll pass a great whale-watching lookout point on your drive.” He was waiting for us at the parking lot entrance when we pulled up and he told us to “park wherever, it’s random.”
We never wanted to come home, but we did, along with a few packs of macadamia nuts, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, red clay sea salt, a new putter cover for me, three Kapalua golf shirts for Jeff, some gifts for family, and the recipe for the world’s most perfect quinoa salad. If you think that’s hyperbole, it’s not. I’ve made a lot of quinoa salads in my life, and most of them have been mediocre at best. Why? Because I rushed them. Here on the mainland I’m known to just throw together a salad. That means I cook the quinoa for fifteen minutes exactly, because that’s what the package says. I haphazardly chop vegetables, not caring about the end size of each piece. I eyeball a vinaigrette, then don’t even taste it before mixing it all together.
This has led to a lot of bad salads in my life. I’ve had soggy lumps of quinoa that look more like mashed potatoes than grains. I’ve made dressings with five ingredients that taste like nothing but bad olive oil. This is no way to treat oneself! But the quinoa salad from the Honolua grocery store, flawless and fluffy and mixed with perfectly diced peppers and onions and a balanced, red wine vinaigrette, topped with feta and sun-dried tomatoes and parsley, the quinoa salad that became my daily snack, it made me want to try harder.
Back home I simmered quinoa on the stovetop for fifteen minutes, then I checked and set a timer for another three. Meanwhile I cut onion and peppers into a quarter-inch dice and sautéed them for just five minutes, enough time to soften but also maintain a crunch. I removed the skin from a cucumber and spooned out the seeds, then matched the quarter-inch dice. Into a red wine dressing I stirred all of the vegetables, then added the quinoa as well after a brief resting period. A gentle stir brought everything together, then I finished the salad with feta and chopped parsley. The process was intentional and calming and meditative. There might as well have been palm trees and colorful birds chirping just outside my window.
Towards the end of our trip, Jeff and I realized how frequently we use the terms real quick and be right back. “I’m almost ready to go to the gym, just gotta fill up my water bottle real quick.” “Dinner is just about ready, but I’m going to throw together a smoothie, be right back.” Just typing that makes me anxious and I’ve vowed to stop. The third time I made this salad at home I thought to myself, Wow, look at how much faster I’m making it this time. Then I caught myself and tried to brush aside the nonexistent urgency and my self-congratulatory efficiency. I may need to return to Hawaii for some more lessons.
EVERYDAY QUINOA SALAD (THE WORLD’S BEST)
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)
1 cup quinoa
1/2 red onion, in quarter-inch dice
1/2 red pepper, in quarter-inch dice
1/2 green pepper, in quarter-inch dice
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded, in quarter-inch dice
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese
A few sun-dried tomatoes pieces (optional)
Make the dressing. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and oregano (if using).
Add the quinoa to a medium pot with two cups of water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes. Check on the quinoa; It should be light and easily fluffed with a fork. If it is soggy or there is still visible water, cover and add more time. I usually let it go for 17-18 minutes total. When it is finally done, remove the pot from the heat, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let it sit to slightly cool for at least 15 minutes. This allows the quinoa to keep its ideal texture in the final dish. I think immediately adding it to the dressing while warm just encourages the quinoa to become mushy, and it is harder to stir.
Meanwhile, sauté the onion and peppers in a little bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes. You want them to be softened, but still have a crunch to them. Add them to the bowl with the dressing, along with the cucumber. When the quinoa is sufficiently cooled, add it as well and gently stir to combine. Finally, add parsley, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes (if using), and give a final gentle stir.
This is a great salad for work lunches, and is excellent with a sliced avocado on top.