Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Together Again
What’s cooking? Roasted Asparagus with Quinoa Crispies

I’ve recently come back from a reunion with a group of women who were my pledge class sorority sisters. It’s been a long time since our college days, but this is now our third get-together in the last six years, and the enthusiasm for them doesn’t seem to be waning. Each time, some 15-20 of the original 25 show up.

Oddly enough, this year also witnessed a reuniting of my husband’s college friends, who as a group (22, including spouses) have been committed to gathering every other year for the past seven years. So what is it that has us now compulsively revisiting those who knew us when?

Part of it, of course, is that we finally have the time. The kids are grown, we’re at least semi-retired from work, and if we manage the venue well enough, it’s a pretty cheap getaway. Yet it’s the deeper desire –  to revisit who we were when we were still raw and unformed, to recognize and reflect on the distances we’ve traveled, to recast ourselves in the light of maturity – that I think exerts the real pull.

I liked these women. Still do. I thought I understood them pretty well, and in that I was wrong. But when I think about who I was in college, it’s no surprise that I didn’t spend much time getting to really know those around me. It was enervating enough just getting to know myself. So while most people enjoy reunions as a chance to sing the old college songs or relive the time we beat someone in football, what I’ve relished instead has been the listening time – when it’s just me and one or two others, when I’ve learned things about those women that have given me a deeper and surprising understanding of who they are and the roads their lives have taken. It changes my thinking in ways I can only describe as refreshing.

As it happens, I’ve changed, too. I was a floozy in college. Emerging from the cocoon of a family life in which I imagined a need to be perfect, I shrugged off my straight-A persona and turned loose my inner party girl. I thumbed my nose at “booking it” and raised the banner of “just getting by.” It wasn’t a pretty sight. But those are the years of trying on personalities to see which ones fit best. “Footloose and fancy-free” left a dusty taste in my mouth. Or maybe that was just the hangover.

But I’m not going down that rabbit-hole. I know myself better these days, and I’ve given myself a pass on the sins of my youth.

These days, I love being a food nerd – oops, make that a Kitchen Goddess. And at this most recent gathering, I got to share that love with the group by being in charge of the dinners. Friday night, I served seafood gumbo with shrimp and crab bought by our hostess at a local Costco. How did I make that happen? Why, I carried eight cups of frozen gumbo base in my suitcase, of course. I often wonder what the TSA folks think when they rummage through my suitcase on one of those random searches and find – at least this time – the plastic containers of frozen base, plus a jar of olive tapenade and several jars of spices for the Saturday night dinner, as well as a big bottle of soy sauce and two bottles of Thai fish sauce. At least I expect I livened up someone’s day.

Dinner Saturday night featured a number of dishes from my blog postings:

Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloins. I had thought to grill them, but the weather was too cold, so we seared the marinated tenderloins in a hot skillet for about 5 minutes each, then roasted them in the oven at 425º for 25 minutes.

Sliced Oranges with Olive Tapenade and a sprinkling of fennel seed. The sweet-salty interaction of orange and olive is a combination I love.

Roasted Asparagus dusted with Quinoa Crispies. Peeling the lower 2-3 inches of woody skin off the asparagus makes them easier to eat and allows the natural sweetness of the vegetable to come out in the baking. (You’ll notice in the photo here that I’ve only peeled half of what I have. Don’t bother with the peeling if you have those pencil-thin spears. They’re already tender enough, and you’ll only drive yourself crazy.) Brush the asparagus lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast at 400º for 15 minutes.

The crispy quinoa garnish is a touch I found in a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. According to the article, it’s the latest rage among restaurant chefs, and we want to be current, don’t we? Also, it’s about the easiest thing you can do to add a fun bit of crunch to roasted veggies, deviled eggs, or green salads.

Quinoa Crispies

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine, July 2013

¼ cup quinoa (any color – in the photos here, I used red)
1 cup vegetable oil
salt to taste

In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 2 cups lightly salted water. Stir in the quinoa and cook until the grains are just tender, about 12 minutes.

Drain the quinoa through a fine sieve. Turn it out onto a small rimmed baking sheet and use a fork to spread it around in an even layer to dry.

Once the quinoa has dried,  heat the oil in a small skillet until it shimmers. Add the quinoa and fry over medium heat, stirring, until it stops sizzling and is crisp, about 2½ minutes. Drain the quinoa through a fine sieve and spread on paper towels to cool. Season lightly with finishing salt. Quinoa Crispies can be stored in an airtight container for at least a couple of weeks.


  1. Outstanding blog! ( and Quinoa Crispies, here I come...)
    Eileen in Atlanta

    1. Thanks -- I hope you like the crispies. I keep some in a jar at the ready.

  2. Wonderful blog! Delicious and beautiful!! Yummm.........
    Gail D