Next month, this site will celebrate its second birthday. My very first post went live in early June 2013, a post that I announced to no one except the lone person who might by chance stumble upon it by way of some online miracle. When I wrote that first post, our business was a mere year and a half old and Jay and I were a few days away from receiving the keys to our first brick and mortar space. We were nervous and broke and perpetually stressed and yet full of pride and joy and hope for the future (the one we are currently living in). It is not hyperbole to say we barely had time to eat most days (nor is it hyperbole to say our stomachs were in such knots with stress that we barely wanted to eat regardless). And yet, in the midst of all that, I decided to start this site during any quiet moments I could carve out very early in the morning or very, very late in the evening (at a time that, truthfully, probably constitutes as morning).
I didn’t really know what my goal was for this site when I typed out the first line of text of that initial post. I didn’t have a vision for the recipes. I barely knew how to use the buttons on my camera (my first DSLR, which I purchased with our tax return money a few weeks earlier).
So much about our lives has changed since then. We’re no longer so afraid of our business, but are more immersed in the excitement of knowing we’ve produced something that has real legs. Our shop, which we were so scared to open, and which left us penniless (again, not hyperbole) for many months now runs like a well-oiled machine, the hum of it a quiet, welcomed constant in the backdrop of everything we do. Next month, we will open our second location, a feat that, just two years ago, we believed would take decades to come to fruition. After a long dry spell, I’ve finally found the inspiration to help my freelance writing take off again, and I’ve been fortunate in these past two years to write for some of my favorite publications (the New York Times, Budget Travel, Saveur, and a handful of forthcoming pieces that make me so happy they’re sending a wide smile across my face as I type this line). And then there is our marriage. God, our marriage. It’ll be three years old next month. I’ll spare you my many grateful tears and my badly contorted “crying face.” But you probably get the idea.
During that initial summer when this site was still a very new venture, I decided to blindly send emails to some of the people behind my most favorite food sites. Sara Forte from the Sprouted Kitchen was one of those people. I had been reading her site for a while by that point, and felt so inspired by her approachable voice and the realness of her recipes. In a Pinterest-styled world (one that was really, seriously beginning to BOOM back then), her recipes always stood out to me as the type of whole dishes we would actually, for real, make at home on the reg. For a while there, it felt like every food site was trying to push the boundaries and make some super whacked out recipes, recipes that required mile-long ingredient lists and far too many intricate steps for people who work outside of their home most hours of most days. Basically, the web felt like it was beginning to get clogged up with the sort of recipes we would never have the time, patience or energy to realistically tackle on a typical night (say, a Tuesday) in our house. Sara’s recipes, however, reminded me of the type of stuff Jay and I look forward to curling up with on the couch after a long day, the sort of homey and whole foods we really do cook and eat most days. (Oh, you eat dinner at a table? Not on the couch while watching old episodes of Portlandia, your plate balanced on your knees? Weird.)
But back to that initial email. I don’t quite remember what I said in it, but I do remember that Sara responded to me just a few short hours after I hit “send.” She told me I was a strong writer — a small comment that meant so much to me back then when this venture was still so young and fragile — and in her conversational way commented on my site and generally made me feel like what I was doing might actually be worth something. I doubt she remembers it, but it is one of those notes that has always stayed with me. So thanks for that, lady.
Early last week, I was delighted to receive a copy of Bowl + Spoon, Sara’s most recent book. It’s so lovely, and is filled with gorgeous photography and the type of “I’ll actually cook this at home on, like, a Wednesday night” recipes, ones that are grounded in the types of whole, healthful foods that tend to grace our kitchen countertops. In case you weren’t picking up on my build-up, this Strawberry Tabbouleh recipe is from Sara’s book. I made a giant batch of it last weekend, which we enjoyed with friends during our Derby Day picnic on Sunday, the leftovers of which appeared on our dinner plates last night and the final bits of which I tossed over some eggs at the start of my day today. I plan to make another big batch for a Mother’s Day brunch we’ll host at our house this weekend and selfishly hope some leftovers remain for the early part of next week.
The recipe itself is simple. Prepare some quinoa (it should be noted that Sara’s recipe calls for bulgur wheat, though I’m a quinoa fan myself) and mix it with fresh parsley and mint, both of which play beautifully with diced fresh strawberries. The whole thing is dressed with a combination of lemon, olive oil and red wine vinegar (I adore the tart mix of berries and good quality vinegar), though I imagine balsamic vinegar might work nicely here too. (The original recipe from Sara’s book calls for one tablespoon of the vinegar, though I doubled that because, well, I’m a glutton for any hit of tartness available to me.)
It’s a little corny to say, especially during a time of the year when every blog/magazine/website is preaching “perfect spring recipes”, but this side salad really does taste exactly the way the season is supposed to taste: a hit of sweetness thanks to the first plump berries of the year; just enough tartness to wake up your tastebuds after a long winter filled with hearty soups and heavier fare; and a heavy hand of roughly chopped herbs that bring a super fresh quality to the whole dish.
It’s my new picnic go-to. I hope it becomes yours too.
Sara Forte’s Strawberry Tabbouleh
from Bowl + Spoon
3/4 cup quinoa
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced (both the green and white sections)
1 pint fresh strawberries, diced
1 English cucumber, diced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
zest and juice from 1 medium lemon
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook the quinoa according to the package’s directions. Once it is cooked, add the garlic, give it a fluff with a fork and set it aside to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, add the scallions, strawberries, cucumbers, mint, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper. Add the cooled quinoa and gently mix all ingredients to combine. If you like, sprinkle each serving with crumbled feta before serving.