Easy Weeknight Grain Bowls

As it turns out, a watched pot does boil.

I learned this as I stared at the water in my little green Le Creuset saucepan for the full 10 minutes it took cold water to reach a rolling boil. I wish I could say I watched the water as part of some advanced culinary experiment requiring the utmost concentration. Nope. Just thinking, or trying not to think, as I awaited my dinner of Annie’s mac’n’cheese.

When I left for college eight years ago, my dad gave me one piece of advice: “Make sure to spend some time alone.” It seemed strange wisdom at the time, but here I am, 26 and inundated by social media images, ads, updates, and notifications. It’s rare to find a moment truly alone, with my brain turned off.

 

I’ve really struggled with social media. I’ve wondered, why am I not a perfectly toned fitness instructor/wellness guru who vacations in St. John, takes sunrise hikes up volcanoes in Hawaii, and then crafts perfectly frothed matcha lattes in hand-thrown ceramic mugs? Why is my kitchen not pure white and hung with an array of gleaming copper cookware, with whimsical plants tucked in every crevice? Why is my pantry not comprised of a thousand perfect jars storing every grain under the sun and my counter not adorned with a bowl of figs? Why am I not thinner/more successful/prettier/happier etc?

Sitting outside one afternoon this summer, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker and opened to this:

Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being. About ten minutes in, you’d say you needed some water, then wander up to the kitchen, where you’d get caught up staring at a refrigerator magnet. Then, for no reason, you’d do a little dance. You’d wonder if you should expand that dance right then and there. “Maybe I’ll direct music videos,” you’d say to yourself. But you’d have no way to follow up or to look it up; you’d just be standing in the deafening quiet of your kitchen at midday, alone with your thoughts… Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight.

I picked up my phone and quit Instagram. And Facebook. And Snapchat. And felt an immediate sense of peace. A low-grade, ever-present cloud of anxiety lifted. I breathed deeper. I fell asleep on the back porch, my feet propped up on a stucco column, my book open on my chest. I awoke to the sound of bees vibrating in the thyme, birds dipping and twittering in the surrounding treetops, the steady rasp of crickets, and the occasional rustle of leaves in the swooping breeze. I watched the light play on my sunburned arms and examined a bug bite on my ankle.

I had no idea what time it was. Sumac branches swayed haughtily above their long-suffering trunks. Suddenly, I was unburdened from the ominous promise of attention or lack thereof. There were no notifications on my phone, no dull race of the heart for a “like” or a follow. I was at ease. I felt at home in my own body. The trees beyond the grass undulated in an ocean of dappled light, moving as if from within to the beautiful pulse of the now.

After two blissful social media-free months, I decided to get back on Instagram. I missed sharing photos and getting inspired by the thousands of talented cooks and bakers sharing what they love most. I clarified my intentions for the app, reminding myself about the good things it has to offer. A space to share, rather than compare.

So for now, I’m hear to say that when it starts to weigh on you, just ignore it all. Put down your phone, go outside, and stare at a flower. Share things, post things, but do it for you. Despite how many paleo toppings you can put on your smoothie bowl or how many followers you gained this week, the only thing that matters is whether or not you can be by yourself in the silence, maybe watching a pot boil, and smile to yourself. Make time for yoga, and stretching, and breathing, but don’t beat yourself up for not being a bronzed yogi who does headstands on black sand beaches at sunset in Bali. Sometimes balance means pasta for dinner three nights in a row. And when you feel like feeling healthy, make yourself a yummy, loving, cozy, grain bowl with lots of delicious ingredients.

And then get an ice cream after dinner.

If you take time on a Sunday to prep a few basic components, you’re set to mix and match all week. Just pull a few Tupperware containers out of the fridge, assemble your bowl, and curl up on the couch for some Netflix and a nice glass of wine.

  • Cooked Grain: Try brown rice, quinoa, barley, or farro
  • Protein: I usually opt for something vegetarian, like black beans, hard boiled eggs, or greek yogurt
  • Raw Greens: My favorite is spinach. It’s affordable and lasts longer than most greens.
  • Roasted or Cooked Vegetables: Roasted sweet potato, squash, broccoli, or sautéed greens
  • Sauce/Dressing: Use your favorite salad dressing, or opt for something heartier like roasted eggplant dip or hummus
  • Something Umami: Like feta, parmesan, or pickled radishes
  • Something Crunchy: Nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or toasted quinoa

P.S. These comforting veggie bowls also make for an excellent weekday lunch!

Little Sister Links:

  1. If it’s starting to feel like Fall in your corner of the world, do yourself a favor and make this incredibly delicious vegan rice pudding from my best friend’s blog.
  2. I had a dream that I was taking a college course with Molly Yeh. What kind of university was that an how can I sign up?! Aside from both being ex-classical musicians living in the midwest, Molly and I also share an obsession with tahini. Soul sisters? I think so! Check out her recipe for tahini caramel apples.
  3.  I’ve been loving my slow-cooker lately! Do you have one? I’m coveting this new cookbook.
  4. How Instagram is ruining comfort food, according to Nigella Lawson.
  5. As if we needed one more reason to love Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen…

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