Sometimes my brain goes offline. It puts itself in Idle. This happens after periods of intense thought and writing and reading, but at other times, it happens for no apparent reason. I wake up stupider than usual, and I have a hard time making conversation, and I can’t write anything at all, and reading anything more challenging than a glossy magazine is an effort. So I sit in the bath with a glossy magazine and drool gently and stare into space and let my thoughts bump around like bears in the dark. That’s been my general state these past couple of weeks. Three or four weeks, actually. It’s been going on for so long, I’m starting to suspect it’s my natural state, and my occasional bursts of sustained writing and reading are the anomaly, artificially induced by deadlines.
The one thing I can still do when my brain is in sleep mode is cook. Thank God, because I still have to eat. Lately, I’ve even been having dreams about cooking. One night, I made linguine, over and over, all night long. I cracked an egg into a mound of fine-milled buckwheat flour, threw in some salt, mixed it into a dough, rolled it out, and cut it in long, fine strips and hung them on a rack. During the course of that night, I must have made enough fresh buckwheat linguine to feed the homeless population of Portland, Maine.
Anyway, a couple of nights after the linguine dream, I had a dream about a cucumber and tomato salad. It was very simple—summery, juicy, crunchy, and fresh. In my dream, I was so excited to eat it, I couldn’t stop banging on about how good it was and how much I’d been craving it.
When I woke up, it seemed obvious that I needed to make and eat this salad as soon as possible. Later that morning, after a fast hike through the slushy snow and ice on the Casco Bay trails at the Eastern Prom, we stopped at the small market on Munjoy Hill and bought a basketful of groceries. I love this little market. It’s tiny, but it’s full of everything we want and need, all of it beautiful, most of it locally grown.
We bought vegetables, herbs, tahini, chickpeas, lemons, feta, wild rice, and wine. Just before suppertime, I put a cup of wild rice on to cook in two cups of chicken broth. Then I made a batch of hummus in the little Cuisinart: first a quarter of a cup each of lemon juice and tahini, then when that was all smooth, a couple of cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of olive oil and a 15 ounce can of chickpeas, well rinsed, in two batches, with a dash of water. I dumped the creamy, rich hummus into a bowl, smoothed it out, then sprinkled cayenne and paprika and poured olive oil on top. It tasted better than any store-bought hummus I’d ever had. I’d never made it from scratch before, and now I couldn’t fathom why not.
Then I peeled, cored, and chopped two cucumbers along with two ripe tomatoes, diced a red onion, and minced a big bunch each of mint, cilantro, and parsley. I diced two red peppers, squeezed half a cup of fresh lemon juice, and then I was ready to throw together a tabbouleh and a salad.
I stuck the cooked rice in the freezer for a while to cool, then took it out and added half the chopped herbs, half the red onion, and a red pepper. I poured half the lemon juice into it, doused it with olive oil, added black pepper and cumin, mixed it well, tasted it, and lo, it was done.
The cucumbers and tomatoes, the second red pepper and other half of the red onion, and the rest of the herbs and lemon juice went into a separate bowl with more olive oil, cumin, and black pepper. I crumbled the entire block of feta over it, considered and decided against olives, mixed it well, and then that was done, too.
We heaped our plates high, piling the salad on top of a bed of baby arugula and the hummus on top of the tabbouleh. We sat at the counter, crunching away. The cucumber and tomato salad was as good as the one in my dream, or maybe even better, since I hadn’t thought to add feta in my dream. Sometimes real life is better.
We ate the leftovers for dinner the next night; the salad had marinated in the olive oil and lemon juice, and the wild rice tabbouleh had steeped in its own flavors, too, so everything was even more delicious the second time around.
My brain is still offline. But it’s a bit clearer; that influx of fresh raw vegetables seems to have given it a sort of boost, along with the “Israeli sandwiches” we’ve been eating for breakfast. I call them that because they remind me of the breakfast buffet at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where I had the luxury of staying when I was in Israel for my cousin-in-law’s wedding, many years ago. In the hotel dining room were tables filled with platters mounded with smoked fish and creamy cheese and sliced raw vegetables and bagels and rye breads and fruit salad and olives and hummus and babaganoush and tabbouleh. I’ve been to Israel three times, and Jerusalem is an amazing, awe-inspiring city, of course, but that breakfast was memorable.
Israeli Breakfast Sandwich
Spread soft mild goat cheese on two pieces of hot toast. Add plenty of smoked fish (I used bluefish), ripe tomato and peeled cucumber, and a small handful of arugula. Clap the pieces together and eat it right away.