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Diana Donlon's picture

One thing about life with teens is that you never know what’s coming next. As moms, we know this takes patience, humor, flexibility and a bit of creativity. Just before ten last night, I was heading upstairs after a full day at work followed by a full evening at school watching skits on “How to survive in a Mars Colony!” when my older son, Jackson, called out “Hey Mom. What can I bring to the international potluck we’re having in Mr. Doherty’s class tomorrow? I had planned to make guacamole, but we only have two avocados and one is rock hard.”

I took a deep breathe, resisted the urge to launch into a lecture of the virtue of planning ahead, and instead stuck my head in the pantry— which by the end of the week begins to look like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Moments later I produced a box of Kasha – a grain commonly eaten in Slavic Europe – otherwise known as buckwheat. “I’ve got it,” I announced triumphantly; “How about making a pilaf?” The idea behind the potluck was to make a dish that matched family heritage, and this pilaf-to-the-rescue was decidedly far from our Scotch-Irish roots. With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, my mother’s Irish Soda Bread would have been the go-to treat, but at this hour it would have taken more luck of the Irish than I had up my sleeve.

Jackson sauntered into the kitchen as if there was all the time in the world. Already at work boiling the nutty grain, I enlisted him in peeling and slicing a lone carrot and two spring onions. Meanwhile, I rummaged through the empty fridge to see if we could work any mini-miracles. Voila! I found the bag of tiny fennel bulbs that I’d cooed over at the Farmer’s Market the Sunday before last. My first thought was, how could these little gems have just sat there for more than a week unnoticed? Isn’t one of the core Cool Foods principles to avoid food waste? No bigger around than Ping-Pong balls, they were still unbelievably fresh and crisp (a shout out to root veggies, they really know how to hold up their end of things— and save me from breaking my own rules!).

Jackson, meanwhile, was working on the seasoning and deciding to bathe the now-boiled grain in soy sauce. Probably not the most traditional of Eastern European seasonings, but remember by now it is well after 10 and it was his creation after all. Searching for more green, I went outside to check on my little mint patch, harvesting as many of the tiny sprigs as the plants could spare. Making this pilaf was beginning to feel a bit like making stone soup-- whatever you have in whatever amount gets thrown in the pot.

As Jackson grated a bit of fresh ginger root over the top of his dish, I couldn’t help but impart some motherly advice: “Remember” I said “grains like buckwheat, bulgur, and quinoa are perfect for pot lucks. Adding any veggies you have on hand makes them fresh and eye-catching. They are nourishing, vegetarian, gluten-free, inexpensive to make, and satisfying crowd pleasers.” Come to think of it, they follow many of our core Cool Foods principles and this transforms them from potluck to the proverbial pot of gold. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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