It's at the end of January every year that winter settles in me and starts to drive me bonkers. In New York, it's not so much being freezing cold, because it's not—it's all up and down, and some days you're in six layers and some days you let your ankles peek out and it gets your hopes up, and then the next day you're back to six layers, and it's uniformly, endlessly gray. By the last week of January, I've lost my new-year optimism and need to make myself think sunny thoughts, plan a trip someplace out of the city, put new sheets on the bed. Tight little bundles of bodega daffodils make me weepy. Honestly, between now and April, anything bright-colored but especially anything bright yellow or green makes me feel like Amélie splashing into a puddle.
Today at the co-op I bought Meyer lemons so I could preserve them, something I've been meaning to do myself because I feel like I'll actually use them if I've put in the work. I'm thinking I'll do them Ottolenghi-style, as he lays out in Jerusalem and Ali Stafford lays out on her blog: You pack split lemons with salt, let them sit for a week, then add a chile and a sprig of rosemary and try to be patient for 4 weeks more, if not longer. If I start them tonight they'll be ready March 12, by which point it might actually be sort of spring-like. The lemons ended up at the top of the cardboard box I was carrying home my groceries in and I was so happy to be able to look down at them, that same cheery feeling as having the sun on your face. Truly. Little things.
Today's little gratitude prayer is for citrus sliding into season at the grayest time of year. I've been making this grain salad a lot. It's juicy and alive-tasting and very green, and inspired by something L described to me after eating it as a plus-one at her friend's company holiday party.
Grains with Cucumber, Dill, Cashews, and Citrus
6 lunch-sized servings
2 cups freekeh (or another grain—I just made recently with a mix of wheat berries and barley)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cashews, roughly chopped
1 seedless hothouse cucumber or two Persian cukes, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly into half-moons
2 handfuls torn dill fronds
2 handfuls parsley leaves
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the freekeh and a bay leaf and boil until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
While the freekeh cooks, make the dressing: Combine the zest of one orange, the juice of both oranges, and the juice of the lemon with 1/4 cup olive oil. Whisk together and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toast the cashews: Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and stir regularly until the nuts are lightly toasted. Season with a generous pinch of salt, toss well to combine, and set aside to cool.
Combine the cucumber, herbs, freekeh, and all of the dressing in a large bowl and toss together to combine thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the cashews just before serving.