Monday, August 8, 2011

Business Lunch...

Zucchini...  It's what's for dinner!

Do you have a gas grill at the office?

You don't?

Then you really need to request one from management.

Aside from providing the opportunity to cook up a lunch of wholesome, delicious veggies, a community grill gives your fellow employees a good reason NOT to go out and blow twelve dollars plus gas on a fatty, sodium-laced takeout lunch.

If you haven't jumped on the veggie train and still eat meat, that's great too.  But if that's the case, you might want to lay off the ground turkey burgers for awhile.

I was stumbling around the kitchen this past Friday morning while the coffee was brewing, looking for something to take for lunch.  Since I'd be riding my bike to work, I was seeking something lightweight and portable that would easily fit into my miniature backpack.  On days when I ride my bike, I often put leftovers from the previous evening into a small plastic container and toss it into the backpack.

However, the previous evening's dinner was nowhere to be found.

Oven-baked salmon with corn and avocado salsa...  Needless to say, there were no leftovers.

As I foraged through the pantry, I was far from inspired.  But I happened to open the crisper drawer on my second trip through the fridge.

     "A-HA!" I barked.  "Fresh zucchini from the farmer's market.  I can grill them at the office."

I hastily grabbed two medium-sized zucchini, cut off the ends, and sliced them lengthwise into strips.  I placed the strips into a large zipper bag with plans to marinate them for several hours.

Unfortunately, the most recent bottle of Garlic Expressions, the wonderful dressing that we'd discovered almost a month ago and had been using for our veggie marinades, was empty... sitting on the counter, waiting to be tossed into the recycle bin.

Not a problem, I thought to myself.  I can just pick up some marinade at the market down the street.

This stuff is fantastic!  Click HERE to visit their website.

Having a small market within walking distance from the office is another bonus.  On countless occasions, the market has saved my stomach on days when I've had the urge to sell my soul at a dirty takeout joint.

After showering and dressing, I tossed the bag of zucchini into my backpack, along with my belt and thermos of coffee, and headed out the door.

The ride to the office was quite enjoyable.  The temperature was cooler than on previous mornings that I had ridden my bike.  As sweat started trickling down my temples, the lively breeze against my forehead felt invigorating and helped to cool me off .

The route I ride can best be described as 'slightly rolling', with an overall gain of elevation on the way into the office.  The first two miles take me along residential streets and a main route, before I escape to the back roads.  The last two miles take me along one of the many biking and hiking trails in Rochester that have been converted from railroad beds.
I was treated to an unexpected bloody massacre during the final segment of my ride.

As I was pedaling along the trail, I noticed movement behind the tall weeds lining the edge of the field.  All of a sudden, I noticed two eyes gleaming at me from behind the vegetation.  I put on my brakes and skidded to a halt.

From my seat on the bike, I craned my neck and peered over the weeds to get a better look.  I noticed that the creature had something in its mouth...  No, it was actually a beak.  A large red-tailed hawk was enjoying its breakfast.  The unfortunate main course was a badly-mangled squirrel with its innards hanging from its punctured mid-section in ghastly fashion.

     "Oooooooooh," I heard myself exclaim quietly, under my breath.

If you're a squirrel, you might
want to be somewhere else.
We remained still for another minute, watching each other in curiosity.  After a few moments, the hawk began retreating backwards into the field, still shaking its prey violently.  I watched in awe as it disappeared into the meadow before continuing on my way.

Several weeks ago, I had noticed a similar bird perched high above on the electric wires, which accompanied this particular section of the trail.

Perhaps this was the same hawk...  or maybe it was a competitor.

Having a front-row seat to nature's wonders is just another bonus of riding a bike to work.

A few minutes later, I cruised into our office parking lot and wheeled my bike in through the employee entrance.  I left my backpack at my desk, splashed some water on my forehead to cool off, and grabbed a quick drink from the kitchen before heading down the street to the market.

I selected a marinade that was heavy on the balsamic vinegar and molasses and light on the olive oil.  I also grabbed a box of quick oats for my breakfast, along with a packet of Uncle Ben's 90-second whole grain brown rice.  No, it's not as good as the fresh stuff, but it works in a pinch.

As I was heading towards the cash register, the display of fresh, local corn in the produce section caught my eye.

     Hmmmmmmm...  I can grill that, too.

The price of one bunch of corn was six for a dollar.  So I grabbed one.

Not one bunch...  one ear...  of corn.  I guess that's about...  thirty-three cents an ear.

Back at the office, I...

     "How much for a order o' ribs!?"

     "Uh, two-fifty."

     "TWO-FIFTY!  How many ribs do ah get with that!?"

     "Uhhhhh 'bout five."

"Ya got change for uh-HUNDRED!?!?!?"

     "FIVE!  ...  So ah guess that's about...  FIFTY CENTS A RIB, huh?"

     "Yyyyeah about."

     "Well let me get ONE!"

     "Right on...  One order."

     "One order o' ribs!"

     "No-no, no-no...  ONE RIB!"

     "One...  rib...  (?)"

     "I sho' am hungry!"

...I dumped about a cup of dressing into the zipper bag, shook it around a bit to evenly coat all of the zucchini, and put it in the fridge.

One of the biggest misconceptions about a meatless diet is that it somehow limits your mealtime options.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Once we stopped buying and cooking with beef, pork, and poultry, we discovered all sorts of new and exciting ways to cook with and incorporate fruits, vegetables, and grains into our meals.

As with many other types of cooking, the gas grill becomes much more exciting when you add fresh produce.  When we were still eating meat, the only foods we typically grilled were hamburgers and hot dogs...  occasionally chicken...  maybe a steak now and then.

Waiting for the grill...
Now, we grill anything we want.

Vegetables are so easy.  If they're big and fat, just cut them into thin strips, marinate them in anything you want, and toss them on the grill.  If they're smaller and bite-sized, just marinate them, and toss them in a grill basket or skillet.

And certain vegetables stand in perfectly for traditional meats.

Portobello mushroom caps can be marinated and grilled in place of hamburgers.  Larger carrots can be boiled until slightly tender and marinated overnight, and then grilled like hot dogs the next day.

As for corn, just soak it in water for an hour and toss it on the grill, husk and all, for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning several times during cooking.

Speaking of corn, I began soaking it in a shallow dish at around 12:30.  At quarter of two, I fired up the grill and tossed on the corn, followed by the zucchini.  Twenty minutes later, I loaded up my crispy veggies onto a platter and brought them into our break room.  While my bag-o-rice was steaming in the microwave, I carefully husked the charred ear of corn and topped it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

When the the bell on the microwave went DING!, I emptied out the bag onto a plate, covered it with the zucchini, and slapped the corn next to it.

I took a bite of corn...

Delicate...  tender...  absolutely delicious!

The zucchini wasn't bad.  While it was cooked perfectly, the balsamic dressing didn't have as much 'zing' as I would have preferred.  But it was still worth the effort.  Next time, I'll make sure that I use the Garlic Expressions.

Really, if you don't have a grill at the office, you need to put in a request with your boss (or your 8 bosses) as soon as possible.

Grilling at the office will make your lunch hour much more enjoyable.

Best of all, your wallet and stomach will thank you.

The balsamic dressing sorta spilled onto the corn,
but that's OK since I didn't have any butter.

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