Every Brilliant Thing: Salmon rub, Vegetable pilaf

HBO’s documentary Every Brilliant Thing is a one-man play about a young boy’s attempt to cure his suicidal mother’s depression by creating a list of “everything that was brilliant about the world, everything worth living for.” In the play, the actor gives hand-written notes to members of the audience as they arrive, asking them to read out their assigned brilliant thing when he calls their number. Included in the list: #1, “ice cream,” #5, “things with stripes,” #998,997, “the alphabet,” #4, “laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose”—the brilliant things got more sophisticated as the boy grew up.

It is inevitable that a viewer will make up their own list, and high on mine are good sheets—I love good sheets. When I was a kid, I slept on coarse flannel sheets in the winter and muslin sheets in the summer. The good percale ones were used only on the mom and dad bed. I didn’t feel slighted, it was just part of life as a kid before children were the center of the world. But as soon as I became the sheet buyer, I spent as much as I could afford on crisp, cool, all-cotton sheets. If I were rich, every day would be clean sheet day.

My own list of brilliant things so far: the smell of a baby, mayonnaise, i before e except after c, checking off items on a to-do list, a sharp knife, new gum, ceiling fans, lying in bed watching the moon, sleeping in, listening to someone else make dinner, and successful parallel parking.

Last week I put two more brilliant things on my list—a visit from my son and a new set of frosty-grey, sateen sheets from my daughter-in-law. Jon is a smart businessman, a kind, generous son, a stellar husband, the involved father of three special girls, and a new practitioner of 9Round, a high-intensity circuit training fitness program that emphasizes kick-boxing. His wife, Lara, is a dear with a great sense of humor, a big heart, and a Julia Roberts’ face.

Anyways, my son, the Sweetie, and I ate salmon, rice pilaf, and asparagus at the table like grownups, then watched the NYYs, caught up on family news, and after hugs all around, Jon drove back to his hotel room and flew home early the next morning to his four special girls.

Tom Douglas’s salmon rub

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • Black pepper, to taste

Mixed grain/vegetable pilaf

  • One part cooked rice—Brown, basmati, Korean red
  • One part cooked grain—quinoa, bulgar wheat, ferro, barley
  • 1/4 part diced onion
  • Some smashed, minced garlic cloves
  • Ginger, if you prefer
  • Maybe some diced celery, if you have some
  • Or perhaps, diced mushrooms
  • What about that wilty carrot in the bottom of the crisper?
  • Diced cabbage or shredded Brussels sprouts work
  • Diced zucchini or a couple spears of asparagus 
  • *Chop all the vegetables in a smallish dice
  • Roasted nuts or seeds—walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds
  • A splash of lemon juice or chicken stock

Heat some olive oil in a largish sauté pan to a medium heat, add onions, garlic, ginger, celery, mushrooms, carrots, a half shake of red pepper flakes, and a high sprinkle of salt. Continue to sauté over medium until onions are soft. 

 Turn up the heat a bit. Add cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, or zucchini, or all three, add another small high sprinkle of salt, and cook until vegetables are soft. Add cooked rice and grain, sauté until hot (sometimes I just microwave the rice and grain, then add). 

Squirt a bit of lemon juice, chicken stock or both around the edge of the pan. Combine with rubber spatula or spoon and cook until liquid has disappeared.  

Fold in roasted nuts or seeds. Serve with another squirt of lemon juice, yogurt, tahini sauce, ranch dressing, or all of the above.

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