A good rainbow lunch begins and ends with the blueberries. They’re only good for a few months and what else are you going to use for blue? Reds are easy – strawberries and raspberries travel well and are fine even in January. In a pinch, you could go slumming and pack an apple. Orange? Carrots or clementines. Please. And so forth.
A summertime rainbow lunch is a slam dunk; you can spend an hour outside and come home with this:
Those are the best blueberries you’ll ever eat.
I’ve given up on wintertime rainbow lunches. February blueberries just can’t be trusted and I’ve spent five dollars on a tiny container of Chilean blueberry garbage one too many times. But I’ve been having a tough time lately and figured that a week of rainbow lunches might be just what I need. So last weekend I swallowed my pride and decided to give it another try.
Timber came on the radio while we were driving to Whole Foods and I had to listen to it, again, because my kids adore both Pitbull and Ke$ha, a nonsensical love I attribute to their underdeveloped brains. It’s science. Timber is a bit of an intellectual stretch for an eight and five year-old – probing complex themes such as taking shots and twerking in one’s bra and thong – but they’re bananas for it, in spite of good taste and common decency.
When a song comes on the radio that they like, one or both of them will immediately mumble “yuh” which means I am not to change the channel. A “nuh” is my cue to search for a better song. Despite the fact that it is impossible to differentiate a “yuh” from a “nuh” in a moving car, I’ve managed to compile a mental catalog of the terrible songs they prefer. They happily listen in silence while my aging accelerates and I undergo the joyfulness of fatherhood.
This time, however, the song had hardly begun before a rhythmic and melodic accompaniment sputtered forward from the back seat in the form of snapping and whistling, “talents” that my children have just discovered. The one that can snap can’t keep a beat and the one that can whistle can’t really whistle. It was breathtakingly awful. I dreamt of rainbow lunches, transcended the din, and aimed the car at Whole Foods.
We walked in and the kids skittered through the produce maze trying every free sample they could get their hands on while I gathered my weekly fruits and vegetables. I decided to save the blueberries for last. I knew in my soul they would suck, but guessed that an additional five minutes of hope might be the difference between taking it like a man and sobbing gently into my hands. One of these days, it’s all going to come crashing down.
I was bagging apples when the eight year-old appeared in front of me with manic pleading eyes and fiercely pursed lips. He was anxiously pointing at his cheek. “Mwmwmmmh!”
A free sample mishap. His sister will eat literally anything – we’ve taken her out for sushi – but he’s afraid to try a cheeseburger. I was surprised, and a little impressed, that he would have tried something that he wasn’t sure he’d like. There was precious little time for pride, however, since his maw was filling with saliva and he was turning green.
“Just swallow it, dude. You’ve got to swallow it.” There’s no way he’s going to throw up in Whole Foods.
“Nnh unh. Uh cahn whallow uht.” His words jostled the contents of his mouth out of equilibrium just enough to make him gag. Dominos began to fall. He heaved and made a sickening, blurpy retching sound with his throat. Shit. He’s going to throw up in Whole Foods.
Time slowed and I discovered myself ill-equipped to handle the situation. I looked around for a trash can or a discreet place for a hysterical eight year-old to eject the contents of his mouth, but only saw heaps of shiny produce and judgmental ladies in pretentious leggings.
In moments like this some parents will hold out their palms for the child to spit into, in an act of what I can only imagine is grim resignation. I can’t imagine ever doing this; nothing could possibly suck more. Rock bottom is having a human spit masticated food onto your body. I’ve resigned to a lot in life, but I know where I stand. I looked into his eyes and took a step back. Here we go.
And then he was gasping for air! In the midst of my introspective panic he must have swallowed it!
“You okay, buddy? What did you eat?” He led me over to a Plexiglas orb of cheese cubes. I read the card. “Cave Aged Gruyere??”
“I think that’s the kind of cheese cave men ate” he whimpered with tears in his eyes.
We doubled back for the blueberries and I grabbed a container without even looking at them. I felt invincible. Surviving an ordeal like that gives one the confidence to manage even the softest, lamest blueberries. The boy cleansed his palate with a plain tortilla chip on the way out. The five year-old was snacking on polenta.
That night I assembled my lunch:
A good rainbow lunch can really turn around your day. At the very least, it gives you something to do for an hour at work. If at all possible, I try to eat my rainbow lunches in private. If I have to eat at my desk, I try to hide it from coworkers and passersby. What is it about a three-pound rainbow lunch that invites so many questions? And why does every single answer make me sound like a psychopath?
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the order in which you eat a rainbow lunch is important. No, you cannot eat it in rainbow order. It all hinges on the blueberries. In the summer, you can eat them any time – they’re that good – but in the winter they usually taste like smush, so you can’t eat them after something flashy like strawberries or grapes. You’ve got to eat carrots or green beans first to sadden your palate.
After the main course (sandwiches, pea soup, whatever) I start with the banana. Nothing else makes sense. Then green beans followed by the blueberries. I eat the carrots before the strawberries, but you could just as easily reverse them. I never do. Grapes are last. Well, last before the yogurt, granola bar and something crunchy (Goldfish crackers or pretzels).
Today’s rainbow lunch was: uneventful. The beans weren’t as good as they looked. The blueberries were lenient and tasted cloudy.
Timber came on while I was driving the five year-old home from school today. We listened to it, again, but when it was over she sighed, “I’m getting kind of sick of that song.” Now, apparently, she likes that Are You Going to Stay the Night song, with the “come pour yourself all over me” part. It came on immediately after Timber and she gleefully wheezed along on a harmonica she found on the seat while my eyeball backs began to cook. Goddamn Chilean blueberries.