arugula

inoculations from hell / grilled watermelon salad

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So my family and I are going to visit Africa. When I think of Africa I picture lions, zebras and elephants like any other ignorant foreigner, but I also picture giant anacondas, typhoid fever, and lots of bottled water. In a nutshell, we have to get inoculated. This word sounds harmless enough- perhaps even enjoyable because of its similarity to words like intoxicated, innocence, and inner-tube. But let me be clear: getting inoculated has nothing to do with pleasantness and everything to do with large needles.
The office for infectious disease smells like its filled with them (translation: a too warm grey blue box reeking of latex and dirty people). I check in with a lady wearing scrubs decorated with kittens playing with a ball of string and chuckle at her perfectly executed presentation of the stereotypical hospital receptionist (translation: overweight middle aged she-man who used to care but now just rescues cats and watches reality TV). She’s tucked behind a glass window (I can’t help but notice the fingerprints and dried spit before she slides it open and hands me a clipboard). “Just grab a pen from the jar,” she tells me. I look at the jar of used looking pens and scolded myself for hesitating. It’s just a goddamn pen, I tell myself. I am here for disease prevention…disease prevention. I keep repeating this in my head to drown out my inner chorus of: this place is festering with disease…this place is festering with disease. The paper on the clipboard asks me if I have AIDS, if I’m pregnant, if I’m allergic to anything, if I take blood thinners or anti-psychotics, if I’m depressed, if I have heart disease…
No, I say to myself, but I’m a panic stricken vegan with germaphobia!
My unicorn friend is eating the fake green hanging plant in the corner. I roll my eyes and sarcastically ask him how a plant can grow without light. Green plants can grow anywhere, he argues, while chewing on a plastic leaf. I snort and turn my attention to the wrinkled Good Parenting magazine on the side table. I open it with my fingertips and discover that a few pages have been ripped out. Who rips out magazine articles? I wonder briefly. After learning that the first year of a baby’s life costs around 50k, I pick up a pamphlet on HIV. It takes me about 2 minutes to convince myself that I have it.
The doctor emerges from behind a grey door. He’s just finished up with my sister, who’s in some sort of post traumatic shock (translation: she doesn’t like hospitals or people generally, especially people who tell her to be very still for any period of time and stick her with large needles). I can’t say I blame her. Her boyfriend is smiling and tells us that the needles were “This big!” (gesticulating wildly and giving the impression that the needle was the length of a large cat).
My unicorn friend and I follow the doctor into his small office and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It’s another grey blue box. It has a window that looks out onto more grey buildings, and his desk is completely hidden beneath never-ending stacks of papers and charts cloaked in dust. A few family photos have managed to hold onto the edges of the mahogany surface. The wall opposite the window has a bookshelf lined with thick boring books that no one ever reads. The doctor tells us to have a seat, then launches into a freaking dissertation about the importance of vaccines when traveling to Africa. I want to say, Yeah, I know all this, that’s why I’m here you idiot. No, I don’t want to get Hepatitis from fruit salad or Typhoid fever from bacteria infested water. Yes, I’m fine with getting Tetanus. And Polio. Yes, yes…just DO it already! The longer I sit in this grey blue box of dust and disease, the more likely I’m going to contract a Staph infection! My unicorn friend calmly asks if the scar on his arm from a previous vaccination reaction will be an issue. I groan as the doctor goes into a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of vaccination reactions. I am stuck to my seat with sweat. I need to get out of here. After what seems like a full calendar year, the doctor asks us if we want to watch him prepare the inoculations. “Is it interesting?” asks my unicorn friend. My eyes swell like two glass orbs and I nearly shout, “Jesus, you don’t have the shots ready yet?”
Suddenly I picture a petri dish writhing with a typhoid amoeba monster and our sloth of a doctor coaxing it into a giant needle with soft encouragement. Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I grab my unicorn friend by the mane and drag him to the waiting room. It’s cooler in there at least. The lady with the kitten scrubs beams at us and I’m reminded of the fact that no one else has come or gone from the office since we arrived 108 hours ago. How many shots does this guy dole out per day? I wonder with increasing fear.
20 minutes have passed and I’m eyeing the air vent like it’s a MRSA filled enemy, floating into the grey blue office like the Ebola virus from Outbreak, just when Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo realize that it’s airborne…
Come on in, says the doctor with a toothy grin. I am fairly certain at this point that I am in Hell and this doctor is Satan and all I’m going to do for the rest of eternity is wait for and then receive shots in his infernal office.
The exam room is blindingly bright from the neon light buzzing overhead. There’s a bed covered in stiff white paper and a framed print of one of Monet’s waterlilies. I sit on the edge of the bed with a loud crunch after deciding that I’m getting the damn shots first. Two in each arm, Satan says with a smile. Oh, you sadist sloth! I want to yell. When the first needle goes in, I try to ignore my sister’s earlier bravado about vaccine reactions and subsequent paralyzation of the legs. They hurt like hell, but its pure bliss compared to sitting in Satan’s dusty office or the grey blue waiting room filled with MRSA.

Now that you’ve been to Hell and back and have enough vaccines to roll around in Malaria-infested waters with hippos and anacondas, why not invite them over for some grilled watermelon salad? I was very skeptical about grilling fruit at first, but now I realize that when you grill fruit it actually caramelizes and makes it even sweeter. A punch of balsamic reduction and some cashew cheese (Dr. Cow makes the most delicious vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. Look here: Dr-Cow | Products | Aged Cashew Nut Cheese.), and you’re in for a serious flavor explosion.

Grilled Watermelon Salad with Cashew Cheese

1/2 (5 pound) watermelon, rind removed and cut into about 8 squares
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & fresh pepper to taste
2 cups arugula
1 container Dr. Cow cashew cheese sliced thin (or “cheese” of your choosing)

Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to a think syrup and set aside. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle enough olive oil over watermelon slices to coat and place on hot grill. Grill each side about 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Season with sea salt. To assemble, put a handful of arugula on a plate and top with two slices of grilled watermelon, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a few pieces of cashew cheese. Serves 4 unicorns with sore arms and paralyzed legs.