IMMOBILIZED behind a stalled Metrobus one icy morning I tried to divert myself from destrctive thoughts. What's good about these days? I forced myself to consider. Better yet, what's better about these days? A list was started, and as usual I concentrated on food.
Yogurt, yes, yogurt. I remembered a time when yogurt was found only in Middle Eastern groceries, and there were hardly many of them. And, even later, when it had become fruited and sweetened and widely distributed, small-town supermarkets stocked none of the high-quality live-culture flavored yogurts we admired.
Now, premium-quality yogurts are in small towns and highway vending machines. We can count on finding good yogurt just about anywhere. We know children who practically live on yogurt -- on their cereal, in their frozen pops, as the mainstay of their lunchbags and lightening their cream soups and casseroles -- yet who have no idea that the children of a generation ago never heard of yogurt unless their mothers read Adelle Davis or lived in a commune.
The same goes for sprouts. We grew up having to search out one of the few real Chinese restaurants in order to eat fresh beansprouts. Otherwise they came only in cans. And as far as anyone knew, only mung beans sprouted. Alfalfa? For cows. And, now -- what's a sandwich without alfalfa sprouts?
And what's a sandwich without pita bread? That pocket bread is another newcomer, not very long ago considered the strange product of out-of-the-way Greek restaurants and only used to scoop up hummus while waiting for the shish kebab.
Which leads us to a story about hummus.
It was two decades ago, and I was working for the USDA between semesters of school. One evening I was taken to the Baghdad restaurant, where I became intrigued by hummus. I asked the waiter if I could get the recipe, and he passed along the request to the kitchen. He returned with a "little-of-this-little-of-that" kind of answer, so I set search on my own. None of the cookbooks at the USDA made mention of the dish. The Library of Congress turned up only one recipe -- in Arabic. I called the Evening Star's food section and they promised to search; within a few minutes they were ringing my telephone to request the USDA's help. I told them that it was I who had called, and they admitted being at the end of their rope.
So I called the Middle Eastern embassies. None could help. Until I was routed to the Arab Information Service. Sure enough, they found a number for me to call. It was, of course, the Baghdad restaurant. So I asked again for the recipe, and again got it: a little of this and a little of that.
By now hummus recipes are hard to avoid. And that chickpea and sesame dip is familiar at everything from picnics to cocktail parties -- which are all the better for it.
I could have gone on with my list. Say, to potato skins, which once were discarded and now are relished. But I would have been holding up traffic. And I was getting hungry.