Baked spinach.

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My family was sitting around the dinner table one night in the mid ’90s. I was about eight or nine, still young enough to play with my dollhouse, but old enough to start stressing out about things like our house getting burglarized or burning to the ground. (I was a weird kid.) My sister must have been about six, probably missing a couple of her front teeth and generally being adorable.

Our mom had made zucchini for dinner, and neither of us really enjoyed it. I could handle it, but Katie – ever the typical showman youngest child – could. not. even. We were not rude, spoiled monsters, so we obviously did our best to eat stuff we didn’t like, but at that point in time, neither of us had much success conjuring up any enthusiasm. (Currently, we both dig it. THIS IS GROWING UP, KIDDOS.)

My mom asked us – probably in a sarcastic way that was meant to convey one or both of us was being ridiculous about something – what we thought the worst thing god could ever make us do was. I said something probably apropos of my weird, macabre, overly anxious childhood self, like, “Make you kill the people you love.”

Katie, however, was more…well, Katie about it.

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Broccoli salad.

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I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoy salad bars. I like piling a random assortment of vegetables, fruits, dressings, nuts and seeds on my plate. It’s so much more fun than getting a regular salad assembled by someone else. I mean, maybe I don’t want just Caesar salad. Maybe I want some Caesar salad, and a spoonful of Waldorf salad to go with it. If I want to plop some baby corns or cherry tomatoes on my mixed greens, I can do that. And if my favorite salad bar staple, broccoli salad, is there, then awww yeah.

Sadly, broccoli is not one of the shining stars of the vegetable aisle. Admittedly, I didn’t like it when I was growing up – and I wasn’t one of those kids who eschewed her vegetables at every turn. I generally ate my peas and string beans without a fuss, and considered carrots and cucumbers to be pretty neat snacks, but unless broccoli was slathered in Velveeta, I wanted no part of it – and even then, I’d bite the florets off the stalks, leaving those behind…possibly concealing them under some mashed potatoes.

But now, I can get down with broccoli. Especially if it’s tossed together with some other veggies, bacon, cheese and a creamy dressing.

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Quinoa fried rice, and tri-state area pride.

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Growing up a stone’s throw away from the greatest city on earth (and hailing from the home state of aforementioned superlative crooner, thankyouverymuchnowgetoutoftheleftlane), I recognize that I’m lucky to have immediate access to a wide array of (well-done) cuisines – with the exception of barbecue, maybe. There’s an incredible Chinese takeout place across the street, two amazing pizzerias down the block, and quite possibly the best sushi (and half price, most days) I’ve ever eaten less than 10 minutes away. And I live in a teeny little suburb! Killer burritos, to-die-for-tapas, cracker-thin pizza, melt-in-your-mouth sushi; you name it, it’s possible for me to have that for dinner tonight and be one hundred percent satisfied. Now, I don’t mean to sound cocky; I recognize that (with the exception of maybe pizza), restaurants/takeout here may not be the absolute, hands-down, best-in-the-nation. For example, I’m sure the Southwest has better burritos – but ours are nothing to sneeze at.

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