Thursday, November 12, 2009

Salad days (and nights)

I’ve been cyber-acquainted with Nicole of the MangiaVita blog for only a few weeks, but she was in my appreciative thoughts this week as I enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

It wasn’t any of her articles about new food trends or her recipes that made the difference: it was a photograph. A photograph of a salad. A photograph that reminded me how much I too love a good salad – and how negligent I’ve been lately by failing to make myself one.

The simple reason is that it’s a time-consuming act that wouldn’t benefit anyone in my family except for me. Although my husband and son would say they love salad, their idea of a good one is a heap of romaine or butter lettuce doused with a potent vinegar (which my 11-year-old will happily finish off with a spoon when the lettuce is gone from his bowl). It’s easy, so that’s what I tend to make for a salad course. I’m the only one in my family who appreciates chunks of grape tomato, chevre crumbles, avocado slices, little pea sprouts, peppery leaves of arugula, laced with a creamy well-spiced dressing. And each of those ingredients takes time to prepare, so I almost never do it. Instead I focus on the nutritious parts of the meal that everyone else likes: lean protein, steamed vegetables, whole wheat rolls.

But after seeing Nicole’s salad photo, I felt deprived. And it wasn’t just that I wanted a good salad. As always, food is metaphor: realizing how long it had been since I’d taken the time to make myself a great salad convinced me that I was focusing too hard on the needs of my family and not enough on my own. This wasn’t exactly a “secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others” situation; it wasn’t like I hadn’t been eating at all. I just hadn’t been eating what I most wanted at dinnertime. I’d been eating what everyone else wanted.

And it happened I was due for a visit to Whole Foods anyway. So I took my time and bought all those salad ingredients I wanted. I even bought dried cranberries and whole pecans. When I got home, I roasted garlic cloves, let them cool, and blended a dressing of roasted garlic, honey, Dijon, apple vinegar and olive oil. I tossed the pecans with a very small amount of garlic oil left from the garlic-roasting dish plus sea salt crystals, black pepper and sugar crystals (the kind bakers dust muffins with), and then I toasted the pecans for ten minutes. I crumbled the chevre and put it in the oven to soften. I washed and spun the arugula.

In the end, I had my salad – and my hard-won sense of self-indulgence. And the best part was that there was still enough of each ingredient to make myself the same thing the next night. And the next.

So this week I’m on a salad kick. The rest of my family is happy with their lean proteins and cooked vegetables, and I’m feeling grateful for my new cyber-friend Nicole with her wonderful food blog. From what I can tell, there is quite a lot that Nicole and I do not have in common. She is a newlywed living in an apartment in ultra-hip Brooklyn. She works full-time in an office and goes to very cool New York restaurants and bars at night. I’m a soccer mom living on a farm in a Boston suburb, writing from home while my two children go to school. But despite all we don’t have in common, this week I’m focused on one thing we do: a fondness for beautifully prepared salads. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us that we deserve a little self-indulgence.

Here's my creation/indulgence:


  1. Nancy, thank you for the wonderful essay!!! I have to say, I don't always love salads, and I very rarely crave them, but I'm frequently spilling over with greens and vegetables from our weekly CSA so it seems like the natural solution. Funny though that it's a time consuming task for you - for me, it's always the easiest go to! I buy shredded carrots at the grocery store, dried cranberries, nuts, and whatever veg I want to use from home I just slice on the mandolin. 30 seconds and you're done!
    Although I WILL say, your idea of a salad puts mine to shame. How delicious!! Hope you enjoyed every crunchy bite!

  2. It's clear that you are a food lover and a good cook by the way you describe the way this salad was created. It sounds delicious, and I'm impressed that you took the time to make two dinners -- one for yourself and one for your family.

    When one gets this much pleasure from something, it's clearly worth it. And it's a good exercise in doing things for ourselves in general -- something that mothers often put off until last. Which is not always a good decision when certain luxuries, like making your favorite salad, can feed your soul.