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Thursday, June 23, 2016

S Is For Salad

One dinner in particular at my in-laws' stands out. I can't even recall if Rick and I were married yet, but I was sitting down to a meal of ham, wax beans, and probably mashed potatoes. My first glance told me that the ham--pale, sad, and already sliced--would be dry and a struggle. My eyes widened in alarm at the dish of beans: they were a colour that I had never seen wax beans take on before, sort of a sepia-toned, manila hue with a distinctly grey cast. Horrified, I pinned all my hopes on the Salad. How could anyone ruin a Salad?

The Salad, such as it was, was on a separate plate already made up. It was a limp leaf of iceberg lettuce surmounted by a single ring of canned pineapple. Inside its center was a dab of cream cheese upon which had been sprinkled some walnut dust. We each had one.

I was doomed.

I thought longingly of my mother's everyday Salads, served with every single dinner, even takeout pizza. They were huge family-style bowls full of iceberg and leaf lettuces, fresh onion, cucumber, radishes, tomatoes (when they were in season), and every once in a while, a Wild Card Ingredient, depending upon her mood, my father's request, or what was hanging around in the grocery store, farmstand, or crisper. Oh, and green olives. She made her own vinaigrette, too, and insisted on Regina Red Wine Vinegar. And measure? Ha! It is to laugh. Watching her shake and pour the oil and vinegar bottles over the salad and add her seasonings (always Lawry's Seasoned Salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper), then toss and toss and toss again and again was to watch a mad scientist at work.

What I wouldn't have given for one bowl of her Salad at that meal.

No one should be victimized by Bad Salad. A Salad should be a celebration of fresh ingredients made bright by its dressing. It should be flavourful and wonderful. It shouldn't feel like a punishment, and it shouldn't feel like a scavenger hunt or a rummage sale, either.

I hate those Salads that are basically a bowl of whitish-yellow lettuce, a pale crunchy tomato wedge, and a hunk of cucumber. Period. I wouldn't give a homeless bunny that crap. Add one of those sugary, viscous bottled dressings, and I think I'd rather have the pineapple ring with cream cheese.

But by the same token, what is going on with some of these Salads that have a ton of junk in them? Lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, chow mein noodles, cashews, golden raisins, cheese, tortilla strips, blueberries, shredded carrot, chicken, pita chips, and sprouts? Do you know that some restaurant Salads clock in at over twelve hundred calories? Holy crap.

As soon as the weather gets warm, Rick and I opt for Big Salads for dinner a lot of the time. I follow the same kind of recipe handed down from St. Patsy with a few variations. I use olive oil and balsamic vinegar for my dressing, and because I am more picky and exacting, I measure. Every time. I do use Lawry's for that familiar taste, but I use only freshly ground black pepper always. For our Big Dinner Salads, I add a chunked-up chicken breast or piece of steak or whatever protein we fancy. And rather than iceberg lettuce, I use romaine. The rest of the ingredients can vary like St. Patsy's now and then, depending upon what is in season and what I have left over. Once in a while, I make an Asian-inspired dressing, and we vary the Salad ingredients to accommodate that. Summer means lots and lots of options since the farmstands are full of produce: roasted yellow and zucchini squash, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes--the list is truly endless.  But always, I strive for taste and balance.

The only time I buy bottled dressing is to make this terrific Salad, introduced to me by my friend and fellow blogger Shirley. I make one addition to it, and that is to add chunks of crisp apples. It's a terrific Salad, especially in the fall.

Oh, Salad! What a bad rap you've gotten! From turgid Jell-O molds holding shreds of vegetables in suspended animation to ascetic scoops of cottage cheese cradled in cantaloupe halves, you've been dismissed as Diet Fare, labelled as Lady Lunch, and eyed askance as a source of Salmonella In A Sack.

But I still love you. I love you even though you are worky to put together, despite my Salad Spinner and the help of Rick, my Salad Sous Chef, a man always happy to help with anything that doesn't end up looking like stuff his mother made.

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29 comments:

  1. My mother always had a salad on the table, the ones like your mother made. NOT the one like your in-law made. We eat more salads in the summer, usually with some fresh bread, all of which is purchased at our local farmers' market. As for all that stuff that comes on restaurant salads now, I like it when I'm in the restaurant, but never want it at home. Didn't know about Salmonella in a Sack. Most off-putting.

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    1. Ally Bean--Sometimes, a Big Salad for dinner can help us break our cycle of Dinner Apathy, too. Fresh bakery bread with it, toasty and crisp, is a real treat. I am one of those Cautionary Tales that Moms Everywhere tell because I can truly Fill Up On Bread. Always. Whilst pregnant with my second child, I used to make garlic bread my meal and eschew the spaghetti. Now, I can still do that, but I don't. But Salad and garlic bread? A big Yes!

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  2. I love this, "No one should be victimized by Bad salad" That line made me laugh out loud.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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    1. Mereknits--Well, good! For me, that's a Win.

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  3. OK, I had to laugh when I read this. Growing up, we had the salad you describe at your MIL's with a slight difference - no walnut anything, and the pineapple juice was mixed into the cream cheese to make it a little bit smoother. But the really funny thing is that this was the salad of winter holidays for us, and not only did we look forward to it like crazy, but we still make it for holidays today! It was a HUGE treat for us, and something really fancy, since we didn't get any kind of salad in the winter because it was so expensive!

    Isn't that funny? "Real" salad only happened at our house sometimes in the summer. But oh that holiday salad ... ;-)

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    1. Bridget--Oh, my! Well, I'm here to tell you that there was NO pineapple juice in that cream cheese, and it was Not Festive at all. Bless your heart; that IS funny! I imagine your Holiday Version was much more expertly executed than the version I got that day.

      I will say that my MIL was always a poor cook, owing to her being an indifferent and rather...obligatory one. She would have much rather been painting or weaving or doing all manner of other things. And marrying in the time of canned foods and the rise of Kraft and TV dinners made for all sorts of bad cooking ideas.

      Thank you for sharing your Salad Days here! I'm so glad you did.

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  4. I, too, am a salad lover. And I detest the horrid salads of yesteryear with their sad iceberg lettuce, limp gooey tomatoes, and little else, all covered in the slime of bottled salad dressing. It wasn't until I went to live in Spain that I discovered olive oil and all that it implies (salads and beyond!). I find it amazing that restaurants struggle to provide olive oil & vinegar/lemon juice as options for salad dressing, even in Italian restaurants that should know better. Mexican restaurants (even the good ones) have the horrific habit of serving salad sides completely DRY! Yuk!

    Agree also that the multi-faceted salad also needs a lot of cleaning up. Their overall M.O. seems to be "just dump any 12 ingredients that are vastly different on a plate" --- without any regard to whether they combine well. And forget the calories--- after reading this, I found an interesting page about a dozen salads that are worse than eating a Big Mac (which I could never do) --- http://tinyurl.com/6qh3jz8

    Love that Rick helps you out with salad duties. They can be worky. But they are worth it!

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    1. Ortizzle--I saw that horrific article as I was browsing and researching/writing. Thank goodness that most people are more savvy now about individual calorie counts for ingredients and are onto these So-Called Salads.

      Restaurants struggle with olive oil because it is A) expensive, and B) mired in a huge counterfeit ring authored by organized crime. I struggle with which brand(s) to buy myself because of this. I want a good quality oil, but I don't want to pay the majority of my grocery bill for it. The same goes for my restaurant bill.

      My biggest irritation right now is restaurants putting fried chicken hunks in salads and huge wads of cheese, like feta (which I hate) or crumbled bleu (which I love but which can be overpowering). Also, blueberries and strawberries, which I struggle to place within the context of savory salad, period. Apples and grapes, I get. The other two...not so much.

      Still trying to figure out how pudding belongs on any Salad Bar anywhere. Hilarious.

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    2. Newman's Own Organic Olive Oil is wonderful. And it's a good organization to support. No mobsters or price gougers. Just good olive oil.

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    3. NCmountainwoman--I don't think I've ever seen it in our area. I wonder if it is regional, for some reason, in its availability. I'll look again in our market's olive oil section. Thank you for the recommendation, and I do like supporting worthy causes.

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  5. Salads and I have a complicated relationship.

    My mother had a repertoire of exactly three salads.

    My mother was born in Germany, and her family emigrated right after WWII. So I grew up with the European way (at least that is what my mom told me) of eating a salad AFTER dinner instead of before. Supposedly it was to aid with digestion, as my mother was a nurse and always touting healthy foods. It was always spinach or romaine with salt, pepper, vinegar & oil. Sometimes we got cucumbers or tomatoes, but usually just the greens.

    During the summer, she would make her two other "specialties." One was a carrot raisin salad which was the source of almost all of my sugar growing up (which tells you my mother rarely let me eat sugar) and a taco salad, which had tortilla chips, tomatoes, ground beef, etc... These were only made on very rare occasions.

    And sheesh, one of them doesn't really even count as a salad.

    But, I still enjoy a really good salad with things like really good diced tomatoes, cucumbers, perhaps a bit of cheese, and some type of vinaigrette. Otherwise, I tend not to order them, and I simply don't have time to make a really good one at home, which is beyond pathetic, but the truth.

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    1. Gina--I remember us Kids trying mightily to get St Patsy to serve Salad BEFORE the meal, like in a restaurant, rather than WITH it. That woman is an absolute Study In Stubbornness. It was a NoGo.

      I couldn't imagine eating any Salad of any composition AFTER the main meal, Eurostyle. I know it is done, and I understand the whole deal, but I don't get the progression. I can only think that a lot of Salad would go to waste.

      The carrot raisin Salad was a huge hit among lots of teachers in our staff cafeteria when I was working. I loathe raisins, so I was never tempted. I was a huge fan of the taco Salad until the big scandal broke and the calorie count was revealed to be most UN-Salad-like. That was a first-class life ruiner for me.

      And you're right--Salad-making is terribly worky, and that means Time. It isn't pathetic. I get you. Sometimes Life gets in the way of a lot of things. In your case, Salad is one of them. Your Salad Days will be back, but when they return, you may decide to use that time for something else again! Let me know. ;-)

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  6. I forgot to include my contributions to "The Nominee Better Known As..." =

    *The Fart of the Deal
    *Trumplestiltskin
    *Trumptastrophe

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    1. Ortizzle--You sweetheart. I love that you always read my Sidebar. I'll take the first two; they are the best ones.

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    2. Thank you, my dear! I feel very honoured. Notes:

      1. The Fart of the Deal = The only one that is my original! (Well, it *was* until I googled it and found out I wasn't the first person to think of it. There is actually a disgusting YouTube recording with that title. I say disgusting because, while I applaud the message, the sound effects are way over the top.)

      2. Trumplestiltskin = Just came across that one and liked the sound of it.

      3. Trumptastrophe = Yeah, tacking on "-tastrophe" to words is a bit overdone these days, lol. Would probably work a bit better if it were "Drumpftastrophe."

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    3. Ortizzle--I found most of the ones listed whilst reading comments over at my crush, Wonkette. They are a wonderfully limber group, linguistically. And that site is incredibly fun to read and well-researched. And so current.

      I need to award you some Points! I'll get on that immediately. XO

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    4. Well, my hearty thanks once again. I must go and check out Wonkette. :-)

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  7. Love your descriptions! Salads have definitely improved but as you noted, sometimes go too far. Tried to comment yesterday but we are having internet issues, so....

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    1. Rose--We are having Interweb Problems today! I'm completely vexed. Intermittent outages for no apparent reason. I think it's because of the Big Takeover happening, but "they" won't admit it.

      But hey, thanks for the compliment. I work ridiculously hard on my writing here. Nice to know it pays off.

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  8. My mother never made salad except for coleslaw. And it's probably a good thing because she was a terrible cook. We always have a salad before or with dinner at our house. And on Wednesdays during the summer, the dinner itself is comprised of salad(s) and fresh bread. I refuse to eat from any salad bar. My husband calls me a germaphobe but I tell him I'm simply observant.

    When my mother died, many neighbors and church members brought tons of food. But my wonderful Aunt Mary brought my brother and me a collections of green salad components fresh from her garden, as well as homemade salad dressing along with a loaf of fresh baked bread. What a welcome feast and a respite from all the heavy "funeral casseroles."

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    1. NCmountainwoman--I hear you about salad bars. They give me pause, too, and they are not as ubiquitous as they used to be. Only one restaurant I know of even has one in our greater metro area.

      I could eat salad far more often than we do, but Rick needs Something More. (He could eat cheeseburgers every night, truth be told.) My sympathies on the loss of your mother. Bless your Aunt Mary and her garden. What an inspiration!

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    2. My mom's idea for a green vegetable was Cole slaw too - yuck! I often eat salad at lunch to supplement whatever frozen dinner I take to work that day. In general, I have two kinds, both of which use baby spinach, feta, & almonds, with a couple of differences (apples & blueberries, or tomatoes & peppers). These days I use Newman's Own honey mustard dressing, but I like Italian too.

      We had a really good salad with one of our Hello Fresh meals the other week - along with the usual lettuce & tomatoes, it had diced potatoes, butter beans (!!), & green beans in it. I made it again later - loved it!

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    3. Oops - didn't mean for my comment to be one huge reply. Darned iPad :)

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    4. Bug--I like to add spinach to my salads, but mostly for the nutritional kick. The taste and texture aren't a plus for me.

      Potatoes and beans in a salad makes it very hearty. I don't think I could do plain butter beans in a salad like that--they aren't my favourite--but I can do green beans all day, every day.

      Honey mustard dressing is easy to make fresh! I'm not a fan, but Rick is, and once in a while, I make it in the fall for a bigass dinner salad with apples and leftover ham or roast pork in it (also, hardboiled egg).

      Hope you and the Professor are finding things a bit easier these days.

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  9. Nance..I know nothing about salads, but I Have given Donald Trump some thought.

    If he becomes President it will be the first time in history that a Billionaire will be moving into public housing being vacated by a Black Family.

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    1. Nancy--What a line! But promise me that it's the only Thought you've given him. LOL.

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  10. No, Nance, this is NOT the only thought I have given DJT. Too bad his mom didn't make his middle name David then he would have been DDT; and we know that is banned.

    The other day he decided he wanted to become a Born Again Christian but was thwarted in his efforts to do that when Jesus turned down his "friend" request.

    So, Nance, no promises about thinking of him. I'm obsessed with him..

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    1. Nancy--Well, everyone needs a hobby. ;-)

      Interesting info recently, however, regarding his Born Again status. Chuck Todd tried to press his campaign manager Paul Manafort about rumours that DJT had recently embraced Christ as his personal saviour and had become Born Again. Manafort pointedly refused any and all direct response to that. His pandering knows no bounds. Incredible.

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Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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