Recently Donna brought home yet another of her well-chosen love gifts for me, a newsprint booklet from 1982 titled 300 Sensational Salads. I shall now share some of these sensations with you, to brighten your day & make you glad you live, cook & eat in the present:

1 can (13½ or 14½ oz.) chicken broth
1 cup converted rice
1½ tsp. salt
½ cup vegetable oil
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. toasted sesame seeds (optional)
2 cups diced cooked chicken, turkey, or pork
1 can (14 oz.) chop suey vegetables, drained
1 jar (4½ oz.) sliced mushrooms, drained
4 green onions with tops, sliced
1 jar (2 oz.) diced pimiento, drained

Add enough water to broth to make 2½ cups liquid. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice & 1 tsp. of the salt. Cover & simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand covered until all liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer rice to large bowl. Combine oil, soy sauce, remaining salt & sesame seeds, if desired, mixing well. Stir into rice. Cover & refrigerate 1 hour. Stir in remaining ingredients [including those yummy canned chop suey vegetables, mmm]. Cover & chill at least 3 hours. Make 6 main dish servings.

Also included among the 300 Sensational Salads are “Hot Chinese Potato Salad” & “Chow Mein Salad” but honestly, neither of those is quite as special as this one, which you’ll surely want to bust out next time you host dinner guests:

8 strips bacon, cut-up
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (15 oz. each) cheese ravioli
¼ cup sugar
¼ vinegar
Pepper to taste

In skillet cook bacon until crisp; drain fat reserving 1 tablespoon. Return 1 tablespoon fat to skillet; add onion & saute about 2 minutes. Add ravioli, sugar, vinegar & pepper; cover & simmer until ravioli is heated through. Serve on lettuce. Yield: 4 cups.

Gawd almighty, is that not the most vile thing you ever heard of?! But leaving the issue of pure nastiness aside, what on earth qualifies this to be called a salad? The fact that you plop it on top of lettuce? The presence of vinegar? What?!

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You know how foodies (& other people, too) sometimes like to poll each other on what their last meal would be? Extravagant requests come up, tall fantasy orders for the prison chef (assuming this last meal would be before you get sent off to the chair at midnight).

I’ve always said it would have to be something I cook for myself. Even if they couldn’t let me cook in the kitchen, I could at least toss a salad for myself in my cell. How sweet, how profoundly self-loving it is, to cook for yourself: an unbroken throughline from thought or desire to action & creation to mouth to stomach, a completed circuit. I make my salad exactly how I want it.

This is comfort food for me, a late-night salad:

3 or 4 handfuls of small lettuces, mostly Little Gems (from Blue Heron)
1/2 of a large Dapple Dandy pluot
3 small pink radishes
flat leaf parsley
sherry vinaigrette (olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper)

I don’t want a lot of ingredients at 10 pm when I’m sad for no specific reason & lots of specific reasons, both at once. I want something simple & beautiful & nurturing, & I want to make it myself, taking my time to pay attention to what I’m doing, making tiny adjustments & changes as I move toward perfecting this small, finite vision. Maybe that’s why salad is so comforting to me: it is an easily attainable* perfection when so much else is so impossibly far from perfect.

I started by washing the leaves, spinning them dry & dumping them in the bowl. Then I mandolined the radishes, scattering the dots of them on top of the leaves. I cut a pluot in half & mandolined most of the half into sheer, soft little sheets that folded upon themselves; what was left, I realized I wanted cut into tiny chunks. Then I chopped some parsley, stirred up my dressing, tossed the salad, & served half of it onto my darling’s plate. I ate my half right out of the big salad bowl, because that feels good too in its own way.

There is no real border between the making & the eating of a late-night comfort salad. It’s the whole process that soothes from start to finish. Making a salad I want to eat is something I can rely on in myself, something I can always touch when too much is uncertain. Things feel more hopeful after that.

*Yes, I know it’s not easily attainable for most people. Chances are it’s within reach for most people reading this blog, though.

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Arugula, sliced endive, mandolined Ambrosia apples (just because that’s what kind I happened to have), walnuts, Iberico (break off little nubs with your fingers). If you let this salad sit about 15-20 minutes after you dress it, the apples become rather deliciously pliable. Or just eat it slowly to experience the full range of appleness, from the first crisp bites to the last relaxed mouthful.

Truth be told, I can’t remember what dressing I used (educated guess: usual suspect red wine mustard vinaigrette), because I made this salad back in that Other Time, in the Bad Old Days, before we had a president who could not only form a complete sentence, but have it actually mean something, & furthermore, do sensible shit like shut down Gitmo. Seriously, I had gotten so pathetically downtrodden, so totally used to everything being done wrong all the time that I assumed all this “shut down Gitmo the first day” business was just some fantasy we had, one of those wistful lefty sighs that blows away with the least breeze of reality. Now? Let’s just say I’m feeling Obamalicious! Although tired. Exhausted, actually. My po little brain is working overtime to carve out new neural pathways to accommodate the fact that, apparently, I’m kinda in love with the whole First Family. Never thought I’d hear myself say such a thing in all my born days. I’m so confused, I’ve been taking way more naps than usual.

Not confused, however, about Aretha’s hat!!! (The people who don’t like it, now they’re confused.)

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What to eat during a scorching November heatwave:

Arugula, the first satsumas, fresh new walnuts, pomegranate, sherry vinaigrette.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

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I’ve been busy lately! Coupla weekends ago I had a quintessentially East Bay foodie day with The Witch. First we went to a chicken workshop (yes we have urban chicken fantasies!) at EcoHouse, where I got no good photos of the chickens, but this friendly duck came to investigate my camera:

After that, we dropped by the People’s Grocery garden party, where we ate an embarrassment of padrón peppers & admired this lovely kiwi vine:

Then I felt kinda crappy for a week & didn’t do anything interesting. I think maybe I successfully fought off a full-blown cold.

Once recovered, I had to come up with a goodbye card for the incomparable Steve Woodall, who is leaving (wah!) to run the Columbia Center for Book & Paper Arts after nurturing our own San Francisco Center for the Book from its very beginning. I have always been in awe of Steve’s big, big heart. He is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet, & somehow manages to keep tons of stuff running smoothly with the most easygoing manner… I just don’t know how a person becomes like that. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to be a little more like him in my next life.

Anyway, you can imagine the pressure was on since I knew that about a hundred killer book artists were all making cards for Steve too. None of this running out to buy a card & scrawling something in it with a ballpoint pen for this crowd, no way. Not when John DeMerritt is making one of his famous boxes to put all the cards in. I was so distracted by the card situation that I forgot all about bringing food to the party until like half an hour before I had to leave. Doh! The fridge looked pretty bare & I thought I’d have to run out & buy something on the way, but you know, that’s not how I like to do things if I can help it. I spent too many years of my life as the person who brought chips & salsa to potlucks. (Although for the record, let me say at least it was always Casa Sanchez. I did have standards.)

Here is Mother of Invention Salad. We have fuyu persimmons on the tree right now, so I grabbed two of those, plus an apple & half a head of some speckly chicory (sorry I can’t remember the name of it—you could use radicchio or anything similar). Mandolined the fruit, squeezed some lemon juice over it. Sliced the chicory; the tops of the leaves were too soft to do on the mandoline, so I did that with a knife & then hit the mandoline when I got closer to the stem end. Tossed it all with red wine mustard vinaigrette (thanks again, Orangette!) & then thought it needed some green, so I ran out into the garden & pinched off some pineapple sage for garnish. Done!

Of course, when I got to the party it turned out everybody else had brought chips & salsa, bread & cheese, & wine. Occupational hazard of the book arts: no way in hell do you have time for anything else. Now I remember why I always used to do the Casa Sanchez thing… & why I don’t edition books anymore!

Next night, it was the reception for Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art. I hadn’t seen the show yet so was quite eager to find out how it looked. I have to say I’m pleased as punch to be in this show. Curator Kristen Evangelista did a fabulous job; how often do you go to a big group show like that & really enjoy most of the stuff in it?!

It was a fun opening too. Five Dollar Suit was playing bluegrass, & the food was thematic, reaching its conceptual peak with these teeny tiny chicken fried steaks, sandwiched in biscuits with gravy, here modeled by the talented, hardworking hands of Noah Lang & Donna Ozawa.

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What are we going to do to stop her from posting salads all the time?
Do you think an intervention is in order?
What if we ask her to post some flowers or something? She likes flowers. Probably as much as she likes food.
As much as she likes salad?
Yes, I think so.

The last sweetpeas of the season.

They kept going all the way into October! Pretty cool.

Red leaf lettuce, treviso, Warren pear, red onion, Iberico cheese, sherry vinaigrette….

Hey! What happened?
She may be beyond help.
I think it’s her coping mechanism. She’s just trying to make it to Election Day without having a nervous breakdown. Like the rest of us.

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So, about that gazpacho… I’ve made many batches of gazpacho in my life, but it seems that I need to revisit, revise, re-conceptualize the recipe every so often. The gazpacho that made me so happy 20 years ago is not the gazpacho that made me happy 5 years ago, & the gazpacho that I want now is yet another one. If you’ll bear with a bit of astrology here: lots of folks have needless anxiety about Mercury retrograde, believing that it just fucks everything up & you should basically hide under the covers until Mercury goes direct again. Not so! It’s an excellent time to do anything starting with “re-”: repair, return, remember, revise… you see where I’m going with this?

The latest, & arguably most Spanish, of my gazpachos, this is also a smaller quantity, reflecting the fact that I live with someone who is allergic to tomatoes. This is but a blender full, not the 2 blenders I used to make in my more voracious (& more social) days. I’m sure you can double, triple, do any kind of math you want with this, especially since the amounts are so loose to begin with:

dry-farmed early girls (or any excellent tomato of your choosing)
1/2 of a long, skinny Armenian cucumber (or other cuke of your choosing)
1/2 of a medium-sized red onion
a small, mild green pepper, like a bell pepper or pasilla (according to this handy grocery receipt here, mine weighed 0.13 lb.)
cilantro (I used about 1/3 of a bunch, but YBMV—your bunch may vary)
about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
about 2-3 T. sherry vinegar
salt & pepper

Fill blender almost to top with halved tomatoes. When you pile on 1/4 of a cuke & 1/4 of an onion, plus part of your pepper & a few sprigs of cilantro, it will be full. Blend to reduce volume, then add the rest of your veggies, more cilantro, salt & pepper, & about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add a shot of vinegar. Blend & taste & adjust as necessary. Chill thoroughly—this is important! I stick the whole blender jar in the fridge & then when I’m ready to eat it, I give it another blend to make sure everything is all thoroughly mixed & smooth. You can garnish it if you like, with chopped tomatoes or cilantro sprigs or what have you, but I’m liking this one bare naked right now. This minimalist presentation & the creamy texture together seem to allow more focus on the yummy flavors. (The color field is nice too!)

I also made that Niçoise salad I was talking about, but the picture didn’t come out pretty enough to show you. I used this dressing, drowned a drained can of tuna in it, then tossed the lettuce in it, & heaped that on plates waiting with steamed green beans, hardboiled egg wedges, tomato wedges, sliced steamed taters, & of course, the Niçoise olives.

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Things I’m thinking about cooking & eating:

Tomato sauce: Anticipating our freezers in winter, Plastic Lam & I split a 20 pound crate of dry-farmed Early Girls. I made my sauce using Pim’s brilliant concept & it kicked ass! Now I’m thinking I shoulda got a whole crate for my own greedy self.

Salade Niçoise: Something got me thinking about Niçoise lately, I’m not sure what. Then I had a lunch date with Cooking Show & we went wandering down College Av. looking at menus, until we saw that Somerset had a lovely back patio & Niçoise on the menu. Perfect! ...we thought. The patio was wonderful, but the salad? I’m sorry, but I could do so much better. Sugary-sweet salad dressing? GONG! No green beans, when we are at the height of green bean season? GONG! The conspicuous absence of green beans was made more glaring by the presence of asparagus—where did it come from at this time of year?! The hard-boiled eggs had their yolks whipped (think deviled eggs), which felt like trying too hard. Seared fresh ahi, too, seemed like a nice idea on paper but on the plate also felt like trying too hard. Gimme a can! Cooking Show loved the fries that came with her steak sandwich, though. We agreed we would go back there just to eat fries on that nice patio. Meanwhile, I am determined to make my own Niçoise, one that’ll show Somerset’s salad what’s what.

Chocolate coconut tapioca pudding: I should probably spell this out more clearly. Tapioca pudding, made with coconut milk. Then color it chocolate. First encountered at Good Earth in Fairfax, with the following ingredients: coconut milk, chocolate, tapioca, maple syrup, vanilla, salt. Seems like it should be easy enough, right?

Apple pie: I think I mentioned this before. I even bought the apples last week in the midst of that oddly autumnal moment we had. Then the weather snapped back to the September that I know & love: scorching, brilliant blue skies—in short, weather for…


Or, a scoop of Earl Grey & a scoop of saffron orange blossom from Ici, floral & refreshing. Happy late summer, Bay Area!

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When is it a good idea to overdress your salad?

Answer: almost never. (If you want to skip the rant & cut to the exception, scroll down to the last paragraph.) Friends know that my already-opinionated tendencies get cranked up to 11 when it comes to the topic of dressing salad. To me, excess salad dressing speaks of an underlying contempt for the vegetables in the salad… & for all vegetables as a class. I’m not saying that every individual saladmaker who overdresses his salad holds vegetables in contempt; ignorance, inexperience or lack of attention are probably more often the true culprits. But even the most hapless newbie cook guessing wildly at how to dress a salad for the first time bases her guess on something, & this is where pernicious cultural tendencies come in to play.

I think we can agree that there is a strong meat & potatoes streak running through this country we call America, & many an American has been heard saying that they’d really rather not eat any veggies at all if they could help it. If they must, well, it’s better if they’re as un-veggie-like as possible: remember ketchup? (Okay, perhaps not the fairest example.) Add fat! Add protein! Add anything to mask, to distract from, to overwhelm the veggie nature of the veggies! How many times out there on the road have I ordered “salad” & ended up with a woeful handful of iceberg crushed under the weight of almost-solid dollops of thick dressing?


A good salad should be all about the vegetables. If you don’t like greens, go eat them fried in bacon fat or something; veggies shrink when they’re cooked, so you can get more of those annoyingly necessary vitamins in fewer bites. Also, a veggie that is not quite fresh enough to become (good) salad may often be very acceptable for (good) cooking; so then you should go ahead & cook the dang thing! (Don’t come crying to me that lettuce can’t be cooked. I’m Chinese.) All of this being the case, then, isn’t salad nothing more or less than a perfect opportunity to eat many, many wonderful mouthfuls of fresh raw veggies, thus prolonging & indulging the ecstatic enjoyment of same?

If so, why would you drown this good stuff in too much dressing? In a perfectly-dressed salad, the dressing should merely lubricate the lettuce. Visually it should appear not so much as a salad ingredient itself, but mainly as a shine on the surfaces of all the other ingredients. When you put lotion on your hands, do you leave drops & clumps of white opaque stuff visible all over your skin? I hope not. Use a small enough amount of dressing so that it barely films the leaves.

In order to accomplish this, you must be willing to toss your salad. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use a large bowl so that you have room to turn your salad over without dropping half of it outside the bowl. Put all your lettuce & stuff in this large bowl, then take a wee tiny bit of dressing & pour it over the top. It will look like it can’t possibly be enough. Have faith! Start lifting up big batches of salad from the sides of the bowl, dropping them in the middle. Pull salad from the bottom & put it on top. Move more-dressed stuff into contact with undressed stuff. The more lightly you want to dress your salad, the more tossing you have to do. It will be worth it. When the dressing is no longer discernable as a separate thing, & all parts of the salad are subtly glistening, you’re done.

Eat your salad!

If you get to the bottom of the salad bowl & there is a puddle of dressing there, you used too much dressing.

Except. There is always an exception, right?

Except when it’s high tomato season & there are dry-farmed Early Girls from Dirty Girl. Then, then you make yourself a salad that is mostly tomatoes (hold each tomato over the bowl as you cut it into chunks, so as to catch every drop of juice), a little bit o’ lettuce, a little bit o’ basil, & you pour on just a little too much dressing (olive oil, balsamic, salt & pepper). Why? Because as you eat your salad, the tomatoes will juice themselves all into the bottom of the bowl, & when you get down there, you will find the most divine puddle of tomato juice, seasoned with that bit of extra dressing, & you can plop a piece of sourdough toast in it & go swooning off to heaven. That’s why.

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Hey, it’s summer for another couple of months, but foggy evenings do lend themselves to roast chicken. I have been working on this recipe for a couple of weeks now, sort of blundering around in an experimental mode, & when it finally hit the mark, I realized that I was applying salad-making principles to roast chicken! No wonder it worked. If there’s one thing in the world I’m confident of, it’s my salad-making principles.

Key salad concepts as applied to sage roasted chicken:

1) Seasonal flexibility: you have your main ingredients that define the recipe—in this case, chicken legs, sage leaves, olive oil, shallots, & tiny taters—& then infinitely swappable supporting ingredients, depending on what comes home from the farmers market. I have used various kinds of summer squash, radishes (the little skinny long ones that are half pink & half white), treviso, carrots, flat-leaf parsley, & now am thinking about adding some kind of fruit. Perhaps figs.

2) One-dish meal: no need for pesky, distracting side dishes to round out your nutritional needs. There’s plenty of veggies in the pan. You can steam some brown rice to go with this (it soaks up the sauce deliciously), but the taters provide more than enough starch if you’re feeling extra-lazy (or extra-purist).

3) Good ingredients tossed in good dressing. If you get quality ingredients, your dressing is sound & your tossing thorough, you will have a good meal. No muss, no fuss.

So. The blow-by-blow for Sage Roasted Chicken:

Main ingredients:
6 chicken legs (here too, you can substitute your preferred chicken part, or a whole bird), rinsed & patted dry
Bunch of sage leaves (don’t be shy! Use a whole bunch!)
Tiny taters, no bigger than an inch. Most recently I used a mixture of German Butterballs & 2 different kinds of fingerlings.
Shallots, the more the better, but at the very least 2 large ones. Peel & cut in 2 or 3 pieces lengthwise.
Olive oil, butter, salt & pepper

Rotating cast of other ingredients:
Small summer squashes, preferably tiny sized, but if you get bigger ones you can halve or quarter them.
Treviso, quartered lengthwise
Small carrots
Any other veggie that roasts well
Any other herbs that play well with sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Warm a generous quantity of olive oil in a pan on the stove. Melt some butter in it too, & fry up the sage leaves. Don’t crowd the leaves too much; you can do them in batches if your pan is small. As the leaves get done, transfer them to your baking pan.

Add all your washed & cut veggies & chicken to the baking dish. Pour the sagey oil & butter all over everything, add salt & pepper, & toss like a salad! When everything is nicely coated, arrange things so the veggies form a single layer (it can be a crowded, jumbled single layer) on the bottom, & put the chicken on top. Take care to cover treviso & any cut sides of squash with the chicken.

Stick it in the oven. Then, every 15 minutes, take the dish out & turn the veggies &/or spoon the pan juices over the top. Pay attention to how the chicken is progressing; at one of these turnings, you will note that another 15 minutes would be too much. Then adjust your timer accordingly—or turn up the sensitivity on your Chicken Sense (equal parts smell & intuition, I think) & just know when it’s done.

There you have it. Very much like a salad. This recipe just adds a lot of heat, that’s all.

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Seems to be the Summer of the Clafoutis. I’ve been having quite a love affair with all eggy things, now that the Riverdog pastured eggs have transformed my entire egg reality. It’s an egg renaissance around here for sure.

Here, then, is fig clafoutis, prompted by my mother’s food-oriented (of course: I ask food questions, she gives me food answers) report on her trip to Provence.

Using a very well-seasoned cast iron pan, you follow procedure for my easy fig thing, except instead of taking the figs out of the pan, you flip em over so the inside, cut half is facing up. Then drizzle honey all over, making sure a lot of the honey ends up on the bottom of the pan. I wasn’t measuring but I guess it was about 1/4 cup of honey. Pour your batter over, then slide the whole thing into the oven. For the batter, I pretty much followed Orangette’s recipe, except instead of sugar, I squirted a bit (hm, maybe a tablespoon) of agave syrup into the batter, & figured the honey would take care of the rest.

It did. Yum!

& just because I haven’t posted a salad in a while, don’t you think I haven’t been eating any…

Does August not rock harder than any other month? Go on & try to convince me there’s a sweeter time of year.

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Cucumber gazpacho, garnished with mandolined pink radish. Adapted (slightly) from César cookbook.

8 cups English cukes, peeled, seeded & coarsely chopped
1-1/4 cup good olive oil
1 cup ice water
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 T. Meyer lemon juice
2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
optional: cayenne to taste

Blender half of it at a time, tasting & adjusting proportions. Then chill.

Other garnish possibilities: drizzle of olive oil, drizzle of pesto diluted with olive oil, fresh basil leaves, fresh mint leaves, thin ribbons of nasturtium, bits of chive flower, &c. &c. The beauty of this soup is that it’s so easy to make, so easy to dress up, & unusual enough to charm your dinner guests. Talk about chill.

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I had a great weekend. We went to the beach, where there were all these teeny little jellies that looked like perfect glass marbles. They were all washed up along the surf line & dusted with a fine layer of sand that made them hard to see until the lip of a wave washed them clean. Then they would roll optimistically down the beach toward the water until the wind covered them with another layer of sand, which stopped them from rolling. The ocean reclaimed them a few at a time, in a slow process of lapping & washing, waiting & rolling.

Then, of course, there was salad (isn’t there always salad?): little gems (from Blue Heron), artichoke hearts (from Riverdog), & I don’t remember what kind of tangerines (from the Bowl), with chevre & sherry vinaigrette.

Unfortunately, the same wind that blew sand onto the jellies also blew something in my eye, which got all puffy & goopy with a pesky eye infection. Disgusting!

This is not coffee, it’s powdered eyebright in a coffee filter. Apparently, the whole herb is no longer allowed in the state because it’s an invasive weed, so you can only get it in powdered form.

I am now doing Everything With Eyebright. After pouring boiling water over a spoonful of the powder in the coffee filter, I drape a dishtowel over my head & steam my eyeball over the whole assemblage while the infusion drips. Once it’s all gone through the filter, I pour some on a face towel & hold it over my eye as a compress. Then I drink a cup of it. Finally, when it’s cool enough, I dip a cotton ball in it & squeeze it into my eye. Is there any application method I haven’t thought of? Anyway, it seems to be helping. I’m trying not to fall into any stupid narratives about paying for a good time. Instead, rolling around in my head the enjoyable idea of how those jellyfish were so eyeball-like.

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The strawberries have arrived! Mind you, they’re not prime specimens of throbbing strawberryhood, but I think we are safely past those first crunchy, tough, no-flavor, wannabe strawberries. These actually have a bit of strawberry scent to them, & flavor too!

What to do with early strawberries? After the first delirious few, they’re not really that great for just popping in your mouth. These are the strawberries you put in things: in your breakfast granola, in smoothies, & of course, in salads. (Shocking!)

Herewith, Friend of a Friend Salad. (Folklorists abbreviate this ever-elusive “primary source” as FOAF, which is pronounced exactly how it looks—rhymes with loaf.) Spinach is friends with bacon. Spinach is also friends with strawberries. Bacon, meet Strawberries. Strawberries brought along their good friend, balsamic vinegar. Kettle Krinkle chips (lightly salted) are friends with everybody they ever met, apparently, although maybe not in quite the same way as those other friendships I just mentioned.

Wash & dry about equal amounts of baby spinach & assorted young chicories (enough to fill the salad spinner, is how I measured the total quantity), & throw them in a large salad bowl.

Sauté a sliced red onion in olive oil with a little bit of salt & pepper (bacon will bring more of both, since we had a kind that was quite encrusted with pepper); after some progress add about 4 slices of bacon, snipped into little pieces. When everything is nicely caramelized, add a handful of pinenuts & some more olive oil. Stir & integrate; then dribble in some balsamic vinegar & dump the whole shebang on top of your greens. Toss with abandon.

Then slice a few strawberries & crumble some of the chips on top. It’s spring!

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Big news in my world: Jennifer 8 Lee’s Chinese restaurant book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is out!

So are the crabapple blossoms, tulip magnolias & every variation of daffodil. But the food has not caught up with the weather. Produce-wise, around here we are still in the long, long season I call Waiting For the Strawberries. I’ve had it with kale, I can’t make any more soup, & that fridge full of citrus seriously needs help, because eating a plain, unadorned orange has become downright boring—strong words coming from a citrus ho like me!

Fortunately, I reached back in the depths of my memory for this simple concept:

6 small oranges, peeled & sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
dressing: olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper

Nice how just a little extra effort helps so much. You can work your way through a lot of oranges this way. A very long time ago, when the Triathlete married Ice Cream Man, I made a more elaborate version of this, with tangelos, grapefruit, blood oranges, basically every kind of citrus I could get my hands on. An appreciative wedding guest called it “C Monster Salad”.

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I must be feeling better if I’m back on the salad thing. At some point in this illness we had run out of food (not surprising for 2 whole freakin’ weeks) & I ventured out to the Bowl to stock up. They were having a major clearance on mâche, a good-size box of the stuff for under $2. I’d never seen it so cheap, so I nabbed a box & brought it home. I don’t really know mâche; it’s one of those foodie lettuces that always seems unreasonably pricey—even for me & my spendy, nothing-but-the-best salad ways—so I’ve only eaten it in restaurants.

First, I tried it with some slices of blood orange & bits of Iberico cheese, dressed with a simple shallot & sherry vinaigrette. This was just okay & felt kind of funny in my mouth. I don’t know how to describe it; it wasn’t astringent like spinach can sometimes be. The best I can do is to say it was strangely mealy for a fresh green leaf. Maybe it had to do with being sick & my mouth was the problem, not the mâche? Or maybe there was a reason it was on sale? But it looked fresh enough.

Okay then, the next evening, mâche take 2: I decided to apply the wilted spinach salad approach, plus throw some sweet, heavy things at it. I also hedged a little by using half mâche & half baby spinach. I sliced 5 or 6 mini chicken apple sausages, a like number of Deglet Noor dates, & an Empire apple, & sauteed them in olive oil until they cooked together: the sausage browned, the dates got nice & gooey, & the apples softened almost to mush. Added some pine nuts, & then spooned the same shallot-sherry vinaigrette over it all. This smelled really delicious, & I thought for sure it would work. I poured this hot cooked stuff over the mâche & spinach leaves, tossed it & ate it.

Hmm… much better, but it still needed something else. Something pungent & zippy. Maybe a fresh herb like marjoram? If I were really 100% well, I probably woulda tried harder, & figured it out.

Lemon zest? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it…

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Variations on a theme, continued:

About 1/2 a bag of arugula, 3 fat endives (sliced), a Fuji apple (cut into wedges & then sliced crosswise), pine nuts (toasted), Orangette’s red wine mustard vinaigrette.

While eating, we improved it with thick shavings of Pecorino (using the veggie peeler) & snips of dried plum (using the kitchen scissors):

Meanwhile, I’ve been knitting, a few rows at a time, & finished the left side of Dashing in a nice periwinkle color. Devoted readers of this blog will note that this represents significant hand progress! I have been very careful not to overdo it. Ice after knitting helps. I’m so excited to be knitting again that I have 2 hats, a scarf, & Dashing all in progress at once—& since I still can only knit a few rows at a time, this means not much is actually getting done. One of the hats is Yarnharlot’s unoriginal hat, which theoretically goes really fast, but Dashing is distracting me so much I haven’t touched that hat (or the other one, which is going to take forever anyway) in a couple of weeks.

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As much a salad queen as I am, I used to have a hard time with salad in the winter. It felt too cold, too light… too summery. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but the key, of course, is to adapt saladmaking strategy to the season. Duh. Thus, arugula transitions me through the late fall, & chicories of all kinds are now getting me through the winter. Problem solved! Chicories feel hearty & earthy to me. Their bitterness plays well with winter citrus & cheese in bigger chunks (don’t know about you, but winter definitely makes me want more fat). Lettuce-oriented salads get to remain happily in the warmer part of the year, where they belong—an entirely personal thing, since excellent lettuces are plenty available (around here, at least). They do still make it into the salad bowl, but mainly in a supporting role.

Or, in this case, not at all:

This is Treviso (or something close) from Riverdog, tart oranges from our friend Cooking Show’s backyard tree, Satsumas & walnuts from Kaki farm, plus some cheap goat cheese from Trader Joe’s. Red wine & mustard vinaigrette courtesy of the famous Orangette, whose spring salad was instrumental in starting me down the path to chicory salads. This photo is a little misleading because I actually added a lot more citrus to the bowl halfway through eating this salad. I’m not above making corrections & adjusting ratios mid-meal. Hey, it’s my kitchen & there’s a ton of fruit sitting right over there, so why suffer, even a tiny bit?

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I think I have finally nailed the latkes. It’s not that I remember having problems with my latkes in the past, but this time, baby, this time we ate some killer latkes! The latke aroma permeated the house, wafting memories of Hanukahs past. As our latke co-conspirator Cooking Show pointed out, the measure of our success was the way her clothes smelled the day after. Not only the clothes she wore in our kitchen, but even other clothes took on the delightful latkeness. All of this might seem like a bit too much latke funk for some of you, but maybe that’s because you aren’t eating the right latkes, hmm?

I started with some really good taters, about 5 fist-sized Yukon Golds from the Temescal Farmers Market (which is not my usual farmers market, so please forgive my forgetting the farm’s name) & then 2 enormous Russets (from, er, Whole Paycheck) that were about a pound each—the very picture of robust, hearty tater health. I peeled em all, grated em in the Cuisinart, & dumped em straight into a cold water bath. After a few minutes I pulled them out & set them to drain in a colander. After the first big puddle of water drained off I salted the taters, mixed them around & then let them keep draining for a good 2 or 3 hours.

Then I made applesauce, adding a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook recipe. I washed some salad chicories; you need something crunchy & a little bitter to balance the latke grease. Sliced satsumas in the salad help too. You can’t see em in this photo but they’re in there.

I grated a huge yellow onion (from Catalan Farm, growers of amazing onions) & left it in the Cuisinart bowl. When the time came, I threw the onions (minus the juice in the bottom of the bowl) in with the taters, squeezed everything gently to get more liquid out, then poured the shredded stuff into a big bowl with 4 beaten eggs, salt & pepper. Then I began to debate with myself, flour or no flour? Cooking Show arrived & I asked her opinion, but she put on her tough-love act & insisted that I must arrive at my own cooking decisions. I decided to try a couple without, & then add flour if necessary. Turned out there was no need.

Rule #1 about frying latkes: DO NOT FEAR THE OIL. It is all about the oil! As I was repeating this like a mantra, Donna & I agreed that both of our mothers would fail miserably at latkes because they fear the oil. (Cooking Show’s mother never had this problem.) You have to just bloop it into the pan unstintingly. All told, we ended up using about 1/3 of a bottle of safflower oil. Cooking Show got involved despite herself (she isn’t called Cooking Show for nothing) & pointed out that it’s best to add oil & let it heat up properly between batches of latkes, as opposed to introducing cold oil when they are in the midst of frying. So you must be bold & add the right amount of oil (that would be “a lot”) all at once between batches.

Rule #2 is that the first few latkes are just warm-up, & they improve significantly after that. Donna took over the frying duties & the latkes got very very good. She raised the temperature a hair & figured out some tricks to correct for the unevenness of the flame, rotating the latkes strategically for perfect browning. Latke perfection sent us into a frenzy of greedy latke-eating! We were barely able to restrain ourselves & save enough for Plastic Lam, who was arriving late because she was busy whipping up yet another batch of her famous ice cream. By the time she got here, I felt that I myself could keep a temple lit for months.

We ate teeny tiny spoonfuls of rich roquefort ice cream.

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There’s no better time to blog than right after you said you weren’t going to.

Just some tips for early-summer enjoyment:

1. Little gems have re-appeared at the farmer’s markets! I just cut them in quarters, artfully arrange slices of avocado & mango or peach amongst the lettuce, drizzle on dressing (olive oil, sherry vinegar & dab o’ dijon) & sprinkle with sea salt. Effortless! You can also include on the plate: a couple of oil-cured olives, a young carrot sliced in half lengthwise, some paper-thin radish circles, manchego shavings… whatever you’ve got. Maybe a hardboiled egg?

2. So it’s a nice hot day & you’re bewildered by the vast array of choices facing you at the Sweetheart Cafe. Fear not, because my standard there is standard for a reason: shave ice with lychees & coconut jelly is a refreshing, soothing, white-on-white festival of textures & sweetness that can’t be beat. If you want to avoid styrofoam by bringing your own bowl, I recommend a white bowl, just to stay with the theme.

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