Bosc Pear, Currant, and Hazelnut Salad

Bosc Pear, Currant, And Hazelnut Salad

Bosc Pear, Currants, and Hazelnut Salad

I realize that the holidays of television specials are not, for most people, the holidays of reality. Travel is stressful; family is complicated; people have magazine expectations for non-magazine life, and those magazine expectations tend to hurt when they’re crushed. One of the best and worst parts about family is that you don’t get to pick who they are—You don’t get to pick parents who are super interested in your life or siblings who like all the things you do. You don’t get to pick aunts and uncles who know you’re vegan or gluten-free and are willing to accommodate that when you share your annual Thanksgiving meal. You might see a salad like this one at the end of November and think you want to add it to the holiday meal, but you’re not allowed to help; you might see a salad like this one and wish someone else would make it, but you’re the one already managing the long list. Going into the holiday season, for many people, confronts feelings you probably don’t want to have, and so sometimes you think it might be easier to stay home, or at least to tell the other people to; I know.

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Arugula Dijon Salad with Figs and Pistachios

Every spring, when the ground brings new life and the trees turn every shade of green, I think of Julius.

spring

Julius and I met in grad school. He wore silver-rimmed spectacles, ironed business shirts and dress pants and a neatly trimmed reddish-brown beard that was quickly going gray. He came to class with his work I.D. still on his shirt pocket and a bag or briefcase carrying his books and papers in his hand. When he spoke, you’d hear an accent, betraying the Eastern European setting from which he’d come, but, he told me, he and his wife had lived in America quite a while. The first class we took together was a Travel Writing course. It was a workshop class, meaning we’d turn in copies of our assignments to each other and then discuss them, as a class, together. I’d write short, sweet pieces about places like the Wisconsin Northwoods; he’d write long, flowering tales about dining with locals in Morocco.

spring in nashville

One October, walking from the fluorescent lights and metal chairs of our night class out into the crisp, cool air of Chicago fall, I told Julius how autumn was my favorite season.

“Do you feel this air?” I asked him as we walked side by side, breathing in deep for emphasis. “I mean, is there anything better? I wish it were fall all year.” I might have talked about pumpkins and apple-picking and Halloween.

“Yes, it’s nice,” this man, 15 or 20 years my senior, responded, almost as if to appease a child, with none of my enthusiasm.

“And I bet you didn’t know this,” I began, my volume increasing and my words coming fast. I was about to share with him a rehearsed party anecdote, a standby that, at the time, was finding its way into any conversation I had about the colors of fall, sort of the way I’m always jumpy today to tell people that dislike for cilantro is a genetic trait. “When leaves turn colors each fall,” I said to him, “they’re actually shedding a layer, revealing the true colors that were always there, underneath. People think the leaves are turning but really they’re just showing what they always were, down in there, but we couldn’t see it! How amazing is that? ”

I waited for his elation and surprise, for him to join me in proclaiming fall’s glory. Instead came counter argument.

spring greens

“Actually, that’s sort of how I feel about spring!” he said to me, his eyes growing wide as his volume raised to match mine. “All the green! The emeralds, the pale greens, the yellow greens! Everything becomes so alive!”

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

I hate to say it, but I think at that moment, walking with Julius to our cars in a dark parking lot, I saw spring for the first time.

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

I was thinking about that conversation, some seven years ago or so now, last week, when Tim and I walked through the park on a 70-something-degree day in Nashville April. There were white buds on branches, pink flowers on trees, leaves of all different shapes and sizes sprouting along a lazy creek.

blueskies

The sky was fiercely blue—bluer than the bluejay we’ve seen around our house lately, bluer than the ocean hitting white sands—and the smell of grass was in the air. I was thinking about it when we brought home bags of greens from the grocery store and set plates of arugula on our table for dinner one night, streaming sunlight falling on the table.

arugula salad | foodloveswriting

There’s a verse in the Psalms that exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” and another in the New Testament that rejoices, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

This spring, with salads like this arugula one, that’s what I’m thinking about: the wonder of a created world with ordered seasons, the kind we can count on to come, and how noticing them, while walking parks and while eating dinner, makes me rejoice.

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Parsley Pesto Pizza + Squash Apple Pizza with Einkorn Crusts

birthday weekend pizza | foodloveswriting.com

There are people who don’t believe in making a big deal about birthdays, but I’m not one of them—and I have my brother to thank.

Adam in Nashville | FoodLovesWriting.com

My brother, Adam, who is two years and two months younger than I am (but if you heard us together, you’d swear he were the one who’s older), came here to see us last week, arriving around 2 p.m. on his birthday Wednesday and staying through Saturday night. The thing you have to understand about my brother and birthdays is he is kind of the king of celebrating them.

When I turned 21, he took me to a Coach store and told me to pick out one thing I wanted, any one thing, and he would buy it for me—choosing a purse in a store so far outside my price range made me feel like the richest person in the world, and that’s a feeling you never forget. Another year, he surprised me with a party at Ravinia, this outdoor park near Chicago where Tony Bennett was playing for the night. Since then, there have been trips to Maine and, when I was dating Tim, a trip to Nashville, and every year, the building anticipation that my birthday would mean something special and something fun.

It’s his influence that has turned my mom’s February birthday into a family holiday in which we all take off work to do whatever she wants to do, which, last year, meant all three of my family members flying down here to visit together for the first time. It’s his influence that makes me vote for spending Thanksgiving (and my dad’s corresponding birthday) in Chicago every year so I can sit by my dad and tell him why he’s cool. And it’s his influence that makes me want to celebrate anyone I love’s birthday the same way, by saying, Name what you want to do and we’ll do it! I just think it’s such a great gesture, submitting your preferences to someone else’s as a way of celebrating, as a way of showing them love.

So that said, you can understand why, when my brother comes to visit us for his birthday, we want to pull out all the stops.

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on salad (and other things)

Yesterday for dinner, we made a salad.

I like salad.

strawberries

I like salad especially this time of year, when the weather’s crazy hot in Nashville, the kind of hot where your shirt sticks to your back and sweat beads on your upper lip and walking down a street holding your fiancé’s hand means having to wipe your palm on your pant leg afterwards. This particular year, the heat has brought with it cicadas, ugly little flying creatures with bright red eyes and loud chirping noises, camped out in the trees, on my house, and, for a tragic few minutes Monday morning, right in my freshly washed hair. It’s been something.

But thankfully, these 90-degree days have also brought with them the more agreeable experiences of popsicles, tank tops, week-long visits from my brother (which included the purchase of one very expensive white dress), homemade ice cream, flip flops, Memorial Day grilling, and, back to the original topic, giant summer salads.

(I mean, the salads don’t exactly make up for having to be swatted at on your way into a weekday lunch, but they certainly help.)

pouring oil on the salad

The idea for Tuesday’s salad came pretty simply: Tim got a block of Parmesan as a birthday gift, and we all know Parmesan works wonderfully atop a salad. We bought some berries and arugula and combined them with Trader Joe’s balsamic, olive oil, salt, pepper, honey, and big shavings of Parmesan.

adding some Parm

And while we both thought the salad needed the extra crunch of nuts—pine nuts? walnuts? toasted almonds? and Tim really liked the sound of adding a sheep’s milk feta throughout, even as it was, it made a refreshing meal. Oh and on the side, there was garlic bread: toasted rosemary sourdough topped with butter and sliced roasted garlic. Pure perfection.

garlic bread

Given that this recipe is still a sort of work in progress, two things:

1) I’d love to hear your versions or ideas for improvements.
2) I feel like I should offer you something else today.

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we will have salad

summer salad

What you who are not from the Midwest might not know is that Chicago gives us many seasons, in the same week—in the same day—anytime it wants to. Saturday, for example, I spent the gloomy morning at the library, watching dark skies send rain onto waving maple trees and brick houses, but by early evening, the sun was bright and high, the air warm, charcoal breezes around us while we walked to dinner. Later still, the breezes turned cold again, when I pulled on my thickest coat to step onto the street and get in my car.

This has happened before, like when the air turned near-balmy in February or when we had our first snow before Halloween; it will happen again.

So when you visit, please bring a coat and t-shirts, sunscreen and an umbrella. We make no guarantees. All you can really be sure of is that we’ll be here, smiling, ready for whatever comes next, with bare trees turned to thick green clusters along the highway, spindly bushes turned to pink and red blossoms in yards, the threat of rain in the eastern horizon.

salad on the table

When you come in June, we will have salad—light and refreshing, cool and crunchy. Where winter (or early June sometimes, ahem) is hearty beef stew, summer is salad, even if it’s raining or the air turns cold and there are puddles to our doorway. This isn’t California—you can’t eat our produce year-round—but this is summer after all, and, some say, it’s smarter to eat for the weather you want than the weather you have.

making salad

Sometimes, in fact, when you eat like summer, summer comes. After I made this salad, a combination of greens and fruit and a homemade vinaigrette, we flipped and flopped from hot to cool, but by Sunday afternoon, when I met Jacqui for lunch at one my favorite places, it just so happened that the weather was absolutely perfect, and, even with temps predicted to drop below 50 in the evenings, I’ve heard most of this week will be hot and dry, sunshine everywhere. It’s summer, people. This is salad weather.

bowl of summer salad

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