I suppose it's fitting that the first post in this blog would be about salad. I've spent the last three months chopping, tossing, plating and crouton-ing half of Washington's yearly tonnage of Romaine leaves. Needless to say, if I never see another Caesar salad again, it would be too soon. I've taken the job as garde manger at Seattle's Cafe Flora vegetarian restaurant for the summer. As anyone who works in restaurants knows, the garde manger (or pantry cook, when you're not trying to impress your friends) is responsible for preparing and serving all things cold or sweet... pates and soba noodles, chocolate tarts and handmade raspberry ice cream. Working all day around beautiful local ingredients and tasting the inventions of the other cooks in the kitchen, well, there could be worse places to work away the summer hours and, trust me, I've experienced them.
This stint at the restaurant is the latest in a succession of food jobs I've had over the years... server, bartender, catering assistant, kids culinary instructor, my current occasional shifts at Novelty Hill Januik winery in Woodinville... and while I'm eager to get on with the business of being a nutritionist, there was something strange pulling at my belly (and no, it wasn't just the tofu salad I had for lunch.) I had to experience working the line, spending hour after hour caramelizing and dicing and boiling and staining my fingers red with beets and red cabbage. I wanted to see the whole story, from the 8 am making of stock to end of shift when plates were being shot out of the kitchen at lightening speed, line cook sweating and screaming 'Runner!' at full volume to be heard over roaring oven vents. I wanted to learn, to get the skinny on all that magic that happened when my back was turned as a server, when I was the one being yelled at to get my food out because it was "getting a social security number."
So here I am, game-face stiffened, feet aching, right hand numb from chopping too much lettuce, and ready to make a friggin' salad that will knock your vegetarian socks off, mamma.
This Sunday, my day off of work to create on my own, I just couldn't pass up the giant bins of funny-looking melons at the West Seattle farmer's market. There were yellow-fleshed watermelons and orange-fleshed honeydews, cantaloupes all green inside, and according to the gentleman at the market stall "nothing normal". Thank god.
So I swiped this canary-yellow orange-fleshed honeydew, giddily handed the man two one dollar bills and made my way to fabulous Bakery Nouveau to look for a chocolate brownie for Mark (naturally, his giddiness follows.)
Once home, I was planning on cutting up the melon and dousing it with my favorite European yogurt for an afternoon snack... but instead I found myself wanting a spinach salad... so I tossed in some of the melon, along with avocado, toasted almonds and a simple vinaigrette. It's a salad I could never be sick of (sorry, Dear Caesar.) And you don't have to chop baby spinach!
This salad for me is pure summertime. Softness, honey sweetness from the perfectly-ripe melon, creamy avocado, tender spinach leaves and a toasty crunch from the almonds. I took a bite and thanked my tired feet and calloused hands, because somewhere among the green leaves and broccoli stalks I suppose I've learned something. Something delicious.
Baby Spinach Salad with Melon and Avocado
For lunch on a warm day, this salad would be fabulous with our local La Panzanella Croccatini crackers and a soft spanish sheep's milk cheese.
3 cups organic baby spinach leaves
1/2 medium avocado, diced
3/4 cup honeydew or cantaloupe melon, diced
1/4 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped or crushed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 pinches sea salt
2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl, place spinach, melon, avocado and almonds, set aside. In a small bowl or a jar with tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients for vinaigrette and stir or shake until well-combined, pour over salad and toss until leaves are glossy with dressing.