gluten-free travels vegan writing

Hellas, again

3 February 2008

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[Weekend lunch, January 2008.]

When I have just a bit of bread with olive oil, or hummus, I always think of my friend Simon, because he is a bread-lover in the extreme. Last spring, when he and his wife came to visit me and I took them up to Armstrong Woods, we stopped for sandwiches at the Sebastopol Whole Foods; she and I got some sort of delicious avocado/cheese concoction, but all he really wanted was a loaf of crusty bread, and hummus. And so he got those things and thoroughly enjoyed them, even as we exclaimed at how amazing our sandwiches were, while watching the rain fall down in great sheets from the safety of the car.

And then when I think of Simon, I inevitably think of Greece, not least of all because it’s because of him that I might be going back there again this summer (though not to ‘my’ island, but to the north). It’s been almost six months since I returned from that little spot in the Argo-Saronic Gulf; my tan has faded into nonexistance, and the pistachios I brought back with me are all gone. But on some afternoons the light falls a certain way onto the kitchen table, and it reminds of the long, slow afternoons I spent there, sometimes on the rocky shores of the tiny beach where we’d sit — and swim — for hours, or the twilights where the sky was endlessly blue until the sun finally disappeared for the night.

I wrote an article about the apartment — specifically, the kitchen — my brother rented on Spetes in the near-year he was there, and thought about it again this weekend because I made a very simple salad that would have been perfect to have there; with a kitchen like he had, simple was the name of the game.

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[Retsina, essential Greece.]

I love salads, but I don’t like to prepare them. I know! There’s really no reason for this, other than they involve a lot of chopping and, well, I think I find the act of doing it rather boring. In the winter, there is a palpable lack of those gorgeous little cherry and grape tomatoes I so love, and I can fall into the trap of creating my salads too bland — and, yes, somewhat boring. If I have some time, I’ll roast a bunch of beets and then cut them up very fine and pile some organic baby spinach leaves on top; just that, with maybe some walnuts and a lemon dressing, is infinitely satisfying. I had a salad once in a restaurant in Sonoma that was like this; we sat outside in the sun and had a glass of white wine, and I had an enormous spinach salad dressed very lightly and scattered through with almonds and sliced strawberries. I think we got drunk off the air that day; it was so clear and warm, but with that cool valley breeze, that you could almost taste it.

I also don’t like salads that are made with fancy greens — the kind that are hard to fit in your mouth even when you chop them up into little pieces. I always have trouble getting them onto my fork and then when I finally do I don’t like the way they taste anyway. So I stick to baby spinach, or a nice head of romaine, or even cabbage sometimes, but all of it very plain. For dressings, I am usually lazy and just do a splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, but once I made a really very good lemon dressing courtesy of Nigella where I squeezed the juice of one lemon and about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a bowl, then added the salad greens (I think it was spinach) and tossed them all together, and Michael, a true saladite, makes a delicious dressing that can incorporate yogurt, or hummus, depending on what’s in the fridge (truth to tell: he’s often the one that makes salads around here).

So the salad I did this weekend was neither overly ambitious nor was it particularly un-boring, but I actually didn’t mind making it and it tasted good — all very worthy reasons to make it again. Like perhaps even tonight. I’ve been snacking on the chocolate chip cookies I’m making for work tomorrow, and so I should eat some raw vegetables to counter all that butter. There are guests arriving later this week, and so I am planning a few batches of cookies, and muffins, as well as a nice dinner for my friend who is making an unexpected appearance.

The next few weeks will be busy with an art opening, possible weekend day trips out of town, lots of good food to eat, a dinner party planned for the 14th, and at the end of it all, a lovely three-day weekend for long runs, sleeping, watching ‘The Tudors,’ and kitchen experimentation waits for me, and I for it.

Until then, I’ll eat lots of this salad.

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Simple salad, for weekend afternoons

One head romaine lettuce, washed and dried, chopped
1/2 red onion, cut into slivers
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 carrot, cut into coarse chunks
1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Put a generous splash each of olive oil and vinegar onto the salad, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad to dress. Serve immediately.