Sunday, January 16, 2011

Salad Days

When I was very young, "salad" was iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, with Italian salad dressing. We only ate salad in the summertime when fresh tomatoes and cucumbers were in season on the east coast. Dinner was always meat-and-potatoes....and canned vegetables. Canned fruit for dessert, or maybe, chocolate pudding. On special occasions, like birthdays or holidays, my mom might bake a cake or less often, a pie. And on summer nights, if we were really lucky, we'd have store-bought ice cream that would drip down the sides of the cones and down our chins as we licked them in the backyard on a hot summer evening.

Things changed a bit after my mom died and my dad remarried. We moved to a bigger house with a bigger yard. We still had meat-and-potato dinners, but now they were accompanied by frozen vegetables, a step up from the canned variety. In the summertime, my step-mom grew her own vegetables in a patch of dirt next to the garage. It was a small garden, but I remember green beans and lots and lots of tomatoes. We ate tomato sandwiches for lunch (white bread, mayonnaise, lettuce and fresh tomatoes). We still had salads of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers with Italian salad dressing - but now with fresh, home-grown tomatoes.

Then I moved to the West Coast and (eventually) got married. My husband, having grown up in the mid-west, was also a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. But he didn't care for cooked vegetables (unless artichokes count). However, he loved salad. His basic salad was romaine lettuce and an-oil and-vinegar salad dressing of his own making, which I never could seem to master. We would toss in the tomatoes and cucumbers from the vegetable garden we kept in the front yard of our rented cottage, and perhaps mushrooms and red bell peppers and radishes and avacadoes from the never-ending variety of fresh vegetables available most times of year in California grocery stores. Thrown on top would often be peppery watercress that Jim would pick from the creek on his way home from work on Stanford campus.

Jim and I divorced after ten years of togetherness. And I experimented with some new things in my life. I discovered that "salad" need not contain only romaine lettuce. I ventured out into different kinds of lettuce and other greens such as arugula and baby spinach. I thought I had seen it all. But, no.

About six years ago, I ended up with an Israeli boyfriend, who wrinkled his nose at my concept of salad.

"What? Green salad? That is not salad. This is salad"....and he proceeded to make a red salad -- lots and lots of tomatoes, plus red and orange bell peppers, some scallions, and a liberal dose of a good olive oil. "Now this, THIS, is salad."

I ate many a red salad in the four years that my Israeli boyfriend and I were together. I still sometimes make myself an Israeli salad, especially if I have access to fresh vine ripened tomatoes from my neighbor across the street.

But today I could not pass up the dark purple, ripe avocadoes in the grocery store. So I stocked up on the "Spring Mix" of varietal lettuces, some fresh mushrooms, and a few ripe avacadoes and went home to make myself a nice green salad.

I am waiting for summer at the local Farmer's Market, where I can get tomatoes that are both tangy and sweet, picked only hours before. Maybe I'll make myself an Israeli salad. Or maybe, just maybe, I will buy some cucumbers and iceberg lettuce to go with my fresh tomatoes.

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