My plan was to write this over Mother’s Day Weekend but I was too angry, sad, and everything in between, and now Memorial Day is upon us. Next month will be four years since my mother passed away and to hell with what people say, living life without her may get easier but it is no less painful. Mother’s Day ends up being the hardest holiday, not Thanksgiving, or Christmas but Mother’s Day. And being a mother myself I feel awful that I can’t always be joyful for my own children and husband who choose to celebrate me. Each one since she passed has been bittersweet but this year…the raw emotions came out of nowhere, one minute I was fine the next I was crying in the shower. In my mind I know how blessed I was to have her for 39 years. She was there for every major milestone in my life but even with those gifts some days the hurt is almost to strong to bear. But today instead of wallowing I offer you a culinary tribute of sorts to my Mom, the salad maker.
My mom was a good cook but not necessarily a great one. There were dishes she did really well and the rest were okay…I often compared her style to that of a stereotypical midwestern housewife. On the dinner plate there was always a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. Dare I say I subscribe to the same plating strategy with my own family more or less. Like me she loved her veggies, which was probably my grandfather’s influence, the victory gardener who taught us how to appreciate something grown with your own two hands and prepared simply. But I also think in some ways she was just a product of her generation. I’m not sure when “The salad” as we know it came into vogue, a quick Google search would tell me. But my mother embraced it with such gusto that it earned her the nickname “Rabbit”. She had an uncanny ability to take a simple bed of lettuce with other seasonal ingredients and throw it together in a way that was like art. Every family potluck, she brought the salad. I don’t believe she thought much of it at all. To her preparing one appeared to be just as easy as putting one foot in front the other. And over the years I hadn’t given much thought to my own salads, until I heard family members, work colleagues, and friends talking. Apparently, I too am a salad maker. According to my critics who have had the pleasure of partaking, I have a way of assembling an unusual combination of ingredients that are tasty and appear effortless in nature. And like my mother, I can tell you I don’t think much about it. There isn’t a real formula I just start with a decent bed of greens, be it arugula, kale, chard, spinach, etc. and go from there.
I didn’t realize there was an intimidation factor when it comes making salads, until I started seeing a new crop of cookbooks popping up devoted to the execution of the ideal salad. Then my husband, who will take over cooking dinner on a rare occasion, announces that he wants a salad and doesn’t know how to make one. My 90-year-old grandmother who in her later years has become quite the picky eater is also a fan of my salads, particularly one of the kale variety that I usually dress with an apple cider vinaigrette. And my Pop, my mother’s devoted husband is always quick to say, “Kid, you make the best salads”. I have tried to analyze what made my mother and now me such great salad makers, is it my culinary training, was it her obsession with farm fresh ingredients? I’m certain those things play a minor role but I discovered that the real answer is not a difficult one at all. We both put as much love and care into the preparation of that simple side dish as we do tending to the loved ones around us. Like Bishop Michael Curry said at “that” Royal wedding last week. It’s all about love.
*For some serious salad making inspiration be sure to check out Food 52's cookbook "Mighty Salads".