Sunday, August 2, 2009


i have a friend who makes salads from recipes.

most women i know will admit to doing something as they do for no other reason than that it's the way their mothers always did it. for most of us, i think, there is more than one thing like that. and at the risk of sounding old-fashioned (which maybe, just maybe, i am sometimes), there's no better place than the kitchen to learn a woman's because-mom-does-it quirks.

my mom is a fabulous cook. and baker? whew! she can bake. even made my wedding cake (and my sister's, too):

(see it there on our fingers? cheesecake. three layers, decorated with fondant and roses. looked even better than it tasted, i'm told...but i wouldn't know, as this was all we got to eat of it. it was gone too fast.)

so of course, most of what i know about cooking comes from mom. i'm not necessarily talking about traditional family recipes, though we do have plenty of those: krepke and truffles and phyllo chicken and chocolate bags and macaroni salad are some of the favorites around here. but no; i'm talking more about why i store peanut butter and bread in the refrigerator (okay, i'll admit that i quit with the peanut butter when i realized how much easier it was to spread from the pantry). why do i freeze and then boil hot dogs? (unless sam is going to grill them, of course). why do i always tear--and never, never cut--lettuce? (well, because it doesn't turn brown at the edges that way). why do i never bother to sift powdered sugar, even when the recipe says to? use regular spoons instead of measuring spoons? never use anything but hellmann's real mayonnaise? and on and on. most of the reasons i cook what i do the way i do are simple: because that's how mom does it.

and as for my mom, well, she loves a salad. if you ask her which four foods she would choose if she could have nothing else to eat for her whole life (yes, we have had this conversation, and i'd take chocolate, potatoes, milk, and coke, if you must know), she'll answer watermelon (which i remember because it was a surprise to me), two other things i can't remember (but one of which may be chocolate or coffee), and salad (which i remember because it was not surprising at all).

so dinner simply does not happen at my parents' house without a salad. i recall eating dinner there once as an adult--once--when there was no salad. the dinner included several vegetables in addition to the usual main dish and bread or something, and as she prepared the dinner, mom asked, "do you think we need a salad, too?" i assured her that we didn't. so she didn't make one. when dad sat down to dinner, he was shocked. no salad? who has ever heard of a dinner without salad? my taking the blame just barely put off an uprising. (i don't think it has happened again.)

but mom doesn't make salads from recipes, at least none that i can remember. she makes great salads: all sorts of lettuces--even those bitter, spiky ones that i have to pick around--and whatever else she has on hand, plus homemade dressings (from a mix, but still, so much better than bottled). always, always ranch, especially if i'm home. but these are not recipe salads. who knew there were such things as recipe salads?

as i mentioned, my friend does.

any time we get together for dinner, this friend seems to be making a salad from a recipe. and a dressing recipe, too. i'm always in awe of these salads, with their strange ingredients like brown rice or nuts or fruits. sure, mom might chop up an apple or some grapes in a salad when they're in season, but that's not the same as a measured quantity of "tart apples, cut and cubed" or some such detail. my friend and i joke about it because i'm always so amazed that she makes salads from recipes. if i had to guess, i'd think her mom must make salads from recipes. or maybe she learned to cook from someone else...or maybe she got a salad cookbook (do those exist?) as a wedding gift and never looked back...anyhow, it's funny that i have a bookcase full of cookbooks, most well worn and dog-eared, but had never before met anyone who makes salads from recipes. i'll have to ask her where she got hers.

tonight, i made one of her recipe salads. brown rice, toasted pecans, tart apples, red bell pepper, red onion, celery, and chicken, with a dressing of cider vinegar, canola oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. (did i leave something out? i'd have to check the recipe.) our neighbors came over for dinner, neighbors who are dear friends on whom i can experiment with something life-altering and potentially disastrous like a recipe salad. so we had said recipe salad, which was really quite good, just like when my salad-recipe friend made it. and we had bread, which my neighbor brought.

but we also had another salad. a tossed salad, just like mom makes. with ranch dressing and balsamic vinaigrette from a mix. because you can't have dinner without a salad.

[a couple of postscripts: 1) yes, my friend--who is one of the few who make their way here to my blog with some regularity, i think--will be amused to be identified as my "salad-recipe friend", writer friend and walker friend and mom friend and potato-chip-eater friend and school friend and nearly-neighbor friend and all as she actually is, and 2) yes, i do look like i'm twelve years old in my wedding photo, though no, despite being just a baby, i was not quite that young.]


Meredith said...

This is hilarious. I never realized all the weird things I do in the kitchen until I read them in your post. I almost had a heart attack last night because a friend cut lettuce for salad with a knife!

Someday, maybe I'll try a recipe salad...

PS Jolene says she has a book of salad recipes given to her for her wedding...they do exist...

Rebecca said...

Okay, yes. I am Very Amused to find myself the "salad-recipe-friend," but mostly especially because I have only two (Only Two) salad recipes, and the second one (the one with the chicken and brown rice) isn't really a salad so much as a main dish. Not really a salad much at all, I didn't think. But then our perceptions of what makes something a salad as opposed to a main dish, or what makes something main-dish-worthy as opposed to side-dish- or even salad-worthy might also be informed by our mothers and those early, pre-cognizant days when we sat at their ankles in the kitchen and played with the tupperware.

In any event, I suppose you can give me any kind of eponym you'd like, just so long as that last half (post hyphen) word (friend) is included in it.