Don't you get to the point on hot summer evenings when all you want to eat are fresh, crispy salads? Here's a deliciously special post from the archives with the salads of your dreams—and a fun video showing you chef's secrets for how to properly dress a salad. I'm telling you, this is a game changer!
Let’s talk salads.
I started making salads for my father when I was 7 years old. He was in the salad dressing business, and he liked his salads a particular way -- big, crunchy, crispy salads, full of vegetables, draped in dressing. Chopping up salad for him was a HUGE deal. I, Rebecca, was making salad for the Salad King!
Fast forward. When I studied cooking in Italy, I had to revamp my knowledge of salads and learn the refined art of dressing an elegantly simple salad -- lightly dressed and full of tender greens such as arugula, radicchio, and mache, varieties I wasn’t exposed to in the states. By European standards, my father’s salads were uber chunky, and way overdressed!
How do you go about dressing the perfect salad?
It’s really very, very simple.
First of all, your greens have to be dry and crisp. I like to spin them in a salad spinner then put them in a flour sack towel to pick up any moisture clinging to them. So you’re starting with the right texture, with the leaves ready to absorb the dressing and receive just a gentle coating. In contrast, if the greens are soggy the salad dressing will roll right off, down to the bottom of the bowl. This step is numero uno! Very important.
My dears, we are approaching picnic season! Including the grandaddy of picnics, 4th of July. I've got you covered with potluck etiquette, recipes and strategies to help make hosting or participating a delicious—and delightful—success!
It’s that time of year! We’re invited to block parties, 4th of July fests, family reunions, picnics, and potlucks of all shapes and sizes. This is when we’re supposed to show up with the PERFECT dish that everyone loves, something that won’t wilt in the heat, will go with whatever everyone else brings (or at least out shine all those other dishes).
Here’s my favorite potluck story ever.
When I moved in with my husband on his street in San Rafael, California, no one in the neighborhood knew about me yet. I was working really hard doing heavy-duty cancer retreat cooking at Commonweal at the time, and, well, I was like the shoemaker with holes in her shoes! The summer party invitation arrived, asking us to bring something for the grill, and something for the cooler. I thought, corn! I bought a whole blue bag full from our farmer’s market. Gregg brought a bottle of wine and some fish for the grill. We walked a few doors down to the Burford’s home, and on the counter were ALL these gorgeous dishes, the most AMAZING spread. Frittatas, tarts, grain salads, gorgeous vegetables. It was like, oh my God! I did not get the memo. I’m a trained chef, I had just come out with my first cookbook and I’m walking in with a bag of corn. Granted, it was shucked! And it wasn’t a bad thing to bring, actually. But ouch! Not the ideal first impression. I could have brought a million more sophisticated things!
I was 23 years old when I started teaching French at a small boarding school in Maine. Just three days after submitting my master’s thesis in Paris I was settled into a small, white clapboard, steps away from a salt marsh on the New England coastline.
We think of seasons: Fall. Winter. Spring. Summer… but it’s really more like transition to spring, late spring… summer… then late summer. Memorial Day feels like the pivot point, marking the start of summer; but you really never know what transition times will bring. Right now in the Bay Area, we’re having unseasonably cool temperatures and rain is predicted. For us, that’s like a blizzard coming! It’s a big deal. We may have harbingers of summer, but we’re not quite there yet.
Food-wise, I’m thinking spring soups, when you want something that whispers of late spring, honors the gorgeous spring harvest, and that’s bright and refreshing! Fresh pea soup… carrots… fennel… asparagus…cream of celery. Easy to put together, with the fresh, tender spring veggies.
There’s nothing more satisfying than a burger... especially when it is a hashtag juicepulp burger! Pulp from juicing can be used for all sorts of food and beauty recipes. Try using cucumber pulp for cleansing the skin, carrot pulp for carrot cake and beetroot (beet) pulp for these delicious burger patties. Whatever your everyday life throws at you these beetroot burgers are designed to restore your depleted energy levels.
Makes 4 burgers
So cute, they’re adorable! But so brash. They can be a little bossy, a little assertive. A wake up call! Of course I’m talking about radishes, the charming but somewhat overlooked actors waiting in the wings of our kitchen stage. Let’s talk about their myriad facets, and the many roles they are ready to play on our plates!
A bit of radish history
Radish plants are native to China, and are thought to have been cultivated in Europe as early as Neolithic times (from around 9,000 to 3,000 BC). They were certainly eaten in Egypt since the beginning of civilization. The 100,000 builders of The Great Pyramid evidently ate enormous quantities of radishes together with onions and leeks. The mind boggles.
Today’s familiar red globe radishes first appeared on the food scene in the 18th century, and now there are more than 250 varieties in various shapes, sizes and colors. A veritable treasure trove of radishes!
What kind things do you think but don’t say? How would your life be different if you expressed your love, desire, and gratitude more often to those closest to you? What do you keep to yourself because it feels too scary to share?
The following is an example of a seemingly insignificant moment that I’ve never forgotten because I chose to be guarded rather than vulnerable. When I was in 11th Grade, a friend and I set off on a late afternoon stroll through some pastures in Vermont. There was a golden hue as the spring day was slowly turning to night, and I remember looking at my friend and thinking how beautiful she looked. However, instead of sharing from my heart and telling her what I saw, I bit my tongue and said nothing. How strange to be too shy to extend a compliment, but this happens more frequently than you might think.
Arugula is my number one go-to green. I put it on EVERYTHING! I like a little bit of bitter, and it has good tooth—texture you can sink your teeth into. Arugula plays well with others, especially seasonal fruits like blueberries, roasted cherries, apricots. Throw it in with other lettuces, in a frittata, into a pesto. Throw it on top of soup! Top it with sardines. Throw it in at the last minute of scrambling an egg. On top of toast with smushed avocado. The topping looks like green hair! Like that girl in school who had that curly kind of crazy hair? Like that.
It’s kind of my savior.
What could be easier than grabbing a handful or two out of a bag, box or farm-market stash and plopping in whatever you’re doing? Drizzle on a little olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt. Done.
Vegetables are ALWAYS a good idea, and this post is a good reminder to eat the rainbow! A plate full of color means you are loading up on the important phytonutrients that can do better than anything else on the planet to balance your immune system, reduce inflammation, and make you FEEL better. My advice? Go for it.
For over a decade, I’ve been preaching that you need to love your vegetables, not just endure them. Veggies, and the fantastic array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals they contain, are crucial for brain health, longevity, and cancer prevention, among their many good deeds. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower) contain B vitamins that are critical for methylation, for example, a process through which our brains repair themselves. We all need brain repair!
Recently I was hanging out with a friend who’s the poster child for “woe is me.” According to him, no one works as hard for as little and everyone else’s life is better, easier, and more fun. The more time I spent with him, the more I began to notice myself falling into this thought form as well. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we tend to mirror those around us.
Since my “woe is me” friend talks incessantly about how busy he is, how everyone he hires fails him in some way, and how everyone else seems to “have it made,” he misses the opportunity to see what’s around him and recognize the many blessings in his life. Interestingly, I’ve noticed the people whom my friend believes “have it made” tend to work hard, but they have the ability to slow down enough to find joy and beauty wherever they are, no matter what they’re doing. Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” There’s always something to marvel at, but we have to be willing to slow down and look.
When it comes to healing, our notion of time can behave very strangely. It might speed up or it might be infinitely slow, like molasses. When we are eager for a loved one to get better, as I am now, it can seem like forever. The body heals at the rate that it heals. I remember Rachel Naomi Remen saying disease is a weird thing; it reveals itself when it’s ready to reveal itself. It can be frustrating when all sorts of symptoms appear, but no prognosis is certain. You are left wondering...where am I?
Rachel Naomi Remen, one of the pioneers of the mind-body health movement and relationship-centered care, is my inspiration for how to think about these unfathomable mysteries. How many of you have read (and reread) her book Kitchen Table Wisdom? I read it when it first came out and I was in culinary school. My copy is a dog-eared treasure on my shelf.
As I swallowed my last sip of tea, the leader of our group hike announced that it was departure time. Like horses at the racetrack when the gates open, the hikers in my group hit the trail with a jolt. It was barely daybreak, but they were already swiftly moving, chatting, and increasing their gait at a rapid pace.
Having just rolled out of bed, I was still having difficulty focusing my eyes, let alone taking deep enough breaths to fill my lungs with oxygen. I huffed and puffed as the burn began to grow in my thighs. Already overheating, I stopped to remove my fleece shirt. By this time, the swiftly moving hikers were already far ahead and the slower few passed me as I tugged my shirt over my head.
A few years ago this would have concerned me greatly. I had a thing about always being in the front.
I’m not as fit as I used to be, so it’s much more difficult for me to be at the front; however, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson about slowing down. It’s not always necessary to race to the end. There can be great value in being more mindful and reveling in the journey.
So, on that dark morning, instead of sprinting to the finish line, I got to breathe in my surroundings, feel the morning air on my cheek, and see the colors of the sunrise. For a while I hiked alone, which offered me an opportunity to think, which is something I don’t always make time for in my daily life. And when I met up with another hiker, we ended up having a delightful conversation about mindfulness, which seemed to be a nod from the Universe.
Letting go of my need to be the lead trail horse was not easy; sometimes I still find myself worrying that others will think less of me, but when I see how enriched my life can be when I take time to go more slowly and savor what’s around me, I know I’m on the right path.
Do you ever find yourself pushing so hard to reach a destination that you miss the journey? What do you do because you fear the judgments of others? What steps can you take to bring more mindfulness into your life?
Fresh Spring Rolls for Mindfulness
Nothing says, “spring isn’t too far away” quite like spring rolls…the name says it all! Not only are they delicious, but also they’re fun to make. There is something meditative about rolling them. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Cucumbers, micro greens, pea shoots, bean sprouts, red bell pepper are all tasty additions. Flavored tofu can be used in place of the shrimp. As you work with each ingredient, take time to really see it. How does it look, smell, feel, sound, and taste?
Julie Burford, my beloved Soup Sister and neighbor about whom I’ve frequently written (watch us making soup together here) is always on the frontline of cooking for people in need. She’s the Florence Nightingale of the kitchen, the one in our neighborhood who absolutely shows up with something nourishing or comforting or both when someone is sick or struggling. Her husband Stan says, “She’s the edible therapist!”
There have been a flood of people in her world who have been ill lately, including five people this week. Granted Julie’s 74 and has a bit more time on her hands now that she’s not running a non-profit, but she. Steps. Up. Every time. For her friend diagnosed with Parkinson’s... or for friends of friends... or friends of friends of friends! “Oh, I got home early from dinner tonight,” she says breezily. “I can whip up a batch of butternut squash soup.”
In California every spring (and briefly again in the fall) the baby artichokes arrive. It’s a very special moment, a seasonal splendor many of us cooks wait for. Especially those of us who’ve eaten the carciofi simply and elegantly prepared in Tuscany. One of the seven wonders of the culinary world!
I’ve written about finding my sweet spot with food when at 35, I left a hard-driving job on the east coast and took what I call my life sabbatical, arriving in Rome with no language and no luggage. What I haven’t shared is what happened after Rome, when I went up to Florence, largely because I thought I should. I didn’t really know what I was going to do other than continue studying Italian, since my skills were still not, um, very polished. In Italian class, the teacher shared information about a cooking class. All those memories of standing on a stool stirring soup in my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens stirred something inside me…
Next thing I knew I was standing on a corner of the Via Taddea, where the big market is in the center of Florence. I’m waiting and waiting (turns out I was ½ hour early), not even sure who I’m waiting for. It’s late Friday afternoon. I’m thinking, if she doesn’t show up in 3 minutes… and here she came, with her basket—Judy Witts Francini, of Divina Cucina cooking school. Are you here for the cooking class? She asked. I am barely able to reply with my rudimentary Italian.
What in your life is exactly as you planned? What is completely different?
Never in a million years would my 22 year-old-about-to-graduate-from-college self have imagined my present life. She would’ve fallen out of her chair laughing if you’d told her she’d miss her 15-year reunion because she’d be speaking on a spirituality cruise to Alaska. Or, that she’d be making plans to have a child on her own. That pearl-wearing, Camus-reading girl would’ve thought you were making it up.
It’s rare that we end up doing what we think we’ll do. Each step puts us on a slightly different trajectory. And, as we get older, we grow and change, and our priorities adjust as we become increasingly more ourselves.
In the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.” I didn’t get what I thought I wanted when I graduated college, but I got exactly what I needed. And for that, I am truly grateful.
When in your life did you get what you needed instead of what you wanted? In what ways has this shaped who you are? Although it can feel antithetical to moving forward, as often as you can, take time to be grateful for all the missed turns in your life, because they may have actually been keeping you on your true path. It’s easy to feel regret. Gratitude can be much harder, but the things we regret are often the things that helped shape us and make us who we are today.
Purple vegetables may be pretty, but they also have powerful health benefits. See why and get mouthwatering recipes for 10 purple vegetables.
The color purple often symbolizes royalty and magic. And lately, purple vegetables have been popping up in more places.
In the scheme of things, your brain is one of your greatest treasures. Learn to take care of it! Feed it what it needs. This post from the archives will fill you in of brain nutrition basics. And, by the way, you won't miss a beat on flavor! Brain healthy foods include some delicious favorites. I recommend making them part of your repertoire, and weaving them into your day on a regular basis.
It starts with the “p” word — and that would be “plants.”
A flood of new and surprising research is emerging about the role that plants play in brain health. For example, a study on the MIND diet — a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association — concluded that people who eat more dark, leafy greens at least once a day have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).Bingo!
It's that time of year! Asparagus is on the way. As those of you who have followed my blog or played with my cookbooks already know, I am WILD about asparagus. Are you with me? Do like to eat asparagus in all its guises as long as you can get it while it's truly fresh and seasonal? It's uniquely delicious AND the perfect detoxifier as spring arrives. If you're already in love with this elegant vegetable—or if this will be a new romance—here's a favorite blog post to help you dive right in.Can I help it if I wear my culinary heart on my sleeve?
Those who know me, especially my farmer buddies at my local market, know that this is the time of year I SWOON over what I call those elegant green long ladies of spring.
Your inspiration for the week: don’t overlook cabbage! I call cabbage the bocce ball of the cruciferous set. A bowling ball, a big, heavy dense, ball of leaves. In terms of nutritional benefits, cabbage rocks. It’s chock full of goodness! Fiber, potassium, choline, B12, iron, selenium, pantothenic acid (B5), manganase…. But. It’s like the stepchild of broccoli and kale. It’s the humblest of vegetables. Nobody even thinks about it.
But I have something to say about cabbage, and why it’s number ONE on my list: it’s crunchy. You can eat it raw or cooked. It’s durable. You can do a zillion things with it. It’s always there for you, in your crisper drawer. How many things can you say that about?
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I could be thinking about chocolate... but I’m thinking about the color red. And I might be thinking about strawberries… but I’m thinking about beets!
What inspires me about beets?
DEFINITELY the color. Of all the plants in the plant kingdom, beets have the most electrifying color. I have my kitchen workshop and my art-making workshop, and I play with color in both! Sometimes it’s fun to take a food and look at all the colors that make up the color of that food.
Red is a primary color, but beets are not a singular, primary red. Beets have other colors in them: a little blue, a little purple, some magenta, and fuschia. Beets can look very dark and ruby-esque; or blended into soup, they can bright and magenta-y. Chioggia beets are swirled burgundy and white. Golden beets are a deep, earthy gold.
The key to heavenly flavor: roasting.
When I was little I hated beets. They used to come out of a jar. They were called Harvard beets. Ugh! It took me awhile to start loving beets.
And then I discovered roasting. Beets are VERY sweet when roasted, a whole new, almost addictively delicious thing. Oh, yum.
One of the most electrifying dishes I learned to make in Italy is pasta a la rubino, “ruby” in Italian. Basically a pasta with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, roasted squares of beets tossed together on a blue plate. An electric purple!
Now I do roasted root vegetables or roasted root vegetable salads, which are very elegant, or pickled beets, or a borscht (both blended and not). I make a stunning electric slaw out of beets (an absolute smash hit on a buffet line!). I slice them very thin and make them into chips, an unexpected and delightful topper for salad or soup. (Don’t you love crunchy things?)
There is nothing better than a beet salad with a little feta, fennel, blood orange… OMG! Or valencia orange and beets! Electrifying.