She’s just past one, so summer sunshine is falling on her and her high chair. Her face is all joy: eyes closed, mouth open (no teeth on the top yet!), and her mouth and cheeks covered in red. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the occasion: the first time Lucy ate strawberries.
Oh that delight in first foods. And the lip-twisting, scrunch-faced opinion of lemons upon eating them for the first time. We’re hard-wired to love sweetness at first. It makes sense. Bitter, sour foods might have been an indicator of poison when we were wandering on plains and jungles. Sweetness meant surety and satiety. Babies have primal instincts. That’s why we have to resist giving them too many sweet things for their own good. And for ourselves. Given the choice, we might choose sweet every time.
” I try not to give her a lot of sweet things – not because I think I can mold her into a non-sweets-craving person (haa haaaa, RIIIIIIIIIGHT), but mostly because I know she will want to eat the living crap out of them, and I want her to save room for other things. I would like her to grow up understanding that there is no such thing as bad food: that some foods are better for our bodies, yes, and some food isn’t food at all (like Nerds and sour gummies, both of which I would currently kill for), but that there is time enough for all of it. I want her to know that food is about pleasure and connection and sustenance.”
This feels so much the way we have been talking about food with Lu these past five years. And ourselves.
Last year, I asked my friend Mary Purdy, who is a wise woman and wonderful dietician, a question that had puzzled me for years. Why do I always lose weight on vacation? We go to Italy or Providence or New York City or San Francisco, and I eat at restaurants for nearly every meal, and yet I come home lighter. Why? It can’t just be that I’m walking so much. I walk a lot at home too. She laughed when I asked her this. And then she said something that has stayed with me since. When we eat with any anger, guilt, fear, or feeling of obligation, our body reads it as stress. And that means our body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronic stress not only puts our health at risk but it also tells our body to keep on belly fat and weight. On the other hand, if we eat in joy, relaxed at the table with our friends, laughing — or on vacation — that act triggers our metabolism into higher gear.
So, in essence, the answer to our problems is radical: let’s enjoy the hell out of all of our food.
Lu loved her strawberries on first taste. She still does. But she used to suck on lemons, willingly. And when she was getting in those teeth, nothing else would do but gnawing on a big bunch of green onions. Today, she delights in the idea of getting an ice cream cone. She claps her hands and jumps up and down. Then, after five bites of it, she throws it in the trash. And she will eat roasted chicken salad with slivers of bitter endive too.
The post I wrote on Monday seemed to resonate with so many of you. Thank you for your kind comments. It’s clear there’s a place for conversation about kale salads and kabocha squash/sweet potato soup and wild arugula amidst a culture dedicated to sweet gooey things and processed food and posts about cookies because they bring a bigger audience than modest amounts of savory foods. But I like talking about squashes and endive and avocados because they excite me, not because I think they are the “right” foods.
Let’s be the tribe of people who don’t think of salads as health food, shall we? Let’s remember how lucky we are to have food.
I’m especially humbled that writing about my own discoveries toward better health seemed to inspire you. However, after all that talk about health, I’m ready to just enjoy my food, all of my food. Because, for me, the healthiest food is the meal in front of me in the moment, eaten joyfully, while laughing.
Roasted Chicken Salad with Endive and Tangerines
Yield: Feeds 4.
Most of the best meals we eat don't come from recipes. Danny (or I) look into the refrigerator, grab whatever looks interesting, and make up a lunch. There's spontaneity and enjoyment in that food. We didn't have to measure anything before we ate it.
We had enough leftover roasted chicken salad from the event on Sunday to make ourselves some more. You could make this with any leftover chicken you have, including a good rotisserie chicken you pick up at the store. The bitter slivers of endive add a crunch to the dish you won't want to miss. And the tartness of the dried gooseberries works well with the slight sweetness in macadamia nut oil mayonnaise.
It took all our willpower to take a photograph before we ate.
3 cups cubed cooked chicken, preferably from legs and thighs
2 large green apples, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup dried fruit (we used gooseberries)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
4 heads fresh endive, thinly slivered
1 cup mayonnaise (we prefer to make it with macadamia nut oil)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cold water
grated zest of 1 lemon
kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tangerines, peeled and sliced
Assembling the salad. Combine the chicken, apples, fruit, tarragon, walnuts, and endive. in a large bowl.
Making the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, water, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.
Finishing the salad. Dollop the dressing on the chicken salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour before garnishing with tangerine slices and serving.
Thwack. I smack the knife down, through the yielding flesh of the roasted sweet potato, and onto the white cutting board. This one is ready.
Slurp. Time for more coffee before I start. The bitterness, the hungry heart of it waiting for me at the bottom, the longing in a cup of coffee — it’s all there, still. I sip, then gulp.
I curl the endive into itself, the tiny boat of it folding upward, shrugging away from the surface. Chop, chop, chop. Radicchio leaves, bright magenta almost too bright against this day’s grey light, stacked on top of each other, one after the other. The edges float upward. I roll them, tightly, the leaves squeaking beneath my fingers as I push them toward resistance, and then slice them up.
The house is silent. Is a house ever silent? There is the low thrum of the washing machine running, the sound of footsteps on the floor above, the music soaring over the fence from our neighbor’s radio next door. But today, all those sounds are dampened. I can only hear the knife, the squeak, the drizzle.
Avocado against knife has a clinging softness, a not wanting to let go. Endive is clean break. One side whole, the other cleaved. But avocado insists on lingering on the knife. I wipe it off.
I grab the mason jar with the murky brown liquid, moving it so the pumpkin seeds swirl and clink against the glass. Tink. Tink. Tink. I’m still there, swirling, a moment later, watching the parts that had settled away from the oil slowly come back into form. Just a drizzle, a quick wet shower, a light landing on sweet potato, endive, radicchio, and avocado. Salt in the palm of my hand, my fingertips oiled as they push away the sunflower seeds to fall below.
It’s time for lunch.
* * *
I can barely hear the keyboard click as I type these words. If I close my left ear, and type with my right hand, there is nothing but an isolating silence, accompanied by a high tiny ringing. The ear infection that blazed through me last week left my eardrum ruptured. I can’t hear out of my right ear, mostly. The only sounds I can hear are tinny high notes, occasionally. My daughter’s high-pitched giggling bores into my ear as squealing, 12 seconds after I hear it with my left ear. I’ve never wished for her to stop giggling before.
Music is too painful right now.
My doctor says it will come back in a few months. We hope. I must admit, I’m feeling pretty isolated by this. When I walk through a crowd of people, all I can feel is how quickly I want to leave. Sounds come ringing in from all directions and I have no idea how to pinpoint them. I cannot hear whispered conversations as I pass people. I can’t tell if the siren approaching our car is from behind me or straight toward. Being with more than 3 people at a time makes me feel anxious.
I find that I love reading a book more than ever now. I can settle down with one person’s story, one voice moving me from page to page, and feel fully there. No one needs me to hear to understand the subtle nuances of a George Saunders story. I can be inside a life without having to lean in and ask, “I’m sorry, but what did you say? And am I talking too loudly?”
When I sleep on my left side, I can’t hear a thing. The entire world shuts down.
This will pass. And there are, of course, worse fates than this. I’m trying to remind myself of that.
But right now, when I can’t hear very well, I’m feeling very quiet. And I treasure the sounds I do hear the thwack of a knife, the drizzle of viniagrette, the squeak of radicchio as I bend it on itself more than ever.
Lunch tastes better when I have listened to it.
* * *
This sweet potato salad was originally intended for ONE’s sweet potato day, a couple of weeks ago. The ear infections running through our house meant I couldn’t participate with the other bloggers at the time. However, as Irivin wrote: …”you can still sign the petition at ONE telling the world leaders that they need to continue to help reduce the 25 million kids who suffer from chronic malnutrition. Nearly 2 million of those kids die from lack of nutrition, and thats why the sweet potato was picked for a group of food bloggers as a key ingredient for them to create dishes. The sweet potato is considered a superfood, packed with crazy amounts of nutrition like beta-carotene (more than carrots), vitamin A and C, folate, iron, copper, calcium and fiber. On top of that, it grows in a multitude of places, with hundreds of different varieties.”
If you think about how much someone might hunger for a sweet potato, it helps put your own suffering into perspective. Including mine.
Here’s a list of the other bloggers who participated in Sweet Potato Day and what they made:
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sliced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil
salt and pepper
Put the pumpkin seeds, shallots, mustard, coriander, and champagne vinegar in the bowl of a food processor. Whirl them up until the pumpkin seeds start to break down. You’ll still have some chunks of pumpkin seed intact.
With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is fully incorporated into the vinaigrette. Repeat with the pumpkin seed oil. Turn off the food processor and taste the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 1/2 pint of vinaigrette.
To make this salad, roast a sweet potato in a 425° oven until it is soft to the touch but still a bit firm, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let it cool a bit. Slice up endive, radicchio, and avocado (not pictured here). Toss those on top of the sweet potato. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette.
This makes enough vinaigrette to last all week long, drizzled over roasted chicken, on other salads, or on top of rice. I like it with quinoa and roasted tofu. Play.