Monday, April 02, 2012

Perfect Vinaigrette / Healthy Lunch Bowl

I am having the kind of day where I just want to tell you about salad dressing, on the one hand and, on the other, I want to cry in your arms about the babies. Ben as the Major General in Pirates of Penzance. Birdy with a Frisbee-induced (and proudly cherished) black eye. My running to-do list that has been in continuous operation for so long that, when I just scrolled down pages and pages to its very bottom, it says, “Twyla? Boris? Toby? Gemma?” about the baby I was very briefly pregnant with, oh, 5 or 6 years ago now.

Did Ben *love* his ruffly, ruffly costume? As a matter of fact, he did, thanks so much for asking. 
Shiner, Day 6: The Yellow Phase. When Birdy's sweet P.E. teacher called fretfully to apologize that Birdy had gotten hurt, I said, "What--did you just meet Birdy? She's thrilled to have a black eye!" And it was true. 
It is, as they say, all good. It is. I needed another baby like a hole in the head. And lest you think my to-do list is simply a catalogue of ancient grief, a few lines up from that it says, “naturally occurring objects such as pit, twig, shell, or stem fragments—funny?” There is also the pressing question “trust-fund neuroscience rats?” and some notes for a story I want to write about a phantom phantom limb. Also this Birdy quote: "I put out all these perfect tiny meals for them, but what if fairies are actually big, and they're, like, starving and annoyed?" (And I call it my to-do list! Can you see why my house isn’t exactly spotless? Maybe I need a to-do list that’s separate from my random-shit-to-ponder list.)

Anyways. I have posted before my notes on teaching Ben to make salad, along with our old go-to dressing recipe. Only we have a new current favorite, and I thought I’d share it, since it makes a nice, big batch of salad dressing, which we use all week. 
He is the very model of a modern major measurer.
Ben photocopied the recipe and stuck it to the fridge for easy reference. Sensible child.
Oh, did you want to see more of the petty-crime collage on the fridge? We've been clipping bits from the absurdist Amherst Bulletin police blotter for as long as I can remember. We have so many good ones.
The dressing is a little garlicky, lip-smackingly vinegary, perfectly salted, and just barely herbal. Also, it tastes a little like Wishbone Italian, in the best possible way, without any creepy after-taste or anything. And when we have the dressing already made in the fridge, I’m inclined to make healthy salads for my own lunch, which is huge, since I’m always craving chicken wings or a steak sandwich and need to be sure to keep myself well-fed so I don’t dart out anywhere and spend my hard-earned scratch.

Basic dinner salad: romaine and cukes.
Five-minute Healthy Lunch Bowl.

Perfect Vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup

This is adapted from the “Greek Vinaigrette” recipe in The Family Dinner, a book I am friendly towards but haven’t yet used very much. Although Ben did make the Greek Meatballs from it, and they were fabulous. I know. Ben made meatballs! Major General cutie-head.

1 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram (or oregano, if you prefer)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much are you even paying attention?)

Shake it up in a jar. Store it in the fridge.

Healthy Lunch Bowl
Serves 2 or 3

Because I am live-blogging my own lunch, I’m showing you exactly how I made this—today. However, in another moment, I would have made it differently, depending on what we had around. As always, I think you need a mix of tender and crunchy, rich and fresh and, ideally, a little bit spicy. (And is it just me, or are you now thinking of saying “Don’t be such a lunch bowl!” to people who are pissing you off?)

2 cups cooked pinto beans, or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
2 stalks celery, chopped, with lots of chopped leaves
½ English cucumber, seeded and sliced
1 can oil-packed tuna, drained unthoroughly
1/3 cup green pumpkin seeds, sautéed in a teaspoon of olive oil until just browning
1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapenos
Perfect Vinaigrette

Combine everything in a bowl and add dressing to taste. Try to be glad you didn’t go out for the hot wings.

Other things I would add or swap in for other stuff
  • chickpeas (my usual bean for this salad)
  • crumbled feta
  • capers
  • olives
  • pickled beets
  • parsley or other herbs
  • a handful of arugula or other greens
  • sliced almonds
  • raisins or dried cherries
  • sliced radishes and/or carrots
  • leftover cooked vegetables
  • leftover cooked grains (warmed briefly in the microwave)
Lunch bowl, before tossing.
Michael, finishing the lunch bowl.



  1. I love making big Ball jars full of dressing to keep in the fridge- then if friends stay unexpectedly for dinner, I pull it out to serve with whatever we are having, and rather than the generic and sad looking bottle with a label from someplace sad and generic like Target, I have this smug looking jar of dressing. This is always impressive, even if I am serving Pop Tarts or frozen pb&j sandwiches for dinner, everyone will always gawk over homemade salad dressing! Great recipie! Ben is a doll, and I love Birdy's black eye- she reminds me of my daughter who will proudly tell anyone who will listen about her various bumps and bruises. I think we should refer to those babies that never made it here to "phantom babies," but not in a creepy way. Just to acknowledge that they are still with us somehow, that we never quite forget. Not to make light out of miscarriage (or maybe I should, is it helpful??), but I think about my own phantom baby sometimes, and look at my two beautiful children, and sigh with gratitude for all three.

    1. ladidah2:27 AM


    2. Erika B.8:12 PM

      I am sorry to hear of your miscarriage. I was 2000% convinced you aborted the heck out of it, so glad to be wrong on this one.

  2. I make lunch bowls, too. Except no one likes them but me. And... sometimes not even me. There are days when only hot wings will suffice. Sigh.

  3. Birdy has the reddest lips and the most lovely face, bruise and all.

    This salad dressing sounds like the one the cook at my daughter's pre-school makes, the one which incites her to eat THREE helpings of salad at lunch, which never happens at home, of course.

    I too have a phantom child (actually 2), which I don't think about much but every now and then I muse, "that baby would have been 2, now, or 8." And I don't know what to think about that because life feels wonderfully full with two kids. But still.

    1. ah, 6512, I am so sorry for your losses. I know just what you mean. xo

  4. Hugs for Birdy and her shiner, even though you assure us that she's delighted to have that big ol' black eye! My son would be too, I know. He loved it when his bandage (from an unfortunate bread-slicing incident) came off while he slept and he awoke to blood stains on his jammies. He wanted to show everyone at school. (blech!)

    And I had to tell you I laughed out loud when I got to the "are you even paying attention?" part of the dressing recipe. I can't wait to make this, and THANK YOU for this, since I cannot ever seem to make a decent, tasty and satisfying salad at home when left to my own devices. Going out for a SALAD seems so lame!

  5. Robin5:54 PM

    My favorite part of today's post, not that the whole thing isn't enjoyable, is the wacky police blotter. My ex and I once not only saved but mailed to a friend an item from our county's blotter that read something like this: "Attempt was made to enter business through roof. Suspects appear to have been chased away by a swarm of bees."

    And the musings on the babies-who-weren't: I've never been able to pinpoint why I seem to have felt not much grief, at least not longterm, over my own miscarriage, and your name experimentation made me realize what it was. I had a miscarriage between my two kids, and I think of it like a first, failed attempt at my son. If that baby had been born, somehow in my mind, it would have been my Nick, just arrived earlier than he actually did. That is, of course, illogical, but somehow that's how my brain and heart worked it out between them. I never quite saw that I was thinking that way until now.

    1. That's funny, Robin--I get it, I do. These seem like the only possible kids to me too. . .

  6. I am nearly weeping at the police blotters. My mother would have loved this. She ripped them out too. I remember one that read "a suspicious box was moving down Maple Street".

  7. heather7:53 PM

    you put out that little snip of your unborn but alive child, and then other really wonderful things, but all the while I am left wondering about the little one. and I see a million things together, all beautiful, though some quite sad.

  8. Anonymous8:23 PM

    We LOVE those odd police bits. We never thought of clipping the good ones.....must consider! Lunch Bowl looks yummy and I have been considering doing something similar to take to work - especially focused on whole grains - so once again you have inspired me.
    I don't love Oregano..........maybe tarragon instead.

  9. I laughed so hard I cried over your petty crime collage. So funny! Oh, and thanks for the vinaigrette!

  10. Phantom baby--I like that. I have three phantom babies, I guess. I miscarried soon after marrying 19 years ago. We weren't ready for a baby, so I guess it was a blessing. But, I often think, I could have an adult child now. Then, a year before my first child was born, I miscarried twins. It was heartbreaking and I thought I'd never move past it. But, had they been born, my almost-10 year old boy would not have been. I can't imagine my life without him.

    1. exactly. I'm so sorry, though, babsiegirl.

  11. i want to munch that lunch.

  12. Enquiring minds want to know. Were you and Michael reliving your youth by Puffer's Pond??

    1. Ha ha ha. If this Subaru's rockin'. . .

  13. I'm sorry about the baby that wasn't, and glad for an actual salad dressing recipe, since I just shake up the ingredients in a jar and hope I get the proportions right and, all too often, I don't.

    Also: the roasted cauliflower soup is AMAZING -- I tripled the recipe for a neighborhood soup night and it vanished. It's also the food that has reconciled my nine month old to spoon-feeding -- she'll actually open her mouth baby-bird-style for it, rather than flailing to knock the spoon out of my hand. This is huge for us -- maybe I won't have to nurse her till she's eight.

  14. This looks like the dressing my grandmother used to make but I never found out the recipe to. I can't wait to try it and see if it taste the same. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. Oh, Catherine. I was just remembering this morning the time you wrote about taking a pregnancy test in the bathroom at some store, and how it was negative and you were relieved, but you wrote something really beautiful about how your heart was sitting on the curb with its head in its hands. I loved that, obviously. I also wanted -- and tried really hard to have -- another baby a few years ago. But it wasn't meant to be, and I can see now that it was for the best. But still. You know. xo

    1. Anonymous12:25 PM

      me too! I think of that line she wrote when I think I want another baby, the greedy heart sitting on the curb with its head in its hands, what a great way to put it!

    2. I totally remember that heart-sitting-on-the-curb moment too - vividly. I too have 2 lost babies, one before each of the pregnancies I carried to term. My feelings about them are complicated. I wonder who they would have been, and I am so grateful for the girls I have now.

      Also, I love salad dressing. I usually just make a little in the bottom of the bowl before I toss in the greens and such, but I like the idea of having this in a jar for the week. Thank you, Catherine. Yes, we are paying attention. To the salt and especially the rest of it.

    3. Shelley7:21 PM

      I too, remember the greedy heart line, and could not have felt more exactly in tune with it, as grateful as I am for my beautiful and lucky life, one always wonders.

      And to echo Library Lauren, yes, Catherine, we are paying attention to the salt but especially to the rest of it.

    4. oh, you guys. sigh. xo

    5. Perhaps my favorite moment of Catherine Newman writing ever--that negative pregnancy test in the restroom at Target, and for a minute neither of you knew how the other felt--if it was a good thing or not. And you heart sitting on the curb with its head in its head in its hands. Will never, ever forget that line. The power of a writer!

  16. How much do I LOVE Ben's costume?! It's fantastic! And he looks so handsome (and yes, grown-up) in it!

    I can relate to Birdy's pride......a similar incident happened to me as a child and I was pretty proud to show off my toughness :)

  17. Anonymous12:19 PM

    You are just the best! Modern major measurer- snort! Man with bucket of sand told to put it back where he found it- soo crazy and funny! and, I hope this doesn't sound too stalker-ish, but Birdy has the most beautiful set of lips. Too weird to write? I think you know I mean it only in the most honest way of a Mom admiring how those kids have grown (mine and yours)! I comment anonymously b/c I cannot figure out another way- Kimberly in NH!

  18. I was planning to ask you for more lunch ideas. Thank you for reading my mind and for your beautiful writing.

  19. Angela1:19 PM

    Oh, the phantom babies... I have two, too. One before either of my children and one between. Had they been born, I wouldn't have had the lovely children I do have (even though they would surely have been lovely too). And these two children are just perfect for me.

    I love the clippings on the fridge!! But... Twyla? ??

  20. Jennifer1:00 PM

    I made this lunch bowl with chickpeas, sliced almonds (instead of pepitas), green olives (instead of jalapenos) and wild pole-caught tuna. It was one of the most delicious and satisfying meals I have EVER had. Thank you!

  21. Too embarrassed to tell you how many things I have put this on so far. Delicious and yes, perfect. (Which I just typed as "pefect," which is, well, you know.) Thanks.

  22. ...and there I was thinking I was the only one with a notebook filled with hysterical police report clippings from the Amherst Bulletin!

  23. Anonymous9:49 AM

    Wait! I thought you shuddered at oregano? Does this make it palatable? (I too, am not a fan)....

    1. no, no--we use marjoram instead!

  24. Anonymous9:51 AM

    PS: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Family Dinner cookbook--not only are the recipes delish and child friendly (my daughters choose from all the time), but the ideas for conversation, games, etc are spot on! This is one of the few cookbooks I actually bought after rechecking 100x from library. Highly recommended!

  25. Anonymous2:06 PM

    ¿Have you tried fresh oregano? Is a lot softer than dried...
    Wonderful post, love


  26. Anonymous8:00 PM

    I think I'm the person that was trying to "relive their youth" in that police blotter...LOL. Do you know when you got that clipping? Was it sometime around March-April 2010?

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. After falling off the proverbial health wagon last week on vacation by stuffing my cram-hole full of bloody mary's and fried - well, EVERYTHING, I made this last night in an attempted food exorcism and it was THE BOMB. Thank you kindly, little lady!