Right now, at this very minute, I’m sitting at my desk, eating a salad I made last night while talking to my cousin Melissa, the cell phone balanced uncomfortably between my right ear and shoulder. It’s a good salad, romaine lettuce with tomatoes, feta cheese, red onions and cucumber. And a lemon-honey salad dressing I made myself (I have a salad dressing gift. It will take me far).
I come from a family of salad eaters. When my mom was growing up, in her suburban Philadelphia, atheist/Jewish family, there was a salad on the table every night. Except Thursdays, that was the maid’s night off (the fact that my mom grew up with a maid blew my mind for most of my childhood. But that’s another story, for another day), and then they would go to Horn and Hardart’s. So what if the salad was mostly iceberg lettuce and pale pink tomatoes, it was salad at a time when most of the country was getting the bulk of their vegetable intake from a can. Part of the motivation behind the salad was my grandmother’s omnipresent diet (she spent 50 years dieting, had a stroke in her late 70’s and spent her last 10 years eating caramel candies and spare ribs), but hey, at least it got some roughage into her family’s diet.
They were eating salads on the other side of the family tree as well. When my dad was born, the youngest of three boys, his family lived on a farm outside of Alexandria, VA (land that has since been swallowed into the suburbs). I’ve been told that there was a pretty intense vegetable garden on their property in those days, the bounty of which regularly made it to the table in one form or another. My grandma Bunny’s salads were a little greener and a little closer to the soil than those my mom was eating.
I grew up eating salads my mom’s salads. They carried traces of her salad heritage, but were more directly influenced by the healthy foods movement of the 1970’s, with sprouts, corn, beans and wheels of unpeeled carrot. In many families, you can trace their unique history, growth and change through the food. In my family I choose to mark it through salads. I time travel via the stained index card that carries Bunny’s recipe for spinach salad with bacon and mushrooms, through sprouts and yes, even through iceburg lettuce and pink tomatoes. Someday, may my future children find connection through romaine lettuce with honey-lemon vinaigrette.