02 April 2014

Salads and Oatmeal

Once, either in my late teens or early 20s, on a trip driving through Maine with my family, we stopped at a country market, complex or outlet of a sort that looked exactly how I'd imagined a Maine strip mall might look like: i.e., not like a northern New Jersey one. A bit more...rustic, shall we say. 

Anyway, as sometimes occurs at malls and complexes, there was an event/giveaway happening and in another fluke of coincidence that also happened to be appropriately Maine-esque: the person of interest was Burt of Burt's Bees! And yes, he looked exactly like the drawing of his face on the products in his line. I noticed his skin was impeccable, like a child's and he was quite soft spoken and sedate in energy. He could have been 45 or 85; it was hard to tell. Naturally, I told him I buy his products, eagerly took some of the samples and as any beauty-conscious girl would do, got to asking him for skin advice beyond Seventeen magazine, which naturally led to, so, what do you eat? 

"Mostly salads and oatmeal," he said calmly. 

I think I just nodded, happy he didn't say avoid chocolate, and this and this, but I vividly remember the episode as a key moment of health advice I've received. Though my own needs, trials and errors have clearly rounded out my diet to include a lot more than salads and oatmeal, like, um chocolate, butter, coffee, wine, good pizza and protein to say the least, the purity of salads and oatmeal is rather undeniable. The message was: clean, simple, whole. It shouldn't be too much more complicated.

Let's talk about oatmeal for a second. It wasn't until yesterday that my preference for oats in granola and granola bar form was challenged by a humble bowl of toasted, cooked oatmeal. Perhaps you've already heard about it. Megan Gordon's recipe from her book has swept the foodie scene as makeover of the season. Oats done in this hybrid technique of a stove-top toast in a bit of butter followed by an 8 minute steam in a simmered liquid off the heat, yields cooked, separated grains and cancels out everything I didn't much care for in cooked oatmeal.  Say goodbye to soupy well-done oats and hello to a tender cereal that is simply just-cooked.  Top with your fixings and you may be a little wowed. Also, the cereal isn't super hot, but rather, just warm, so you can actually taste your toasted oats. I followed Melissa's version.

Another piece of health and what's more, sanity, advice I follow is from chef Tamar Adler: the magic of jar salads. No, not the mason jar layering kind, though that is pretty genius, but the concept: instead of spending a ton of time chopping and cooking on command or getting so bogged down by that endless business that you resort to unnecessarily buying everything prepared, let what you've already done guide you. 

Just make sure you have done something

The assumption is you've taken some shortcuts and been keeping things in jars. You've roasted a pepper, perhaps, or you've quick-pickled some onions, or you've saved last nights protein. You don't need a lot of variety here, confetti salads are kinda distracting, so you just need a block or two. We are going for humility with textural variance with a dose of crunch and heartiness. 

Take out anything in your jars a little before you want to eat, and put them on the counter to temper a bit. For this one I used chickpeas I had stored with a little garlic, salt oil and lemon, and I cheated, they were originally from a can, the pickled onions, leftover chicken breast I'd cooked and shredded, and round it out with a few raw stragglers: a handful greens, herbs, shavings of carrot, and a big lump of avocado. Grate a little cheese on too if you're feeling fancy. Bonus if you have some salad dressing made, but I don't always, so lemon, oil and Maldon also do the trick. Then, just assemble it with your hands (I'm sure Burt would approve) and plate it.

Farmer's Salad with Chicken 

Note: this salad is quite customizable to what you have...

Big handful greens, baby spinach, arugula, herb snips (I used chives)
Shaved raw carrot (or celery, scallion)
A portion of a roasted vegetable (I used asparagus)
An avocado half or third, some olives or both
Few shavings Parmesan
Pickled onions
Lemon, olive oil, salt or a dressing.

See you soon with a new sweet in tow, xoxo MN

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