Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winter Survival

It's the little things that get us through winters like this, when the predominant sound some nights is the rumble and scrape of snowplows, and morning brings the shriek of car wheels spinning in icy parking spots. During blizzards, I've found myself looking forward to watching our neighbor's late-night shoveling routine, which involves pushing every flake of snow away from his house, off the curb, past the gutter, and all the way out into the middle of the street, where he deposits it into staggered piles reaching almost to the supermarket up the next block. After each heave, he stops to lean on his shovel and re-adjusts the old-fashioned cap balanced atop his head. Depending on how persistent the storm is, he might repeat this process several times in a night. For him, nearly getting whacked by speeding delivery men on mopeds is better than ending up with a permanent, trash-studded snow bank like the rest of the block. 

Being from parts farther south, I find that diversions such as these keep me going when those days in the minuses have knocked the breath out of me. There are other bright spots: the total makeover our brown and grey neighborhood undergoes with the first blanket of snow, and pouring a glass of big red wine as the sky goes dark and the flakes swirl in the streetlights. Slow braises, coffee with friends, root soup, warm boots, and, on the weekends, a trusty wood stove. Skiing with my girls and husband, and curling up to read "Busy Busy Town" with the warm two-year old. The weather forces us to huddle indoors together, bickering and joking our way through cabin fever but also sharing simple meals, 80's movies, and never-ending games of Monopoly. 

Lately, I’ve needed something not so seasonal and not so local to break me out of my winter torpor. And that something, very often, turns out to be as simple as a salad. It started with an obsessive stockpiling of avocados in all shades of ripeness, from impossibly hard and green in the fruit bowl, to nearly-there, to ebony outside/buttery inside in a special corner of the refrigerator. I’ve been dreaming about perfectly ripe avocados all winter, and of citrus fruits. And so they often find themselves tossed together in the salad bowl, tumbling around with a juicy dressing and handfuls of strong, dark greens, scattered with some toasted nuts and flaky sea salt. Give me your kale/Brooklyn jokes, but what I keep coming back to for this salad is finely sliced, raw lacinato (Tuscan) kale. Also good are arugula (but not the wimpy packaged kind) or watercress. You can use any good orange you happen to have, but a blood orange and a meyer lemon together are so much better. This duo, I’ve found, gives greater complexity of flavor than just a regular orange, and the taste is subtly different with each bite. Meyer lemons (which are sweeter than regular lemons) add surprising little bursts of tartness, and blood oranges have a hint of bitterness and greater depth of flavor that makes them more interesting than their paler cousins. All this brightness plays nicely against the suavity of the avocado, and for the crunch you can try toasted handfuls of sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or pine nuts. 

Soup is nice, but this pop of color — and vitamins — is sometimes the strongest medicine on the bleakest days. 
Winter Rescue Salad
Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized blood orange (or any other orange)
  • 1 small meyer lemon
  • 1 avocado, ripe but still firm
  • 2 fistfuls of dark, sturdy greens such as watercress or finely-chopped lacinato kale
  • 1 endive, thinly sliced, base and core removed
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds or pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or oven
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon white or red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Freshly ground pepper
Instructions: 1. Prepare citrus: “Supreme” segments of orange and/or meyer lemon by first cutting off ends, then standing on one of the flat ends. Using a sharp knife, cut down and around to remove all the skin, including the bitter white layer. Now, holding the orange in hand, cut into the segments along the dividing membranes, to release them. Reserve supremed segments and pith, separately. If you're using meyer lemons, cut the segments into smaller pieces. (here's a video if you're confused)

"Supreming" citrus

2. Squeeze the leftover membrane into a small bowl to capture all the juice. Whisk in mustard and vinegar. Whisk in oil, gradually, until incorporated. Taste, and add more oil if you think dressing needs it — which will depend on the tartness of your fruit and how much juice it yields. Add salt and pepper to taste. 


3. Slice or dice avocado. If using lacinato (Tuscan) kale, cut it into very thin ribbons crosswise. You can include the stalk. Put greens and citrus segments together in a salad bowl. Drizzle the dressing over gradually, not using it all at once, so you can control the amount — you may have some left over. For sturdier greens, you can let the salad marinate in its dressing for a few minutes, up to a half hour. Next, add the avocado and endive and toss gently. Add a little more dressing if you wish. Serve on plates or in bowls, scattering nuts and flaky salt over top of the salad at the last minute.

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