Remember that first blush of new love, those early days when you were still keen to learn every little thing about your sweetheart? A casual glance around the back yard revealed the emerald hue of the grass, the red of the tomato plants, the coral of the peonies all mysteriously so much sharper and more intense, as if your world had suddenly graduated to HD. The woman at the A & P checkout was actually friendly for once, even smiling when she returned your change. Even your office cubicle, previously no more than a cramped, beige, barren receptacle, seemed to brighten a little, become a source of personal pride and production.
Ah, the unblemished enthusiasm of a new relationship, when you were still willing to do almost anything to please your partner. You want to go see the movie 10,000 BC? Sure, I’d love to, I’ve always been a huge fan of big game hunting! There’s an exhibit at the Science Center on “The Demographics of Star Trek: From Vulcan to Romulin and Beyond”? Well, count me in, I’m just fascinated by the mating habits of those pointy-eared dudes! Can we spend the weekend at my buddy Alfie’s helping him rebuild his 1972 Corvette engine? You betcha! Grease and metal–two of my favorite things!
In those early days, you would never dream of facing your beloved without having showered, shaved, or styled your hair. Mascara was meticulously applied; earrings carefully chosen to complement the pattern of your (new) skirt. And forays to Victoria’s Secret became a regular occurrence, so you could invest in frilly unmentionables you likely would never have glanced at otherwise (though I’m sorry, I could just never get behind the thong craze. Or get it behind me, either, for that matter).
Eventually, of course, you both relax and become accustomed to being together. Really, why bother with contacts the minute you leap out of bed, if you’re just reading the paper in your flannel robe at the kitchen table sipping coffee? And this old Counting Crows T-shirt is so much more comfy than those slippery, frilly babydolls, isn’t it? And let’s face it, cotton briefs just feel better under jeans. It’s the weekend–does it really matter if you walk the dogs in sweats and runners, or if you postpone that shower until after you’ve finished your gardening? You’re just going to sweat again, anyway.
Well, during those first starry-eyed few months of our relationship, before we both abandoned the faςade for good, the HH was still making an attempt to impress me. Um, let me rephrase that; it was probably more like during the first month or so that the HH was occasionally trying to impress me. Okay, maybe not a whole month. All right, fine; it was only once. But that one time was very impressive.
You see, the HH’s notion of “impressing me,” like his notion of everything else, was atypical. He isn’t one for flowers (which he has bought for me a total of two times in our 13 years together); or for giving me chocolates (twice); or jewelry (once). No, the HH’s concept of “how to impress a gal” was to cook for me. And, also characteristic of the HH, he went all out, planning a four-course dinner for me–and six guests.
I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that the “only” place he could buy his meat was the most expensive market in the city, and since he didn’t own any kitchen utensils or equipment, he bought them there, too, and since the recipe required a very expensive, French, red wine, he picked that up as well, and. . . 11 hours and a full week’s paycheck later, eight of us enjoyed a massive feast and hugely successful party that carried on until the single-digit hours of the morning.
The HH has never cooked since.
For my part, I felt I had to reciprocate. Throwing dinner parties in those heady days of my “social thirties” was no hardship, but I knew the dessert had to be spectacular. I happily put together a menu and spent the weekend cooking. And while I have no recollection of the main course that evening, I do recall that this salad kicked off the festivities, and became a repeated feature at parties all that summer. (Of course I remember the dessert as well: a towering concoction that was part meringue and part genoise, its strata stuck together with alternating layers of mocha buttercream and chocolate ganache, topped with handmade chocolate lace decorations and gold dragees. It made an incredibly impressive end to the meal–and breakfast the next morning).
In addition to being aesthetically appealing with its variety of shapes and colors, the salad offers a light yet satisfying first course or side dish. As we all know, it’s the dressing that “makes” a salad, and this one is magical. The jalapeno subtext underscores the fragrant, slightly sweet tarragon, all in tandem with the vibrant colors and textures of the veggies. You could probably sub almost any vegetables of your choice (I bet green beans and beets would go nicely), so feel free to change them up as you like.
About a week ago, I stumbled across the recipe on a wayward magazine page as I was leafing through my recipe folders. After a Proustian moment of salivating reverie, I decided to recreate the salad for dinner that night, grill or no grill.
As we sat across from each other at our unadorned kitchen table (the morning’s paper still piled off to the side), munching on the mélange of grilled veggies, herbs and seeds, the HH and I were momentarily transported back to that early summer of dinner parties and getting to know each other.
“I remember this one,” the HH remarked, a dreamy smile on his face. “This salad is terrific.” I may have even detected the hint of a long-lost gleam in his eye.
He may have been sporting a three-day stubble and ragged college-era T-shirt; I may have been still wearing my workout gear and glasses (I don’t even own contacts any more); the salad may have been more work than we’re used to these days, but it was worth it.
“Yes,” I replied, smiling at my sweetheart. “I”d say it’s very impressive.”
Grilled Vegetable Salad with Tarragon Dressing (suitable for ACD all stages)
adapted from Canadian Living magazine, September 2000
A great dish to make for a BBQ or buffet table. With its rainbow mix of colors and fragrant fresh herb dressing, this salad has something to please everyone.
1 each yellow and green zucchini
1 each sweet green and red pepper, cored
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large eggplant
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp (1 ml) each salt and pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
1 Tbsp (15 ml) chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar (for ACD: use apple cider vinegar)
5-8 drops plain liquid stevia, to taste
2 green onions, chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch each, fine sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
Cut both zucchini, both peppers, carrot and eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick slices. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, jalapeno, salt and pepper; add vegetables and toss to coat.
Place vegetables, in batches, on greased grill over medium heat; close lid and cook, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes or just until tender-crisp. Let cool on cutting board and then cut into 2 x 1/2 inch (5 x 1 cm) sticks. Set aside.
Prepare dresssing: In a large bowl, combine tarragon, lemon juice, vinegar, stevia, green onion, garlic, salt and pepper; gradually whisk in oil. Add vegetables and stir to coat. Serve sprinkled with sunflower seeds. Makes 6 servings. Will keep, covered, in refrigerator up to 2 days.
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