The Verge of Vacation

If you have been wondering why the blog has been so silent for the past few weeks, it is because we went off on a short vacation to visit family in Ohio for a bit. We’re back home now, and I finally have a little time to go through photos and catch up on my writing.

How do you prepare for a trip? I baked cookies and crackers to pack in our bags; fed my sourdough starter; pulled, washed, blanched and froze spinach that was starting to bolt in the garden; made jars of dulce de leche to use up extra milk; and tried my darnedest to clear out the refrigerator as I considered our last few meals. But I also wanted to keep things healthy, knowing the havoc that vacations can wreak on a real food family.

We have been eating loads of salad in recent weeks, as we try to keep up with what our garden is producing. My go-to salad is a basic one: lettuce and maybe spinach tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, some sort of seasonal fruit (strawberries lately), toasted nuts for crunch, and some crumbles of goat cheese if we happen to have it on hand. After a while, change is good, however, so I have tried my hand at a few new dressings lately: green goddess with avocado and fresh herbs, creamy preserved lemon, and my dad’s all-time favorite salad dressing, the oddly-named French. I rooted out all the storebought dressings from the refrigerator, but my mom has been storing an unopened bottle of French at the back of the pantry, full of high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and one of these days when my dad isn’t looking, I am going to clean that pantry out too. Considering I can now make a healthier and equally tasty version from scratch in minutes, hopefully he won’t ever miss the bottle!

French dressing kind of leaves me at a loss as far as what flavors to pair with it in a salad, however. The first one I tried had homemade garlicky croutons, shredded carrot, and hardboiled eggs, which seemed to work pretty well but involved more work than I like to put into a salad. This time around, I decided on a whim to pickle some sliced shallots, and the crisply sweet-sour rings melded nicely into the tang of the dressing. Pickled vegetables usually stump me, but I really loved this one and can see all sorts of uses for it, starting with my tuna sandwich!

To go with the salad, I made a kitchen-sink frittata for dinner, using up all of our remaining eggs, the last of a tub of sour cream and a heel of bread, some spinach from our garden, and a small purple cauliflower. It was not only a light and tasty (not to mention colorful) dinner for a warm evening, but an excellent breakfast as we ran out the door to the airport.

Homemade French Dressing

1/4 C ketchup or tomato paste
1/3 C olive oil
2 T sugar
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 C onion, chopped
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Put all ingredients together in a blender and puree until homogeneous and emulsified. Makes about 2/3 C dressing, and can be stored in the fridge for a week or two.

Source: Slightly adapted from Penniless Parenting.

Pink Pickled Shallots

I cut this recipe in half and got a half pint jar of pretty pickled shallot rings; I also sliced the shallots on my mandoline.

3/4 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C water
1/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp pickling salt (or 1 tsp kosher salt)
1 bay leaf, torn in half
2 tarragon sprigs
2 thyme sprigs
3/4 lb shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise (about 2 C)

In a saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, bay, and herb sprigs. Add the shallots, reduce the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes.

Pack the shallots, herbs and liquid in a pint jar; cap the jar and let it cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator. The shallots will be ready to eat in a day or two, and will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or more.

Source: The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich, pp. 292-293.

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