I love cheese. When I was in second grade, I made an All About Me book. For my “favorite foods” page, I cut out and pasted on a giant tower of cheese from a magazine. The tower o’ cheese was so tall, it stuck out of both ends of my book. Almost 30 years later, I still feel the same adoration for cheese. Hard, soft, stinky, tangy, smooth, creamy, blue, yellow, white, speckled- YES! It’s a must-have, super comfort food for me. Maybe it’s because my babysitter fed me grilled muenster cheese sandwiches every day at noon, and I ate them in front of Family Feud. Whatever the reason- this will not ever change.
You wanna know what else will never change? I am a teacher. It’s true. No matter how many times I have left the field of education- for a different district, for a new career, for a new school with ideals that mirrored with my own, or for the protection of my sanity- I find myself teaching again. It is as natural and innate as my love of cheese. It’s comforting and empowering. It is who I am.
The other morning, I tutored a student, who I’ve known for years- she came through my school as a third grader, but was never in my class. Randomly, I ran into her and her mom while I was treating myself to a seriously overdue pedicure. We chatted, and it turns out this unique and lovely (taller than me) girl is having some trouble with Algebra. Right up my alley, I agreed to help for an hour a week at a local coffee shop. The rush that I felt the whole time I was working with this young lady was intense. I could see her learning before my eyes! She’s not super excitable by nature, but she exclaimed, “You just say it so much cooler than the book does!” and, “You really made me understand clearly!”. My ability to relate to students and to lead them to understanding is one of my greatest gifts. I am so thankful that it is ingrained in the patchwork of my being- it is powerful and palpable and incredibly rewarding.
Nothing is better than big, fat gratitude from a student. In their own sweet words.
Recently, my two loves have been colliding. Out of the blue, I received a call from a woman who works for Emory. She is a Mental Health Case Manager, and part of her job is to coordinate special monthly classes for her patients to attend. She found my card at a The Little Tart Bake Shop and asked if I would be interested in teaching a Healthy Eating Workshop in April. The crowd would be comprised of adults with varying levels of mental and physical challenges. Ages could range from teenagers to senior citizens. Volunteer opportunity only- she wouldn’t be able to pay me. You know I signed right up!
When I tell you that I had the absolute best time teaching this crew about healthy eating, menu planning, locally available and seasonal fruits and veggies, I am not kidding. Going in blind, to a room of people I have never met, and speaking as an “expert” about a topic that I wasn’t sure they would even be interested in, was daunting to say the least. But WHAT FUN!!! Our conversation was lively. Ideas and opinions were flying around the room- most of them appropriate- some not so much. : ) The participants were shocked when I showed them the kale
and swiss chard
that I had picked out of my friend Chris’s garden
right in Oakhurst. And they were skeptical about the couscous salad I was creating for them, which included that fresh kale. Naturally, I made the session as interactive as possible- having folks touch, smell, eyeball, and shake ingredients. The participants helped me mix up the dressing for the salad and shouted out awesome questions and comments all along the way. In the end, they loved the couscous salad- the majority of the folks were surprised and delighted. People came back up to the table for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. They shared little tidbits that they had learned during the session. And I think I smiled for a full 24 hours after the class. I had such a ball combining food and teaching together. I felt like I was on my own silly little cooking show. Pure joy.
Oddly enough, I received another phone call this week. This time, a woman is planning an Environmental and Nutrition Fair for an inner city Charter school. Middle schoolers (eek!) will be my audience. I am thrilled about this upcoming opportunity to teach again. Life is funny – the way my crooked path has gotten me to my happy place, and the way I am drawn back to educate again and again. I am amazed by how much I have the capacity to learn and grow every day. I am humbled.
Now that I’ve had time to convey all of that wonder to you, perhaps I should share a little something that you can eat!!! Maybe I can spark a new idea for you! Let’s talk local springy goodness.
A few weeks back, we visited the Decatur Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. And there were some beautiful vegetables!
Oh how I wish Adam craved mushrooms incessantly like I do! These are sooo pretty- from Deep South Mushroom Company. Little works of art.
Steve Miller’s Farm had bright, vibrant broccolini that was totally delicious.
I’ve actually never seen fresh asparagus at a local market. Greenleaf Farms had these beauties on their table and I just couldn’t resist.
Most dazzling to me at this particular market was a new-ish table.
Luca and Lauren from Le Tre Lune have taken over for Katherine (Ivabell Acres) at Glover Family Farm. Apparently, the Glover Family Farm is part of the earliest, grassroots Georgia Organics initiatives. Luca and Lauren are now working the land and their loot was impressive. We absconded with a bunch of their carrots
and these show-stoppers.
Colorful inspiration at its best- these beets became the star of a fresh, satisfying, salad extravaganza.
Springy Beet and Asparagus Salad: Preheat oven to 425°.
1 bunch carrots
2 bunches beets (about 6 medium)
1 small bunch fresh asparagus
2 small heads artisan lettuce, or one large head sweet lettuce of your choice
1/2 Cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 Cup macadamia nuts, roasted or toasted lightly in a dry pan
First, I separated my beet greens
from the roots.
I sauteed the beet greens on their own later and gave them to a client of mine who is in LOVE with beets. As far as the roots, I scrubbed them well and trimmed away the long, spindly parts.
Next, I wrapped the beets in little foil packages
and drizzled them with a touch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I closed up the pouches and let the beets roast for about 30 minutes. (Roasting time will vary depending on the size of your beets.) When they are ready, you’ll be able to pierce them easily with a paring knife. While the beets roasted, I washed my artisan lettuce
and then spun it dry in my salad spinner.
If you don’t have a spinner, invest in one, STAT! They aren’t very expensive, but they are absolutely necessary to have on hand when you’re dealing with farm fresh veggies. Greens of all kinds carry lots of dirt, even after multiple washes. Spinning my lettuce dry helps to ensure my dressing will stick and maintain its flavor and texture, rather than just becoming runny and watered down.
Speaking of dressing,
when reading all about beets, I noticed that many, many recipes paired beets and oranges. With all due respect, I always have to do something a little skewed from the norm. I thought- why not go with a Honey Tangerine?
They were shipped from Florida and available at the DeKalb Farmers Market. Tangerines tend to be a bit sweeter than oranges. I knew my salad would have lots of savory components, so the sweetness would be welcome. It worked swimmingly!
Honey Tangerine Vinaigrette
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, peeled
juice of 1 honey tangerine (of course, you could substitute orange juice here!)
2 T champagne vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Place ingredients in a small food processor or in a tall cup for blending. (I used my immersion blender.) Blend the ingredients to incorporate them well. Stream in Extra Virgin Olive Oil slowly while you blend, a few Tablespoons up to about a 1/4 of a Cup, until you like the consistency. Stop and taste. Adjust seasoning to your liking. Voila!
With the dressing completed, and delicious, we could move on to the asparagus.
I snapped the end off of each stalk where it naturally bent and broke. Then, I tossed the asparagus in olive oil, salt and pepper. Our grill was already on, because Adam was planning to grill me one of the best cheeseburgers I have ever eaten in my life. Yes- it’s true. Beautiful, healthy, fresh, crisp salad paired with a big, fat, juicy burger. Oh my, I’ll tell you all about it.
Anyway…we grilled the asparagus a few minutes per side,
just until the asparagus fell right off my fork when I pierced it through the stalk. That’s a tried and true trick. These fresh guys actually took a bit longer to cook than the store-bought asparagus I usually get.
We let those cool, because I wanted the whole salad to be cold before serving.
The roasted beets were tender, so it was time to make it look like a crime scene in my kitchen.
To peel the beets, I wait until they are cool enough to handle comfortably, and then just press my thumb into the skin and kind of nudge it. The skin pulls away easily. You’ll be surprised! I tried my best to keep the redness contained, because I wanted each beet to be able to maintain its own beautiful hue. So, I peeled the dark ones first, and washed my hands promptly.
Like Nature’s jelly beans, right?!?!
It’s all about to come together…
We scattered our lettuce around a square platter and gingerly placed our beets all around. I wanted beets to be prominent in almost every bite. We used a peeler to create pretty ribbons of our fresh, local carrots and added them to the party. Also, we cut our grilled asparagus into bite-sized pieces and laid them on top.
As if that wouldn’t be delicious enough on its own, it was time to layer on the salty and crunchy parts! Goat cheese is a common pairing when it comes to beets. Naturally, I opted for something a little different. I wanted the brininess of feta against those sweet beets and honey tangerine dressing.
Last, but certainly not least, I sprinkled on a hearty portion of macadamia nuts. They brought a rich, creaminess to the dish. Too pretty to eat, you think? NAH!! We drizzled our dressing on and tossed to lightly coat all of the components.
When I tell you that this was like a seriously happenin’ party in my mouth, I am not exaggerating. The way the flavors and textures danced together was incredibly whimsical and satisfying. Sweet, salty, tangy, crunchy, plus a little char(m) from the grill. It was magical.
As I told you earlier, we paired this amazing, healthy, bright, shiny salad with
a big, fat, juicy, Brasstown Grassfed Beef burger that Adam lovingly seasoned and shaped and expertly cooked. Inspired by the burger at Port of Call in New Orleans, it was piled high with good quality cheddar cheese and, say it with me, bacon.
I found it astonishing, and maybe a little comical or ironic, that I was experiencing the same feelings of satisfaction and heartiness from my salad and my burger. Juice dripping down my hands, crunchy veggies in my mouth. I was approaching the point of sensory overload -teetering at the edge- just the way I like it. Wow. It was an unreal dinner moment.
Whether you opt to just try the salad, leaving out the burger, or simply roast up some beautiful beets, or try out a new type of dressing, I hope that you will be inspired. You could certainly top the salad with grilled salmon or chicken. You could leave out the asparagus and create the whole thing without the grill. But I’d say, trying the combination of beets, feta, macadamia nuts, and a sweet-ish, citrus-y dressing will knock your socks off.
Here’s hoping that you are having a wonderful and delicious Spring Day.
Happy cooking and eating to you!