Monday, July 6, 2009

The Lifeguard Post Salad

Let me set the scene out of courtesy, it is really quite lovely and I earnestly invite the company. I sit at a tall cafe table on a busy street corner in the financial district of a downtown metropolis. It booms with self importance during the day, it retreats in honest humility at night. The chair I perch in is wide and long, with giant arms. It resembles the lookout of a lifeguard, however, in place of weathered wood it is fashioned of recycled artificial plastic. This is the hallmark 21st century American culture, we have such pride in our technology and such shame about our excess. The skillful barista crossed this cultural tightrope when she commented on my order of a large cappuccino (4 shots) with an identification designed to put my shame at ease, saying that she too "needs her caffeine". Then she went to work on the drink, remaking it over twice to give me a beverage that resembles a cookie cutter factory standard drink. Her perfectionism at the task of piling frothed milk into my cup is likely born of habitual experiences with customers who expect consistency out of everything.

Consistency is everywhere. It is a course in customer service training. Volumes are written on the topic I am sure. "Americans want consistency and convenience"I imagine this phrase as it bounces around the board room table. These values drive our culture, yet I cannot help but feel a little restless and bored with consistency. I have been told my whole life that convenience is what I want. As I walk through the chilly aisles of the grocery store, and see the packages of pre-made entree's, pre-sliced bread, tubes of baked goods, ready diced onions and frozen cooked rice, I feel a heavy sadness. "Convenience" crowds out "experience" as the pre-cut vegetables and frozen entrees take over the shelves that once housed raw materials.

I see now that I have been monopolizing the conversation, your nervous glancing to the side tells me that I am making you uncomfortable. I am not trying to evangelize. I have pre-made foods in my kitchen. I enjoy convenience foods too, at times! I made a tuna salad today from a can, and I used store bought mayonnaise, it sometimes tastes better to me than the homemade kind! Don't leave, please, here have some salad.

Ah, there is nothing quite like the smell of something fresh cooking in the kitchen. I feel sure that knowing foods intimately with my hands as I prepare a fresh dinner has health benefits which cannot be quantified in numbers. Tell me how does it feel to you when you walk into your home, and smell the warm steam of fresh bread in the oven. The sizzle of onion and garlic popping on the stove, and that feeling of anticipation that is delivered by the thoroughly inhaled aroma cannot be served from a convenience package.

Um, how is your salad? Yes, it is similar to a "chicken Waldorf" salad, but I decided to explore some flavors that I felt would go well with tuna. How does a salad rise to fame the way the chicken Waldorf did? I have often pondered this question. This particular salad is made with tuna, grape halves, hazelnuts, fennel and tarragon. Do you like it? I am quite pleased with how it turned out, here is the recipe:

The Salad
Rinse and slice in half 1 1/2 cups of red grapes. Add 1 small head fennel, sliced and diced small. Add 2 cans rinsed drained white tuna in water. Bring together with 1 cup mayonnaise. Add 1 cup roasted, unsalted hazelnuts. Add 1 Tbsp tarragon, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Stir well, serve on a bed of chopped romaine lettuce.

Christina's vote: "a magic carpet ride"

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