A Tired Older Woman: Loses Weight and Keeps It Off! by Annie Acorn.
One of my earliest memories is a driving trip to New England, when I was a small child. We had left my younger sister at home on the other side of the duplex with my paternal grandmother and my great-aunt, so I was traveling alone with my parents. How special I felt!
Heading home from Niagara Falls, we passed over what my mother referred to as the 1000 Island Bridge.
“See all of those tiny islands?” She pointed to the water below. “Those are the 1000 Islands that gave their name to the dressing.”
I can still see in my mind’s eye all of those many islands spread out below.
And so began my lifetime love affair with this tangy salad add-on. I’ve tried other dressings, and I’ve even latched onto some of them. You can always find a bottle of Ranch in my fridge. Occasionally, I have a taste for Russian or Bleu Cheese, and I will buy a bottle of Green Goddess whenever I can find one, just for old times’ sake.
At one time or another, my mother introduced me to each of these options, but her personal favorite was always French dressing, which at one time had been thought to be very sophisticated. Throughout my childhood, salad was never put on our dining table without it.
When I say salad, you must remember that this was over half a century ago. Bags of prewashed lettuce were completely unknown. I had learned of avocados only from alphabet teaching tables, and I had never seen a cherry tomato.
A salad, as we knew it in our home, always consisted of iceberg lettuce – sometimes just a wedge of it with a drizzle of dressing. Occasionally, some carrot coins would accompany it, along with some rough chopped tomato. If we were really lucky, a boiled egg would be sliced and added for decoration. Always, always, always the bottle of burnt orange French dressing was there, often as many as five times in a week.
After a while, I came to think that it was haunting me. I rebelled. I gave up salad for Lent. Once Easter had passed, I became very adept at pushing the green stuff around on my plate.
Thankfully, my husband never really cared for French dressing either, having endured a similar experience during the years of his youth. Unless Mother was visiting, I never brought a bottle of the orange liquid into our home, and as soon as she left, I pitched what was left. I’m not sure that my sons ever tasted the stuff. Sometimes I wonder if I denied them a pleasure.
Perhaps as an additional level to my rebellion, I also searched out other lettuces. A lovely southern lady, who lived at the end of our street in East Tennessee, introduced me to leaf lettuce at a luncheon one day. I was hooked, and I never looked back.
Quickly, I added romaine and red leaf to my repertoire. Arugula added its signature bite, and bibb tossed in its buttery flavor. A spinach lover from birth, I now discovered it for the first time in its raw form, and its tender young leaves became a critical component of most salads prepared in my home.
Jacques Pepin introduced me to a Frisee-based salad with a soft-fried egg perched atop it. I had now died and gone to Heaven – no matter that it was chicory in disguise. Pretty soon, I was even drinking the stuff in my coffee.
Prewashed bags of salad greens began to appear in my grocery store’s produce aisle – what a miracle! Mixed greens, baby greens, spring greens, Italian greens – they soon became bywords, as well as real timesavers in my overly busy world. My bright red salad spinner disappeared beneath a counter without so much as a tear shed at its departure.
I could have happily rolled on forever, but Fate, as it so often does, soon intervened. “Salmonella Found in Pre-washed Spinach!” Headlines shouted in a way that could not be ignored.
The next time I needed some salad greens, I surprised myself. I reached for a tight, round head of iceberg lettuce. In a moment of indecision, subconsciously I had run to the safety and security of my childhood.
Living alone at this stage of my life, I almost didn’t know what to do with it. Out of habit, I began to line up cherry tomatoes, a cucumber, and a carrot along the counter, but then I changed gears.
Having returned my usual add-ons to the fridge, I reached for my plastic knife and cut a wedge from the crisp head. A quick rinse was all that it needed. I placed it cut side up on a plate, drizzled it with a bit of my favorite 1000 Island dressing, and added a sprinkle of dried cherries for some additional color.
It looked a bit lonely on one side of the plate, so I quickly thawed a few frozen shrimp, which I placed alongside a dollop of cocktail sauce and a fan of whole wheat crackers. Voila! I had reproduced a circa 1950’s luncheon plate at many a fine restaurant. All that was missing was the sound of a cocktail shaker.
It was June. It was hot. The next evening, I opted for something equally simple. I broiled a filet of fresh salmon.
While the main course was cooking, I washed a fair number of cherry tomatoes, which I then quartered, lightly salted, and heavily peppered. Retrieving my head of iceberg from the fridge, I tore a chunk of it into bite-sized pieces and dropped them into a salad bowl, along with the prepared cherry tomatoes. All I had to do now was stir in a small dollop of mayonnaise, and I had recreated what my grandmother had always called summer salad – simple and refreshing.
The fish and the salad were ready at the same time and looked well together. I added a crusty French roll that I had on hand for good measure. A fresh peach that sent its juice down my chin when I bit into it was all I needed for dessert. I was satisfied.
During the following weeks, I pulled out many old recipes as I regained my respect for this most basic of lettuces, enjoying its crunch. I stirred its chopped leaves into chicken fried rice just pulled from the stove. It joined chopped celery and onion in my black-eyed peas. I prepared homemade taco salads, utilizing leftover Cajun-spiced beans.
I even used up more traditional leftovers by covering a layer of shredded iceberg with a layer of cooked rice on a plate, surrounding it with small piles of reheated cooked meat and veggies, and topping the whole with a soft fried egg, thereby creating my own take-off on a traditional Korean dish.
Time has passed since those days. I overcame my initial fear and returned to my mixed green salads and my pre-washed produce conveniently stored in its bags. I enjoy a wide variety of salads, but the iceberg lettuce of my childhood still remains by my side, despite my now being an adult.
There are those who would say that I’m nearing the age of my second childhood, and who knows? I may even emulate Mother and develop a taste for French dressing, but I doubt it.
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