I had hoped that over the last couple of weeks - given I've been on leave - I would have had plenty of opportunities to hang about at home perusing lovely new cookbooks relaxing, baking and blogging; but it was not to be. As is often the case, the moment I have some time off from work, the rest of my life quickly melts in until all the days are full; family from country Vic and interstate who haven't been seen for months, bridesmaid duties (three times in the last three years, I think this is my life's quota!), and taking the first tentative steps towards IVF that I'd hoped I'd never need to, along with several medical appointments. Then, in true fashion, on my second last day of leave, I came down with a cold.
I used to always look forward to summer; not just the warmer weather but also the extended daylight hours. Last minute trips to the beach or lake, enjoying a wine and conversation with a friend on a weeknight, BBQs and picnics. I've decided that this year, I'm going to look forward to summer with the same enthusiasm I did before working in fire and emergency management. Bring it on; and I'm sure I could use the Vitamin D.
Last weekend bought with it a magnificent day of sunshine, coinciding with my sister's hen's day, held at a huge beachside holiday house with a bunch of excited girlfriends. It was BYO booze and salad; and the girls enthusiastically bought their favourites to comprise a magnificent buffet of summer food. It got me thinking about my own salad favourites, and last night hubby T and I created an interesting combo of bbq'd chicken and haloumi, baby spinach, beetroot greens, mint and a creamy japanese mayo & garlic dressing.
One of the reasons I love salads so much is that there are no rules about what goes into them. The possibilities are endless! Think about the creation of a salad as putting artwork onto a canvas. I often like to start with a base of salad greens which could include rocket, any variety of lettuce or other green things - use your imagination. Then, put in some colour - such as roasted sweet potato, or bbq/grill some capsicum, chicken/lamb/beef, red onion, whatever takes your fancy. Next, think about putting in some "zing" to lift the salad and complement the main flavour. For example, if you've used grilled lamb, crumble over some feta. Haloumi and fresh mint leaves go fantastically well together, as do toasted pine nuts with pumpkin or sweet potato. And finally, dress it. Balsamic glaze (available in most supermarkets) is an easy way to marry sweet and salty flavours. Or use a base of mayonnaise (I love the japanese "kewpie" mayo, again, available in most supermarkets), mixed with crushed garlic, lemon juice, pepper and a little olive oil. Just remember: you need some acidity to "lift" the salad from bland to special - a good dressing can also tie flavours together and turn your humble salad from a side dish to the star of the show. Also consider combining different textures - think chunky crunchy sourdough croutons, toasted nuts, seeds, or creamy or crumbly cheese. Go crazy!