Those masts have approximately nothing to do with our lives, at present.
Nor does the Virginia V. Nor the salmon fry. Nor Gasworks at sunset.
Ditto the next however many.
Our actual days are buzzing with all that back to school brings. Did I mention that classes have begun? That we've already completed Week One? Will soon begin Week Three? These August start dates still catch me off guard, raised as I was on a post-Labor Day academic year.
Still, it feels good, on this holiday weekend, to have a foothold in the new year.
We've spent these past weeks re-orienting ourselves to the weekday/weekend division. Re-acquainting ourselves with our alarm clocks. Adjusting to new schools, schedules, routines, rigamarole. Re-learning how to make and gobble pancakes before eight. And ideally, acquire lunches, clothes, tied tennies, along the way. Remembering to brush what needs brushing.
(Extra credit for keeping hair and tooth brushes straight.)
Our evenings are thick with meetings. Our afternoons, field studies in de-compression. The calendar is suddenly as dense with graffiti as a Seattle NO PARKING sign. Though what it shares in over-crowding, it lacks in character. I'm considering switching up my chicken scratches to pictograms.
Homework is still mostly on the horizon, but it won't be long now. Wish us all luck.
We have gone through the annual fall shoe Q&A, which always seems more like a comedy routine:
"How do your shoes feel?"
"Fine, fine. Just great. Fine."
"But you've had them a year. Shall we measure, just for kicks?" ... "Would you look at that! Two sizes too small! Are these (elevens-twos-eights) any better?"
"Yup. Fine. Just great. Fine."
I'm grateful, to be sure, to have dodged those skipped sizes. Still and all, I think I'd be feeling somewhat pinched in the toes. Then again, maybe I'm just overly sensitive.
Cubbies have been cleared. Dressers, exhumed. Counters buried in paperwork, more times than I can count. Entire Saturday evenings have been given over to excavation. Another one (or three) evenings are still owed. The piles remain fierce. And deeply unkempt. And so it is that these last Seattle snaps will have to do.
For while I haven't seen a seaplane in weeks, haven't walked Lake Union since mid-August, haven't had a kayak invade my frame in recent memory, they're all more appealing than untamed forms and folders. Besides, Suzzallo got me off on the right school foot more than once. I see no reason not to let it work its magic, once more, settling a little calm over our chock-a-block days.
They'll settle down, soon enough. This salad will not. It's full-to-bursting by design, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
This is what we, here, call Chop Chop Salad, a name I almost hesitate to drop. Does "chop" preceding "salad" make your spine shudder, instinctively, severely, the way it does mine? Chopped salads sort of swept the restaurant scene, ca. 1988, and settled in for the long, lackluster haul. As a rule, I avoid them all. (The restaurants and the salads, alike.) But once upon a time, before kids, before degrees, we would on occasion patronize a hip new Italian eatery. It was a wildly edgy, progressive affair, the sort of place that prefixed pizza with "goat cheese", mushrooms with "wild", and garlic bread with "whole roasted".
Remember when Wolfgang Puck was a California chef?
Remember when Justin Bieber was, like, not even born?
Anyhoo. Said spot made one knock-out chopped salad, a bright, vivid number I could eat by the vat. It was equal parts greens and "bits", a knife-and-fork affair if ever there was one. It was salad as meal, and meal as salad, every flavor and texture wrapped up in one bowl. It was the first chopped salad I'd ever encountered, and the last one I ever enjoyed. Within months, we began making it at home*. We've never stopped. It's some salad.
The bits themselves are a jolly assortment of sweet red veg—soft ripe tomatoes, crisp peppers—and protein in all its many guises. There is diced provolone, sharp and beguiling, plus tender chickpeas, nutty, earthy, toothsome. Sometimes, there's leftover roast chicken; sometimes, honey-roasted turkey; sometimes neither, pictured here. The white meat is nice, but optional; I never miss it when it's gone. The salami is otherwise, excellent, essential, a rich deep confetti, threaded throughout.
You might imagine all these bits are the best part, an antipasto party in a bowl. You would be close. Also, wrong. Because the greens are something special, here. Half the roughage is ordinary lettuce, albeit uncompromisingly crisp. Romaine hearts are nice. Iceberg will do. Right now, a fresh local fall [fill-in-the-blank] head is grand. It just must be crisp, crisper than crisp, in order to stand up to those bits and that basil.
About that basil. Basil comprises the rest of said greens, a full 3-4 cups of loose, fresh leaves. Like the lettuce, the basil's chopped into fork-worthy slivers, and tossed willy-nilly right into the bowl. Imagine. Basil as salad green. Rubbing shoulders with tomatoes, chickpeas, salami, peppers, cheese. It's a little like a caprese, gone berserk. Berserk in the very best possible way. And finally, sensibly, tamed to the fork.
The whole mess is tossed with a straight-up vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, olive oil, plenty of S and P. The end result is a salad of stunning contrasts, sweet, tender, piquant, winy, crisp, fragrant, bright. Every bite has a bit of the party about it, merry veg, vivid greens, some fantastic tidbit. It gives chock-a-block a very good name. Must remember that as I sort through the stacks ...
inspired by Cucina! Cucina!, ca. 1990
*Not until tonight did I ever think to look up the recipe for this salad's ancestor. It seems my version, evolved over years, veers sharply from the original, in everything from greens to dressing. Who knew? More to the point, who cares? These proportions, these ingredients, listed below, will forever be to me Chop Chop Salad. Heretofore amended, "Our..."
No one does tinned chickpeas better than Goya. As to cheese, I love provolone, here, but any sharp white number (manchego, romano, smoked mozzarella) works well.
crisp salad greens (romaine, iceberg, local fresh crisp lettuce), washed, well-dried, and chopped
into 1" bits
3-4 cups fresh basil, washed, well dried, and chopped into 1" bits
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2" bits
1 cup firm, ripe tomato, chopped into 1/2" bits
1 cup chickpeas, tinned or homemade
1 cup salami, chopped into 1/2" bits
1 cup roasted turkey or chicken, chopped into 1/4" bits (optional)
1 cup provolone, grated, or chopped into 1/4" bits
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
25 turns of freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Place all solids in your biggest salad bowl, then drizzle with oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well, preferably with clean hands, until every bit has met the dressing. Taste a few bites: you want bright, sweet, crisp, salted, peppered. Vivid. Jolly. A balance between them all. Add a bit more salt, pepper and/or vinegar, to taste, toss again, and serve right away.