This one's for the rest of you.
It's been a hard winter, folks. Cold. Really cold. Seriously, disruptively cold. Last night, the school district sent an e-mail, letting us know there would be school, today. Today is a Thursday. Thursday, February 6. February 6 is not a national holiday. Nor a teacher grading day. Nor conferences. Nor any other (fill-in-the-blank) day off. We've simply gotten to the point in our winter where a schoolday with school is the exception, rather than the rule. And we're not yet halfway through.
I get that that fact is bothersome, for some. I get that couches piled high with books and paint trays in steady circulation and exclamations over the endless days indoors are, for some of you, small consolation.
You're done. Enough already.
I get that my earliest impressions of Ohio, which I first met in deepest January, when the trees were devoid of all sign of life, the landscape, an endless black army of sticks, were spot-on. Stark and Barren. I get that not everyone adores stark and barren. That monochrome isn't everyone's palette.
Some people, I'm told, like leaves on their trees. Life in their landscape. Color in their world. Fair enough.
I get that this weather might grate a little, that this might not be everyone's cup of tea. I get that when the sun is bright, and the sky blue, and temps 27, below with wind, that some might revert to their inner Hamlet, might begin muttering unto the skies, "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain..."
I get that some people need sun. Warm sun. And seeds and plants and growing things. I get that it gets under some people's skins when there's not a green thing in sight.
Well, ivy. But I'm pretty sure ivy doesn't count.
I get that there are those who suffer the #januaries. And that they February can't be much better. Heck, I almost covet a case of winter-itis, just so I can suffer something so swell-sounding. Imagine! Maggie Smith letting loose that one: "the jaaawn-yew-errr-eeez". (Don't even get her started on hashtags.) It's like consumption. Or apoplexy. Or smelling salts. A glorious sounding sickness. I'm almost jealous. Even if I don't stand half a chance.
I get that, while I see snow and think "Sn'ice cream!!!!", your response may include, well, different characters, between the "S" and "!!!".
I get that swimming and shorts and sandals hold a certain appeal, for some. That the thrill of thick socks, the eternal joys of wool sweaters, are, in fact, not universal. I realize, for you, right now completely sucks. That this fierce, unrelenting cold could, theoretically, get old. At least, I try to.
I get that I wouldn't feel at all about winter the way I do, were it not for the miracle of central heat. That were I my great, great-grandparents, homesteading in mid-1800's Montana, I would feel just as strongly about winter as I do now, but at the far distant other end of the opinion poll.
I get that no number of superbowl victories (!!!!!!!!!), no puzzle-glee, no fire-bliss, no talk of the cozy comfort of baked apples, no trays of warm chocolate chip cookies will change your mind.
Well, maybe the cookies. Warm cookies fix most everything. If you're in this camp, and you're in this town, call me. I'll bring some, post-haste.
I get that when one develops three zombie fingers before 8 a.m., on the school run, and that when said fingers stay marble-white and stone-cold through a Costco run, and stubbornly insist on not circulating, still, in the car on the drive home, despite one's thickest "rated to -20°!" mittens, and that when it isn't until one starts a fire and cranks the heat to unconscionable and eats two steaming buckets of soup that they defrost? Around 1 p.m.? I get that that's not everyone's idea of a good time. Not even mine, actually. It's just that I'd take twelve months of it, gladly, if I could just bypass July.
Truly. I'd sign the contract. Now.
I don't understand it. But I get it. I get that, come Winter, you feel like I feel, April through October. Screamy. Trapped. Claustrophobic. Unable to imagine the here-to-there. Biding time. Counting days. I get it. Intellectually. I do. Which is why, in six months, I'll be ringing you up, asking after summer survival tips. For now, I bring what I can, sunshine on a plate, winter's best and brightest.
I believe, madly-deeply, in winter salads, a case I've made often before. Their carbon footprints may not come with halos. They may not resemble what you'd whip up in June. Indeed, their may be no green in sight. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, if today's plate's any proof, it can be downright excellent.
I pulled this together for lunch, recently, after a good rummage 'round the fridge. I've repeated it several times, since. And if my grocery list's any indication, I intend to repeat it, more often than not.
Winter salads remind us—well, me; with your permission, we—of all that's right and good with winter. The enviable determination of roots. The reticent glory of sturdier leaves. The steadfast gifts of nuts and seeds. The timely, unlikely bling of citrus. Sunshine on the half-shell. Edible sparkle. The fellowship of cheese. The pesky necessary limits from whence creativity comes.*
(*For you Fancy Nancy fans: "Limit is just a fancy word for sheer desperation.")
This relies on all that. There's an orange, standard navel, slipped from its pith. One garnet beet, roasted, wedged. One precious endive, bitter, crisp. Good old feta, creamy, sharp. A nice enough combo, on the face. It's in the details that things get interesting, as is so often the case. Particularly, in the generous toss of hazelnut-sesame smash. I owe a huge debt to Amy Thielen for this smash, and the heart of this salad. (Due disclosure: I don't know Amy from Adam, and got my copy of her excellent book from my local library.) Thielen's book has a recipe for Campfire Beets with Hazelnut-Sesame Salt. Her version includes beets baked outside, in a fire, over hours, topped with a chive-flecked, mortar-bashed, nut-studded salt. For a few reasons—frozen earth, arctic winds, no green thing—her vision isn't viable, here, now.
But the notion of beets, sweet, smoky, rich, topped with hazelnuts and sesame seeds, stuck. And soared, when I revised it for my closed-tight winter kitchen. As I sensed when I first read the recipe, and as Thielen so brilliantly nailed, beets and hazelnuts have an extraordinary affinity for one another. Both sweet, both earthy, both a bit murky, in the best possible sense, they play off of one another wonderfully. The seeds add their own level of lovely, tiny pops of toasty rich. Bashed with a bit of salt in a mortar, or stirred together in a bowl, this nut-seed-salt combo has been haunting my kitchen for weeks. Nowhere, more than here.
What you get, in the end, is this jolly jumble of texture, color, flavor. The endive's ace foil to the orange; feta flits and flirts with the beets; a tart vinaigrette is the lingua franca; and those hazelnuts and sesame seeds elbow their way into everything. And you're so glad that they do. And maybe, even, so glad it's winter? Or at least, for just a split second, not lamenting that bit about the green. It's a start.
Endive, Oranges and Beets + Hazelnut-Sesame Smash (Sunshine for One)
with thanks to Amy Thielen, The New Midwestern Table, for the dreamy beet/hazlenut/sesame combo
This is a tidy salad, set to serve one. That said, I make the hazelnut-sesame smash in larger quantities, per below, and fling it on everything: sliced hard-boiled eggs (!!!), roast vegetables (mmmm, cauliflower...), whole yogurt + maple syrup (dreamy). Simply scale up the salad, to happy up more mouths.
I have a jar of 1:1 vinaigrette on my counter at all times, equal parts vinegar (sherry, white whine, cider, whatever's on tap) and olive oil, plus a good hit of kosher salt + fresh pepper. You'll only need a tablespoon here, but shake up a bottle, and you're set for the week. Holmquist hazelnuts are our house favorite, ordered annually by the bulk box. They are invariably sweet, right down to the skin.
1 head endive, coarsely chopped
1 medium beet, roasted*, cut into wedges
1 large orange, sectioned
handful feta, crumbled
2 Tbs. hazelnut-sesame smash (see below)
oil + vinegar
kosher salt + pepper
Arrange endive, oranges, and beets on a plate (or platter). Dress lightly with vinaigrette, then scatter feta and hazelnut-sesame smash generously, over all. Eat immediately, while dreaming of seed catalogs or drinking up the overcast, as appropriate.
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Toast hazelnuts in a 350° oven until fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely. Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring steadily, until palest beige, shiny, and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool. When nuts and seeds are cool, chop hazelnuts roughly, then place in a small bowl. Add sesame seeds, and salt, and stir well to combine. Use with abandon.
*To Roast Beets: Fill a pie plate with 1/2" of water, add beets, and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 45-90 minutes, at any temperature between 350° and 450°, until the largest beet is easily pierced with a knife. Beets bake happily alongisde whatever else you are cooking: roast chicken, bread, cookies, casseroles. Just slip them in on another rack, and test them occasionally for doneness.