Before the recent storm, warming weather spurred me to action in the garden. I spent a couple of weekends hoisting heavy bags of compost and wood chips, trying to avoid smashing a plethora of newly discovered earthworms* as I dug compost into the soil, carefully burying the roots of a new generation of herbs and vegetables. Kitty enjoyed having a garden companion, leaning against my legs as I crouched next to the raised beds. To our little garden family, we added: three tomato plants of different varieties, two jalapeño plants, a Caribbean hot pepper, a Serrano pepper, more thyme, basil, onion seedlings, and a couple of shade plants that boast flowers attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Our lemon tree is bursting with blossoms, sending a heady smell to anyone walking through the gate. We hung jasmine by the door, which makes coming home even sweeter. On the whole, it’s a lovely little place to spend a sunny afternoon. And to think, only a year ago it was just a dry, dusty, unhospitable patch of dirt.
*I’ve never been so excited about worms—they must have made their way up through the ground and into the beds throughout the year, ensuring the good health of our dirt!
Jonji recently had one of his two-week breaks—a much-needed rest for him. On his first Thursday off, we made the familiar drive down south, though this time we stopped short of LA. We got to Ojai in the afternoon and spent the last of the afternoon sun by the pool. After a bit of trouble with our room’s lock, we were rewarded with free drink cards and took full advantage, sipping delicious cocktails and playing bocci ball by the pool.
The next day, we hiked around the hills before heading to Santa Barbara to meet Jess. After many small meals and a couple of drinks with her and her friend Doug, we drove back to Ojai to meet Dan and Tiff at the Airbnb. The rest of the weekend passed quickly, with lots of great food and plenty of walking around (though we eventually realized we had stayed within a few blocks the entire day). We spent hours wine tasting, browsing one large antique shop, and eating.
We ended the trip with a half day in Santa Barbara, browsing the shops, eating ice cream, and debating what we should have for lunch (I agonized over the decision—pizza or Thai curry??). We parted ways under a light rain, promising to see everyone again as soon as possible.
During our trip, Grandma Barber passed away. She was 100 years old—an incredible feat itself, and made even more impressive by how present and intelligent she was right until the end. She was a loving, kind, brilliant woman, and a Scrabble master. She loved her family more than anything. She will be greatly missed, though her values and love instilled in the rest of the family will certainly live on. I took this photo at her 100th birthday party just a couple of months ago—I love how she sits calmly, surrounded by the large family whirlwind, exactly where she always wanted to be.
The thing I crave most when returning home from a trip is this greens salad. We never get sick of it—I make it three or four times a week as an accompaniment to a variety of meals. Everyone who makes it has a slightly different take on the recipe, whether it be the dressing or the additions. Bailey has been known to use avocado and snap peas instead of apple, and Mom sometimes prefers just the feta and almonds. During the summer apricots are fantastic, and in winter Bosc pears are equally as delicious. Add arugula, parsley, or mint—the sky’s the limit. The one ingredient I’ll be a stickler on is the lettuce—get the freshest you can find, ideally from a Farmer’s Market. There you’ll get a gorgeous, perky variety of lettuces in all shapes and sizes. Supermarket lettuce gets misted and therefore spoils much faster. Note that this dressing is literally three ingredients, and it’s perfect. I haven’t bought a dressing from the store in my entire life, and feel no desire to do so when it’s so easy and satisfying to make at home.
One piece of equipment anyone wishing to make frequent salads should have is a salad spinner. If you don’t have one, you’ll never get the lettuce dry enough. So take the plunge and get one if you don’t have one already—trust me, it’s a worthwhile $30 investment.
Everyday Greens Salad
1 large head lettuce (butter, red leaf, etc.) or 4 heads baby lettuce
handful sheep or goat feta, crumbled*
handful roasted almonds, chopped
1 apple (I like Pink Lady)
1/2 medium lemon (preferably Meyer) or 1 small lemon
olive oil, double the volume of the lemon juice
scant 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Tear off any wilted or old outer lettuce leaves and discard. Pull each leaf off the head of lettuce and rinse it under cold water, then tear it into pieces and place in the salad spinner. Repeat until the entire head has been rinsed and torn. Fill the salad spinner containing the torn lettuce with cold water. Swish the lettuce around, tossing with your hand, to shake off any excess dirt (if the lettuce is really dirty, wash it twice). Drain, then spin. Spin a couple more times until the lettuce is quite dry. Place in a large salad bowl.
Slice the apple (or other fruit) in half and cut out the core. Slice each half in half again, then into small, thin pieces (but not shards) and sprinkle on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle in the chopped almonds and crumble the feta on top.
Squeeze the lemon into a small jar. Top off with olive oil until you have roughly twice the amount of oil to lemon juice. Add a little less than 1/4 tsp salt to the jar, then cover and shake until the mixture is homogenized. Taste, and add more oil or lemon juice to your liking. It should be almost creamy in texture, but still very pourable.
Right before you’re ready to eat, pour the dressing evenly over the top of the salad and toss, ensuring the dressing is evenly distributed. Enjoy!
*Cow’s milk makes pretty bland feta, unfortunately, so go for sheep or goat if you can.