Hurricane Salad

10 Oct


Right now, leaves are rustling due to a nice, cool, dry breeze, the windows are open in my always-ever-locked house, and I am enjoying what feels like the very first taste of autumn.  When I walk outside, I’m not immediately suffocated by heat and humidity, and there are very few biting bugs flying around (always a good day when this happens in Florida).

It also happens to be a Monday, a day when I’m usually working at school.  But today was a “virtual planning day” per our lovely contract, which allowed me to finish my report cards, or do anything else teacher-y (like cut out paper pumpkins), in my sweatpants.

All in thanks to Matthew.

No, I’m not talking about my husband’s many family members of that name (on my side it’s Bob, and I think the Bobs still win that rodeo).  I’m talking about the crazy, high-intensity, slow-as-a-freaking-snail hurricane that crawled its way through north Florida a few days ago.

Thinking back to those rare times when public school actually got cancelled for things, I’ve seen the gamut.  I’ve had a fire day (thank you SoCal wildfires), a wind day, snow days, a tsunami day (that was a crazy phone call to wake up to), and now Florida has gifted my very first hurricane days.

Growing up mostly in the Southwest, I had never been in a proper hurricane before.  But let me tell you, it’s an event.  The prep alone was beyond stressful – moving all the patio furniture to the garage, securing the house, digging through all the camping equipment to find white gas stoves and lanterns.  With my parents’ help, we got it all done which made me feel prepared – and proud.  I was stocked with water and ice (I bought the last 4 bags at the grocery store, thank you very much), lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and dried/canned/preserved goods to last a long, potential power outage.  And of course I also bought the absolute essentials for any long, drawn out, stressful event: chardonnay and pumpkin donuts.

I was ready.

The storm was what it was.  A storm.  Big, loud, mean, wet, wild, windy, and everything a person might imagine a hurricane to be.  I was scared, nervous, and at times peaceful as my family and I sat in pajamas watching continued news reports.  There was nothing else to do.

But eat.

What a fabulous excuse a hurricane is for eating junk food!  I thought it was just us with our chardonnay and donuts – oh, and beanie weenie casserole – but the grocery store trip afterwards showed us what people really thought was important.

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Bread, chips, bananas all topped the list of hurricane necessities – the empty shelves couldn’t hide it.

But spin around to those green, fresh, healthy things?


Why golly, those shelves were chalked full.

So funny, because despite our little junk food splurge, we also made a conscious effort to make sure some nutrition did make its way into our bodies, basically to give us the right kind of energy and lack of mental lethargy to face whatever it was that we needed to face with this storm (again, our first major hurricane, folks).

My mom whipped up what she ended up calling the Hurricane Salad.  It was really just a veggie salad full of ingredients that are health-wise important: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans, cucumber, celery, corn, and a simple ranch dressing.  That was it.  But boy did it hit the spot.  We ate it for two days.

With only some chopping, it literally took a few minutes to assemble and a fantastic dinner salad was ready.

Now, you definitely don’t need a hurricane to make this salad.  In fact, let’s hope you don’t have a hurricane to enjoy this salad.  But, it would be great as a take-along dish (dressing separate), easy lunch, fast dinner, or anything else in between.

People – oh those proverbial “people” – always say that something good comes out of something negative.  However, I wouldn’t call this salad good.  I’d call it delicious!  (Too cheesy?  Oh, some cheese would be good on the salad too!)

Try it – sans storms – and let me know what you think!


(Feel free to use your favorite ranch dressing here – and ranch really is the best for this salad, I think.  But here’s my recipe for a good homemade version that will last you and your favorite salads all week.)

Hurricane Salad

This salad is completely flexible.  Add or subtract as much or as little as you want.  So it can easily be a single serving, or enough to feed a crowd.  Just toss together the following ingredients: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans (cooked, I boil mine), cucumber, celery, and corn (cooked or raw).  Sprinkle a bit of s&p, and serve with the dressing on the side (to appease any finicky pourers).


Homemade Ranch
(makes 1 pt)

Finely mix together 1/2 tsp dried oregano, pinch of ground thyme, 1/8 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, and s&p to taste. Use a mortar and pestle to mix (this makes more spice mix than you need- great for chicken, shrimp, or a olive oil dip). Then pour 1 tsp of the spice mixture into a bowl with 1 c mayo, 1 c Greek yogurt, and juice of 1 lemon. Mix and taste for seasoning. 



Nana’s Blog

25 Sep


I feel like when there’s been a long hiatus of blog posts I have to provide some sort of explanation.  Not that I have millions of followers that are emailing me asking for reasons (although I would love that!), but as my conviction of a writer I feel I have to answer the questions “why?” and “how?”.

I teach my students those exact things – the why and the how and the importance behind the explanation.  It shows understanding.  It shows thoughtfulness.  It shows caring.

So, to be perfectly candid, and now that we’ve entered a new season, I’ll share what happened over my summer.  I simply needed a break.  Not really from writing (because writing really is incredibly therapeutic), but really just from everything.

For years, teaching in Florida had been less than ideal, and after a much needed switch to a better school in a safer area, I ended the last school year coming off of a 2-year span of extreme stress (and a classroom/portable that I’m convinced was infested – at least – with mold).  I simply didn’t realize how much of a toll it had taken on my body and spirit.  Starting in January, a nice white light of professional freedom slowly started to soften those wounds, and by June, I needed to just sit and recoup.

Also, Rob deployed again, which is always stressful in its own right.

Sig needed surgery, and then had a horrible reaction to it.  I don’t have kids, but this little pup is the closest thing to it, and watching him convulsing in pain and not being able to help him was beyond heartbreaking.

And, my Nana died.

It wasn’t unexpected; in fact, it was very expected and I think myself and many family members felt a bit of peace knowing she was in a better place.

I was lucky, I got to say goodbye to her.  Unlike the suddenness of my grandfather’s passing, Nana and I got to spend some quiet moments together only weeks before she passed.  Many of us were honored with those moments of just sitting with her.  Quietly, comfortably.  I held her soft, boney, freshly manicured hand and she held my calloused, rough cooker/teacher hand.  Mind you, this was after many finicky moments of trying to figure out why her oxygen lines weren’t staying in her nose – I had been stepping on them.  Luckily she found as much humor in that as I did embarrassment.

She asked me what would happen next, and I chickened out and gave a blanket answer of “You’ll be ok, Nana,” instead of telling her the best was yet to come.  We said goodbye, knowing it was truly a goodbye, and Nana passed an hour after her 89th birthday ended.  In true fashion, Nana stuck around for one last party.

My mom and I missed the last teacher workday of the school year and my dad drove us up the endlessly long I-95 corridor, Georgia-induced flat tires and all.  Word to the wise: if you are going to get stranded in Nowheresville, Georgia, don’t do it on a Sunday morning when that Southern Bible Belt charm doesn’t kick in until after the 11am Baptist Eucharist (and then there’s Potluck at Noon.  Oh, and I could go on to describe how weeks later Rob and I got stranded in BumbleYouKnowWhat, SC whose Eucharist doesn’t ever seem to kick in as we were told we would’ve received car help if we were “locals.”  Southern hospitality???).

However – enter silver lining – the Georgia delay inevitably helped us, as the George Washington Bridge had a beautiful midnight view of New York City, without the usual vehicle gridlock.

We spent the first week of summer vacation doing what happens at funerals: crying, laughing, reminiscing, crying, eating, drinking, staying up too late, and then falling into deep, deep sleep.  It’s always so wonderful spending time with family we don’t get to see every day, even despite the circumstances.  Nana had an open casket, and looked lovely wearing the same dress she wore to my wedding, the sparkly mint green one my mom helped her pick out.  We talked to her, about her, and collectively prayed the Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Our Father.

My mom was so strong.  She’s the middle child, the only girl, and Nana was proud of her.  Still is.

My uncle, who is also my Godfather, is the baby of the family and jokes flew about little Tommy being a “publican” (someone relinquished to the doldrums of public school as opposed to the standard Long Island private institutions).  Followed by stories around vats of Hellman’s mayo he could have invested in to build himself his own fortune.  Poor Uncle Tom!

In a whirlwind of time and bags and boxes and dust and beautiful weather, my mom, dad, Uncle Tom, Uncle Bob and I cleaned out Nana’s house.  It was sad, funny, silly, tiring for sure, and we got it done.   But what we really did during that time was keep the Long Island delis in business.

My dad always got a ham and cheese, simple and easy.  My mom, her brothers and I always got the rare roast beef and swiss with extra mayo, expect for that one time Uncle Tom got liverwurst with extra mustard.  All were always on a Kaiser roll, and always with a pickle on the side.  Mom introduced Uncle Tom to putting pickles ON the sandwich, a new revelation of a pickle-mayo condiment combo that rocked his world.  We tried maco salad, potato salad, and coleslaw from each deli because, after all, each place makes them differently.  Personally, I think the Million Dollar Deli’s maco salad is the best, but Uncle Tom would disagree.  He likes the maco from Setauket.

Nana would have loved the fact that her countertops turned the color of deli parchment, and the smell of beef and pickle brine scented the air.  And it’s clear from our toppings and accompaniments that our family loves mayo.

It’s serious, people.  Like, use-a-spoon-to-slather-it-on-a-ripe-tomato-end-of-story serious.

In fact, at a celebration of Nana’s life, my Aunt Regina’s mom recalled how at her bridal shower my Nana brought a huuuuuuge tub of Hellman’s Mayo (despite the standard Waterford crystal and linens being gifted).  Handing it over, Nana simply informed Aunt Regina, “My son loves mayo.  You’ll need this.”

So much so, that my mom says when Uncle Tom dies, she is going to put all those little squeezy packets of mayo in his casket (with a pair of small scissors because those things are hard as hell to open).

We are a mayonnaise-loving family.

There’s mayo, and then there’s mayo.  Sorry Midwesterners, despite my love for the Green Bay Packers, I’d have to vehemently pass on the Miracle Whip.  That stuff isn’t a miracle at all.  Also, living in the South has made me drop a “y’all” or two, but I will never, EVER succumb to the Duke’s Mayo world.  It’s simply not the best.

Hellman’s is (that’s why west of the Rockies it’s called “Best Foods”).

So to keep true to a classic that my whole family loves – and of which Nana would greatly approve – here’s an oldie and a goodie for you.  The Classic Deviled Egg Salad.

Only 5 ingredients, this stuff is perfection in mayo simplicity.  And maybe, if I put it on the internet, one of those delis will start selling it and give me the royalties – eh?  One can dream.

This recipe is perfect for a cookout, picnic, easy lunch, or an easy go-to breakfast.  As a family classic, I debated whether or not to reveal it, but being so easy and tasty, it would be silly not to.  Plus, Nana would have wanted me to.

So here it is:


Classic Deviled Egg Salad
(serves as many as you are willing to make)

  • Hard boiled eggs *Everyone has a trick or tip for “perfect” hard boiled eggs. Mine simply is to start with any number of eggs in cold water.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off stove.  Let sit in hot water until water has become manageable to the touch.  Submerge eggs into ice water. 
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Celery
  • Fresh dill (adding the dill is my adaptation to the family fave, not everyone is on board)
  • Spicy paprika
  • s&p (yes, this technically makes it 7 ingredients, but s&p has to be a gimme because even the corner store next to the gas station has s&p to put on their sandwiches, so y’all must have it, too.)

This Deviled Egg salad can be made in small batches or in large.  Here’s the ratio:

2 eggs:1 tsp mayo:2 stems celery:¼ tsp fresh dill, paprika and s&p to taste. 

After slicing the celery and mincing the dill, put everything into a mixing bowl.  Like my Nana, and my mom after her, I follow suit by mashing the eggs and mixing everything together with a fork.

Spoon on top of some whole grain toast, or mix with some greens, or eat just as is. 



Beet Down – A New Way to do Beets

4 May


I’ve moved a lot, both growing up and now in my adult years.  More than occasionally I get the, “How do you do that?” round of questioning, mostly from people that consider a significant move an over-filled pick-up truck unloading across town.  Now, don’t get me wrong, a move is a move.  But some are more uprooting then others.

We’ve been in Jacksonville for about 3 years now, and I’m starting to get a tad bit antsy about where we’ll go next.  At night, Rob and I lie in bed perusing Zillow, dreaming of a possible destination for our next Coast Guard-led adventure.  Port Angeles, Detroit, Boston, not much is out of the running except for land locked areas, most of which we wouldn’t want to live in anyway (sorry, Oklahoma.  Been there, done that).  Of course we look at houses that are waaaaay beyond our means – with kitchens that just might make me famous – but it’s just a fun torturous game we play.  Like window shopping at Gucci.

Everywhere we go we try to squeeze everything we can out of the location, and we have only a year left in north Florida.  We’ve done a lot here, but definitely have a lot more to go, do, and see.  Though altogether we’ve found things we love (paddle boarding, the bird life, dolphins, good shopping), and really don’t love (the bugs, the heat, the bugs, the heat, oh and snakes.  Well, I don’t mind the snakes, but Rob runs away like a little girl).

In terms of one of the more important things in life – food – we’ve also found our regional likes and dislikes.  Sorry, Southern folk, we haven’t taken to the oddly-hairy-yet-slimy-at-the-same-time-omg-who-created-this-thing called okra, nor have some traditions (potato salad at Thanksgiving?) found a settled place in our hearts.  BBQ, however, that’s a love story.  So are the sweet onions.  Also, honey.  And so are the beets.

I’ve never actually documented the epic argument Rob and I had over beets.  Maybe one day.  But, beets!  Really?  Aren’t there better things to argue about, like sponges or spoons?

Well, we’ve grown in our relationship since arguing about beets (thank goodness) and now we can’t go a week without them.  Luckily, farms in Florida grow beets almost year round, and the months they don’t, the red roots keep for a long while in a crisper – if they last that long.  Thankfully, our CSA provides us with bunches regularly.  We eat them straight from the oven, or cold with a bit of vinegar and honey.  I’ve chopped them up into fancy tapenades and relishes, used their juice to dye Easter eggs, and have even infused vodka to make a fancy beet cocktail.  Beet options are endless.

So then why are restaurants only serving beets with the standard goat cheese and arugula?  I mean, some have pecans, some do a balsamic reduction drizzle, but really they are all the same.  It’s so sad!  Culinary monotony at its best.

So let’s turn the tables, shall we, and shake up the beet world.

With these: Beet Tacos.

Vegetarians, unite!  Meat Eaters, indulge!  Paleo folk, take a shower from your last CrossFit workout and pick up one of these tacos (sans cheese and crema)!

These are simple enough for a weeknight, but impressive enough for easy entertaining.  Having spent enough time in Mesa, Arizona, I prefer the small corn tacos to flour, and I feel their earthy flavor compliments the sweet beets wonderfully.  Chipotle crema is nothing more than 1 c Mexican cream (found now at most grocery stores), 3 chopped up chipotle peppers, lime zest and 1 tsp of agave Every Mex dish needs some beans, which are super simple to prepare.  Heat some canned black beans (drained and rinsed) in a pot over medium heat with ½ c water, 1 glove of garlic, and a sprig of mint.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, discard the herb and garlic, season the beans with s&p, and smash them with a fork.  For the star of the show: In a foil-lined baking dish, roast 4 peeled beets at 400 degrees with a dash of s&p, a drizzle of canola oil, 1 tsp cumin, and a whole jalapeno (sliced down the middle) until beets are tender, about an hour and a halfThe fresh topping of crisp cilantro (tear off stem) and soft shredded romaine (roll 2-4 leaves like a cigar then chop into thin strips) top off the bite with herby freshness For an optional creamy, salty indulgence, crumbled Queso Fresco tops the taco with ease.  Oh, and don’t forget the squeeze of that lime you zested earlier (it’s not just a margarita garnish, you know).


When Rob and I were dating, tacos were our go-to dinner date.  Here in Jacksonville, we haven’t been able to find quite the same ole(!) experience as I we had in the South West.  Remembering those fresh flavors, I decided to create my own using one of Jacksonville’s finest produce, the bodacious beet.  Yes, bodacious.

With Cinco De Mayo coming up, enjoy these tacos with friends and maybe a marg or two.  You’ll get the best of two worlds, or at least the best of two regions of the U.S. (speaking from lots of moving – and eating – experience here, folks).


Beet Tacos
(serves 4)
*ingredients and instructions above. 

To assemble:
Put the corn tortilla on a plate.  Spread some of the smashed black beans on the tortilla.  Top the beans with some roughly chopped beets.  Then Top the beets with the lettuce, cilantro, queso fresco, and a drizzle or two of the crema.  Squeeze the juice of a lime slice over the top, and you’ve got seriously one of the best tacos you’ll ever eat.


An Aftertaste
If you like beets, check out these and these.  

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