Not that it ever wasn’t, but today, I changed the radio dials in my car to Jacksonville stations. Big step, I know. Driving home from work (yes, I’m working – teaching Kindergarten this year), I looked down and decided I needed to take a stand. Well, at least a rhetorical one since I was driving, but a stand nonetheless.
Whenever I move to a new area, I tend to hold on to these little propensities that I started in the previous state in which I lived. For example, the radio. I leave the dials programed to the old stations, and then just use the “seek” button to find the closest working station. Not only does this take more time to radio surf, but it probably isn’t the safest thing to do while driving, either (I can just hear my mom now. “Distracted driving! Distracted driving!!”). Distracted driving aside, why am I still hung up on radio channels rather than just plugging in one i-something or other to play music, you may ask? Well, if you knew me well, you’d understand. People, I still buy stamps.
Anywho, Rob and I have been cherishing the last bits of our summer with paddle boarding (yes, Clutz McGee [that’s me] can actually stand up!), shopping, and trying to spend the limited time we have together relaxing. I have been in my classroom almost nonstop transitioning from the mental programing middle school creates, and adapting to the world of vowel sounds and CVC words (a CVC word is a consonant-vowel-consonant word, i.e. c-a-t. But I digress). Rob has been doing night flights, thus has been home during the daytime, and often comes home at hours that are only saved for only the best infomercials. In fact, there have been a few times that Rob has woken me and I’ve talked with him. This is unbeknownst to me, as I have absolutely no recollection of the conversation the next day. Sigh. But such is life at the moment.
Last Saturday, Rob and I had a day – our day – together. We slept in, worked out, got dressed up, went to a fabulous coffee shop for lunch, and spent the day blissfully shopping and holding hands. It was great. And you know what the dang day did? It made us really miss Oregon. Funny, hu? Maybe because it really was “our day;” the old-hat-type things we did in Oregon that we haven’t yet experienced out here. So as we drove home from Costco, reminiscing about our 2-hour drive to Costco in Oregon, and realizing that Costco just simply always makes one hungry, we needed a good Pacific Northwest meal. So I went to my go-to.
This salad is barely cooking. It is so easy, so flavorful, and minus the strawberries, the ingredients are easy to find year-round. This dish tastes like the earth, the quintessential 6th taste (I think) that is uprooted in the mossy, fresh, emerald world of the Oregon Coast. Really, just make this and you’ll understand.
As this is a warm salad, there are a few keys and tips: sauté the onions first until soft, then add the butter and mushrooms. Otherwise, the pan will go too dry, and you need the mushroom juice (oh man, mushroom juice) to make a nice dressing. Also, if you toast the lavender, fennel seed, and paprika before crushing it in a mortar and pestle, the flavors will marry more. Finally, add the spinach absolutely last, OFF the heat. It will wilt just enough to let out an almost audible sigh, but still retain its integrity.
We enjoyed our salad with a fabulous Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir, and ate it overlooking our still-feels-new view. The humidity didn’t exactly remind us of our old stomping grounds, but it was a lovely compromise of old and new. Like brand-spanking new stilettoes, paired with an old, classic purse. Too girly? Ok, try this: it was like using your grandfather’s tools to build a new dining room table. Actually, since I don’t own a pair of stilettoes (remember, Clutz McGee?), I think the latter analogy works better all around.
So now it’s official – the shiny has worn off, surfacing memories of old, yet creating a whole new environment. And when we start to get melancholy about our past digs, we’ve always got a Warm Spinach and Mushroom salad at the ready. As well as programed radio stations – woohoo!
Warm Spinach and Mushroom Salad
- 16 oz. crimini mushrooms, stems removed, and sliced
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- 16 oz. baby spinach
- 3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (I love Rogue Creamery’s Oregonzola)
- 3-finger pinch of fresh lavender
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- ¼ tsp hot paprika
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- Handful of sliced strawberries (optional)
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil until warm, and sauté the onions with a bit of s&p until soft and translucent. Then add the mushrooms and the butter, and sauté until the mushrooms soften, and release their juices.
Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, crush the lavender and fennel seeds with the paprika. Add to the sautéed onions and mushrooms.
Off the heat, add the spinach, and continuously stir until the spinach slightly wilts.
Serve in bowls, and top with the blue cheese, and strawberries if using. Serve immediately.