Memorial Day Pasta Salad…and Taking One Step at a Time

Memorial Day weekend is Marc and my wedding anniversary. Two years ago, I was taking IV chemotherapy about this time, and let’s just say that that anniversary will go down in history as the “Snarky Chemo Anniversary”. Truthfully, I don’t even remember what happened, but it was at the end of a long four months of the hell that is chemo, and we were not at our best.

Strangely, here we are again at Memorial Day weekend with me on chemotherapy. Only this time, I’m taking a pill form, rather than injections into a portacath implanted in my chest. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge, but the principle of chemo (of which, there are many varieties) is that it kills fast growing cells in the body…indiscriminately. Since cancer cells are fast growing, the hope is that the chemo kills the cancer cells before it kills all your healthy minding-their-own-business cells.

One of the common (and especially difficult for a foodie) side effects is that since the entire digestive tract, starting in your mouth, is made up of fast growing cells, eating can be quite rough. So far, I’ve been lucky this time with only mild tummy troubles, but I have a lot of support with supplements and complementary medicine.

The other common side effect is fatigue, so even when I am hungry for something delectable, I haven’t really had the energy to prepare it. Since Marc and I have been living with his parents for the last 16 months, I’ve done the vast majority of the cooking and really enjoyed it. I’ve pushed myself and my recipes to places I would never have gone, had it just been Marc and me. It also led me to this create this blog so I could share my ideas and love for good local food with more people.

So, with my energy levels fluctuating, each day I really have to choose what the best use of that energy is. Lately I’ve been working on fixing some of the niggly (yet time consuming) problems from when our server was hacked. Strangely, all my categories got corrupted and became random words from my posts. So in my side bar it said things like “sized hands”, “pith” and “nearby mountain” rather than “Breakfast”, “Ice Cream” and “Summer”. My blogroll had filed Marc’s web sites under “vegetarian cookbook”.

Anyway, my blogroll is fixed, but I’m only about 2/3 of the way through reassigning every one of my 125 posts to appropriate categories. With this new version of WordPress I can put links to related posts at the end of each post, but so far that’s all jumbled and I haven’t figured out how to fix it either. One thing at a time.

I have SO loved all your sweet comments of encouragement. Though I normally would respond to them all, like I said, I really have to carefully choose how I spend my energy. So, please know that I am reading them and appreciate each one.

Yesterday I felt pretty good, and had the where-with-all to make a yummy pasta salad that I thought I’d share. Pasta salad is one of my all time favorite summer dishes. Depending on what you like, and have on hand, it can easily be a meal in its own right, or just a great side dish. Plus, it’s something you can pull together quickly and with minimal work (exactly the kind of thing I need right now).

Summer Pasta Salad

I tend to throw everything that could possibly be harmonious together into it, but you are welcome to use more restraint. I thought it was a particularly apropos dish for the holiday weekend since it’s great party food. I never make it the same way twice, so I’ll tell you what I put in the one I made last night, but I’d also like to give you some ideas of the tasty options available, depending on what’s in your kitchen and in season.

For the base of the salad…the pasta…I like to play with shapes and colors. My favorites are the corkscrews and spirals that are colored by different veggies (red pepper, spinach, carrot, and beet are the most common). There are several categories of ingredients I like to use. Feel free to mix and match. I think the most flavorful dish has at least one of each category, but hey, that’s just my preference. There are no rules here.

My strongest suggestion though, is to use as many local, sustainable, organic ingredients as possible. Heck, basil and cherry tomatoes fresh from your garden with a little local cheese would be the makings of pasta salad heaven.

Fresh Herbs (in the winter, dried is fine in a pinch)
basil
parsley
oregano
thyme
chives

Nuts/Seeds
slivered almonds
toasted walnuts
toasted pine nuts
sunflower seeds
sesame seeds
peanuts
cashews

Cheese A good quality firm nutty cheese (sharp cheddar, aged jack, Manchego sheep’s milk cheese, etc) holds it’s integrity best as you mix the salad, but you could also use a soft cheese (goat, fresh mozzarella, blue, etc.) if you crumble it on top at the end.

Veggies
carrots (if you cut them small since they have a much crunchier texture than anything else you’ll be using)
cucumber
radishes
jicama
celery
sugar snap peas
sunflower sprouts (they are hearty enough to hold up in the salad for a few hours)
bell peppers (fresh, or roasted with their skins removed)

Salty Herby Things
sun-dried tomatoes
assorted olives (herbed Greek ones stuffed with garlic, nuts or cheese are my preference)
capers
artichoke hearts
marinated mushrooms
pickled garlic

Beans
garbanzos (chick peas)
kidney
cannelini

Dressing Ideas (I like to use a lot of vinegar in mine, so I always use some combination of these)
balsamic vinegar (my favorite is fig balsamic)
Asian seasoned rice vinegar (it’s very flavorful, seasoned with salt and sugar)
Trader Joe’s orange champagne vinegar
apple cider vinegar

Olive is my oil of choice, but depending on the direction I want to take the pasta salad, sometimes I use a little sesame oil. An exotic nut oil like walnut or hazelnut can be a very tasty accent as well. Sometimes I add a little mayo (soy based if I’m making it for vegans) for emulsification, but not enough to make it gloppy. If I use jarred things from the “Salty Herby” category, I like to use some of the brine or herbed oil it came in for extra flavor.

Pasta tends to be very thirsty. So when you make the salad, cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain it, and then pour your dressing all over the pasta. Let it soak up all the dressing while you prepare the other ingredients into another bowl. Taste the pasta and see if it needs more dressing.

If you plan to use seasoned rice vinegar, cheese or any of the “Salty Herby Things”, (since they all have salt) don’t add extra salt to anything until all the ingredients are well combined. If you make the pasta salad hours or a day ahead, taste it right before you serve it, since the pasta can soak up all the dressing and turn a little bland. It may need a last minute tweaking.

When I made it yesterday, I used multi-colored corkscrew pasta, cucumber, fresh parsley, radishes, celery, capers, Greek green olives, Kalamata olives, and cubed sharp Dubliner cheddar cheese. I made the dressing with seasoned rice vinegar, orange vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon Nayonaise (soy based mayo flavored with dijon mustard) and about a tablespoon of herbed oil leftover from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes. Because of the seasoned rice vinegar, olives and capers, I didn’t need to season it with extra salt (although, I always salt my pasta water). I did finish it with some freshly ground black pepper.

Pasta salad is just about the epitome of my cooking style.

  1. I make it frequently, but it’s always different.
  2. It reflects how much energy and creativity I have in the moment (simple when I’m tired…more elaborate when the mood strikes).
  3. Since I often include beans, nuts and/or cheese as well as tons of veggies, it has plenty of protein and fresh vibrant nutrition.
  4. I always have some idea what’s going into it, but it evolves all the way through the process.

Have a joyful safe holiday weekend if you are in the US. Outside the US, you too, have a joyful weekend. Remember that even in your darkest hour, there is always something to be grateful for.

24 thoughts on “Memorial Day Pasta Salad…and Taking One Step at a Time”

  1. Hi Bri,

    Thank you so much for this!! It has made my day in two ways!!

    1. I was worried about you, and I am so glad you are feeling better enough for a bit of foodie love!!!!

    2. Much less important but I have been thinking about what to make for dinner all day (Yes I am very sad) and I was pondering what to do with pasta, cheese, veggies and some nice nuts – Now I know!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thank you!!!!!

    Lots of love,

    Brie

  2. Hi Bri, don’t worry about responding to the comments– it’s more than enough for us that you take the energy to greet us in crazy internet-land! I hope you continue to feel better and better.

    Needless to say we don’t have Memorial Day here ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a lovely weekend and happy anniversary to you and Marc ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. happy anniversary to you and Marc! Glad you’re feeling well enough to post now and then. ๐Ÿ™‚

    and yum, pasta salads are one of my favorite lazy-day meals. We’re doing -nothing- (on purpose) this holiday weekend, and I think this might be just the ticket.

  4. I am so happy to see you posting, but completely understand that your energy needs to be conserved. I will send you an email soon. Coming out of my last round has been tougher than I expected (isn’t it always?) with yet more side-effects to wrestle with before starting radiation. I just had my port removed on Wednesday – by the end of chemo, I dare say the port and I were no longer good friends ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sending you lots of positive and healing wishes. Sending Marc strength and good vibes too – I know it’s hard on the partner. xxoo

  5. Happy Anniversary! Your pasta salad looks scrumptious. I am salivating over the green greek olives, kalamata olives and sharp dubliner cheese additions you used. Its so nice to see your post up here and to hear how you are doing.
    Sending you lots of healing thoughts and a big hug!

  6. Dear Bri,
    I landed here from Jai and Bee’s blog. Your posts are inspiring and filled me with awe. I am truly touched by what I’ve been reading. Thank you so much. Happy Anniversary, and a lot of good thoughts, energy, prayers to you. I will post about the fund raiser ASAP. Thanks again.

  7. Bri – I’ve been a silent lurker for a while, and the post from Jai and Bee has finally urged me to post. I get so much courage from your site and listening to your words. You have incredible strength and such passion.
    This pasta salad looks and sounds delicious!

    All good wishes.

  8. Hello, Happy Anniversary.
    My first time on ur blog…I saw the link at Jugalbandi. Thanks for a lovely post, I’ve never tried the orange champagne vinegar from TJ’s. Now I have something new to pick up on my next trip.
    I don’t know how to say this…but you are so strong and inspiring. God bless.I will be sending prayers your way today.

  9. Just stumbled upon your blog and I love reading your stories. I love the ideas behind this “recipe.” I was just talking about the same idea over at my blog: it’s great to find recipes that are easily adaptable to taste, mood and what’s available. Thanks for the new ideas!

  10. You have so many wonderful suggestions for salads here, I could be making one everyday all summer! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m new to your blog, and I have to say I wish I’d discovered it under different circumstances. My thoughts are with you, I hope you stay strong and take care of yourself. In the meantime, I will keep visiting your blog for updates, and to peek through your archives. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. hi bri,

    yum! i love pasta salad. love the cold temperature of it in the summer. bri, that picture looks hopeful. there is something about the light and it being so perfectly composed and delicious looking too, but to me it feels hopeful. maybe it’s the spring, maybe it’s the sun coming out of the shadows, or maybe it is you continuing to look forward with positivity each and every day.

    i am going with the last one — and my outlook is as sunny as it can be for you too. xo ๐Ÿ™‚

    p.s. for the record, i am coming back as an “exotic nut oil.” whee!

  12. Hi Bri, I just started reading your blog, which I had not stumbled across in cyber-land until the fundraiser post went up on Vanilla Garlic. I have now added you to my blog roll and your creations to my list of things to cook. What a beautiful photo of figs you have up top! It makes me wish I had a garden instead of a windowsill. I posted about the fundraiser on my blog (www.riceandbeansindc.blogspot.com) and did a little fundraising myself. No one should have to worry about money when dealing with cancer. Now I just have to come up with some yellow culinary item to photograph…

    Keep resting and enjoying the outdoors as much as you can, soaking up sunshine and strength, and don’t worry about responding to all these comments, in fact, don’t worry if you don’t have time to read them all. Just know that we are here thinking about you and Marc, and sending best wishing, good karma, mana and prayers your way.

  13. Hi Briana! This is my first visit to your blog .. came to know about it from Jugalbandi’s site and a few more bloggers. I found your recipes are great. And may I mention that so are you.You inspire people to have courage.Sending good wishes and hope your way. May all your days be filled with more strength,love and happiness.

  14. I have a confession to make..I came across this blog a couple of months ago while looking for some recipe (I’m a food blog addict!) and then went through multiple posts and was overwhelmed with sadness, I left it (coward?I don’t know..) But I think there is something Bri’s soul and her cooking.. I was constantly reminded of her and the recipes (I am here at faraway Singapore..as far as I can ever be from knowing you all) and a couple of days ago came back again. Today, decided to try this pasta salad. Its my first hand at trying a pasta salad..and I can’t believe how delicious it is!! Husband and I gorging on it right now – a bowl by my side as I type. Loving it. Thank you Bri .. and thank you for keeping her site alive.

  15. Divya ~ I’m glad you came back. Yeah, grief takes courage to experience. And it’s perfectly okay to take a break when it’s just TOO much.

    Bri would be SO pleased to know you & your hubby are enjoying your pasta salad. And especially since it’s your first time making it! Must admit when we have a yummy pasta salad in the refrigerator, it’s difficult not to keep eating it.

    Also, you’d be surprised what connections I have with Singapore: my maternal grandparents lived there for over 40 years! I visited for a month ages ago in 1963 when I had just turned 13. And again in 2004 for a day and a half, when my husband and I were traveling to India.

    Bri would have LOVED Singapore. We told her & Marc & Marc’s brother, David, that we would like to travel to Singapore with them some day. Bri managed to get there…to whisper in your ear…“Come back, Divya. Please enjoy my blog. It’s my gift of love.”

  16. Thanks so much for writing back Cynthe, makes me feel much better now ๐Ÿ™‚ And interesting.. all those Singapore connections! Perhaps if you go by this way again you should ping me.. a wee friend from the blogosphere.
    Happy Easter Sunday!

  17. Raw Food Guys ~ Is there any other veggie that makes good raw noodles? ‘Cause I don’t really like raw zukes… would cucumbers work?

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