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).
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)
toasted pine nuts
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.
carrots (if you cut them small since they have a much crunchier texture than anything else you’ll be using)
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
assorted olives (herbed Greek ones stuffed with garlic, nuts or cheese are my preference)
garbanzos (chick peas)
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.
- I make it frequently, but it’s always different.
- It reflects how much energy and creativity I have in the moment (simple when I’m tired…more elaborate when the mood strikes).
- Since I often include beans, nuts and/or cheese as well as tons of veggies, it has plenty of protein and fresh vibrant nutrition.
- 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.