When I was eighteen our house caught on fire. It was a dark and wintry March evening. Smoke billowed from the chimney, but thinned quickly as the cold whisked it away. We all stood there – the neighbours, my parents, sisters, and that odd guy from high school who liked to follow fire trucks – watching as flames devoured the living room curtains.
Our house was under renovation at the time. The kitchen was down to the studs. The stove and refrigerator stood in the centre of the room, askew. Somehow we were still living in there, but barely. The front living room was intact. It was housing all the main floor furniture – sofas, a table, chairs, the piano, books and our famous fish tank – a big, plexiglass coffee-table-sized bowl with a circular piece of glass over top. Inside were fresh water shells, rocks and goldfish, oxygenated by a bubbler powered by a cord that ran under the carpet and across the floor to a plug on the wall. Who knew a piano leg, shifted by the addition of new furniture, was standing on that cord, slowly sparking a flame. We certainly didn’t when we set out to our cousin’s for dinner that night. Thankfully my older sister and I were studying for exams and had to dine and dash. On the way to the library, I came back to the house to pick up my backpack. In doing so I saved the animals, but also fed the fire. Within a few minutes the living room was ablaze.
So there we were, standing in the snow, staring. My little sisters whimpered. My father’s face was ashen. I’m sure my mother’s was as well, but I wasn’t thinking about that, the goldfish or the family photos. Embarrassingly, I had other things on my mind: would the fire reach my room in the basement? What about my clothes? What would I wear to class the next day? I was eighteen – that sweet, selfish time when living in the moment – my moment – was all I knew.
My friend Beth saved the day. Suddenly she was standing there beside me, drawn by the commotion. I would stay with her. Borrow her clothes. Eat her Eggo waffles for breakfast. All would be well.
But I had forgotten about the first-year university, early-nineties vibe. The tree-planting, torn-jean, plaid shirt, camping look was strong, regardless of how you spent your summers. Beth was still in high school. She was fancy. But fires and family displacement will take the wind out of you, even at your most selfish. The next morning I walked into the University meal hall, dressed in a paisley puff-sleeved blouse, big earrings and high-waisted, pleated slacks. I still remember the double-take from my friends, followed by an audible bahaha! – from them and me.
I’ve been curating my outfits since I was a toddler. Let’s call my look “simple, with a splash of effort.” This wasn’t my vibe. But I got over it, just like I did last week when I served up the worst salad in the history of salads.
There were five boys and two mothers at the kitchen island. Everyone was hungry, and like me, post-fire, undiscerning. So I grabbed the washed romaine and instead of making a rich, garlicky Caesar dressing to accompany spaghetti, I reached for a grocery-store bottle from the back of the fridge, left behind by someone else but needing to be eaten. Everyone ate the flavourless salad coated in bland white goop, but it wasn’t my vibe. It was too simple, without any splash of effort.
So in an effort to revive my vibe, I bring you a bright salad dressed in a more-or-less homemade dressing. It’s a ‘wedge’ salad, inspired by lunch at Café Good Luck last week. My version by-passes the iceberg (see why over here), celebrates texture and embraces a bold blue cheese dressing. The dressing does have a big spoonful of Hellman’s mayo in there. I don’t expect pure ingredients all the time, but I do strive for authenticity.
PS – On the night of the fire, our contractor came over to assess the damage to his renovation. He entered the wet living room, navigating around burnt bits of family life until he remembered the goldfish. There they were, swimming around in their protective dome, oblivious. He scooped them up in a coffee mug and kept them at home for months.
PPS – Where’s that puff sleeved blouse now? Beth was right all along.
Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing
yield- approximately 2 cups / 500ml
70g (3/4 cup crumbled) blue cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
juice of half a lemon
cracked black pepper
sea salt to taste
In a medium-sized bowl, mash blue cheese with fork. Whisk in mayo, sour cream, buttermilk and lemon juice. Finish with a good twist of pepper and salt to taste. Add more lemon, or more blue cheese, if the dressing needs extra ‘oomph’. For a thinner dressing, add a little more buttermilk.
Store dressing in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to one week.
A ‘wedge salad’, traditionally, is a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with bacon, sometimes hard boiled egg, sometimes tomatoes, sometimes even a grilled lemon, but always a creamy blue dressing. Follow your vibe!