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When All is Lost, Make a Salad

I wrapped the ornaments in faded newspaper.

My husband pulled our balsam fir tree to the sidewalk.

I carried the Christmas boxes down to their spot in the basement.

He vacuumed needles.

I took one last look at the Christmas cards.

He vacuumed needles.

I put in a load of laundry.

He vacuumed needles.

I made dinner.

He vacuumed needles.

This morning I pulled needles from his beard. I found more under his pillow. It feels good to be out with the old and in with the new, but the holidays, they like to linger.

I found them hanging around my waist. I found them in the empty wine bottles waiting for recycling day. I found them in my desire to reset and eat more plants, as I always do this time of year. I’m a cliché, I know. But this year, especially, it’s a comfort to think about starting fresh when the world is falling apart.

I begin with a lemon. I cut the rind with a vegetable peeler and inhale as tiny bursts of lemon oil fill the kitchen. I smell warm lemon squares, I smell Easter Sunday, I smell Sicily. I slice the strips and place the matchsticks into a small saucepan and add vegetable oil, just enough to cover. I bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, then take it off the heat. When cool I put the lemon ‘confit’ in a container in the refrigerator to use on anything that needs a lift – salad, pasta, risotto, me…

I move to garlic. I place a clove in a bowl and sprinkle flaky sea salt on top. I crush the garlic with the tongs of a fork. This seems improbable at first; the clove jumps around, winning. Eventually it surrenders, and I smash away, using the textured salt as grist until all I’m left with is a rough, pungent paste.

Garlic and lemon, they’re my foundations. They fill my senses, they change the subject, and they launch me into a good place: salad.

I crack open an old friend, the Rebar Cookbook from 2001. If you visit a Canadian second hand shop you too might find a copy like I did. I started working at Books For Cooks in London shortly after the book was published, and for a long time it was THE ONLY Canadian cookbook in the 10,000 titles book shop – a cookbook written by the owners of Rebar, a small restaurant / café in Victoria, BC. It was so ahead of its time. There are buddha bowls. Pressed juices made with fennel, celery and apple. Mostly plants with just a touch of cheese. And salads, so many salads. (Oh and Vegan Fudge Brownies that are said to be so good, ‘customers begged for the recipe’. Customers know best. They give face to face feedback, the bravest kind. I’ll try those for you next week.)

I start with Rebar’s basil vinaigrette. It’s not groundbreaking or new, but instead, tried and true. The intro reads, “customers are always requesting this recipe and for years have been told to ‘wait for the cookbook.’ Well here it is!”

I scrape my smashed, now salty garlic into the barrel of a food processor. I add the rest of the ingredients and blitz it all together. I slowly pour oil in a stream, not quite as much as the recipe calls for. I run a finger along the splashes on the lid of the processor – it tastes just right. The recipe suggests tossing the vinaigrette with garlicky croutons, olives, bocconcini, red onion, greens and more fresh basil. Or maybe I’ll toss it with roasted vegetables, chickpeas and a handful of arugula.

It’s snowing now. The city and all its flaws are covered in a blanket of white. All we need now is a sprinkling of lemon confit, for a touch of sunshine and hope.

lemon confit

Rebar’s Basil Vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup (60ml) red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups (45g) fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cracked pepper
1 cup olive oil (250ml) olive oil – I used less, about 3/4 cup)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend. Slowly add oil until creamy. Store vinaigrette in a container in the refrigerator until needed.

Rebar's basil vinaigrette