It is terribly true, even if the truth does not comfort, that if you look at the moon for long enough night after night, as I have, you will see that the old cartoons are correct, that the moon is, in fact, laughing. But it is not laughing at us, we lonely humans, who are far too small and our lives far too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all. -Lauren Groff (“Ghosts and Empties” from Florida)
When I last updated this blog, the east coast was still in the clutches of a very clingy winter; the Greek had been offered a job in Singapore; and my grandmother was still in the early stages of recovering from her open-heart surgery. To say that what followed all of these things was pure whirlwind would be a gross understatement, as nothing could have prepared me for the sheer busyness of the past several months. Perhaps in hindsight it was naive to have envisioned a fairly quiet spring and summer for myself, but I really did think that a late March/early April trip to Los Angeles with a good friend was going to be the most exciting thing to happen to me for some time. And if that seems kind of sad to you, then you have no idea how fantastic dinner at Mozza, breakfast at Huckleberry, and tacos at Guisado’s can be. It turned out, however, that these things were just the tip of the iceberg.
As I was heading back to Philadelphia from Los Angeles, the Greek was heading to the west coast for one final interview at Oregon State; not only was this fairly late in the academic hiring game, but there was also very little hope that anything would or could come of the trip. Singapore appeared inevitable, so inevitable that, before the Greek was even back from Oregon, I had bought us tickets to travel there to visit the campus and to see what life in Singapore would be like. Since I would still like to write a post about our trip to Singapore (and a bazillion other posts), I won’t say too much about our time there, save for the fact that, in mid-April, we traveled for 19.5 hours each way to spend about five days exploring a tropical city-state with incredible food in every direction you might turn. But in one of those weird twists that you can never really anticipate, the day after we returned from Singapore, an email came from Oregon offering the Greek a job, and the question of where we would end up was suddenly a choice, rather than a foregone conclusion. Of course, as wonderful as it is to have a choice, sometimes life is just simpler when choice is removed from the equation…or maybe they are just better for marriages, since there were times when the Singapore vs. the USA debate raging between me and the Greek seemed as likely to cause an irreparable rift in our marriage as the 2016 election did to many friendships.
But three months later, here we are in Corvallis, Oregon, in a little green ranch that we settled on after one weekend of house-hunting in mid-May, right on the cusp of my turning 35 and the Greek’s turning 33. It was actually around that time that I started writing this post, having fallen for this strawberry, Irish cheddar and tarragon salad during the final meal of our trip at the Downward Dog. I had thought that it was just the thing to share on the blog at the height of spring, since the strawberries were particularly fine then, the first of the year and as fragrant, small and tender as they come. But before I could get beyond the second paragraph of the post, a series of unexpected events–a seeming miracle that quickly turned into yet another disappointment, which in turn led to more doctor appointments and some equally off-the-wall medical theories and recommended testing–took over. Once the dust had settled on that front, it was time to tackle the logistics of the move and to begin saying goodbye to all the people and things we held dear both in Delaware and on the east coast. At this point I figured that the time to write about strawberries had passed, but a road trip through the northern part of the US (a trip that I plan to write about and soon; the freedom to read and write might be the ultimate benefit of the unemployed life), as well as my recent visits to the local co-op and the Corvallis Farmers’ Market, have shown me that strawberries are still very much in season in certain parts of the country. Are these berries as fine as those that I had in mid-May? No, even from the same farm, Denison, which I’ve quickly learned offers the queenliest of produce here, the strawberries are neither as small or as sweet as they once were, but they still taste of sunshine and long summer days.
You might be skeptical when you think of combining strawberries with creamy Irish cheddar and pungent, anise-scented tarragon, but, believe me when I say that it is as harmonious a combination as they come. Even better, this salad represents the best of summer “cooking”: it is simple to throw together (I couldn’t find raspberry-port vinegar, but raspberry wine vinegar worked just as well) and allows every ingredient to shine. To me, back in May, it felt as happy and auspicious a welcome to Oregon as I could have hoped for. I haven’t had the chance to recreate this salad since I’ve been here–our stuff is arriving tomorrow, so I am currently working alchemy with two borrowed skillets, one pot, and the cutlery from the picnic basket we received as a wedding present–but I remember how hopeful I felt that night at Downward Dog (and still am) for what this new life might bring. And even though the movers packed up the little box with my recipe notes and I’m just going to have to wing this one, there was no better recipe to share to celebrate our arrival in our new home.
Downward Dog’s Special Strawberry Salad
Serves 2 as a side or 1 as a meal (with bread and butter on the side)
For the salad:
8-10 ounces spring mix (or 5 ounces spring mix and 5 ounces baby arugula)
1/2 cup almonds, toasted for 8 minutes at 350 F, cooled, and chopped
a sprig of tarragon, with the leaves stripped from the stem and finely chopped
2-3 ounces Irish cheddar, finely grated or cubed
a dry pint of strawberries (roughly 1 1/2 – 2 cups sliced strawberries)
For the Raspberry-Tarragon Vinaigrette:
2 sprigs tarragon, with the leaves stripped from the stem and finely chopped
1/4 cup raspberry wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Assemble the salad in a large bowl, layering the ingredients.
Whisk together the vinegar and the tarragon, then add the olive oil. Whisk until emulsified and taste. Add more vinegar, oil, and/or salt and pepper until the dressing is flavored to your liking.
Add as much dressing to the salad as you like (you may have leftovers), then toss and serve.