May 20, 2015

How to Make an Awesome Salad

Basically anytime we go to a dinner party we are asked to bring a salad.  Apparently the word around town is that I make good salads.  I completely appreciate these salad based compliments but they always surprise me a bit too.  I mean, it's just a salad after all.  I tend to say, "I just used what I had in the fridge", which is true but not very descriptive.

I realized that I only have one salad recipe on this blog, which seems a little crazy considering I'm making salad all the time.  But I'm thinking the lack of salad recipes here is because I don't really consider it a "recipe" when I'm making a salad.  That's why I'm going to give you the steps to make your own awesome salad every time.

1.  Lettuce

There is a time an place for iceberg and it is in Cobb Salad.  Unless you are making a Cobb, I suggest sticking to green leaf, red leaf, butter leaf, spinach, romaine or a mixture of all or some of these.

Not only are these types of lettuce more nutritious, they taste better and make a much better salad. Also, you can make these lettuces (minus spinach) last one week to 10 days in your fridge if you follow my instructions on How to Make Lettuce Last.

2.  Raw Veggies

You have to add some veggies to that lettuce!  I usually lean to items we typically always have in our fridge - red, yellow or orange bell pepper, carrots, red onion.

I'm giving these as an example because they are, for the most part, always in my salads and always in my fridge. That said, these are just a starting point, the more veggies in the salad the better! Some other examples are avocados, cucumbers or corn.

So, about these raw veggies.....

  • You may have noticed the purple carrots.  We are able to get those here at our local farmer's market and they are delicious, plus add nice color to a salad.  I choose them over orange whenever I get the opportunity.
  • Regarding our friend the red onion, although it adds delicious flavor, I tend to slice it very thin and not add a lot.  If you are putting red onion in your salad, I would wait to put in the red onion until shortly before serving, otherwise you might "onion-up" your whole bowl of greens.
  • How am I getting all of these veggies?  Well we live in California's Central Valley, or the produce capital of the world, so the abundance of veggies available here on the regular is amazing and we are LUCKY.  If you don't have all of these veggies, that's OK, your salad will still be fab, just add what you can!
  • In the summer, corn is abundant here so I am typically buying many ears.  We love corn on the cob, so I tend to cook extra ears.  With the leftovers, I cut the kernels off the cob and save them for salads.  If you are short on cobs of corn, you can always throw in half a can of corn (drained obvs), to add some sweetness and color to your salad.

3.  Something Crunchy

You are probably thinking croutons.  If so you are wrong.  I pretty much never add croutons to a salad.  IMO, store bought croutons aren't good and they're overpriced.  You can easily do delicious homemade croutons with stale bread, but if I'm being honest bread never goes stale in our house. Because I eat it.  ALL.

For something crunchy I am talking about nuts and seeds.  Sunflower seeds, sliced almonds and/or pecans are all good examples.

I usually buy these at Trader Joe's, but Costco has a better deal on sliced almonds.  I prefer to buy them salted, but that is up to you.  I always have the sunflower seeds and sliced almonds on hand for my granola and usually throw both into any salad.  Pecans of course, make a great salad topper as well.  

4.  Something Sweet

I think the something sweet is the key to push a salad from good to great.  There are a lot of things to add to give a bit of sweetness including raisins, craisins, apples, pears, mandarins or strawberries.

My go-to of this bunch is craisins.  I love the sweet tartness they add to any salad, they store well and last a long time.  However, when you have fresh fruit to add, it is always a win.

Unlike our other salad components where I suggest adding "some or all", I would hold back a bit on the sweet factor.  If you put too much "sweet" (or fruit) your salad will be too fruity.  Think about adding just a bit to bring it up a level without overdoing it.  In addition to these examples, pretty much any dried fruit is delicious, as are persimmons, which I often add to fall salads, or dates, which are great with just about anything.

5.  Cheese

Of course my inner Urkel is going to tell you to add cheese.

Now that we have that out of the way, may I suggest goat, blue or feta for your salad?

I typically go for the crumbled goat cheese because: 1) goat cheese is mild enough to go with just about anything, and 2) crumbled goat cheese is easy.

If you crumble your cheese from the block its going to be better and more rich.  But we don't always have time for that, do we?  Instead just use a pre-crumbled cheese.  Other cheeses that go great in salads are roquefort and in Mexican salads - cojita.  In a pinch you can also add chunks of cheddar or jack, but soft, crumbly cheeses are better for salad.

Regarding the cheese, please just pick one.  These examples have strong flavors and combining them might make weird flavors in your salad.

Let's stop here.

If you use components 1-5, congratulations, you have an awesome salad!  Some of my favorite combinations are....
  • Green leaf, red onion, mandarin, sliced almond, blue cheese
  • Green leaf, spinach, bell pepper, carrot, sunflower seeds, almonds, craisins, feta
  • Butter, red onion, sliced strawberry, goat
But guess what?  Your salad can be even more awesome.  If you don't want to stop at step 5, keep going!

6.  Fancy Lettuce

Adding a bit of fancy to your lettuce is always good.  Here you can try arugula, kale, beet greens, endive or purple cabbage.

Arugula will add some spice, kale will add some heartyness, endive - crunch, beet greens - color, purple cabbage - bitterness.  Be choosy about your fancy lettuce, but don't be afraid to add one to your already delicious salad.

7. Fresh Herbs

Herbs.  At our local Farmer's Market we have Herb Ladies (at least that is what I call them).  They are there for the majority of the year and sell herbs for cheap.  Like 25 cents for a huge bunch, WAY better than grocery store prices.  Adding a bit of chopped fresh herbs to your salad can give it a delicious extra punch.  Some suggestions are basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, oregano, thyme and sometimes even mint can work great.  Again, I wouldn't add them all together, but be picky on which herbs will compliment your other ingredients the most.

8.  Hot Stuff

Not like "hey hot stuff" but literally, hot stuff.  Like rice, quinoa, cous-cous or even cooked veggies can add an extra deliciousness to your salad.  It sounds weird I know, but adding hot quinoa makes a cold lunch into a hot lunch, wilts the lettuce just right and changes the whole dynamic of your salad. Just trust me on this one.

9.  Meat/Protein

Grilled chicken, steak or salmon are all wonderful and healthy protein sources for your salad.  If you aren't feeling meat-y, try a hard boiled egg.  Protein can turn a lunch salad into a dinner.  And by the way, no one is going to complain if you decide to throw some bacon on there once in awhile!

10.  Dressing

Last, but definitely not least.  We can't have salad without dressing people!  Typically I make my own dressing.  It's too easy not to (really).  But in a pinch my favorite off the shelf varieties are Brianna's Vinaigrette or Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.  Don't let the strawberry on the Brianna's bottle fool you, it's not strawberry dressing!  This dressing is great on basically everything.  Like salad, I don't use a recipe to make my own dressing's either (I know).  It looks like I'll have to do some tinkering and come up with specific measurements for you!  Until then - here is the easy version:

2 parts olive oil
1 part balsalmic vinegar
honey and/or brown sugar to taste


2 parts olive oil
1 part lemon juice
fancy salt (like Maldon) to taste

So my friends, that is how you make an Awesome Salad!  I hope to see you at the Farmer's Market this weekend buying your ingredients!


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April 22, 2015

On buying a house

Let's just start this post by saying that the house buying process has taken us through feelings of frustration, irritation, hope, excitement and disappointment.

The good thing is, I don't think we are alone.  I think everyone must have these feelings to some degree when going through the process.

That said, can we catch a break already?

It started with this house...

Looks pretty good right?  Well, these pictures are a year old.  The pool now looks like an alligator swamp.  The inside is pretty OK, but there was a lot of work done by someone who built things solid but wasn't a very good finisher (think large gaps between the sheetrock and ceiling, among other things).  The house is a short sale and we were hoping to 203k it.  If you aren't familiar with a 203k, it is essentially a construction loan, wherein you purchase a home and add into the amount of your loan a budget to rehab it.
Anyway, the bid to do everything we wanted to this house was $127k.  It sounds huge, but we could have made it work because the asking price of the house was low.  That said, it was going to be a TON of work and ultimately we decided the area just wasn't quite right for us.

Around the same time was this place.....

Awesome yard, funky house.  Like funky, smelled like dogs funky.  This would have again been a 203k.  I liked the private lane it was on and the yard that backed up to a little creek area with horses.  But alas, husband didn't like that the yard was so sloped and the first house I showed you seemed to have more potential.

Then there was this place....

An awesome old ranch with a great layout that was on the bluff above the river and bike trail.  That view!  It also had a beautiful pool.  We had looked at it before we were serious and then it went pending....and then it fell out of escrow.  So we tried to make an offer and they already had two above list.  We didn't think it was worth that so we walked.

So then we looked at this place.....

This is a 1200 sqft 2/1.  What, you might be wondering, is a family of 4 even considering this for? Well, the area is our ideal spot.  It's nearly impossible to get into this neighborhood with our budget but we could have done it in this house and made it into a 1800-2000 sqft 3/2.  So we were excited. But, we got outbid.  We were in position of first back-up but the house sold for $16k over list.

Then there was this place....

It was a short sale in the same neighborhood as the one above that had been contingent for months and months. And then it became active again.  And we tried to jump at it even though it was at the top of our budget. And, of course, they already had multiple above list offers.  And now, it is contingent again.

There was also a shack, seriously a 447 sqft shack in an area of town that we LOVE.  We planned to slap an awesome pre-fab home on it.  It went so quickly we didn't even get a chance to bid on it.  Then it came back on the market and again we tried, but we found out the reason it fell out of escrow was because the county was requiring the new builder to put in a paved road big enough for a fire truck to drive down and turn around on.  For real.  This would have eaten up the whole piece of property.  So that was out and now its off market.  Go figure.

So then there was this place....

Yes.  It was on the river.  Like the river was your freaking backyard!  And that part of the levy is private.  The layout was great.  The house was totally 70's but who cared, we didn't.  But of course, multiple offers over list.

And then there was this place....

All I should really say here is this:  BONKERS Listing Agent.
It is in a great neighborhood, it has all hardwood floors, a pool, a big backyard, an electric charging station (we drive a Leaf!) and our best friends live literally down the street.  This came up and we jumped.  Like for real jumped.  We made a sight unseen offer on this place.  Our cover letter was kick-ass.
They told us they got the offer, we were in first!
They told us they were going to send a counter, "great!" we said, send it over!
We waited.
They told us there was another strong offer.
"Great" we said "send us a counter".
We waited.
And then the house popped up pending.
Not.  Even.  Kidding.
And this is where I get pissed.  I mean really?
Was it so hard to say, "hey, we are taking another offer"?
Apparently it was.
That said, how did the agent know we wouldn't have bid much more? The fact is, she didn't.
But then this thing fell out of escrow and the agent came back and said "make your best offer" and we said, we made an offer, make us a counter.  And again, we never heard back.
And then she re-listed the house for UNDER our original sight unseen offer amount?  Um what?  So we made another offer at the new list price.  And then she sent us an inspection from 2012 and told us it would be an as-is sale.  Huh?  #wethinksnot.  Then she wanted us to remove standard stuff from the contract (like we the buyer are paying for the pest inspection).  We said no, then we folded, then it went into escrow with someone else.  I feel sorry for the owners on this one....if only you knew.

Then there was this house.

We'll call it the Streng with the awsome kitchen.  You can learn more about Streng homes here and see more here.  They are a personal mid-century modern favorite of mine and there are many in the Sacramento area. The kitchen was sweet (it actually looks better in this photo than in person, but still).  I was more in love with this house than hubby....that being said, it had a lot of great features, like a neighborhood pool/cabana club literally across the street and it was in a great neighborhood.  We made an offer, we asked for a counter and once again, they picked another offer (which they told us was "similar") and didn't counter us back.  (Seriously, somebody needs to teach some of these real estate agents how to negotiate the best price for their sellers!).  Alas, this home was not meant for us either apparently.

And then there was this house.

I sent this to hubby kind of as a joke.  This place is a flat with a unit underneath.  I told him we could buy it and rent out the bottom.  Then he suggested my grammy live under us, which would be awesome.  It opened up a whole new idea of living and we loved the idea of a multi-generational household.  When we showed up for the open there were about 20 people waiting on the sidewalk.  Seriously.  But we made our bid, and crossed our fingers, and we didn't get it.  We were sad.  So was grammy.

And now there is this house.

Hi house!  We currently have an accepted offer on this house!  Yay!  Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly.  If so I can talk to you about fun things like moving, building a pool, building a tiny house for grandma, etc., etc., etc.

My message to you is this: If you too are looking for a house, don't be discouraged.  The right thing for you and yours is bound to happen.

The houses I'm showing you here are only a drop in the barrel of homes we've looked at and ruled out.  Even though the process is grueling and stressful and sad.  Even though every time you find one you like you imagine your kitchen and kids rooms and your stuff in that house....and you imagine it as yours and how your family will look inside.  Even though all of these things, it just means you haven't found THE ONE.  You are not alone!

All photos in this post are from Redfin.  I purposely did not include direct links as they include exact addresses.

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