Two of our dearest friends, who live back in Michigan, had a baby this week. I was standing in the hallway in front of the heater in our apartment trying to get warm and passing the time by scrolling through Instagram, when I saw my second-ever photo of their new boy. He has a squishy little face and appears to be perfect (as tends to be the case with newborns). I was trying to type, “welcome to the world” but instead burst into tears. The words that this phrase called to mind were those of Frederick Buechner, and a favorite mantra of mine: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
I was listening to a podcast on my run yesterday in which Rob Bell and Jonas Elrod (whose film I’m now eager to watch) were having a conversation about the heaven/earth dichotomy that’s so often the basis for our collective worldview. (I highly recommend Rob’s podcast, by the way, whether you consider yourself a spiritual person or even just a tiny bit curious. Amazing conversations and inspiring ideas. Plus, Oprah! And Elizabeth Gilbert!) They were saying that yeah, life is tough and the world is a mess, but it’s also pretty amazing—the action is here, said Rob Bell. It’s not just a waiting game for something else. I’ve heard this before and agree, but it’s resonating with me in a new way. I understand why many don’t want to bring babies into this world as it stands these days, what with climate change and terrorism and so many other ugly things, not to mention the everyday challenges of love and work and money and more. But what if it’s not so black and white as that? What if we are part of a grand story, and everyone who enters this world has the great and terrifying gift of being part of that, too?
Life is hard and strange and wild, but awfully wonderful, too.
And now it’s the holiday season. I’ve made no secret of my love for all things celebratory and holiday, and it has much to do with this. In the midst of the challenges and chaos, we’ve got to name and celebrate the good. The holidays force us toward that act, the mere turning of the calendar page prompting us to buy gifts and decorate and pop bottles and embrace a little extra extravagance. Last year, Ben and I went to a cheese class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, and the delightful French instructor, Colette Hatch, made a point of telling us how well the French celebrate, no holds barred, putting Americans in December to shame. Fancy cheese always at hand, good wine consumed with enthusiasm, seasonal delicacies awaited all year suddenly present and abundant. I love it.
I mentioned my Thanksgiving salad already in broad strokes, but since it’s truly a salad for the whole holiday season, and also very tasty, I thought I should share it with you as we march on into December. This right here is the dish you can bring to all of your festive gatherings, and/or eat before you go, so that there’s something nourishing in your belly alongside all of that sugar and booze. Which I heartily endorse and will partake in as well, with a big side of salad, of course (but only because it, too, is delicious!).
Festive Kale Salad with Roasted Squash & Spicy Seeds
Serves 4 – 6
You can certainly make adjustments to this recipe to suit your tastes and the contents of your crisper and cupboards. To that end, I didn’t even write a formal dressing recipe, as you should make it taste the way you like.
The recipe for these spicy seeds is entirely my friend Sara‘s, so I’ve separated it out and written it below. These little morsels are utterly delicious on a great many things. If you have her book Bowl + Spoon, I urge you to make the recipe they’re included in originally. It’s called the Hippie Bowl, and while I have made many similar dishes in my day, this one is pretty dang perfect. If you don’t have that book, buy it! Then you can make the recipe, too.
2 small-to-medium sized delicata squash
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper
Aleppo pepper flakes
1/2 red onion
Red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
About 2 pounds baby kale (or use 2 bunches grownup kale, chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces)
4 – 6 Medjool dates, chopped, and/or about 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (both are delicious! just make sure to add something sweet)
1/2 batch sweet-spicy sunflower seeds (recipe below)
Crumbled goat or Feta cheese (optional)
First, prepare the delicata squash. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To make rounds as pictured, which is unnecessary but a lovely touch, slice the squash in half crosswise, scoop out the seeds and strings and slice carefully in 1/4-inch rounds. (Half moons are easier and entirely acceptable as well.) Drizzle the slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and a big pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes. Mix well, then arrange in a single layer on one or two baking trays lined with parchment. Roast for about 35 minutes, flipping once, until cooked through and dark brown in places. This can be done one day ahead; keep the slices in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Next, begin quick-pickling the red onion. Slice the onion thinly, then place in a small bowl. Pour a liberal amount of red wine vinegar over top and add a big pinch of salt. Mix together, then allow to rest until the salad is ready to be assembled. Once ready, drain off the liquid and use just the onion slices. You can save the leftover vinegar for this or another dressing if you like.
Make the dressing. In a jar, combine a good pour of red wine vinegar with a dollop of mustard, a big pinch of salt, pepper and the garlic clove, peeled and smashed. Add olive oil to your liking, mixing well and tasting along the way. I like a pretty zesty dressing, so I tend to use a nearly 1:1 ratio of vinegar and oil, but you may have a different preference, so keep adjusting until you like the taste. Remove the garlic clove just before serving. Any leftover dressing can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
To make the salad, dress the kale generously, tossing with your hands. Put it in a large serving bowl. Arrange the roasted squash, pickled onion, dates and/or pomegranate, sunflower seeds and cheese, if using, over top.
Sweet-Spicy Sunflower Seeds
Barely adapted from Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen: Bowl & Spoon
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon muscovado, turbinado or natural cane sugar
Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the sunflower seeds until just fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the salt, cayenne and sugar. Toss the mixture until the sugar is hot enough to stick to the seeds, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a piece of parchment or plate, spreading the seeds in a single layer, and allow to cool completely. The seeds can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container.