Excess Baggage – Making Friends With Salads

One of my life ambitions (along with being an extra on Midsomer Murders) is to cook my way through Nigella’s cookbooks. Her books, you see, are not just about the recipes, but the writing peppered with little pieces of what I like to call Nigellosophy. This extract from Cook, Eat, Repeat sums up many of the reasons why:

“If I could ban any phrase, it would, without doubt, be that overused, viscerally irritating, and far-from-innocent term itself, the Guilty Pleasure. I don’t think I actually groan out loud when I’m asked, every time I’m interviewed, ‘What are your guilty pleasures?’, but from deep within the cacophonous orchestra of my mind, the woodwind section starts up a searing wail, the cellos come in with their melancholy sob, only giving way to the brass section to end with the wah wah wah waah of the sad trombone. I may be smiling, but I’m keening on the inside.

My answer to that question is always the same, and while I worry that I repeat it so often it might be beginning to sound glib, I have to say that I feel it profoundly. And it is this: no one should feel guilty about what they eat, or the pleasure they get from eating; the only thing to feel guilty about (and even then I don’t recommend it) is the failure to be grateful for that pleasure…What I refuse to live with, categorically and essentially set myself against, is the erosion of pleasure by dint of turning it into a means of self-persecution.”

Nigella Lawson, Cook, Eat, Repeat

In the same chapter, appropriately titled “Pleasures”, she talks about comfort eating:

“For me that conjures up an unhappy search for mind-numbing obliteration: food as narcotic; not food as a celebration of life.

The accepted notions of comfort eating and guilty pleasure, while different from one another, stem from the same Manichaean universe: a foodstuff is either good or bad; ditto the eater thereof.  Thus people seek to deny themselves the tastes and textures they crave, and castigate themselves when they give in to temptation. From this comes the crippling sense of shame, which gives rise to the guilty pleasure. But truly, where is the pleasure when it provokes such shame or guilt?”

Nigella Lawson, Cook, Eat, Repeat

I read something somewhere (sorry for the vagueness – I really should get in the habit of writing proper notes rather than relying on my menopausal brain to remember actual details) about how when we’re reaching for comfort food, we tend to go for the highly processed, high fat, high sugar hits. What we’re looking for is not necessarily taste or flavour, but rather that certain mouth feel. Food as a hug, almost. And there’s nothing wrong with that – unless it leads to the above-mentioned guilt or shame…but I’ll leave that there.

Anyways, Nigella goes onto talk about the time she posted a picture of her lunch – a sesame scattered bowl of broccoli and prawns – on Instagram and someone commented about how she was being “good” and surely she would have preferred to be eating cake. The answer to that was no – she was eating exactly what she wanted to be eating at that point in time – it was what she and her body were craving, and she exulted in it.

I get that, yet so often salads and vegetables are associated with punishment or deprivation. We say things like, ‘I’ve been bad so it’s salad for me this week.’ Yet, back in the days when overseas travel was on the cards, fresh vegetables were always what we’d rush to have in our first meal home. We craved them, we looked forward to them. Rather than a punishment, well-prepared fresh veggies are a pleasure.

It hasn’t always been that way. I remember gagging on Brussels sprouts when I was a kid, and the broad beans back when they used to get cooked in their bitter outer skins until they were a pale khaki instead of the bright spring green they should be. Then there was the pumpkin mash – don’t mention the pumpkin mash.

These days things are different and I embrace most things veg – I even love the sprouts (although still gag on pumpkin mash) – with okra being the only exception to that rule. We are, however, spoilt where we live and how we have access to so much great seasonal produce all year round.

We buy our lettuce leaves each week from Sue at the farmer’s market. Not only are they so freshly picked that they actually last a couple of weeks in the fridge, but they taste so good I once said (quite fancifully) that they tasted as though they’d been flown in on the wings of a fairy. My husband laughed at me, but it’s true – they taste that good. 

It’s like the tomatoes that come from the man at Noosa Reds. I defy any other tomato in the world to taste as good as these tomatoes. I crave them and eat them like I’d eat an apple. Eaten in the sun on excellent sourdough bread with fresh curd from the man at Gympie Goat’s Cheese, it’s hard to imagine a more indulgent breakfast.

The skies have been (mostly) blue over the last week and the days warmer – spring is on the way. With the warmer weather, I’m craving green food and looking forward to spring veg such as asparagus and broad beans. I can make a meal out of podded broad beans with a little pancetta, olive oil and good bread. As for fresh asparagus dipped into soft boiled eggs… heaven. Rather than deprivation and punishment, it actually feels quite indulgent and luxurious to enjoy the best of the season in this way.

Recipe of the week

This week’s recipe of the week is this tomato and red pepper salad (main pic). It comes from Claudia Rodin’s new book “Med”. I had it one night last week as a side to steak (I really wanted seared tuna, but wasn’t able to get it), and then another night I “melted” anchovies into olive oil, added the leftover tomato/capsicum salad and some sliced black olives and tossed it through spaghetti. The photo isn’t great, but oh my goodness it was tasty.

I had the last of it for lunch with some fresh herbs sprinkled over the top. One dish, three ways. Winning.

Last week…

On the exercise front, in addition to my weekday 5 at 5 (5kms at 5am), I did 2 strength sessions with my totally stunning training buddies aka cheerleaders. I also tried a HIIT session and a boxing session to up the cardio a bit. Both were online (Get Fit With Rick) and certainly had my heart beating faster.

Okay, hit me up with your fave salads and dressings…

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

21 thoughts

  1. I love salads Jo and eat them year round. We have two favourites. One I call our normal salad lettuce,baby spinach, red onion, tomato, celery, shallots (spring onions whatever you call them), avocado, green olives and kalamata olives. Dressed with freshly ground salt & pepper, extra virgin olive oil and a combo of brown and white vinegar. The second is something Mike came up with: Steamed Cauliflower, Broccoli, Beans and boiled potatoes with Red Onions and Olives, tossed in an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Delicious and healthy! You are doing so well with your workouts and are certainly on track! Have a lovely week and your photos make me feel hungry. xx

    1. Yum! One of my faves is a French style roasted potato with green beans salad and a French dressing (one part vinegar, 3 parts olive oil, a tsp Dijon mustard, ½ clove garlic, and a tsp or so of water).

  2. Thanks to you, Jo, I recently finished reading Nigella’s book “Cook, Eat, Repeat”. Reserved from my elibrary. I now ‘get it’ on Nigellosophy and all of the amazing recipes. I find I am at fault for using “guilty pleasures” and not always about food. Other parts of my life, too. Your photos here and recipes are mouth-watering. Good on you about your training sessions. I began strength training about 15 years ago and it made and is making a huge difference in my health. Great post!

    1. Thanks Erica. It really is a cookbook you can read, isn’t it? I haven’t done any strength training for about 5 or 6 years, but I’m enjoying it again.

  3. I have been eating a spinach salad almost everyday for lunch lately. Delicious!! I would about rather have a salad and bowl of soup than anything else. Good job on the 5 at 5. I keep setting my alarm to get up at 5:30 am and then, in my sleep, turn it off each morning. Maybe tomorrow I will finally get up and workout!

    1. I’m now used to just getting up and getting on with it. No matter what type of crap my day descends into I’ve ticked some boxes. Your spinach salad sounds delicious.

  4. Jo, I am a fan of salads – all kinds of salads, plain or fancy. One night this week I tossed butter lettuce and grape tomatoes with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, lime juice, honey and a little grated parmesan. Topped it with a few grilled shrimp to make it a meal. Yum. I never think of salads as ‘diet food.’ In fact, I’m quite sure I can create one which contains my entire daily calorie count.

    My ‘go-to’ diet meal is a small serving of protein (4 to 6 ounces of fish, chicken, meat) with a cup and half of veggies on the side and fruit for dessert. Boring, but it does the trick when I need to drop a few (which is now). Nixing my evening glass of wine is the hardest part. I will channel Niegella and give myself permission to enjoy – in moderation.

    I’m impressed with your early exercise routine. Never been good with early mornings.

    1. Wine is my absolute vice. Oh how I enjoy it! We tend not to do dessert (although I will make one on Saturday nights usually), but a go to meal for us is probably similar to yours. Usually though we’ll stir fry it or have it as an Asian salad. I’m with you though, a good plate of veg or salad is not a deprivation.

  5. Nigella is a very wise woman and I love her thoughts on ‘guilty pleasures’ of the food variety. Thanks for sharing your salady goodness with us Jo 🙂

  6. The salad in the opening pic looks amazing! It almost looks like a dip! I just did a tomato theme last month and it was all home dishes.

  7. Your food photos are gorgeous Jo. And those tomatoes! I do struggle to eat salads in winter, even though I love them. I’m sure it’s all in the mind. I won’t tell you my favourite salad as you’d be very bored by it. For me a salad is just the salad veg with no dressing. Definitely no dressings, mayo or condiments.Weird I know, but that’s me! I checked out Get Fit With Rick. His workouts look great. I’ll definitely be adding one or two to my early mornings in the gym. Or outdoors as the weather improves.

    1. I find the shorter (10 min) Rick clips are great for getting me moving in the middle of the day – and for if I need my brain to wake up while I’m working.

  8. I am so hungry after reading your post! So much deliciousness!

    I learnt how to bake with How to be a Domestic Goddess. I mean, I dabbled here and there with a cake mix here & there before then, and the odd batch of this & that, but it was only after I was gifted this book as a housewarming present to the first kitchen of my own, that I took it seriously and baked lots of goodies from this book. And I did love the stories she told & the wisdom imparted – first time I realised cookbooks were more than recipes.

  9. Nothing like a good salad – but we tend to keep them for Summer and stick with vegies in the Winter. I’m quite looking forward to swapping over again soon – and I’m pretty okay with almost all salad ingredients and vegies too – except for capsicum…..for some strange reason I’ve always hated it and can only tolerate it in very small amounts cooked into something. If it’s big enough to pick out (or off) then it goes on the side of my plate. Loved all your foodie pics – so different to my relationship with food and cooking (I’m much more prosaic).

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