Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese, Strawberry-Champagne Vinaigrette

Summer can be defined in various ways.  Meteorological summer occurs during the entire months of June, July, and August (for those in the northern hemisphere).  Astronomical summer is the time period between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox (June 20 to September 22 for 2012).  Some like to bookend the warmest season with Memorial Day and Labor Day.  All of these methods are pretty close, but they are static.  To me, summer is a dynamic entity which fluctuates from year to year.  Those in the Midwest know that some years you may have all four seasons, others you might get only get 3...the shoulder seasons of fall and spring can be fleeting moments where that sweet vest never makes it out of the closet. 

I prefer to define the summer season by planting day and harvest day.  That's roughly delineated by the time between frosts, which varies slightly and of course is not foolproof.  I follow a simple rule, which fittingly my mother taught me- don't plant until after Mother's Day, at least around these (zone 5) parts.  Calculating when to harvest is much easier these days, thanks to the advancement of modern weather forecasting.  You know this guy kills it.

The end of summer/harvest day this year was yesterday, September 18th.  A buckling Canadian air flow threatened the delicate basil plants- they are the first to succumb to the lack of heat.  Other herbs are much hardier, like the rosemary last year that made it through the winter, as it was quite mild. 

Speaking of last winter's warm temps, this summer was quite hot.  Alarmingly fucking hot.  There are no more icebergs to hide under, those who disagree with scientific claims of global warming, because they melted.  I don't see how one could argue against it.  The drought this summer was the worst in over 50 years, but that pales in comparison to all the other jacked up weather events that have occurred the last 2-3 years.  The most jaw-dropping statistics?  According to NOAA, the globally averaged temperature for June 2012 was the 4th warmest June since record keeping began in 1880.  It was also the 36th consecutive June and the 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th-century average.  June 2012 also broke or tied over 170 all-time high temps across America and contributed to the warmest 12 month period our nation has experienced since 1895.  There will soon be a point where any action taken by the world's leaders will be too late, and we'll see irreversible consequences.  But I'm pretty sure the burning of fossil fuels has nothing to do with it.

And I digress. 

You know why caprese salad is so damn delicious at the end of summer? Cause you waited all mfn winter and most of summer to enjoy it.  Ever see that on a restaurant menu in the dead of winter?  That's a sign you're at the wrong restaurant. 

My first attempt at canning was a success- I think, we'll find out in a few months.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese, Strawberry-Champagne Vinaigrette
2 servings

3 strawberries, hulled, roughly chopped
1 TB champagne vinegar
3 TB good EVOO
1/2 small shallot, minced (about 1 TB)
1/2 ts dijon mustard

1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 C chopped walnuts, toasted
1 rib celery, halved, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced in 1" pieces
2 oz good blue cheese, crumbled
3 large strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced

Using a stand blender, stick blender, or food pro, combine all vinaigrette ingredients and process to combine thoroughly.
Wash and dry the spinach, remove any large stems and tear up some of the big pieces.  Throw in a large salad bowl, then add the celery, red pepper, and the vinaigrette.  Toss well, then add in the strawberries, walnuts, and blue cheese.  Mix gently and serve immediately.  Chill your plates for bonus points.  

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