Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton
Did someone say spring fever? Yes, I am feeling anxious for summer. Even though I try to be the kind of person who views the glass as half full, believe me when I say that I gave winter the evil eye this year. Yes, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, I have lived here for most of my forty-six years. Yes, I know that I should savor each moment and wish life to move fast forward. Still, I find myself wistful for long hikes and vases full of fresh-cut flowers from my back yard. I watch the chickens preen in the sunshine and I eagerly anticipate long daylight hours filled with warmth and all of the possibility that we can gather in a few short months.
Since my family is fortunate to have a hoop house, April will be planting season for us and we are investing a lot of sweat equity into our garden this year. For a couple of months now we have been starting seeds in our house. My husband John started broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, watermelon, and an assortment of flowers. Last weekend I started tomatoes and cucumbers. Check out the “mini-greenhouses” I used to plant cucumbers and recycle the large clamshell containers that greens come in from the supermarket.
In the fall it was difficult to go back to buying greens for salads and smoothies after being able to grow our own all spring and summer.
However, I found a neat way to recycle the large clamshell packages. They make great mini-greenhouses to start seeds. Fill with soil, plant seeds, water, close the top, and place in a sunny windowsill until your seeds germinate. 🌱🌱
Pumpkin plant windowsill garden.
We have a tiny house but we maximize our space and take advantage of the wonderful sunlight.
This weekend I am picking up squash seeds (zucchini, yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash) to also start indoors. While we still have several feet of snow on the ground, on sunny days the temperature is reaching the low 70s in the hoop house. I can already taste the green beans, broccoli, and peas and I cannot wait to be able to pick fresh greens daily for salads.
When I make salads as an entrée for work or dinner, I like to bulk them up with ingredients that are going to have staying power. I love to add beans or nuts for protein and whole wheat pasta, other grains, or quinoa. For the salad that I am sharing with you this month, I decided to use rice noodles – because I thought they would work well with the spicy chili lime dressing. I usually have them on hand because my husband and I love them in my hot and sour mushroom soup. Rice noodles come in a variety of textures (for this salad I used a thin noodle) but the thicker strands would work well too. Both the rice noodles and the garlic chili sauce (that I use in the dressing) can be purchased in the Asian section of the supermarket.
This salad can be plated or made in a jar. While I used clementine oranges or “Cuties”, pineapple or whatever fruit or berries that are in season would work great. The sweetness of fruit partners well with the spiciness of the dressing.
I love to create vibrant salads, since we eat with our eyes first, and I think that taking time to artfully arrange food helps deepen our enjoyment and brings eating to a new level. That is why I enjoy making jar salads. Not only do the jars keep the salads fresh for up to a week, but they help make the salads visually appealing and ready to grab-and-go for work or when you are pressed for time at home. I love being able to prep my salads once for a healthy meal all week-long.
Normally, when I make dressing, I use my Vitamix blender. However, for this dressing, I wanted a chunkier consistency so I added all the ingredients into a pint-sized mason jar, put the lid on and gave it a good shake.
CHILI LIME DRESSING
- 1 cup of rice vinegar
- 1 lime (juice and zest. If you are using bottled lime juice, one lime renders approximately 1/4 cup)
- 1 clove of minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil (sesame oil has a very distinct taste and I love to use it to stir fry vegetables as well)
- 2 Tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon garlic chili sauce (Warning — chili sauce is SPICY so you may want to add a little at a time. I like heat so I even added more after mixing)
- 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped onion (I used red onion but green onions would be great for this dressing)
- 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger root (ginger has a very strong taste and if you are not used to it, I suggest adding a little at a time)
- Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (1 used 1/4 cup. If you do not like cilantro, parsley would work well)
In the summer I also add a sprig of fresh mint and freshly chopped chives to the dressing.
I added 4 Tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar and layered the following ingredients:
Orange bell pepper (chopped)
1 cup of snow peas
Edamame (I make sure to buy organic and purchase in the freezer section and thaw and use in the salads)
Rice noodles (cooked and cooled)
I made four salads using quart Mason jars. You can decide how much of each ingredient to add. I used ¼ cup each of sunflower seeds, noodles, and edamame. I divided up one small bell pepper, used one clementine per jar, and filled the rest with crunchy cabbage (packing it well to ensure the salad had enough cabbage). Red cabbage works well with this salad as do carrots, tomatoes, broccoli – and if you eat meat you can add chicken or shrimp.
As sure as the geese will return to Upper Michigan skies, this salad will make a great addition to your spring and summer menu. It would be a great dish to bring to a picnic (imagine making small individual salads for everyone in pint jars). The dressing is versatile and while it perks up cabbage or greens in your salad, it is equally delicious drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.
If you have spring fever like I do, I hope you find a way to satisfy your yearning for warming days. Now is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for your own vegetable garden. If you have limited space think about growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. You will thank yourself in a few months when you are making salads from your own fresh produce. Trust me, food always tastes better when it is grown and prepared with a labor of love.