CABIN FEVER SALAD: GREEK PASTA

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
― Philip Pullman

*Note – While it may be October, pretend it’s July. I wrote this in July for my monthly food column in a local magazine (Marquette Neighbors). Yesterday there were snowflakes in the air, so this afternoon I enjoyed time traveling back to July.

July, the sweet spot of summer. Vegetable gardens are planted and are showing promise, Lake Superior is dazzling us with apricot colored sunrises, and we are adjusting to a new way of living. We are a little more cautious, watching things closely from a distance, and hopefully are a lot more appreciative. 

The pond that my husband built for me (and our ducks) is my happy place.

I have heard many people humorously say that 2020 will go down in their memory bank as the year they made dinner 5,000 nights in a row. While I love to cook, it’s the dirty dishes that plague my heart and kitchen. Therefore, 2020 for me is the year that I am extremely thankful for a dishwasher (that runs daily). It is the year that I have had more time to experiment with my Recipes to Try board on Pinterest. It is also the year that I am even more thankful that we have chickens (we have the time to sit down multiple times a week for a formal family breakfast) and the year that my husband decided that maybe cabbage rolls are not as horrible as he thought they were when he was kid. 

The other day my step-son Lukas and I were surveying our yard and I was teaching him the names of the flowers that were in bloom. Of course, I seemed to have a story to go with each flower from my childhood. How my grandfather curated a frothy hedge of pink peonies and how their luscious, fragrant blooms riddled with ants turn me back into an eleven year old too.

Lukas and I get along well and I think it is because we both like to tell stories. Even more important, we listen to each other’s stories. This summer Lukas is obsessed with egg sandwiches and he loves to make different variations of them. However, he’s not too keen on vegetables, but he gives them an honest try. Everything except for beets. He refuses to accept beets and gives his head a fervent shake when I offer him a pickled one from the jar or a roasted one at dinner time.

Lukas always wants to know what recipe I am planning for my recipe column. For this month’s feature he decided no matter what the ingredients were, that it should have Cabin Fever in the title. He thought it was a title that would draw people in and would be relatable. I had to laugh and agree with him. While my husband and I are a little smitten with our log cabin tucked away in the wilds of Skandia, sometimes we too have to venture out and be social. That said, the recipe that I am sharing with you today is one that I often make for potluck and social gatherings. It is a crowd pleaser and one that I make often for my workday lunches or to have as a side with dinner.


CABIN FEVER SALAD – (Greek Pasta Salad)

*Pasta – 16 ounce box (I prefer a small pasta – like orzo, ditalini, or stelline. For this salad I was able to find a petite star-shaped pasta)
*Quart cherry/grape tomatoes halved
*Cup feta cheese (crumbled or cubed – I prefer buying a block and cubing it) –
*½ cup chopped onion (red, white, or yellow)
*Cup of kalamata olives halved
*2 cucumbers chopped (If garden fresh, I leave the peels on)
*1/2 green bell pepper chopped
*½ yellow or orange bell pepper chopped
*4 cups of greens (spinach, kale, or spring mix)
*Juice and zest of 2 lemons (If you make my homemade dressing, you can use the lemon in the dressing)
*Optional – handful of fresh chopped dill. A couple Tablespoons of fresh oregano and a little freshly chopped mint is also wonderful mixed in
*Dressing – I will share my Greek Vinaigrette recipe below. Though, when in a time pinch, I use store bought. I am partial to Newman’s Own Italian varieties or the Zesty Italian that you mix up from the dry packets)
*Salt and pepper to taste

GREEK VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

*1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
*Juice and zest of one lemon
*1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
(I have also used spicy brown mustard
*1 clove of garlic
*1 Teaspoon red onion
(you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
*1 sprig offresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
*1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
*Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta, drain, and let cool before adding the rest of the ingredients and mix. If you are preparing for an event, make several hours (if not a day) in advance to let the flavors marry.

This recipe will make a LARGE batch, so you can halve or quarter the ingredients if you only want a few servings. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days (it tastes better after sitting for a day or two) and it makes a great Mason Jar salad either layering the ingredients or mixing right up. Sometimes I whip up a batch after we make Shish Kebobs. I make sure to grill up extra skewers of vegetables (tomato, onion, peppers) to make a salad the next day.

I also tend to add less pasta, and add more greens, when I am making it for myself at home. However, I enjoy the texture pasta brings to the salad and it soaks up the dressing and makes it extra flavorful. You may find yourself having to add more dressing (depending on how much pasta you add). Sometimes if it seems “dry” I may add some olive oil, more lemon juice, or even raw apple cider vinegar.

In the summer, when growing my own greens, I am partial to kale over spinach. While we grow both in our garden, kale is much easier to grow. It does not go to seed like spinach and lettuce and I harvest the same patch from spring until fall.

I hope you enjoy this salad and that it helps cure any cabin fever that you may be experiencing. May you savor all the sweetness that July offers and take advantage of a slower pace to listen to the stories around you. Trust me, the Lukases in your life will thank you.

Lukas loves to help out in the kitchen.

Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, & Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Autumn, tinged in bittersweet emotion, is arriving on the familiar formation of goose wings. As a teacher and stepparent, next month I welcome the school routine and falling back into regular working, sleeping, and eating patterns. While I will miss late morning coffee sessions pond side with our three noisy and entertaining ducks — Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice — I am ready to embrace the next chapter. Living on a farm I find that I trust my senses more to announce the transition of seasons in the landscape. I analyze the birds circling the sky, measure the way the morning light radiates with a golden filter through the pasture, and I capture various spicy scents in the air. With a renewed concentration I anticipate watching our honeybees visit the gladiolas and sunflowers in our yard (they will be blooming soon) and imagine their amber honey in our mugs of tea this winter. I take nothing for granted. Every moment of beauty I witness becomes a fleeting reminder of nature’s last dash for vibrancy before everything is covered in white fleece.

Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice

The new pond that John is building. It has a “rushing river” (inspired from our honeymoon in Alaska) and a waterfall.

Weather wise, it has been a challenging Upper Peninsula summer. While the lake levels took full advantage of rain, I heard friends and family mourn lackluster gardens. On the contrary, my husband John and I grew the best garden we both have ever had. We were fortunate to acquire a hoop house last year with a grant from the USDA. John, always the industrious workaholic, braved icy fall and spring weather constructing its massive structure and we were able to start planting in April. We were thrilled to harvest broccoli, peas, and beans the first week of July (greens much earlier), and in addition to eating fresh produce, I have been canning, blanching, and freezing at a steady rate. Our goal is to put up enough vegetables to get us through until next summer. It has been a lot of work, but it is worth it knowing where our food comes from – our own backyard.

It’s been a dream come true to have this incredible hoop house.

It has been a dream come true to pick fresh greens daily for salads and have a variety of fresh kitchen herbs at my fingertips. While I always have felt that my happy place was my classroom, I also enjoy letting my creativity bloom in the kitchen. As I always say, there is a close relationship to cooking and writing poetry.

John and Avalon picking peas.

Lukas and John picking cabbage for sauerkraut.

The salad recipe that I am sharing with you today was created in celebration of a visit from my Muskegon in laws. While my husband John fired up the grill to prepare barbequed pork ribs (raised on our farm) I prepared sweet potatoes, cheese bread, broccoli, and assembled a salad with fresh greens that I hoped to be beautiful on both the eyes and the taste buds. I combined fragrant and rosy peaches with earthy and sweet roasted beets, plump and tart raspberries, crunchy and buttery pistachios, and creamy goat cheese and gorgonzola. The dressing honors my Scandinavian roots with the addition of tangy dill (beets and dill are a wonderful flavor combination). I think that I achieved my goal, but you will have to try it and see for yourself.

I made one large family style salad and it served five adults. This salad would also make a fantastic Mason jar salad (remember to layer the dressing first and the greens last so the salad does not get soggy).

Ingredients for salad:

  • Large bag or clamshell of greens (I used leaf lettuce, spinach, and baby kale)
  • 2 fresh sliced peaches
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • 1 bunch of beets (3 or 4…salt and pepper and a couple Tablespoons of cooking oil)
  • ½ log of goat cheese
  • ½ of a small brick gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup of pistachios

Ingredients for dressing:

  • 1 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • ¼ cup of dill
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon onion
  • Zest and juice of one orange
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparing beets can be a bit messy but their sweet flavor and silky texture makes them worth the mess.

Cut the beets into several pieces. Scrub well and leave the peelings on. If you have smaller beets you can cut in 1/2 or thirds. Once they are done roasting the peels will slide right off. Roast the beets for 40 minutes at 450 degrees (time may vary depending on your oven). After 20 minutes give them a toss. Let the beets cool before making the salad. The beets can be prepared the night before.                                                                                                                                                       

To make the dressing you can chop the berries, onion, and dill, finely mince the garlic and whisk all of the ingredients together. However, the best method that I have found is to put all the ingredients into the blender and give it a good pulse. If you want to make the dressing more visually pleasing you can add some chopped dill to the final product.

Store in the refrigerator in a cruet or Mason jar and give it a good shake before serving. Leftover dressing will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Arrange the greens, beets, raspberries, peaches, and cheese in a large bowl or on a platter. Pour on the dressing and sprinkle with pistachios (the dressing could also be served on the side). I did not toss the salad since I wanted the lovely beets, peaches, and berries to be on the top. Serve and enjoy!

Printable recipe: Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

I hope that your transition from summer to fall is a peaceful one. The Waldos will be celebrating a Marquette county autumn with apples from our orchard. Since our family time and being self-sufficient is important to us, we will be making apple crisp for weekend breakfasts to go along with John’s homemade waffles. I will be busy canning apple pie filling and applesauce for our winter table. I hope to squeeze out a few more front porch sessions watching our roosters Shakespeare and Hamlet strut around the yard as the sweet hens and Harriet the turkey warble and free range. Maybe you will join me for some virtual hot apple cider? Make sure that you stop by my Facebook page or leave a comment here for how you are celebrating the autumn and not forget to tell me what you think about this salad.

John bought me a pressure canner to preserve our harvest.

Green beans!

Our shelves are filling up fast.

Shakespeare and Harriet.

Our honey bees stopping to take a drink from the pond.