Quadruple Berry Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Quadruple Berry Mason Jar Salad“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

As an English teacher, I make a living out of helping my students find connections to the world around us. I serve as their guide in helping them to think critically and to use writing as a tool to make their thoughts, ideas, and dreams tangible. We use narratives, poems, articles, novels, and videos as a touchstone to connect with other lives, time periods, and cultures. Our writing becomes a mirror that we can hold up to our ambitions and possibilities. I always tell my students to examine the world with the astute eye of a writer. It makes us pay attention to things that may otherwise slip by.

As a new mother, I try to help my step-children make connections as well. The kids spend the majority of time with us and we try to make the most of our family time together. Since my husband John is a police officer his job often entails the challenge of shift work. However, he currently is on day shift which means that he is home for dinner every night. Last week he cashed in some very precious vacation time so he could accompany as a chaperone for the Winter Homecoming dance. After fall Homecoming, I promised Avalon that if she had high grades, strong attendance, and positive behavior that I would buy her a new dress and let her attend the Homecoming dance. She met and exceeded our goals and expectations – and I think it is fair to say that she felt like a princess dancing the night away.

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

How thankful I am that I work in such a family friendly environment. I think that it is a wonderful experience for Lukas and Avalon to interact with high school students and develop relationships and make connections with teachers, administrators, and others that will be stakeholders in their education through elementary, middle, and high school.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Avalon and Kori decorating the hallway for Homecoming.

Avalon and Kori make a great team.

As a teacher, I see firsthand the difference it makes in a young person’s life when their parents are actively involved in their education both inside and outside of school. Our first teachers are our parents, and I do not take my new role of mother lightly. I share John’s responsibility to help raise productive individuals that are kind, thoughtful, and independent. One of our family goals in the next couple of years is to construct an addition on to our house. In order to make this dream a reality, we are

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

trying to save money and stay financially healthy. I am teaching the kids how we can stretch our resources by grocery shopping (instead of dining out all the time) and by appreciating things that are homemade. John models hard work for his children and is a wonderful example of how much value things have when they are made from your own hands. John is extremely resourceful and can build anything. This weekend he put down new flooring in the kids’ room and he is currently building us

Sibling sweetness.

Sibling sweetness.

a sauna from a shed that we purchased from the Gwinn High School building trades class.  Since we live out-of-town we want to maximize our beautiful property and create our own personal paradise.

Last weekend I promised the kids that we would make Valentine’s crafts. We recycled jars and used Mod Podge and tissue paper to make “stained glass” candle luminaries. They loved being creative and suggested that we make more for every holiday. Setting a pretty table is important to me and I love that our Valentine’s centerpiece was created from Avalon and Lukas’ handiwork. I think that they will make our February family dinners even more special.

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Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Speaking of beautiful table settings, I recently became enamored by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond’s gorgeous table wear collection. Since John and I merged households (I moved into his cozy log home) we feel it is important to acquire some new items together to help tell our story. We have kept quite a few of things we both had (for practical purposes) and slowly are buying a few new things. I wanted new every day dishes, but I am extremely picky. I could envision vintage plates and bowls, or at least a vintage feel, and Ree’s collection went perfectly with our red, yellow, and aqua theme. I love how bright and cheerful they are –  elegant  – with just the right amount of country charm! Not to mention that they are extremely affordable (which works with our goal to not squander our resources).

This weekend, after sleeping in from our late night at the dance and a huge breakfast, John took Lukas ice fishing and Avalon went grocery shopping with me. I told her with all the money that we saved with coupons and smart shopping I would treat her to Starbucks. She is a wonderful shopper and helps me remember the items on our list and she’s a huge helper in the kitchen. In fact, the recipe that I am sharing with you today was one of the first meals that Avalon helped me assemble last spring.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

imageWhen I first started dating John, the kids (especially Lukas) were obsessed with the fact that I was a vegetarian. While they tend to be picky eaters and do not have a fondness for fruit and vegetables, I think they have made great strides in eating healthier. They love broccoli and green beans and for dessert they often will choose Greek yogurt and fruit. John, like the kids, has quite a sweet tooth but he loves to take a green smoothie to work and he enjoys my Mason jar salads. The combination that I am sharing with you today is his ultimate favorite. The caramelized pecans are a favorite snack of both John and Avalon and I often say that they are my way of “tricking” John into eating salad. While I do have a recipe for homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette, John prefers a sweeter store-bought version. I usually purchase Paul Newman’s Raspberry & Walnut dressing or Target’s Archer Farms Raspberry Vinaigrette – though I recommend that you give my recipe a try!

If you are new to jar salads, I recommend that you check out this link for helpful tips and tricks.

QUADRUPLE BERRY SALAD WITH CARAMELIZED PECANS & RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE

I layer the following ingredients in this order – into wide-mouthed, one quart Mason jars. I usually make 7-10 salads. I do not have exact amounts of berries for the salads. I usually buy a quart of strawberries and blueberries and a couple pints of raspberries and blackberries and divide them up into each jar (the more berries the better!)

*If you do not eat dairy you might want to try this Herbed Tofu, from Vegan Yak Attack which makes a great feta cheese substitute.

*3-4 Tablespoons of Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (depending on how much dressing you like. John likes a lot of dressing. I usually add extra vinegar or lemon juice at the bottom to mine since I like my dressing extra tangy)
*Sliced carrots
*Snow Peas
*Sliced cucumbers

*Strawberries (I use fresh berries. Once in a pinch I used frozen raspberries and they worked out – though they were not quite as good as fresh)
*Raspberries
*Blackberries
*Blueberries
*Feta Cheese
*Blue Cheese
(or gorgonzola)
*A handful of caramelized pecans (link to recipe HERE)
*Spring mix lettuce
*Alfalfa sprouts

This combination has turned John into a salad fan and I hope that you enjoy it too! While life is busy, we are never too busy to make healthy choices. Mason jar salads are a real game changer when it comes to meal prep. I got out of the habit this fall when my schedule got tight and my goal for the coming month is to make jar salads each week for work. I also want to bring back my weekly blog posts. I miss sharing with you, and since I use my blog as a teaching tool, I miss sharing my writing goals with my students. As always, I would love to hear from you. I hope you are meeting your healthy goals and intentions for the new year. Remember, we are worth it!

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John’s mom made us cooking aprons for Christmas.

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is such a sweetheart! Love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is beautiful inside and out – love her!

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.

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Embrace the Old-Fashioned with Two Homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette Recipes: Basil & Mint

“We are asleep with compasses in our hands. ”
― W.S. Merwin

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A couple of years ago, when my niece Kristine was in high school, she gave a demonstration speech on how to can dill pickles. After her presentation, when she told me that there were students in her class that did not know that pickles were once cucumbers, I was shocked. Really? How could this happen in a rural community where vegetable gardens commonly sprout in backyards? I guess that I took it for granted that others grew up in a household similar to the one in which I was raised. Pre-bread machines my mom always made homemade bread, cake and frosting were whipped up from scratch, macaroni-and-cheese did not come out of a box, and on a weekly basis stock pots of aromatic soup simmered on the stove. Did we eat junk food and drink soda? Yes. Yet, my mom always made sure our diet was balanced out by home cooked meals and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even when we spent long, summer days at the beach the slow-cooker was preparing some sort of wholesome, savory dish. Fast food did not exist in our hometown (aside from the seasonal drive-in restaurant) and take-out and dinners at restaurants were rare and special indulgences.

Granted, times have changed, but I think that in some ways we need to go back to the way things were in the past. My mom grew up in a large Finnish-American family with six other siblings, and because finances were lean, they had to learn how to be resourceful. I am thankful that Mom passed this resourcefulness on to me. In October of 2010, I wrote more about the lessons that my mom has instilled in me. Here is the piece that I wrote on the educational blog that I share with my best friend Heather Hollands, called Blended Voices.

The next time you are in line at the supermarket, reflect on the choices in your cart (and even other shoppers around you). It is common to hear (and participate) in conversations about how expensive groceries are these days. Yet, when you take a look at what is tossed into grocery carts there often are cheaper alternatives. Think of how many raw potatoes can be purchased for the price of a bag of potato chips. How many bags of dried beans can be purchased for the cost of canned? Compare the cost of individually packaged instant oatmeal versus a tub of old-fashioned oats. While they may be expensive, how many cherries or grapes could a twelve pack of soda purchase?

While I try to keep my grocery cart limited to whole foods, I do confess to occasional convenience food purchases. Though, I try to be more mindful of making our favorite meals by scratch, because not only is it more economical, but more nutritional as well. Plus, I like to believe that when I stretch my grocery dollar I can afford to put more organic fruit and vegetables on our table.

As I have shared in previous posts, not only are some convenience foods easy to make, but cooking from scratch helps us avoid putting chemicals into our bodies. The next time you pick up a can of soup carefully scan the ingredients. How about salad dressing? Can you pronounce the long list of additives and preservatives? If not, you might want to think about making your own. The base of vinaigrette dressings are simple: vinegar and oil and spices. For creamy dressings I add a base of raw nuts or plant-based sour cream or mayonnaise (if you eat dairy you can use mayo, Greek yogurt, or sour cream). The beauty of making your own dressing is that you can tailor them to suit your taste buds. My husband Mike and I  tend to like tangy dressings, so my vinaigrettes are heavy on vinegar and citrus juice.

Since it is summer and berries are ripe, and my garden is brimming with fresh herbs, I thought that a perfect recipe to share would be a berry vinaigrette. I choose raspberries but you could easily swap out strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, mango, pineapple, pears, plums, or peaches. In the winter frozen berries and dried herbs would work well too.

Berry vinaigrettes tend to be of the sweeter dressing variety, but instead of refined sugar I sweetened these dressings with freshly squeezed orange. (Since oranges are not in season and hard to find in some stores you could easily add mango, pineapple, peach, or another sweet fruit to the blender.)
Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette: Dijon Mustard, Orange Juice, Onion, Raspberries, Basil, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chives, and Salt & Pepper.

Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette: Dijon Mustard, Orange Juice, Onion, Raspberries, Basil, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chives, Garlic, and Salt & Pepper.

107RASPBERRY BASIL VINAIGRETTE

  • 1/2-1 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar (or vinegar of choice. Add in a little at a time and taste test so you can monitor the level of desired tartness)
  • 1/2 Cup Raspberries (or your berry or fruit of choice)
  • 1/2 Cup of Basil (if you are not a fan of basil you could use your favorite herb)
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could also add more. To keep the dressing more friendly on the waist-line I often keep the oil to a minimum and add the desired portion of oil directly to the salad)
  • Juice and Zest of 1/2 an Orange (Orange juice will give the berry vinaigrette a desired sweetness without adding refined sugar)117
  • 1 Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard (I used spicy brown mustard because that is what I had on hand)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Onion
  • 1 Tablespoon Chives (I have chives in my garden so I add them to all my dressings in the summer)
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste (or you can leave out and season the salad)

Blend well. You can chop and mix with a whisk, but I find that a blender is so easy and makes a smooth dressing.

My salad combination: Avocado, shredded carrots, radish, white beans, Greek olives, tomato, pickled beets, cucumbers, raw nuts, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and a sprinkling of chia seeds.

My salad combination: Avocado, shredded carrots, radish, white beans, Greek olives, tomato, pickled beets, cucumbers, raw nuts, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and a sprinkling of chia seeds.

As delicious as it is pretty.

As delicious as it is pretty. I love the nutritional boost that chia seeds give to a salad.

The next version of raspberry vinaigrette includes fresh mint. I love mint with both sweet and savory dishes and I wanted a dressing that would work with both. I was thinking that this would be a great dressing for a fruit salad (but I would use it on vegetables as well). This version is a little less savory because it leaves out the garlic and onion.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette: Raspberries, Mint, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Juice of 1/2 an Orange, Chives, and Salt and Pepper.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette: Raspberries, Mint, White Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Juice of 1/2 an Orange, Chives, and Salt and Pepper.

104RASPBERRY MINT VINAIGRETTE

  • 1/2-1 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar (or vinegar of choice. Add in a little at a time and taste test so you can monitor the level of desired tartness)
  • 1/2 Cup Raspberries (or your berry or fruit of choice)
  • 1/2 Cup of Mint (mint is perennial and will come up in you garden year-after-year)
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could also add more. To keep the dressing more friendly on the waist-line I often keep the oil to a minimum and add the desired portion of oil directly to the salad)
  • Juice and Zest of 1/2 an Orange (Orange juice 108will give the berry vinaigrette a desired sweetness without adding refined sugar)
  • Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Chives (I have chives in my garden so I add them to all my dressings in the summer)
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste (or you can leave out and season the salad)Blend well and serve on your favorite salad combination.
My salad: Spinach, Avocado, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries.

My salad: Spinach, Avocado, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries.

The raspberries and mint make a bright and refreshing combination.

The raspberries and mint make a bright and refreshing combination.

Do not forget to add a couple candles and set a pretty table.

Do not forget to add a couple candles and set a pretty table. Poetry does make food taste better!

I had both of the salads featured in this post yesterday and made another one today for lunch. I am excited to try the recipe with different berries and I think it is going to be a staple in our house. Since I have a lot of basil and mint in my garden I will make sure to freeze some to use in dressings this winter.

Today as I prepared to write this post I could not help thinking about the generations before us that did not have access to convenience foods and had to make the most of what they had on hand. I think that things are changing, and as an American nation, we are starting to become more careful label readers. I always tell my students that their generation has the capacity to be wiser than my generation has been about food choices. Their generation understands the importance of recycling and taking advantage of what we have. I often tell them that one of my favorite hobbies is to go thrift-store shopping for vintage items. In fact, this is how I spent my time  this afternoon. 

Today’s thrift-store treasure came in the form of delicate, etched, vintage glasses. If we had a larger house (and if I loved to dust) I would have hundreds of these little beauties. 11I would not want a complete set either, because I love the variety of patterns and shapes they come in. I could easily be a vintage glass hoarder (especially at 25 cents each).119

These glasses are a great reminder of how much our portion sizes have changed. Not only are they beautiful, but they are so much smaller than the gargantuan goblets that are purchased in modern times.

I like to think of food in the same old-fashioned way that I appreciate 13vintage pieces and I will continue to strive to eat whole foods and make the extra time to takes to prepare meals that are nutritionally sound and fuel my body.

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Roses from our garden.

If you have found your way to my blog, I imagine that we share the same philosophy and I thank you for sharing this journey. For more salad dressing recipes you can check out the Dressing Tab. You can follow my board on Pinterest and join the conversation on my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

I do tend to be old-fashioned about many things. I would wear a dress over jeans any day, I love the word ice-box, and I believe in setting a beautiful table. I believe that food made with love, and attention to detail, tastes better.

This week, or weekend, I challenge you to do something to make your dining experience more enjoyable. Float some flowers in a vintage glass bowl, use your Grandmothers doilies as a table runner, or make your salad look like a piece of art. Find, create, and appreciate beauty and your life, and the lives of those around you, will be richer.

Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette

Click on image for a larger version.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette

Click on image for a larger version.

While I do not want to rush summer, this fall I look forward to going to my hometown of Crystal Falls to can pickles with my mom and Kristine. Do you know where the food on your table came from? How about starting with some homemade dressing. I promise, you will be hooked and may never buy bottled dressing again.