By SHANNON WATKINS
Perhaps, like myself, you really would like to think of yourself as a mature, sophisticated, intelligent adult who Does Things Properly.
Perhaps, like myself, this sometimes means you manage to make a three-course, nutritionally-balanced meal from scratch in a kitchen you scrubbed virtuously clean beforehand, and sometimes this just means you remember to put on pants before the pizza guy shows up.
Perhaps today, despite having a punishing day that’s left you exhausted, you’re determined to stake out some tiny bit of territory for the mature, sophisticated part of you. Even though you know that most of what you’re going to eat tonight was prepared not merely by other people but by machines in a factory someplace, because you’re just too tired to do it yourself.
You can, on your way home, pick up a few things that will make at least one part of your dinner healthy, tasty and almost urbane.
First, grab a bag of salad greens. Not those boring iceberg lettuce shreds—they’re good for burgers and tacos, but there’s nothing so overdone as iceberg salads, with romaine a close second. Get a bag (or tub) of mixed greens, the kind whose names sound like Italian actors and minor English villages.
Then grab a shallot. Shallots are smaller members of the onion and garlic family, and are one of the ingredients that make good restaurant food taste different from other kinds.
Next, pick up a small jar of maple syrup. You want the real kind, not the maple-flavored corn goop. Yes, it really is that expensive, but think, how much have you spent on fast food lately? It’s about the price of a couple of burger combos and will be a pantry staple.
If you don’t have any Dijon mustard, grab a bottle; even the cheap store brand is fine. Do you have balsamic vinegar? If not, pick up some of that, too. These will also be pantry staples for later on, and for other recipes. We’ll assume you have the rest of the ingredients at home.
Go stand in line. It doesn’t matter which one, because as we all know, whichever one you wind up in will inevitably be the slowest. You’re tired, and time will stretch like taffy. The person ahead of you will have about 400 items jammed into their cart, about half that many coupons, and need to stop to run to the back for the milk they forgot. The one they come back with will be spoiled and they’ll have to go back one more time. For some reason, a manager will be summoned. Rock back slightly on your heels and contemplate the trials of Job. Try not to let your lips move while you do it; persons with overloaded carts are, it turns out, very delicate and sensitive to criticism.
Get through the line and go home; kick off your shoes and change into something comfortable and go back to the kitchen. Contemplate the refrigerator door and say to yourself, Well, I could just make a salad with that half-used bottle of ranch.
But you know that ranch is too gloppy and thick for the kind of greens you bought, and has that weird aftertaste that reminds you of the way pencil shavings smell. You know ranch is really for fried cheese sticks and onion rings.
Marshal a little more energy and pull out your cutting board. Peel and very finely chop the shallot. Hopefully you have around a tablespoon of it. Put into about a 2-cup container with an airtight lid, but don’t put the lid on yet.
Drop in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a half teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper, a pinch of cayenne, six tablespoons of maple syrup, three of balsamic vinegar, a quarter cup of olive oil and a quarter cup of vegetable oil. You may realize that you’re down to not much of one oil and a lot of the other; just make sure you have a half cup total of what’s available.
Now clap the lid on and shake it vigorously for about ten seconds.
Yes, vinaigrette is supposed to be whisked delicately until an emulsion forms, but do you really feel like fussing around with all that? Shaking, it turns out, gets the same job done with less nitpicking. Store on the countertop and use as needed.
Your vinaigrette tastes better the next day, but it’s still good from the moment it’s made. The proportions here (from another forgotten website) will make a very sweet dressing; up the balsamic and leave off some of the syrup for a sharper one.
A salad made with just enough of this to slick the greens, along with spoonful of chopped walnuts and bacon, and maybe also some green onion, is a very fine, thoughtful start to any meal, whether homemade or storebought.
Now go sit down and enjoy your first course; you’ve used up almost all of your energy for today shaking that jar. But of course you still have enough left to answer the door when your pizza comes. Just remember to put on pants first.