Composing the Salad

com·po·si·tion, noun

1. the act of putting things together; formation; construction
2. the artistic arrangement of the parts of a picture
3. an essay


I recently bought Anna Jones’ ultra-hip vegetarian cookbook A Modern Way to Eat from the second-hand book store because I opened it up and saw this:

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(You can see a clearer image on book designer, Sandra Zellmer’s website.)

Sometimes the workings of a kitchen and the action of feeding oneself calls for abstract strategies, and sometimes it demands a recipe. About 75% of my daily cooking falls in the abstract strategy category. The remaining 25% comes from recipes. Recipes are particularly useful when you are trying to learn about a new technique or a new culture, or a work of literature, and they can also be very effective at impressing people. For example, I plan on making Osso Buco this weekend for a beautiful boy that I will later put the moves on, and I’ll be using this recipe from Saveur.

Salads are almost exclusively an abstract strategy food. The beauty of a salad is the salad’s ability to convert the extra fresh items in your fridge into lunch, thereby conquering two of the most formidable culinary problems: rotting produce and work lunches. Salads were always a staple of my lunchtime fare, but this year my lunch time has been devoted almost exclusively to salads, thanks to my farm share.

Thanks to Lev Vygotsky (what a babe) and my experience on Pinterest, I know how people develop concepts.  It begins with heaping, with the piling of objects without rhyme or reason.  Back in September and October, my salads were heaps: piles of vegetables.

The next stage in my salad development was my pseudo-concept that if I didn’t have an avocado on my salad, the salad wouldn’t fill me up, it wouldn’t be delicious, and my hunger would turn me into a nightmarish dictator for my afternoon classes.  Like I always say- there’s a reason students always gave teachers apples in the good old days.  Hungry teachers are monsters.

When I first saw the chart in the recipe book, I believed I had arrived at my genuine concept at last.  Here was a form that allowed for the improvisation that comes so naturally to salad composition, but still made sure that all the flavor, substance, and style necessary to remain human in the afternoons was present and accounted for.  I bought the book, brought it home, studied the chart, and realized that the chart was far to complicated to be useful in any way.  The chart was another pseudo-concept.  So I decided to make my own chart.

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