Garbage Pail Salad.

I simmered with humiliation as Gram insisted on taking challah home from the diner. “Don't make that face. It's a shanda to waste like that mamaleh.” I didn't understand, but I do now. Wrinkly tomatoes become sauce and shriveled blueberries become compote. Gushy strawberries and sparkling wine remnants are summer sangria. Mealy apples and hard raisins become cinnamon-sugar oatmeal bars. Vegetables and fruit are sculpted to remove evidence of decay. You can freeze anything. Fresh spinach, as is. Onions, chopped. Grapes on the precipice of death, make for an amazing late-night snack. Greek yogurt in ice cube trays can use it to make ice-cold creamy smoothies. The pandemic exploded my anxiety. I was alone a lot and food was exorbitant, and mostly delivered, and with so many people suffering, it felt gratuitous to not be appreciative. I exercised freedom in the only way I knew how. Nourishment. I played with textures and flavors. I mixed hot and cold, sweet and salty. Diced bell pepper, mango chunks, tuna, and red pepper flakes. Smoked turkey, white-fleshed juicy peaches, bread and butter pickles. Oatmeal with almond milk and crunchy peanut butter and a soft egg, oozy yellow core dripping. I started with old chipped Pyrex and then, I upgraded. Vintage. An amber-colored etched bowl. I loved the way the sunlight played off its golden hue. I adored its weight. Delicate, iridescent plates, reflecting rainbows on my ashen-stained kitchen table. Miniature blush tinted bowls with the most feminine scalloped edges. Obsession with kitschy cocktail napkins. I hunted. I negotiated. I needed appropriate tools. I often worked through lunch, hunched over my laptop. Occasionally, I had the bandwidth and ability to chat with a friend or family. Whatever my company, I escaped into my creations. I savored. I cherished. During a hyper-stressful time, I allowed myself these few moments of joy. I couldn't explain this to anyone. How could I share that I found a portal into a right-side-up world through my culinary exploration? It felt shallow. Self-serving. Irresponsible. People had lost everything, and I had found respite in candied pecans and vegan mayonnaise doctored with sriracha and chunky sea salt. And so, the garbage pail salad was born. I affectionately titled my mid-day meals as such because nothing in my refrigerator or freezer ended up in the trash. I didn't have a savior complex, I don't, I just had a deep, burning desire to be mindful. Ironically, my meals mildly resembled salads but were mostly not. I felt comfort in knowing that each meal involved some sort of greens and so, the salad descriptor was reasonable. I am an equal opportunist when it comes to greens. Spinach, romaine, butter lettuce, broccoli slaw, shaved Brussel sprouts. I might not fight you for that last bunch of kale, but I'll definitely throw dibs on a meaty bunch of tangy arugula. It feels important to declare this point, to explain that greens were always a part of it. I had become the mistress of food conservation. The queen of combinations. The arbiter of complex taste arrangements. If I went astray, and I occasionally did, I bent my taste buds accordingly. Alexa, what's the quickest way to caramelize fruit? Alexa, what's the best way to store an avocado? Alexa, what's the safest way to defrost cooked turkey meatballs? I've always liked food. I've always been a live to eat rather than an eat to live kind of gal, but this was different. My garbage pail salads became my canvas. My clay. They became an act of self-love during a time when little else was feasible. I couldn't just peel open a yogurt anymore and throw in some granola. That felt rude. Many months have passed, and the world is still weird. There is some modicum of stilted socialization. There are fearless trips to the supermarket. Trader Joes! One can indulge in fine dining. I have every reason to abandon the garbage pail salads, but I don't. I hold steadfast to this tradition, this ritual that I've created and cultivated. I noticed very recently the acronym for my habit. GPS. This makes sense. When it was easy to get lost in the world, I found this odd but most perfect way to get myself back to me. Every time. I drew my own map. A large piece of parchment, meticulously folded, with handwritten scrawl across every inch. Fresh corn cut off the cob, stringy bits included for posterity. Crispy sugar snap peas with the ends still affixed. Lime sprinkled cashews. Hummus with everything seasoning in abundance. Pistachio ice cream drizzled with honey and coated in toasted coconut. A path paved with invention and patience and bravery. Also, humor and a lot of love. That's the thing about being human. Sometimes the world falls apart and we need to find ourselves through therapy or travel or relationships. And then, sometimes, just sometimes, we find ourselves in the most magical and real way, at the bottom of a pre-loved and oft-neglected crystal bowl.

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artist, musician, writer, Luddite

Troy, United States