I took a picture of my salad. It was a gorgeous salad, quite stunning. But I won’t be so presumptuous as to post. It does bring me, however, to my message for humanity: the most ordinary of days may be elevated if you so choose. Today has been so unremarkable and indistinct that I still don’t know what day it is even as sunset is imminently upon us. But then, about an hour ago, I was moved to do something spectacular. Before I grated the rind of a lemon and rescued my mortar and pestle from the back of a shelf, my day was so forgettable that I would have taken it to my grave unremembered. But then I made this very special salad and it became something remarkable. I will bestow this upon you if you want to see it. Either way, there was a salad and it was really something else, let me tell you.
I’m not trying to make anyone jealous or invite trolling, but I think I should be proud of my accomplishments. I made an extraordinary salad. It was really a very special salad. A lot of dicing went into making this dish and, when I look back on it, I am glad I put in the extra work. I understand and respect you if you don’t want to see a picture of my salad, but I don’t want to keep it from anyone who might find it inspirational. You never know how you can have an impact on people. The smallest gesture, a smile when it’s really needed, or a picture of a really delicious, finely diced Arabic salad with a sprinkling of mint from my herb garden, could make a difference in someone’s life. If my salad inspires even one person, then I think I should post a picture. I’ll leave it to you.
After reading some of your comments, I’m suddenly self-conscious. What if my salad is a disappointment? What if it lays bare a famished ego in the form of diced Persian cucumbers? What if bi-colored peppers aren’t original after all? I fear that, palms up, I will reach out to you with my idea of the extraordinary and your response (or lack of response) will reveal that, actually, I have nothing to offer. I don’t know if I can countenance sending my greens, delicately drizzled with olive oil and lemon, out into the world only to become lost in a void. My sense of self is newly fragile. Like the sexual harassers of my youth would say as I, unsmiling, passed them by—who do you think you are? Why would thinly sliced kalamata olives and a dollop of homemade hummus with the skin of each chickpea individually peeled off deserve attention in a media-saturated world? Why would it claim your attention and stand tall among the daily tales of horror and joy found on Facebook? Should I be led by fear, or should I take the risk and share?
Today I made a hastily prepared salad. It certainly wasn’t post-able, with its lettuce leaves dangling in an unseemly way off the lip of the plate and tomatoes flattened in the chopping. My blood sugar had dipped as it is wont to do in my advancing age, and I ate it hurriedly, almost shaking. I was unhappy. The salad was nourishing and delicious, it reflected bounty and luxury. How many hands were behind this salad, unseen? Don’t I owe them my gratitude? The truth was I was unhappy because I would never post a picture of it. Who is my audience, anyway? The farmers, the tillers, the packagers, the drivers, the stockers and cashiers? They are not. And then another question arises. Have my salads become performative? Are these greens valuable to me insofar as I can share them and get the desired response? Have I become dependent on affirmation, a pitiful attempt at a small measure of fame? I hate to think that I am actually trying to keep up with the Kardashians. Yet, the crisp lightness of the Romain lettuce, ombré with hues of plum and green, and the contrast of the briny pitted olive and the tart yellow pepper is immensely gratifying and I am compelled to share it. It enriches us all when I extend a branchless olive across a distance of much more than six feet. I am not ashamed to admit I need people—I need communion just as much as nourishment of the edible kind. I’m not happy to just prepare, eat, defecate, and repeat in this blip of life. I must reflect, create, and connect. With you, with you, with you.
This is a more vulnerable post than my usual. When I first brought home a bunch of kale I purchased at the farmer’s market, I felt regret. The stems were outsized and leaves were stiff and tough. So I asked, what would Thich Nhat Hanh do? I removed the stems and I massaged the leaves with oil for a very long time. As I watched the transformation of the kale from a tough-skinned cruciferous to a tender, glistening, and bendable leaf, I saw the transformative power of love at work. I had literally caressed the kale into a sentimental old fool. If you remember only one lesson from my salad posts, let this one be it.
What am I waiting for, PERMISSION to post a picture of my salad? I see the foodstuffs of others posted ALL THE TIME, often without comment aside from the ingredients! And here I am, wringing my hands. Fact: I had halloumi in my salad recently. Motherfudging halloumi! You know what you do with halloumi? You fry that bad boy in a pan until both sides are golden brown. How salty is it? Extremely! And yet, I didn’t post a picture of that salad. I didn’t have the courage. That salad is gone, poof! I have no one to blame but myself. Sure I’ve had my naysayers. The last time I posted a picture of my salad, someone—a dear friend actually—fired off a series of angry responses. My mental health and my motives were thrown into question, even compared to a turd. So sue me, I wanted to say, but I held back. Yet, for every angry response, there were at least three positive ones. My salad was beloved and all I could think about were the critics. It is midnight and I am awake and alone with this revelation. The last time I posted a picture of my food, an at once hearty and delicate butternut squash pilaf, I received 16 likes! Sixteen people stopped what they were doing, ceased reading about joggers without masks, or white privilege, or celebrity appearances at 2020 convocations, or police brutality, or the failure of this country to protect its essential workers, or the weekly slaughter of black men and women, and admired my pilaf. Several were even moved to comment. Hearts were sent. So why did I focus only on the angry responses? I need to work on this. But I want to make a promise to those sixteen people who stopped everything they were doing, focused their attention solely on my pilaf and were moved to send testimony of their appreciation: The next time I prepare halloumi to top my salad, I won’t let the moment pass me by. I will photograph it and maybe even, if you think it might be interesting or inspiring in some way, post it.
Some of you have expressed alarm over my most recent salad posts. A dear friend in Munich wrote to suggest, in a tone verging on hysteria, that my salads are consuming me rather than the other way around. My life has changed, that much is true. I am no longer capable of opening the refrigerator door without contemplating whether I will post a picture of whatever ensues. As a result, I have a phantom audience with me at all times and a certain self-consciousness has taken root. My life is no longer entirely my own. To think, I once doubted anyone would care about my salads! Suffice it to say, I was not prepared for how the public would respond. Nothing can prepare you for something like that. My identity is being subsumed—I don’t know where the salad ends and I begin. There’s a price to pay for giving one’s mind, body, and soul over to a vision. I no longer enjoy the simple privilege of being alone when I open the refrigerator door. I have all of you with me, anticipating what I will reach for, begging me not to forget the mint, praying the scallion hasn’t yet slimed at the tips. The cost is steep but the rewards are great. I have escaped the monotony of my own company, the limits of the self. I no longer ask myself, is that all there is? I have returned to a child-like wonder at life. I toasted pumpkin seeds today. I had no idea I would do that when I woke up this morning. Certainly, no one asked me to do it or would have noticed that anything was missing had I not. But there would have been a pumpkin seed-sized hole in the world if I had let things be. Just when I thought there were no surprises left, I went and applied fire to seeds. Life no longer just happens to me. When I take the world’s simplest ingredients, like lettuce, the need for love and validation, and cucumber and make something unexpected, complex, and true, I know I have found purpose. To my concerned friends, fear not; I am answering the call.
Today I was critical of my salad. Not critical, harsh. I thought I might never post again. Then I thought, would I be ashamed of my face just because it is aging? Do deepening folds between my nose and my mouth throw me into paroxysms of insecurity? Or, even more laughably, do I turn on my body with something bordering on hate because of a few extra pounds or the scattershot purple-red veins that appear like a dirty secret on my thighs? It’s laughable! So then, why do I eviscerate myself over a lackluster salad? Am I really only as good as my last salad? Has my identity folded so deeply into my cruciferous greens that I think I am one? Vigilance is required to counter the forces, inner and outer, that would have me devalue myself. I am so much more than a salad! I am a woman who happens to do exceptional things with olive oil and lemon and I’m sorry if I can’t always live up to society’s ludicrously high standards. I know there will always be someone who makes a better salad than me. Maybe she has access to a rooftop farm. Maybe she never has to think about where her next tomato will come from because her father grows tomatoes in his garden and just hands them to her. Maybe her Romaine twists and curls at the edges in an exquisite pattern only nature could devise. These days, I have to remember that there might even be a food stylist involved. She could be using filters to make a fever dream salad that isn’t even edible, with its overripe tomatoes and artificially glistening Kalamatas. I don’t want to minimize my life with these comparisons. I will make salads as long as I am able and offer them humbly, with reverence for the land, for the complex interplay of flavors, for you, who bear witness.