The day Mike and Kelly arrived to help me move, I could have been packing more of my stuff. But I was so overwhelmed instead I fell back on what relaxes me and helps me center: I went into the kitchen and made something up. I knew we would have to have good vegan fuel for all the work before us, so I baked us some sweet potatoes, made us a batch of Susan’s Barbecue Black-Eyed Pea Burgers, and made sure I had an avocado and fresh collard greens from our Farmer’s Market to wrap them in. And we needed something special to splash on salad or grains. And thus this dressing was born.
It’s a knock off of my lemony pear dressing, which is a version of Susan’s Fat Free Balsamic Raisin Dressing. It came about because when I was sorting through the pantry I found some apples pieces I had dried long ago from neighborhood trees (which were still, miraculously, supple and delicious) and because there was a small field of fresh dill volunteering in the vegetable garden at the blue house. It turns out this dressing is marvelous on warm cooked millet with an extra topping of dill. And it turns out that the kids kept saying through the week as we searched for what vegan vittles to make and eat quickly “is there any of that dressing left?”
So here is the strategy for the dressing that brightened our salads and grains from the old neighborhood over to the new.
Apple Dill Vinaigrette (Oil Free)
I didn’t actually measure when I made this, so these amounts are approximations, based on the proportions in my Lemony Pear Dressing with Herbs de Provence recipe. I think I used more mustard, and no nutritional yeast in this one. And walnuts instead of or in addition to a very small amount of flax seeds. Memory is not serving up all the details very accurately, but hopefully you’ll get the gist and can play with it to your satisfaction.
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 dried apple pieces or slices, soaked and softened in boiling water from the tea kettle
1/2 cup of the soaking water
1 tbs of dijon mustard (I used a no salt added kind)
1 tbs of lemon juice
1 tsp of lemon zest
a fistful of fresh dill
1-2 garlic cloves or half a small shallot (I used some tiny ones left from last year’s garden)
3-4 walnuts and about 1/4 tsp of golden flax seeds
Other optional spice add ins:
no salt seasoning
Place the apples in a small pyrex dish or canning jar–something that can take hot water being poured into it. Heat the water in the tea kettle and when it comes to the boil, cover the apple pieces with it. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes to soften up. I often let them soak much longer, since I start and then get interrupted or go do something else. But that way the fruit is really soft and the soaking water is sweeter. Up to you.
Roughly chop the garlic or shallot (or both), and the dill. Zest the lemon. Place everything in the blender and whir it up. Pour into a jar and refrigerate. Use on salad, grains, or even as a condiment for a barbecued veggie burger. It’s good on a lot of stuff.
Notes: if you don’t have dried apples, you could experiment with using about 1/2 cup of chopped apple and a lot less water. I’d add it by the tablespoon until you get it the right consistency.
It can safely be said that what my professional son would call “the art department” of my blog is rather lazy and expedient when it comes to shooting photos for these recipes. I’ve not even bothered to create a simple “set” where I can photograph the food in the best setting and light to show it off. Instead, I’m mostly shoving all the spice bottles and clutter out of the way, or taking several pictures that try to mute them or leave them out as much as possible. So it surprised me when I looked at the “outtakes” for these dressing photos, and choked up to see the cheerful clutter of my old kitchen in the background of every one of them, including the recipe photo above: the pot rack bursting with pans, lids, strainers above the radio and the gardening pots full of ladles and wooden spoons; the dog walking paraphernalia near the back door, the door to the bathroom that sticks when the wood expands in the spring; the mops and brooms leaning in between the hot water heater and a small narrow bookshelf turned pantry for jars of beans and grains; the wallpaper I still love peeling a little around the light switch; laundry detergent left on top of the washer. Suddenly these things seemed sacred, inviolable, inbued now with the light of the past. I felt like a traitor to have diassembled this inefficient porch turned kitchen where so many meals and memories were created over the last 20 years.
As atonement, here’s one of my favorites that took place right in the middle of the clutter of that kitchen, on my grandmother’s old metal black and white table when Mike and his buddy Nolan were 14. I found it written down in a Cook’s Notebook my mother had given me as a gift. I didn’t much like the notebook itself, which was illustrated, since I would have prefered to draw the pictures myself. But I’ve kept it all these years because I wrote this in it. Picture junior high school boys with baggy ripped jeans, bleached out hair and t-shirts that read “Skateboarding is not a crime”:
“Christmas Eve, 1999
This year I walked Michael through the sugar cookie recipe. We chilled the dough the previous night and in the afternoon rolled and cut the cookies. Nolan arrived and we all did it together: me sitting at grandmere’s old table and them rolling out the dough and cutting out Christmas trees. The first half of dough looked like Africa. We laughed about that. Michael said, “why don’t I just put the whole thing on the cookie sheet, paint it brown, we’ll have a continent for Christmas and I’ll be all done!” I was happy and proud of Michael–he made a beautiful green egg paint for the trees–some were natural, some had green “frost” and others colored “lights.” I showed Nolan how to slap out a scrap of dough thin enough to make/cut a last cookie. They ate pieces of the sweet dough. I showed them how to flour the pastry cloth, their hands, the rolling pin. And for a time, these goofy 14 year olds in their skate t-shirts, orange hair and beanies were intent on creating beautiful cookie trees. It was relaxing to sit there as the magic rolled out with the dough and the kitchen was warm from the oven. I’ll never forget it.”
Since that time, Nolan’s Dad, who once shaved a quarter of an inch off one of the kitchen cupboards so my new refrigerator would fit under it, has passed away. Nolan is back up from Southern California, where he’s been skateboarding professionally, to help his Mom complete the home she and his Dad were building together. He’s also thinking of staying and trying out a semester at the University of Idaho. He came to help us move the big stuff and it was just like old times. So much love and laughter, so many memories, some loved ones gone, some here to welcome the new and feel the loss of the old.
In honor of all those powerful transitions and how things and places hold such memories, I’ll leave you with an outtake that evokes yet another fond memory of that kitchen:
Here we have Apple Dill Vinaigrette with Dishes Jumbled in Sink and Dish Drainer. The light and dark blue and the apple wall paper I love so much you can see in the background were a result of Mike and another friend of his, Cody, and their candle-making experiments at age 10, which they went ahead with against instructions to wait until a friend who was taking me to the store and I returned. They nearly burned the kitchen down. When we came back their eyes were wide with shock and remorse, and there was a huge swath of smoke stain across the ceiling and walls as a result of the wax bursting into flame. I was speechless. My friend, hailing from Montana, and having two grown kids and a teenager herself, was unflappable. “The thing to do, ” she said, looking around, “is to paint the kitchen. Michael, Cody, tomorrow I’ll come get you and we’ll go to the paint store and get the paint and the wallpaper, and you’ll paint the kitchen.” And that’s how I got my light and dark blue kitchen with the apples on the walls.
So, dear blue kitchen in a dear blue house, thanks for the great memories. And one last wonderful inspiration for this apple dill vinaigrette.
PS: Next up–what we made in the new kitchen. . .