This post will eventually be about salad.
The summer I was sixteen, I met a boy. He was a hilarious boy, but despite his fundamental belief in kidding around almost constantly, it was clear to everyone that he was at his core a gentleman--not a quality that is often readily observed in sixteen year old boys, much as we all love them. When the summer was over, he went back to Canada and we stayed in periodic touch for the years and years that came after. This meant periodically receiving a letter from him written on toilet paper, or a prank phone call saying he was at the airport near my house. Sometimes we kept up, and sometimes the interval between contacts was kind of long. After my kiddos were born we fell out of touch for quite a while.
When I tracked him down a few years ago I found out that he had gotten married and had a beautiful baby girl, and also that he had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. When we reconnected that time, he resumed his practice of sending me periodic, hilarious emails peppered with his insanely accurate memories of very silly things he had been told years before. Incriminating things I had done as a toddler and ridiculous phobias I had long outgrown were trapped securely in his nimble brain. He was famous for it, he said. I can't repeat here the story he had on his cousin Cindy, for example, but rest assured she wishes fervently it had been lost to history and not, instead, dredged up at every family gathering since she was four.
The normal progression of this disease is very rapid. Half of patients die within three years of diagnosis. But Richard wasn't one of those patients. He lived, by which I mean not only that he survived, but that he LIVED. Have you seen that poster that says "carpe the hell out of this diem"? That was him, by all accounts: swimming (even though he could not use his arms, or much of his lungs) and playing hockey (he was Canadian, after all) and biking and staying in touch with people he knew all over the place and most of all enjoying his beautiful wife and their little girl. He was the most positive person you can possibly imagine. And he also was driven to change the landscape for people with his disease. He raised thousand and thousands and thousands of dollars toward finding a cure, mainly (as near as I can tell) by being cheerful and funny and exemplary.
Richard lived seven years after his diagnosis. Last April, it seemed to me it had been a while since we had exchanged emails, and I had a funny feeling, and thanks to the Internet it became clear that Richard had died a few days earlier. I went to pick my kiddos up that afternoon, and when I turned to say hello to my older daughter as she got in the car, I saw that she was wearing a pair of earrings I had never seen her wear before, and that they were the black coral earrings that Richard had given me for my 16th birthday. My daughter is 16, of course. This made a kind of senseless sense.
Richard’s wife Richelle is leading his annual hike for ALS this year, and yesterday, in her rabble-rousing email to Richard’s network, I read this:
He would start thinking of ideas for his website months in advance and would spend days and days setting it up. And he was so grateful for everyone's support that he would send personal thank-you emails to every single donor. All of this would be done one key at a time with his toe.
I began yesterday feeling pretty downtrodden by all the things I needed to get done, and ill-equipped to do most of them, and generally burdened.
I concluded yesterday willing to concede that I have not been very good about counting (using my fingers, and the full breath in my lungs) my many blessings.
This in no way prepares us to talk about salad, except in the sense that the kale is at is peak, now that cooler nights are upon us, and the lettuce is still tender and good, since we still have sunny, warm days. The tomatoes will never be any sweeter than they are right at this moment. There’s a lemon or two left from my last care package. As far as this salad goes, now is the time.
I bet you could use any old kind of miso, though certainly the smoother the better. The dashi miso that my dear brother in law gave me has a pungent smokiness that is extra delicious, and you can get it at any Asian grocery. Ditto the yuzu juice, which is also not essential--lemon juice alone is fine--but which kicks it all up a notch or two.
I would love to show you a picture of the salad, but we keep eating it after the sun sets.
carpe diem salad
1 heart of romaine, coarsely chopped
1 head of bibb or boston lettuce, mainly the tender inner leaves, torn
1 firm-ripe avocado, cubed
5-6 leaves of Russian kale, finely shredded
1 perfect tomato, cored and coarsely chopped
2T dashi miso paste
1T yuzu juice
juice of half a lemon
¼ c EV olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper, if that appeals
Combine the vegetables in a large salad bowl. Thin the miso paste with the juices, and then whisk in the olive oil and the pepper. Toss thoroughly and eat, with gusto, immediately. No time like the present.