While the rest of the country was watching the Super Bowl this past February, Brad and I were hurtling across the desert of Southern California at 70 miles per hour – a pace we had been keeping for most of the past six days. In the coming weeks we would hear that our East Coast friends and family were hunkering down for yet another snow storm, while we headed out to explore another new hiking trail with our dog Francine, or to stock up on some more local citrus at the second, or maybe third, farmers market of the week.
We moved to California, Oakland actually. A whole continent away from the life we have known together in Brooklyn for nearly 10 years. When we drove away from our beloved brownstone apartment Brad looked at me and said, “Well, we’re officially homeless.” We’ve since been shacked up in someone else’s apartment with furniture that is not our own in a city where we still feel like visitors, but the welcome we have received in California has been warm – and I’m not just referring to the weather here. Our new lives are already full of family and friends with whom we’ve shared memorable meals and experiences since the day we arrived.
And that road trip with the dog, three bicycles and as much as we could fit in our station wagon across this very big country? Well, it was epic. True to form we set out with little more than a plan to head west, and our days and routes were dictated by a continuous search for the next great meal (if you’re curious, I kept a little #opRoadFood diary on Twitter). There were goodbye dinners with family in NJ And PA, biscuits and gravy for breakfast in WV, and BBQ for dinner in TN and AR. We ate chili on Frito pie in OK, and burritos, tacos and more burritos in NM and AZ, smothering everything we could in green chili. And when we finally arrived in sunny CA, all I wanted was a salad.
On our first night in Oakland I satisfied my craving with a raw carrot and date salad. We enjoyed it while toasting our arrival with friends who had been awaiting us, and it quickly become a staple at shared dinner tables throughout the tale end of our first California winter – if you can call it that. I’m sorry to make those of you on the opposite coast jealous, but even in February, leafy greens and colorful collections of sweet carrots are plentiful. There are more varieties of dates than I ever knew existed, and they’re local.
It’s March now and strawberries and asparagus have already sprung. I hear whispers of fava beans, and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of local avocados or oranges, clementines, tangerines, grapefruits, pomelos and of course, lemons. I miss the friends and family we left behind dearly, but when it comes to cooking and eating good food together, I couldn’t feel more at home than I do in this place.
California Date and Carrot Salad
- 1 small bunch of carrots
- 1 handful of dates (8-10)
- 1 small handful of pepitas
- 1 small bunch of baby arugula (or 2 good handfuls)
- olive oil
- white wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
Using a vegetable peeler, peel and then shave the carrots into a salad bowl. Slit the dates lengthwise, pull them apart and remove the pit (discard), then cut into 1/4″ slices. Add to the salad bowl. Toss in the pepitas.
In a small bowl or cup, whisk together a quick vinaigrette of 2/3 oil and 1/3 vinegar (or a few tablespoons oil, a splash of vinegar and salt and pepper to taste). Toss the contents of the bowl with the vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, wash the arugula in your salad spinner, finish preparing your meal, and when you’re ready to eat, gently toss the arugula with the rest of the salad just to coat it with the vinaigrette and pile the salad on a plate. Enjoy with friends.
If you’re feeling very California you could use almonds in place of pepitas. Also, my sister-in-law likes to top the salad with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and I very much approve of this embellishment.