Thursday, April 17, 2008

Salad Days, Part II

Well, it’s been a couple of months since I started work at the Café, and, truly told, I’m ready for my tenure there to be done. It is a nice enough place to work—it’s just these 50-60 hour work weeks don’t agree with me. I am one tired blogger, that’s for sure. It is a stressful work environment, and sometimes entitled students at the end of the day is just too much for one girl. I have, in the meantime, made some friends and learned a little more about a different facet of the service industry. And I’ve certainly seen enough salad to last a lifetime.

I remain rather fascinated by the seemingly infinite combinations that people will come up with for their salads. My favorites are the ones that clearly show that a lot of thought was put into them. Some people go the sweet route: some combination of grapes, raisins, cranberries, dried pineapple, mango, mandarin oranges, dried figs, sometimes corn, beets, and carrots. These people often get the thai sesame lime dressing or the raspberry vinaigrette. Others go the crunchy road and ask for soy nuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, croutons, tortilla strips, or sesame sticks to adorn their salad. Some of my favorite types are the ones who actually don’t get any vegetables on their salads at all—they order cheese (we have 5 different types), croutons, chicken, tuna, or tofu and never stop to consider the broccoli, beets, and other tasty veggies that we carry.

The salads that are unmistakable are the ones for the body-conscious girls (though, to be honest, very few overweight women come in to the Café…possibly because there are very few overweight women on the university campus. The environment at that school is not very conducive to any type of “big is beautiful” mindset, the more’s the pity). For the most part these salads are pretty well balanced: a healthy combination of vegetables and protein with one of the lighter dressings, accompanied by one of our addicting seeded rolls. But some of these salads are just simply a mess. These people will just get whatever catches their fancy, ignoring tastes and textures in the composition of their salad. One might get mango and garlic marinated mushrooms, along with capers, beets, dried figs, roasted red peppers, and, oh what the hell, tuna and pepperocinis with creamy smoked tomato dressing. A more typical occurrence is this: someone gets lentils, chickpeas, an egg (often just the whites—waste, waste, waste), chicken or tofu, cucumbers, tomatoes, and one of the grated cheeses (cheddar or pecorino romano), balsamic vinegar, and ask for it extra chopped. Or, as one young lady wrote on a slip last night, extra especially chopped. Which means the lettuce pieces and ingredients should be teeny tiny—unrecognizable as food, preferably. The more mushy parts of the salad—the chick peas, lentils, tomatoes, egg, and grated cheese—combine to become this mass of strange consistency. On one of my first shifts, I asked one of the other workers “Why extra chopped?” Her response was a shrug and “well, I don’t think many of them actually like salad…”

Which, of course, begs the question, why eat salad in the first place? Especially ones as expensive as ours (that chicken and hand-pulled mozzarella, not to mention the natural and organic veggies, are quite pricey).

And my favorite salad? Well, I prefer “no-base” salads—salads without lettuce. Because, honestly, I’ve always thought that lettuce is a usurper worthy of Napoleon. I invoke Israeli type salads and get lots of tomatoes and cucumbers, raw onions, and sometimes chick peas. Then I take a more Mediterranean twist as I put on the fresh mozzarella and black olives. Usually I finish it off with balsamic chicken, rosemary balsamic dressing, tortilla strips and toss to combine. The result? Always tasty.

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