Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Perfect "Me" Hour and My Favorite Lunch

     "We were planning to have dinner at the park.  You don't mind if {Dear Daughter} joins us?"  At 9:00 am this morning, I was in the doorway of DD's best friend's house talking to her parents.  It is a national holiday, May Day, and while all of the schools are closed as well as most businesses, Dear Husband has to work.  While we had invited the BFF to our house for the day, the family had already planned a family day trip to a local animal park and asked if DD could join them.  As the park is only a short drive away, I thought that they would be finished by early afternoon.  Evidently not...they planned to make it an entire day's activity.  Faced with the possibility of having an entire day at the house to myself, what did I say?  "OF COURSE, {DD} CAN JOIN YOU!"  I just hope that I made the required pause and that my face did not light up like a Christmas tree.

More photos of the Keukenhof because the flowers are just so pretty!

     When I had a "real" job, once a year or so, I would take a "Me" day.  I didn't go shopping.  I didn't go out to lunch.  I didn't take a trip.  I stayed at home and just hung out.  I read books; I watched TV; I may or may not have eaten an entire bag of Doritos and washed it down with several Diet Cokes.   Now that we have moved to Europe, Dear Husband would argue that everyday is my "Me" day.   Perhaps, he is right to some extent.  However, it is not very often that I am in the house for an extended period of time...alone.  No, I have not spent the day eating bonbons and watching reality TV shows (although I am itching to find a cooking show on Netflix).   I have cleaned the house; done four loads of laundry (European washers are really tiny); paid some bills and realized that final payments are due on upcoming trips (yikes!).
     I have also put in the oven a batch of tomatoes to slow roast and fill the house with the tantalizing smell.  I have harvested my first lettuce leaves to use in a salad tonight.  I have looked through pictures taken on recent trips.  I listened to the thunderstorm (and hoped it wasn't impacting DD's day at the park).  More importantly, I had my favorite lunch and relished the silence.
     When I was working in the States, I rarely went out to lunch.  Once a month, a good friend and I would head over to Old Town Alexandria on a Friday and have an extended lunch and it was a real treat.  Most days, I packed my lunch and ate, as most Americans do, at my desk.  I was always amazed at the non-Americans in my office.  They went out everyday and it wasn't going out for take-out or fast food.  Most times, they took a good 90 minutes to go to a proper restaurant and have a proper meal.  On the way back, they would stop at the nearby Starbucks and have a coffee before returning to the office.  I could never bring myself to do that on a regular basis.  It wasn't part of my culture.
     I was determined; however, to make my lunch "special" -- to relish in the dining not just refueling myself for the afternoon.  I am not sure where I came across this recipe but it fit the bill.  I would take time constructing it in the office kitchen - although it takes less than 5 minutes.  I would plate it on a real plate, carry it back to my office and savor every morsel while reading something entertaining.  It was not particularly decadent and went well my dieting strategies but it tasted like something I might eat at one of those restaurants my colleagues were frequenting.  Today, if I am having lunch at home by myself, it is my go-to lunch.
     So, alone and savoring the silence, I constructed my salad, poured a glass of rosé, picked up my IPAD and enjoyed an hour at the dining room table.  I slowly savored the salad and read one of my favorite cooking magazines.  Can I just say, it was a little slice of heaven!  The storm has broken and the sun has come out. I really should mow the lawn...but maybe I should extend this hour just a bit longer......

These are going on a picnic on Saturday!
Arugula Salad with Prosciutto
Arugula Salad with Prosciutto

I love, love, love Arugula.  It is easy to grow and goes with so many things.  The peppery flavor is great with the prosciutto, parmesan and fruit.  But don't stop there.  I drizzle it over scrambled eggs, use it in place of lettuce for sandwiches and eat it straight from the bag.  My arugula is just beginning to come up in the garden.  I cannot wait to harvest!

This salad is so easy; has a wonderful flavor and just feels decadent.

Parmesan, shaved
Dried Cranberries
Candied Walnuts or Pecans
Balsamic Glaze

In the salad section of most grocery stores, you can now find small bags of dried cranberries and candied nuts. These work really well in the salad.  If you have not heard of Balsamic Glaze, then google it and find it.  It is balsamic vinegar that has been reduced so it is thick and really flavorful.  Over here, it is in every grocery store.  In the States, I used to find it at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  Get is great on so many foods.  Many times, I use it in place of salad dressing.

Put as much arugula on your plate as you want.  Cut the prosciutto into pieces and place on top of the arugula.  Do the same with the parmesan, cranberries and nuts.  Drizzle balsamic glaze over the top.  You do not need a lot.


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