Salad or Dessert?

I ran across a salad that begs the question – salad or dessert? I was researching regionally favored dishes when I noticed a mention of Snickers Salad. SNICKERS® like the candy bar, I wondered. So, I looked it up. And yes, it is Snickers like the candy bar.

Snickers salad is popular in the US Upper Midwest. It’s made by combining chopped up Snickers bars with chopped Granny Smith apples, whipped cream, and pudding. Some people drizzle it a little caramel sauce. And while it fits one dictionary definition of salad – any mixture or assortment – this is definitely dessert.

granny smith apples

Snickers salad reminds me of a salad my family served made by combining Cool Whip, cottage cheese, uncooked strawberry Jell-O®, and canned pineapple. You can include mini marshmallows and I think someone dared to add coconut once. I didn’t understand why we called that salad either, but I consumed it.

Both of these dessert salads get 5 stars when you search online recipes. And it looks like some families have fancy names and use fresh fruit in their Cool Whip/Jello salad. We were never that sophisticated.

Now I’m learning there’s a similar salad in the Midwest called Watergate salad. This version is made with pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and crushed pecans. Pistachio and crushed pecans are a bit highbrow for my family so no surprise I haven’t heard of this one. Apparently, the recipe was published by General Foods, I’m guessing around 1972.

I guess the molded Jello salads of 1960s popularity set the stage for more decadent salads to follow. And thank goodness, because I’ve never met a Jello salad I liked. You may be able to coat fruit cocktail in bright red Jell-O and make it more pleasing to the eye, but you can’t make the texture or flavor appeal to me.

A discussion of dessert salads has to include ambrosia. This occasionally made the table at family gatherings. Popular here in the South, it contains mandarin oranges, pineapple, marshmallows, coconut, and chopped pecans. My grandmother liked to add apples. Seems like there may have been maraschino cherries in it as well although I don’t think they were always included. All of this was tossed with a combination of sour cream and Cool Whip.

One of the best things about dessert salads is how quick and easy they are to make. Sometimes there’s a little chopping, but mostly there’s dumping, mixing, and serving. And as desserts go, at least some of them contain nuts, fresh fruit, and cottage cheese or sour cream.

I’ve been known to eat in a nontraditional order. That means I can eat one of these salads at any point in a meal and feel just fine about it.

There are enough of these mixtures, we should probably create a food category specifically called Dessert Salads. But until we do, you just have to go by the ingredients to know whether the course they belong in is salad or dessert.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pa-Pa-Paprika!

Pa-pa-paprika! My favorite spice right now is smoked pimetón. That feels a little odd because most of my cooking life I’ve only used paprika as a garnish on deviled eggs or potato salad. Now, I’m allowing it to star in lots of dishes.

This trend began when I used the spice on some baked chicken legs a couple of weeks ago. The smokiness added that little something that makes you come back for another bite. Since then, I find myself repeatedly reaching for the tin of Pimetón de la Vera.

pimeton

Made from dried and ground red peppers, paprika can be used to add color to a dish without overpowering other flavors. In the US, the peppers used for this spice are primarily grown in California and tend to have a mild flavor.

The paprika I’m using, Pimetón de la Vera, is the most common Spanish variety. It’s dried using wood which gives it a distinct smoky flavor. I’ve chosen a spicy (picante) version for a little kick, but Spanish paprika is also available in mild (dulce) and medium spice (agridulce). I’m loving the smokiness, but if that’s not your thing look for Pimetón de Murcia. It’s made with bola or ñora peppers that are sun or kiln dried.

Paprika most commonly uses peppers of the capsicum variety that were originally cultivated from wild peppers native to Central Mexico. Because of trade between the New World and Old World, they arrived in Spain in the 16th century. The peppers and resulting spice then made their way to Central Europe through the Balkans during the Ottoman conquests. By the 19th century, paprika had become quite popular in Hungary.

Hungarian paprika tends to be milder and sweeter than Spanish paprika and comes in several grades. Regional varieties in Hungary are not all bright red.  Some lean toward muted orange or brown. Paprika is included in Hungarian goulash (gulyas) and paprika gravy (paprikash).

I’m intrigued by paprika gravy which is made by combining meat or chicken, broth, paprika and sour cream. That sounds yummy and may be on the menu for next week in the form of Chicken Paprikash!

There are so many versions of paprika that its flavor can’t be described with a simple word or two. In fact, you may want to taste what you have on hand before you include it in a dish to make sure its particular flavor is compatible with your dish.

And while it’s easy to end up wasting spices, it would be fun to experiment with multiple paprikas to determine which works best for what. It could be a good ingredient to include in a cooking challenge basket.

Add paprika to spice rubs, use it as a garnish, or sprinkle it in hot oil when you fry. While you’re spicing things up, you’ll be adding vitamin A. One half teaspoon of paprika provides 21% of the daily recommended value.

It’s easy for paprika to become one of those spices that are constantly overlooked or limited to a single use. That really doesn’t do this spice justice. Perhaps it’s time to move paprika to the front of the spice cabinet and let it have its day in the sun!

Fear and Hunger

Fear and Hunger is a horror dungeon crawl role-playing video game. I’ve seen it described as wallowing in pain, decay, and death – something to be survived, not enjoyed. Why would anyone play it? It sounds terrible. And yet it has players who come back again and again.

Sometimes humans have an appetite for the horrible. And sometimes we gravitate toward things that feel familiar. In families that deny food to certain members or can’t provide for everyone, life experience may tangle fear and hunger to the degree that when either is out of balance, we feel as though we’re wallowing in pain that may threaten death.

If hunger triggers fear, you may eat when you’re not hungry in order to avoid the opportunity to feel frightened. If fear triggers hunger, you may choose fried food to help calm yourself down. Or you may have other nuanced appetite alterations without knowing why.

fear

It’s easy to forget how interconnected our emotional and physical needs are when we rarely even acknowledge how connected our physical parts are. We tend to forget that a foot injury may make our hip hurt. We often fail to examine the effect of family discord on our appetite or ability to tolerate certain food. Whether or not we acknowledge it, those relationships exist and affect the choices we make.

We all know the term stress eating, but rarely do we pause long enough to explore ways to shift, reframe, or eliminate our stressors. Instead, we try a shortcut we call willpower to avoid stress eating. And why wouldn’t we? Western medicine has taught us to prioritize treating symptoms rather than underlying disease.

And so, we come back to the game again and again – fear and hunger, hunger and fear. Or fear that prevents us from feeling hunger. It’s a merry-go-round. And it becomes apparent about this time every year when resolutions dissolve into stupid ideas in the first place.

Every journey begins with one step. What’s the first step off the fear and hunger merry-go-round?

Scheduling. Narrow your meal and snack times to small windows each day during which you eat. Over time, your body will adjust to this schedule. This can help you avoid the excess acid production that can cause ulcers.

If that step is difficult for you, begin with something different.

Disrupting. Change something, anything. If you like salty food, eat sweet food. If you like bananas, eat apples. If you like cereal for breakfast, eat yogurt. It’s easier to connect with our senses when we get out of a rut because we have to pay attention.

Once you’ve changed something, change something else. Carefully evaluate how you feel during and after each change.

Feeling it. One way to dissipate a level of fear is to stick with it until it’s gone. This requires some courage and practice. In the beginning, you may feel nauseated. You may have to distract yourself quickly. But eventually, you will be able to feel your way past fear. That can change your experience of food and eating.

Describing it to yourself. Yes, I’m suggesting you talk to yourself. Describe how your mouth feels when you chew a carrot. Describe how your stomach feels after you eat. Describe each sensation you become aware of.

Once you’re familiar with the sensations, see if any of them are attached to a specific emotion. Add the emotion to your description.

Reframing. Becoming familiar with physical sensations and their attached emotions will put you in a position to experiment. See if you can reframe the emotion attached to a certain sensation. If not, it’s okay.

If you can, practice attaching a different meaning to a familiar sensation. That pain I feel in my solar plexus is the same pain I felt yesterday when I wondered if this was what they mean by chest pains that precede a heart attack. I felt really scared. Now I wonder whether I will feel it every time I eat in a hurry like I did both days?

These steps are not the only ones you can take to begin to disentangle fear and hunger (or other sensations and emotions). Anything that works for you is fine. You get to make the rules of the game. You also get to change them as you go to make them more effective.

As you slowly explore, experience, and reframe, you will gain more and more ability to make and stick to choices that improve your eating and your life. Bye-bye fear and hunger!

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Start Fresh

A new year is a great time to start fresh! When it comes to food, fresh means more nutrients, fewer chemicals, and less hidden ingredients. All of these make fresh food healthier. But most of us know that. Perhaps all we need to put a plan to eat more healthy foods into action are some simple steps to follow:

Throw out the packaged foods. I am not suggesting you waste anything. Food prices are too high to be cavalier about trashing food. Instead, consider a pantry challenge to empty your cupboard of many of the prepackaged, prepared foods, and canned foods.

If those items are in your pantry because they no longer appeal, you may be able to donate them to a food pantry, foodbank, homeless shelter, or school. As the need for donated food has grown, so have the outlets that accept donations. I typically donate food to a nearby homeless shelter or a van that delivers goods to homeless camps.

Begin with subtle changes. You don’t have to go to extremes when cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator. If your schedule is too tight to make fresh pasta, keep the dried pasta in the cabinet but make your own sauce using fresh veggies, milk, butter, and cheese. Top homemade egg salad with jarred pickles on homemade bread.

Make it a salad. If you don’t bake bread, skip the sandwich and serve egg salad over lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and green onion. Oven roasted chicken, steak, and baked salmon are other delicious salad toppers.

Shake up some dressing. It only takes a few minutes to create salad dressing or BBQ sauce. Yesterday, I stirred together mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard, honey, and ginger for a creamy salad dressing. I could also have used yogurt or sour cream instead of the mayo.

Customizing small amounts of dressing to fit a specific flavor profile can be less expensive and contain fewer preservatives than stocking up on a variety of bottled dressings.

Switch crunchies. Instead of a bag of chips, grab a red bell pepper, celery, and sugar snap peas to eat with your favorite dip. Sliced cucumber, summer squash, and carrots are also delicious dippers.

Top salads with raw nuts or seeds, toasted coconut, jicama, or apples for crunch instead of packaged croutons.

Cook in groups. Oven roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or cauliflower. While they’re in the oven, prepare and steam broccoli and carrots, and sauté green beans or Brussels sprouts.

Having multiple vegetables available to mix and match will reduce your time in the kitchen later and make it less tempting to reach for something boxed or canned.

Eat fruit. Most fresh fruit can be eaten without any preparation other than washing. Keep fresh fruit handy for those times you may not have vegetables available. Fruit is a great office or car snack.

Make it a habit. Minor changes you can sustain will have more positive long-term effects than drastic changes that only last a week. Start small and expand when you are ready.

The more you eat fresh, the more appealing it becomes. At some point, you may want to consider planting a few fresh items in pots, raised beds, or in the ground. But there’s no need for that in the beginning.

To start fresh for 2023, all you really need is to begin.