Although solitude was often hard to come by since we were in North Dakota with 50 or so relatives for my Grandma’s 90th birthday. Still, you didn’t have to walk far down the gravel road before you heard only the hum of insects and could turn in circles without seeing anyone for miles. And you really can see for miles.
When not escaping to the quiet solitude found in the fields of corn, wheat and sunflowers, we were visiting with aunts, uncles, great uncles, cousins and cousins once or twice removed. “Visiting” is a fine art in North Dakota. People can visit for hours, most often in church basements or garages and sometimes on the porch.
There was fishing and golfing and church and swimming in the river. There was eating and drinking around the clock. Oh man, did we eat and drink. We had bottomless coolers filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon and Grain Belt (a beer with the best tagline ever…Grain Belt, The Friendly Beer) and a whole lot of meat, potatoes and “salads” made from fruit and whipped cream.
On the fourth night when my cousin’s wife from Seattle made a real salad with chickpeas & avocado and a cilantro-lime dressing, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was as if I was discovering cilantro again for the first time. I love home cookin’ as much as anyone, but when the only seasonings I’ve tasted for days are salt and pepper I start to crave fresher flavors. Aromatic cilantro, spicy peppers, creamy avocados, the zing of lime juice – this salad has it all going on. If you’ve been looking for a salad to take to parties and family gatherings, this is a great one to make all summer long.
The original recipe for the salad is a little different and includes chicken, but the vegetarian version below is plenty satisfying. I can also imagine using the cilantro-lime dressing for an entirely different kind of salad – maybe one that includes corn, tomatoes and bell peppers. Or, sliced chicken doused in the dressing and served over greens.
Back in LA, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between urban and rural life and if by living in a big city we’re robbing O of a quieter, less hectic childhood. I really love seeing her run wild and free on a farm, or in the woods at my family’s cabin, or in the most amazing garden I’ve ever seen.
But I also love exposing her to all the energy and culture and experiences found in a big city. I feel lucky to live in a big city and to have a husband from an even bigger city that we fly across the country to visit once or twice a year. But I do love getting away. I mean really away. I need to flee city life a few times a year to clear my head and take a break from the exhausting rituals of urban living.
When you stay in once place too long it’s so easy to forget that our country has so many distinct regions with food and scenery and lifestyles that are nothing alike. People planning vacations often skip over the Midwest and that’s a shame. There is vast country out there in the middle that is worth seeing, with haunting landscapes and unfamiliar sounds and a rhythm all of its own.
But…I always feel a rush of happiness when I return and see the lights of a big city glowing. I wonder if O will be the same way. Will growing up in a city make her a city girl? Or one day will she choose to make her home in a wide open space with crickets chirping instead of helicopters circling?
As much as I like living in a city, I’m so thankful to have family in remote places we can escape to. Until you have stood in a field, completely surrounded by sunflowers about bloom, you don’t know what peace and quiet really is.
Chickpea Avocado Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
1/2 a bunch of cilantro, leaves mostly plucked from stems (stems discarded)
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cans of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 Anaheim (mild) or Poblano (spicier) peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 to 3 avocados, peeled and chopped or sliced
In a food processor, blend the cilantro leaves until finely chopped. With the blade running pour in the lime juice then slowly add the olive oil and salt until the dressing is well blended.
In a large bowl mix together the chickpeas, onions and peppers. Pour the dressing on top and mix well. Gently add the avocados, mixing enough to cover the avocados in dressing. Add a sprinkle more of salt.