We’re back! And more than a little bit woozy in the head with jet lag, one moment feeling perfectly energetic but practically cross-eyed the next. We’re very happy to be reunited with our darling little bundle of fur who, quite adorably, almost went into shock upon seeing us again and spent at least half an hour doing nothing but pressing up against us to lick our hands and knees while making tiny, excited whining noises.
But, otherwise it’s a little hard to be back from such a lovely vacation. While we were in Norway, most evenings we found ourselves bundling up in parkas to stay warm in the late night sun. Back in Boston, we practically can’t go outside until the sun has gone down and the stifling heat begins to dissipate. I have to admit, I prefer the arctic circle version of summer. Here it does smell of sticky, muggy, blossom-filled memories of summer camp nights, though, which I kind of like.
There’s a lot to catch up on. But, I’m reframing my long to-do list as a record of all the neat things I get to do rather than have to do, and by golly, I think it’s actually working to help to keep the no-more-vacation-slump at bay.
A slump that would be easy to slip into, that one, as our trip was quite filled with happy days and nights spent with family and friends. There was plenty of rain but also several endlessly sunny days. There was the ever gorgeous scenery, and of course I got to fill up on all my favorite foods: hotdogs with lefse, skolebrod, boller, waffles, and enough ice cream, berries, and smoked salmon to sate even the most ravenous troll (if only trolls would prefer such things to goats and hapless humans!).
Rather than spending all of our time at the cabin, which is what most summers entail (and happily so!), this summer we went off on a little tour of the west coast, along with Joel’s parents and a close friend. Joel is a quarter Norwegian, his father half, so we went to visit the area where their family had come from, to walk the streets of the lilliputian town where a great-great-great(or some such)-grandfather had been mayor, to find the street sign bearing the family name.
I reflected a great deal on family history as we sat sunning ourselves on ferry rides across fjords. I think we can’t help but be interested in our family’s story, the tales of the parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on that led eventually to each of us. We must feel, at least a bit, that if we know that history, see those places, perhaps we will understand our own selves better. And, I think every family story is somehow exciting, full of happenstance, luck, intrigue, close calls. Looking at history, assembling flurries of facts neatly into tales, paints a picture of how incredibly unlikely it is that anyone of us should be where we are, and how necessary. Each of us somehow becomes simultaneously a total accident and totally preordained. I don’t really understand it, but I find it odd and wondrous.
But, now here we are. Back.
Being back calls for eating some back from vacation food, and when I get home from traveling I very frequently find myself craving roast chicken and salad. Who knows why, but I sometimes think that roasting a chicken truly makes a home a home. So, this dish is the perfect welcome back.
It’s based on a salad made by one of our local restaurants. Joel and I became extremely addicted to it as the solution to the we-just-got-home-and-have-no-groceries-but-we’re-ravenous dilemma that is frequently a result of going out of town. But then the restaurant stopped making it – horrors! – and the only way to feed our craving for it was to make it myself.
It’s an intensely green and leafy salad, a slightly intimidating pile of chard. But the tough blow of the chard is softened and smoothed by a generous dousing of warm bacon vinaigrette. The chard goes into the pan where the vinaigrette has been made and gets tossed just long enough to wilt it into submissiveness and to coat each bit of leaf with the silky, salty, smokey dressing. The result is marvelous.
Then you mound the chard onto plates and trick it out big time with crunchy bacon bits, toasted pecans, sweet mouthfuls of fruit, and generous hunks of still warm roasted chicken. The chicken gives the salad the substance of a hearty meal, and the bacon, as always, lends a touch of decadence. The salad in the restaurant came with dried cranberries, but I always found they were a bit too candy-like and came in an excessive quantity. So, I replaced them with some quickly pickled cherries (the solution, also, to the very end of a bag of cherries that had been neglected for too long and was headed south fast).
The restaurant version of the salad also includes a poached egg, which I highly recommend, as the runny yolk slithers and slides all over the chard and chicken, deliciously golden and custardy. (It also helps to prevent the potential fuzzy mouth that leaves like chard and spinach can give you, which some people really dislike, but which has never bothered me much.) However, given the number of runny eggs I had eaten in the week leading up to our trip and on our trip as well, I decided to leave it off. It’s perfect both ways.
It was nice to be gone, but, hey, it’s nice to be back.
Warm Chard Salad with Bacon Dressing and Roasted Chicken (serves 2-3)
- 2-3 chicken legs, bone-in, skin-on
- 1 big bunch of Swiss chard, washed well, stems and center veins removed, and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 slices of thick center-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 1/2 Tbs. sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar works well too)
- 1 Tbs. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. mustard
- salt and pepper
- pickled cherries or dried cherries (or dried cranberries or other fruit)
- 3 Tbs. chopped, toasted pecans
- 2-3 eggs, optional
- Preheat your oven to 425F. Put your chicken legs into a roasting pan and sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until completely cooked through (40-45 min. – you can cut into one to test for doneness). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, and in the meantime you can prep the chard. Alternatively, you can grill the chicken until cooked through.
- As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle (you want it still to be warm) remove it from the bones (snack on the crispy skin!) and shred it into generously bite sized pieces. Put in a bowl and set aside in a warm place (like next to the oven).
- Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon bits and cook until brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon bits and transfer them to a paper towel lined plate. Keep the drippings in the pan and add the olive oil, the shallot, and a generous pinch of salt.
- Cook the shallot until softened, about 3 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to low and stir in the vinegar, the maple syrup, and mustard, mixing well to combine. Add in the chard and cook for one to two minutes, until just wilted, tossing it all the while to coat it well with the dressing. Taste and toss with more salt and some pepper to taste.
- Depending on how many people you’re serving, divide the chard between 2 or 3 plates. Divide the chicken and the bacon bits between the plates, then arrange a small handful of pickled cherries (or dried fruit) on each plate. Finally, sprinkle with chopped pecans.
- If desired, poach or fry one egg per person until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny (generally 3-4 minutes). Place an egg on top of each salad. Serve!