Mediterranean Spinach Salad

I left the house in summer attire. Tank top. Flip flops. Sunglasses. And, headed out into the warm, balmy morning air for our local football jamboree. Upon arriving, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the skinny little legs poking out from under the mountainous shoulder attire. Hard to believe the fall sports season has arrived once again. Our previous week was spent at daily swimming lessons and anticipating the arrival of teacher placement letters. While my eldest and the baby couldn’t be more thrilled for the school year to get underway, the 10-year old won’t discuss it. Would barely look at his teacher placement letter when he finally had it in hand. It seems that if you don’t acknowledge the start of school in any way, don’t look at the letter telling you who your teacher is, even if it’s the teacher you were hoping for, then perhaps it won’t ever begin and summer will go on forever.

The game is over. I say a few pleasantries to friends just arriving for subsequent games. And then I take my leave. As I walk back to the car, I perceive tiny drops of water landing on my nose. My cheeks. I quicken my pace as I notice the dark clouds coming and a drop in the temperature. Once in the safety of my car, I feel a smidge of survivor’s guilt as the clouds open up and large droplets of water splash onto my windshield quickly turning into a downpour. The friends I had just left behind had arrived in the same summer attire. Not a single umbrella to be seen. I hurry home.

One of the “Back-to-School” activities I looked forward to the most during my elementary years was that of purchasing school supplies. I loved school supplies. A fresh, new bottle of Elmer’s glue without the glue glob and teeth marks that bedeck the top of each used bottle by year’s end. The shiny new pencils without the aforementioned teeth marks. A ruler. And, of course, the pièce de résistance, a new box of Crayola crayons. Every year I would beg my mother for the Granddaddy box. The box with the built-in sharpener. The box with not just primary colors but 64 colors with names such as midnight blue, burnt sienna, mulberry, carnation pink and cornflower. And, every year (but one,) I would come home with the standard box of 12. I can’t say I blame my mother. I would probably say “no” too because, for crying out loud, what happens to all of those crayons we buy each year? Do you know anyone who has actually used up a whole entire crayon down to a bitty nub? I suppose they go the way of hair bands, hair clips and single socks.

I do not have the same begging for the “64-crayon” box. I do not have it because I receive a list that tells me in great detail exactly which school supplies to buy my children. No questions asked. “3 2-pocket folders in the opaque colors of yellow, green and blue.” “One 2-inch three ring binder in red and a 3-inch three ring binder in green. No zippered Trapper-Keepers allowed.” “Two fine-tip black Sharpies and one ultra-fine tip Sharpie in red.” “Graph paper, 1/4 inch scale, spiral bound.” Years ago when I took my daughter’s hand in mind and we headed out for that first school supply shopping trip, I practically sang from the rafters I was so excited. Little did I know that years later, this same annual trip would be fraught with stress as I agonized over details such as, “They’re asking for two fine-tip black Sharpies but they only come in packs of 3 and ultra-fine doesn’t come in red only black. Would a red “fine-tip” pen be okay? Will my child be humiliated in front of her classmates for bringing the incorrect items?” Doesn’t this stress you out, my friend, just reading what I’ve written?

This year I finally wised-up, left the boys at home and took only my daughter and the instruction’s from the 10-year old that if there was a choice of colors to get red or black. We each grabbed a cart and then, headed off in different directions with our lists. Quite seamless, I might say. And, after 7 years of school supply shopping, my attitude has evolved into, “They (the school) will get whatever I can find that’s closest to what they’re asking for and be happy about it.” And with that, we walked out into the bright, hot sunlight with our purchases in hand and I cursed the fact that I had left my sunglasses on the kitchen counter, wrongly assuming earlier, that I wouldn’t need them.

As we pulled up the driveway, we were greeted by a gaggle of shirtless boys running past us with sticks in hand. A bit “Lord of the Flyish,” don’t you think? Scooters and light sabers lay strewn across the pavement blocking our entrance into the garage. Safely inside, I glanced at the clock and realized that lo and behold, it was time to get dinner going. I set the bags of school supplies on the dining room table and got to work. Not having a formalized plan, other than to use up some herbs from my overflowing pots, the scant few vegetables from my garden and the Gravenstein apples on my counter, I poured myself a glass of sparkling water with a lemon slice, turned on some music and surveyed the food situation. I had managed to find fresh Coho salmon at my local market on sale for $5.99/lb so I brushed some olive oil on it, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, chopped up a handful of mixed herbs – rosemary, oregano, basil & thyme – scattered them across the top and then finished it off with a squeeze of lemon. I put it back in the fridge for a bit while I finished the dishes from that morning’s breakfast prepped a Mediterranean spinach salad, cut up some bread, laid out some cheese and butter and poured a round of water. Thirty minutes later, I laid down my scrumptious grilled salmon and vibrant spinach salad on the table, hollered that dinner was ready (we really need a dinner bell) and sat down with my family to eat our meal. My daughter inhaled her spinach salad commenting that it was “Soooo delicious!” and the baby remarked that, “This dinner is soooo good I can’t stop eating it.” I’m sure he was referring to the whole dinner and not just the 5 pieces of bread he had wolfed down.

The busyness of dinner had died down. The dishes were washed and put away. The baby was in bed. The rest of the family had scattered to their own “wind-down” spot. I had a cup of peppermint tea in hand and had just pulled out a knife to start peeling the apples when I glanced outside. Already dark. 8:15 pm. Hmmmm. So strange how it comes on so quickly. Not but a month and a half ago, we all sat gazing out across the Puget Sound toward the Olympic mountains in anticipation of the fireworks beginning. At 10:30 pm it still wasn’t dark enough.

I sliced up the Gravenstein apples. They were the first of the season at the Farmer’s Market last weekend. The kiddos had found them a bit too tart to eat out of hand. I now laid them in the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkled them with a mixture of oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter and gently eased the whole concoction into the oven to bake. I sat down at the counter, sipped my tea and reflected on this day. This day, this meal, this weather. One foot in summer. One foot in fall. We were “betwixt the seasons.” The heavy-scented aroma of baking apples topped with cinnamon brought the eldest children out of their hiding places and into the kitchen. One look at their eyes, I realized the sandman had already visited. I assured them we could have the apple crisp for breakfast. They nodded, appeased but sleepy, and shuffled back out of the kitchen.

Mediterranean Spinach Salad
(adapted from Mediterranean Summer Salad, Sunset, August 2009)

1 cup orzo pasta
2 cups coarsely diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes – the ripest, sweetest ones you can find which are at your local grocery store or farmer’s market right now
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

a handful of blanched green beans from your garden
a 1/2 can of rinsed & drained white beans (I have a thing about adding beans to everything.)

Cook orzo according to the package directions. Then, in a large bowl combine tomatoes, basil, feta, spinach, beans & beans. Add drained, cooked orzo.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Toss desired amount with salad.

PS: While I did put the orzo in the salad this time, next time I will try it without since my children just pushed it aside and ate the veggies. Who knew?

Originally written: August 29, 2009
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009


  1. Angie Muresan says:

    Oh, the salad with the salmon and the apple crisp sound so delicious. And how perfect that your children had such a yummy breakfast to wake up to!

    My favorite thing about going back to school as a child had always been my wood carved pencil box filled to capacity with colored pencils, and my blue and white school uniform. After a summer of running around in shorts and T-shirts, I liked the formality that the uniform brought to my daily life.