Seems there’s never a dull moment here in Vermont’s Upper Valley. A few weeks back it was thousands of pumpkins floating downriver. Then early last Sunday evening, I looked out the window and saw that my cat was paralyzed with fear – her eyes the size of saucers, glued to the sky. Was it an eagle? A heat seeking missile? I threw the head of romaine I was preparing to wash into the sink and ran to fend off her attacker. Then, through the open window, I heard the sound of a fire-breathing dragon. “Oh,” I sighed with relief and immediately called to my daughter “Hurry. Run! Put on your shoes! It’s a hot air balloon!”
If you’ve ever heard the sound of a balloon returning to earth, you’ll understand how I knew without seeing it first. These orbs of color drift through the air as silently as a prayer but as they approach the ground those down below are surprised by what sounds exactly and alarmingly like a dragon’s exhalations. I’d witnessed and heard several of these landings – though never one so close to home – so I knew what was happening (alas, the cat did not so she took cover under the porch not emerging until well after dark).
Besides being loud, a landing is also dramatic, colorful, hopeful, even touching on the spiritual. I suppose it might elicit feelings similar to those of early settlers witnessing the arrival of unknown sailing ships. Who’s on board? Where are they from? Will they be like us? Talk like us? And I can only imagine what it’s like to be up in one of those flying baskets, looking down to see a miniature world complete with people running, gazing upwards, shouting and following along. It must be almost like being a deity.
So yes, my daughter and I ran through the fields, looking up and following along as the sun slowly set behind the trees.We met up with neighbors emerging from their houses to witness this neighborhood happening. And when we returned to the house later we were elated, wanting somehow to share our adventure with our family who hadn’t been home to see it themselves. What better way to express our excitement and the color we’d chased in that late afternoon light than with a special salad at dinner?
I’d planned on serving some simple greens but the vibrancy of the balloon inspired me to add some purple cabbage from Cedar Circle Farm and to pair it with one of our favorite sweet and sour dressings from Didi Emmons’ turn-to cookbook Vegetarian Planet. After adding some grated carrots, toasted nuts and dried fruit we ended up with a real happening on our table. It may not have been quite as exciting as running though the fields after our rainbowed visitor. But, I’m sure being up in that balloon didn’t taste quite as tangy or delicious as what we created and besides, this was easier – and a bit better for the cat’s nerves- than having one of them land on our kitchen table.
Didi Emmons’ Fiery Sweet-and-Sour Dressing
This dressing is such a treat and (as with most dressings) can be made from ingredients you already have in your pantry. Ok, well maybe not the chile paste but you can substitute another hot sauce! The technique for making it is slightly different than for some more basic ones in that you heat the vinegar to dissolve the sugar in it before mixing the rest of the ingredients together. I have a feeling that if you try this you will be adding it to your repertoire of favorite homemade dressings. Oh, and it’s really not that “fiery” – just zingy.
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 to 3 teaspoons chile paste – or 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce (let your tongue be your guide!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola or corn oil (olive won’t work here)
In a small saucepan over high heat, heat the vinegar and sugar until the mixture boils. Stir well and remove from the heat. In a blender or food processor blend the garlic cloves, mustard and chile paste. Add the sugar and vinegar mixture and blend well. With the machine still running, add the salt, then slowly add the oil in a stream. Taste, add more chile paste/hot sauce if you like and then run the machine again for 30 more seconds to make sure it’s emulsified. Store in a sealed container (ball jars work great) in the fridge – it will keep well for two weeks.
October Salad Bowl
For the salad, go freeform here. I’m sharing the ingredients and proportions I used but make substitutions or make additions according to what you like for crunch and texture. For instance, toasted peanuts taste great instead of almonds and add an asian flair. Don’t like nuts? Leave ‘em out. Just have fun – and celebrate with a colorful salad. And add as much or as little dressing as you like. With the size of salad below, you’ll be sure to have leftover dressing for another day.
2 heads of Romaine lettuce, chopped
1/3 – 1/2 small purple cabbage, chopped and sliced
1 large carrot, slivered
2/3 cups sliced almonds, toasted (or peanuts)
1/2 cup dired cranberries (or cherries)