How to make a perfect salad at home

One thing we are known for is our yummy salads.  With the holidays coming up, I’d thought I’d pass on some ideas for you to use when you entertain.  A great salad, like a great dessert, can be the highlight of your meal. 

First of all, making a great salad is all about the ingredients. You must have absolutely fresh, high quality lettuce. The organic spring mix and hearts of Romaine that we use here in the Café is widely available at your local supermarket. I think salads that have several kinds of lettuce are most interesting, but that’s a personal choice. The one thing I feel strongly about regarding the lettuce choice is to avoid iceberg lettuce for this type of salad. It’s tasteless, has no nutritional value to speak of, and doesn’t go well with this type of dressing, at least in my opinion.

Second, to have that Denica’s quality taste, you must have absolutely top quality (read: expensive) extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you can get imported olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Italy or Spain, get it. If you don’t absolutely love the flavor of the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar you have on hand, don’t ever use it on a salad. Top quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil is something I always have in my cupboard.

Third, I think a great salad needs a few additions for complexity of flavor besides the oil and vinegar.   In my salads I like to include a savory, a sweet, and a crunchy addition.  It can be crumbled gorgonzola cheese, pecans, good quality olives, feta cheese, goat cheese, sliced sweet onions, edamame, marinated peppers, persimmon, pears, pomegranate seeds,  or any number of other tasty items.

This salad must be prepared right before you are going to serve it. Don’t let it sit around with the dressing on it. Now, here’s how to make that fantastic salad:

Denica’s Salad at Home
(2 servings)

3-4 handfuls absolutely fresh salad greens, preferably a mixture of baby greens
1-2 Tbsp  of the best quality extra virgin olive oil, enough to barely coat greens
1-2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 Tbsp of one Savory addition:

Crumbled feta cheese

Crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese

Imported kalamata or other flavorful olives

Marinated artichoke hearts

¼ cup of one Crunchy addition:

Toasted or candied nuts (almonds, walnuts,   pecans and pinenuts are my favorites)

Pomegranate seeds

Homemade croutons or tortilla strips

Sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds

½ cup of one Sweet addition:

(I am partial to whatever seasonal fruit I can find)

Strawberries or raspberries

Mango chunks

Pear- ripe bosc or comice, or asian apple pears

Fuji apples

Persimmon (the hard kind)

Use a large metal bowl to toss salad, not the plates you will be serving it on. Put lettuce in bowl, drizzle over the olive oil and toss. If lettuce is not all coated with oil, add a tiny bit more oil and toss again. Drizzle over small amount balsamic vinegar (I put my thumb over the end of the bottle so I don’t get too much), toss again. Taste a piece of lettuce to see if there is enough vinegar, and add more if needed.  Carefully toss in your additions, and season salad with pepper and arrange on two serving plates.  Enjoy your salad!

James’ Secret Spot: Calf Creek, Utah

     When James and I were dating, he took me on so many adventures.  I was the city girl without any North Face gear, just fashionable shoes and designer jeans.  I didn’t even know how much I would fall in love with the outdoors and with my sweetheart when we went to Calf Creek.
     We flew into Las Vegas with a giant yellow North Face bag full of gear, rented a car, and drove north to Calf Creek, Utah, located between Boulder and Escalante.  This is a treasure of a spot that I can’t believe James found.
     The area consists of only about 15 sites, very rustic with no showers.  It is definitely a roughin’ it spot, no RV’s, just old fashioned tent camping.  We were there in April and camped right along the creek.  We woke up to icicles inside our tent!  During the day it is nice and hot, perfect for exploring the oasis that is Calf Creek. The creek runs through a canyon that is made of sandstone, with areas that you can climb up and explore.  The Native Americans lived among the cliffs up on these walls, and there are still pictographs on the walls.
     We took the 2 ½ mile hike up to Calf Creek Falls, not an extremely steep hike, but a little strenuous nonetheless.  We packed in a lunch, fishing pole (James caught some decent sized German brown trout), and a couple of chairs, as well as our bathing suits for the pool at the falls.  The arrival at the 65 ft. falls is breathtaking, with the mineral streaked sandstone tinted shades of green, blue and turquoise.  The water of course is absolutely frigid, but feels oh so good after the hot hike to the falls.
     I would stay at least 3 days to explore this secret spot.  I can’t wait to go again!

The Perfect Christmas Gift

Did you know…That gift cards are the third most requested gift on a person’s list, right behind money and jewelry?  Neither did I – I thought they’d be at least number 2. When did it become appropriate to ask for cash? (“This year I want 100 smackers instead of another sweater vest.  Got it, Grandma?”)
Anyway, if you’re looking for something to give this holiday season, why not give your loved ones their #3 choice – a Denica’s Gift Certificate!  What’s not to like? In fact, it’s the perfect gift for all occasions. Just look at the many ways you can use your gift certificate:

• Tip your way to better service. Tip the garbage men! Tip the babysitter! Tip the cosmetic surgeon! (This one is key.) Tip your neighbor! Tip your children! Tip your 57-year-old paperboy!

• Thank all your fabulous employees with a Denica’s Gift Certificate.  And go ahead; give them a bonus, too. They deserve it.
• Bribe your way to A’s! Give all your teachers Denica’s Gift Certificates and watch the good grades flow. Or get suspended. One of the two.
• Buy a Denica’s Gift Certificate for yourself. Just because it’s a “Gift Certificate” doesn’t mean it has to be a gift for someone else. (That’s a touching holiday sentiment, isn’t it?)

What’s Going On… It Takes Two to Tandem

It has been said that where ever your relationship is going, tandems will get you there faster.  The speeds that we have reached, upwards of 30 miles per hour, have me in the back closing my eyes and praying that we don’t hit a pothole, and the time riding together has enabled us to have that elusive alone time to talk and be together.

 We have owned a bike built for two for a couple of years, and life has often gotten in the way of our motivation to get out there together and ride.  Thanks to the many cyclists who come into the café, and the inspiration of the conversations I have had with them, we signed up for what was for us a pretty extreme challenge as far as fitness and endurance goes.

 200 miles on a bike.  Together.  Point A:Seattle, to point B:Portland.  With no possibility of giving up and getting a ride.  Now this is not much to your average fitness cyclist, but for us, newbies, it was a huge feat!  The training was only part of the fun, there was also entailed in this ride the logistical nightmare of getting our car, bike and luggage to the start line, and as well to have it all waiting for us at the finish.  We had never been on an organized ride, and the experience we had riding with other people was limited to dodging 10 year olds or groups of teenagers on the Iron Horse Trail.

 We managed to train pretty consistently for 3 months, though we avoided hills like we were allergic to them, and stuck with long slow miles.

Thursday before the race, we were loaded up in our suburban, kids dropped off at Grandma’s, healthy snacks packed for the road (no fake food for us!) and off we went.

It was a 9 hour drive to Portland, and even though we tried to find a motel to stop at midway, amazingly everything was booked solid.  Who would have thought?  We powered on to Portland, where we found a room at the one hotel in town that was still available.

In Portland we dropped our car at the hotel we would be staying at on Sunday night, rented a van, and completed our journey to Seattle.  We spent a day exploring Seattle, tasting lots of good food at Pikes Place Market and the surrounding bakeries. (Yum! – I’m a sucker for baked goods!)

Rather than lose you here with the boring details of the ride, we have summed up our highlights:

  • Woke up every 8 minutes throughout the night, until finally crashing into a deep sleep at 4:35 am
  • Up at 5 am, forced down some coffee and a banana, gear on, Body Glided up, preemptive ibuprofen popped, prayers offered up.
  • Wish I had a photo of us riding our bike with our gigantic backpacks on our backs to the start line; imagine giant tortoises on a bicycle built for two.
  • Beautiful quiet morning ride around Lake Washington.
  • Starbucks for a muffin, nauseous regret for eating that muffin.
  • Gross underestimation what “rolling hills” were, as we struggled up the big one outside Tacoma.
  • Washington residents near Tacoma do not welcome this disruption, evidenced by trucks speeding by with roaring engines, rude honks and offensive gestures sent our way.
  • Best free food:  Homemade banana bread handed out at the top of one of those rolling hills.
  • Best meal:  Taco stand somewhere in the south of Washington, these lucky guys having the busiest day of their catering lives as 100’s of cyclists bypassed the long lines of “free food” provided by the ride for those yummy tacos!
  • Comical sight:  guy in sandals towing a covered wagon
  • Epic moment of beauty:  Riding over wooden bridge near a river, hearing the clickety click of the tires going over the boards.
  • Epic moment of discouragement:  riding over the Lewis and Clark bridge, a long slow burn of an uphill that pretty much killed our buzz, as we were passed by everyone except the old guy in the recumbent.
  • Incredible sense of “are we there yet syndrome” for the last 40 miles.
  • Cruel joke:  last minute reroute to include the steepest hill of the ride and at least 20 stop lights for the last brutal 10 miles of the ride.

Hardest accomplishment of our lives, second only to building the restaurant.  Would we do it again?  Uh, yes, entries go on sale January 4th…we already booked our hotels…

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. – Aristotle

My first half marathon!

I can’t believe I did it! At least 3 days worth of nervous energy and anxiety and loss of sleep…I finished my first 13.1 mile race!

We got the kids up before 6 am to make the drive to San Jose for the race.  I powered down a pre-run breakfast at home to let my stomach settle on the drive.   I stuck with my usual bowl of oatmeal with a banana, and one cup of coffee with skim milk. I gave my legs a good stretch-n-roll-out, put on my spanking new race ensemble and tried to relax.  We made good time, getting to San Jose by 6:45 and wondering what to do next.
The race didn’t start until 8, and we were a good hour early.  As soon as it started getting light, I decided to walk over to the start area and check it out, there were quite a few runners milling around, but no one I knew, so I went back to the car to warm up. I finally convinced the kids and James to walk with me to the start. LOTS of time to kill.
When you sign up for the race, they ask you what you think your finishing time will be, and assign you to a “Corral” in order to stagger the masses of 10,000 people trying to get across the start line. We were all crowded together in this cyclone area, nervously giggling or stretching for at least 10 minutes… Countdown to start and… HORN BLOWS!  We’re off!  Well…not off, at all.
In fact, we’re standing still but my watch timer is ticking away the seconds. Soon, I notice heads bouncing a few hundred feet ahead of us. Not moving, mind you, just bouncing like at a big rock concert. Soon, the wave of bounce is upon me and I start to bounce, too. Watching the bounce come towards me was pretty thrilling, I have to say. So, bouncey-bounce…not moving, of course, just bouncing. Finally, we bounce-bounce our way over what I assume is the start line- about two minutes after the horn sounded.
I was so excited and felt a welling up of tears as I crossed the start line, I am such a sap! I have only raced 3 times, and it hits me the same every time! Something about the sea of people and the noise just gets to me!
Slowly, the crowd breaks up some and I’m running at an OK pace. The crowds served to keep me in check, as otherwise I can totally see how I would have gone way too fast out of the gate.
For the first ¾ of the race I am feeling good. Then I realize, this is harder than I thought!   I began my self talk “Its all about training and pace, you have the training, just keep the pace” over and over and over…
I hear guy running behind me saying “Okay, one mile to go, lets do this!”  and determined, I see cones about 400 meters ahead of me, people are cheering, I sprint!! Sprint all the way to…just some dude standing there near a cone with an orange flag. You’ve got to be kidding me! I say (out loud- sorry, everyone.) Come around a turn and, there it is! A line of cones and people walking beyond. The finish! I sprint again and then… no, that’s not a line of cones, it’s a turn in the road and people aren’t walking, just running a different way.
I think there were three sprints to the finish before the one that actually resulted in the finish. I saw my husband standing by the side of the road with the video camera, so put on a real gazelle-like stride to the end, tried to smile at the camera at the finish line, crossing at 2 hours, 2 minutes and 49 seconds.  Not too bad for a girl who couldn’t even run a mile last year this time.
I was surprised how wobbly, foggy and disoriented I felt after the run, and most of the day, though not in a bad way, just not able to make major life decisions, like whether I wanted vanilla or blueberry yogurt.
I loaded up with the after race goodies, then set out to find my family, upon which they promptly gobbled up all the food, with the exception of a banana. Boys, always hungry!
Lessons Learned:
– I realize how much I was really hoping finish this race in less than 2 hours, easy.  Apparently, there are dues to be paid with this whole running thing, but at least now I have a personal record to beat!
– I am not good at spotting my husband in a crowd. Whoever the guy was on the left about 800 yards from the finish, please send a video of my awesome gazelle-like sprint to the finish. My husband and boys were  further down by the final approach, and I saw them in just enough time to veer over and hi-5 them.
– It was a great experience, a fun race, and I can’t wait to do another one!
In other words- there is much to be thankful for!
In ancient Greece, Pheideppides in 490 BC ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of Greece over Persia. When he arrived in Athens and announced “We have won,” he then died on the spot. Of course it is believed he ran 150 miles in 2 days prior to this to gather troops in Sparta and he likely was wearing battle armor and not the latest wicking clothing and I am sure he had leather sandals on, not Asics.

Slow down- you’ll go faster

If you are anything like us, you lead a very busy life, too busy in many ways.  We juggle work,  kids, exercise, romance, bills, sports, grocery shopping, housework, the list goes on.  I am at the point in my life where I am trying to balance it all out.  For me it begins at work.  I have come to realize that just because I am busy, it doesn’t mean I have accomplished much.

     Being busy for some of us is just a bad habit. We put in a lot of time and effort, secretly hoping that at the end of the day, something important has gotten done. If you were to really analyze it, though, about the only thing that usually happens after being busy all day is that you suddenly realize that you have just been busy all day.
     I see this tendency in myself … big time. Here is what struck me as a solution:
  • Before I head home each night, I make a short list of what must absolutely be accomplished tomorrow. The shorter the list, the better. Three is about the max. If there are more than three things on the list, I delegate specific tasks to others. In the end, the items on the personal list should be things that only I can do.
  • I have a tendency to also take one or two tasks home with me, which does not let me relax at home.  Big no-no.  I do not let myself move on with the day until my tasks are done, even the boring ones.
  • When I arrive at work the next morning, I focus all of my time and energy on the one, two or three tasks on my list until they are done. I do not take phone calls, check e-mail or sometimes even let anyone know I have arrived at work. I start with my least favorite task, get it done, and then move on.  Then I make my list for the next day.
     Then I am free to do whatever I want for the rest of the day with a clear conscience and no time pressure. I might want to coach my staff, socialize with our guests or go to our kid’s magic show– whatever gives me pleasure. It is hard sometimes to resist the urge to keep working on “stuff” just because there is still stuff to work on, but I know that there will always be stuff to work on.  Slow down. Un-busy your mind. Give yourself quiet time.  My best ideas and inspirations arrive when all is quiet, when I am at the park with my kids, or even just driving home.
     Read something new. Work out. Go home early and have dinner with your family. In short, have a life.  If you can complete 1-3 essential tasks a day, my bet is that you will be far more productive and expend far less energy in the process.