It was in Nice, France, almost 3 years ago.
I arrived in Nice after an exhausting week of fresh, post-breakup, mid-rebound travel around Spain. I was staying with Ingrid, who at the time, lived in a fourth floor apartment that you could only reach after a sweaty climb up a set of narrow, zig zagging stairs that creaked with every step. On first entrance, I dropped my bag to the floor and fell on the couch in a damp, exhausted heap. We had just biked down the rugged shoreline paths on the public beach bicycles straight from the airport. It sounded romantic when I had just gotten off the plane, bloated and stiff from middle seat 4B, but riding a beach cruiser with a broken gear when all of your luggage is strapped to your back was another world of fitness that my office-bound butt was not prepared for.
The sudden feeling of safety when seeing Ingrid was overwhelming. There was the fact that she spoke French. Then there was the emotional support of being able to blather on about how fine I was, and how romantically in love I was with my rebound. The trip was a marker for the beginning of my life alone after 4 years of post college life in a relationship. It felt like the beginning of real adulthood actually - single, adult life.
So we spent a couple days strolling through the rocky beaches of southern France, giggling at the pompously zen names of the gleaming, private yachts docked in the harbor (Namaste! True Blue!), lazily sipping wine at darkened bistros that played acoustic covers of American pop music (tres hipster!), and eating enough croissants to begin weeping butter. It was my personal version of Eat, Pray, Love: Eat, drink, and talk until you can’t put your emotions into words anymore.
Ingrid, who is the most patient person I know, had to endure my sap and emotional swings, but in between driving me to Saint Tropez to numbly stare at the turquoise waters and gently nodding along to every platitude I gushed in the moment, she fed me salads.
Fistfuls of greens from the convenience store half a block away, drippy early summer tomatoes, ribbons of carrots curled from a vegetable peeler, and coated in creamy, tangy, balsamic vinaigrette. All tossed in a giant bowl before being plated with the faint tap of wooden spoons on porcelain.
At the end of dinner, John, Ingrid’s husband to be, would roll up his sleeves, turn on NPR, and quietly begin scrubbing the dishes while Ingrid and I wiped the counters and tucked miscellaneous mustard jars and remaining charcuterie back into their homes.
It was the quiet nourishment I needed to hop on the plane back to San Francisco, and start this suddenly new, not alone, but with the reminder that I had amazing friends like Ingrid, even if they were in France, who would feed me when I couldn’t feed myself.
Ingrid’s Balsamic Vinaigrette or the Daily, Perfect Balsamic Vinaigrette
Salad dressing always felt like an ordeal. The rhythmic chop chop-ing of vegetables is soothing. The zen meditation of salad prep.
But dressing? Its the oily, drippy mess that oftentimes involves dragging out machinery like a blender or food processor, and then there are the greasy slicks that you have to deal with later when cleaning up. Its a chore.
Ingrid’s dressing bypasses any gadgetry and the whole “whisking constantly" for emulsification. Instead it relies on a couple of shakes in a jar, and most importantly, a relatively high proportion of dijon mustard to keep everything smooth, creamy, and emulsified, even after a week of sitting in the side door of your fridge.
Its alchemy at its simplest and finest.
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (Look for a good quality vinegar thats slightly viscous)
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Unceremoniously add all ingredients in an empty jam jar, mustard jar, shake until creamy and smooth. Taste and season.
Makes enough for two generous meal sized salads, but the rest will keep in the fridge indefinitely.