It was National Treasure on DVD; Nicolas Cage and a gorgeous starlet sidekick traipsing around the country with the Declaration of Independence, all to find a legendary treasure of historic proportions. On the coffee table, a large clear plastic disposable container, the lid pulled off and carefully thrown downside-up on the floor. No plates, not even paper, just eating ghetto-family-style right out of the container with the white plastic sporks that are okay to be so flimsy, because it was...salad. Too hot to turn on the stove, too disorganized to have vegetables from the weekend farmers’ markets on hand, too lazy to go to the regular store and buy/wash/chop ingredients and make a salad at home, so we had resorted to the salad bar. And here is the confession I must make. I love iceberg lettuce. No vitamins, no minerals, no real redeeming nutritional qualities other than water and what Mom always used to tell us was “good for the gut,” roughage.
Grocery store salad bars have saved my sanity many a hectic weekday evening in years past, but the problem is, what once used to be relatively inexpensive greens and vegetables now cost as much as prepared hot foods. It was Econ 1 that I had to take twice to pass that taught me the law of supply and demand. No one wants to eat the heart-attack in a picnic basket: 8-pieces of golden fried chicken with mayo-slaw, mac n cheese, and mashed butter with a bit of potato, even if it feeds the whole gang for under six bucks. So now lighter lifestyles ring up the salad bar at a hefty $5.29 per pound, which doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be surprised at how much lettuce weighs. Mesclun, maybe a little less, but Romaine? Forget it. Even when you punch in your telephone number because you lost the barcoded keychain tag, you’re going to have to break out the platinum card because club card savings don’t apply to the salad bar. And if you’re half-way to bourgie and frequent the over-rated McOrganic market (because if you were all the way to bourgie, your personal chef would be doing all of this, and now that I think about it, they wouldn’t even be at the bar to begin with), you can expect to pay close to a filet mignon for a good salad.
The pain comes more, though, from the salad itself: the variety (or lack of) at the bar and the freshness and quality of each of the items. The best salad bars offer a multitude of greens, from my favorite iceberg all the way to...pseudo-mesclun. The market salad bar of choice for our DVD night shall remain nameless for now to save me from embarrassment, but if you must know, it’s someone’s name that rhymes with malphs. ;) Their salad bar has Romaine chopped too big to eat politely, a smaller bowl with sometimes baby spinach, sometimes random mixed baby greens, and iceberg that’s mixed with stupid things like slivered carrots, which are such a waste because inevitably, the curled, dried, cracked things never get eaten. Either the carrots never make it into your plastic container in the first place because they drop right out of the spring-loaded tongs into salad bar limbo, the crushed ice neverland between the bowl and the silver railed edge along which you slide your container; or the shreds simply descend to the bottom of your salad bowl back at home and drown because who wants to fish those slippery little things out of the water-swirled-with-dressing dregs? *gross*
As you move down the bar, the vegetables are either flashy or fresh. Flashy are the accessories like pickled beets, various beans, artichokes, olives, and if it’s fancy, maybe hearts of palm. It’s all the stuff that comes from cans and bottles. Fresh are the basics like tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, sliced fresh mushrooms, etc. etc. etc. Every salad bar is the same when it comes to this stuff, and I pretty much take one of everything. Except the beans. For some reason, no matter where I am, the beans, whether garbanzo or kidney or whatever other sort of salad bean there is, always look slimy. Not shiny, but slimy.
Then comes that which separates the salad bars from...the salad bars. I can’t get by without protein, and usually, there’s krab, tuna that looks suspiciously like Friskies, hard boiled eggs that almost always have bonus green tinge on the yolks, and if you’re lucky, chicken, that looks like the tuna, Mrs. LaChey. This is where sometimes I wish were further up the corporate ladder and could afford McOrganic markets, because they do better by throwing various marinated tofu as well as egg-whites-only into the protein mix. I am but a drone, so at the market that rhymes with malphs, I stick to krab. Don’t get greedy here – if you came away with anything at all from those silly diet programs, it’s that muscle weighs more than fat, and dressing alone, especially of the cream kind even if it's "lite," could add a whole 4 ounces to the final receipt. And dammit, if we're really counting, to your waistline as well ;)
Yes, yes dammit, we’re counting pennies now, because even though I work so hard that I hardly have time to cook at home, it’s still barely enough cashflow for the generic salad bar.
The movie was only so-so, but along with Tyler Florence, Nicolas Cage falls into my dream-fantasy crush category, so I enjoyed it. The salad? Not bad either, even though it takes a national treasure to pay for sporks and krab.