Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Cinderella Story

For me, a salad just isn't a salad without croutons. Well, if it's a schmancy salad served in a restaurant where croutons don't belong--like my fave arugula tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, salt, pepper and shingles of Parmesan-- I wouldn't necessarily adulterate that or embarrass myself by asking for a side of croutons. Meantime, most good salads include some sort of crunchy component--pine nuts maybe, or pecans--anyway. But asking for croutons--say on baby greens with beets and warm goat cheese, hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds tossed in a blood orange vinaigrette-- I think is worse than asking for A1 at Morton's. It may be akin to asking for ketchup at the Capital Grille. I trust a restaurant's judgement on whether or not croutons belong. But at home, I don't think I've ever passed on croutons. I may be incapable of eating a salad without them.

Imagine my disappointment and desperation when I went to make myself a salad for lunch--during a snow storm--and discovered I was out of croutons. Clearly, it was a crisis. (Even more clearly, I understand how fortunate I am that being out of croutons constitutes a crisis in my world.) But I am creative, and I am my mother's daughter, and I had a bag of stale bread, which I was saving to make bread crumbs, in the freezer.

It wasn't quite a MacGyver moment; I wasn't jerry-rigging my toaster to double as a Ron Popeil food dehydrator or anything, but within a half hour, the almost-freezer-burnt-beyond-recognition-after-being-stale hot dog roll and heel of a baguette were warm and crunchy croutons, seasoned with a little olive oil and Italian herbs and better-tasting than any croutons I have ever gotten out of a box.

So making croutons is my new thing. Not just because I can be cheap (especially if I'm in the market for new shoes or have dinner with Amy on my calendar), or because I love a little crunchy goodness on my salad. There's just something about taking something mediocre and making something extraordinary from it, about seeing the potential in something seemingly without.

Who doesn't like a good Cinderella story?

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