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The Spinach is Worth the Wash

(post, Trista Cornelius)

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We’re making burritos for Mothers’ Day dinner:  beans, rice, avocado, salsa, olives, carrots, and—lettuce or spinach?  Mom, Dad, and I are at New Seasons gathering supplies.  We decide on spinach, but the tight bunches look dirty and bruised.  The pre-washed, cut, dried, and bagged spinach nearby, however, looks too, well, too clean and dry!  Too removed from the source.  Then, we notice that the bruised bunches are local.  “But then you’ll have to go to the trouble of washing it,” my mom says in a tone reminiscent of my grandmother (her mother).

No matter what you were doing with your life, from my grandma’s point of view, you were always working too hard, especially if it made you late to her Sunday dinner table or kept you from lingering after seconds, thirds, and fourths.  

I choose a bunch of spinach from the top of the pile.  “You know this is the real deal,” I tell my parents and point to a robust blade of grass banded with the spinach.  The farm’s sandy soil can’t be any more laced with herbicide than my own natural backyard plots where crab grass thrives the second I turn my back.  

Once home, I loosen the band and the spinach bounds forth fluffy and fresh, the few bruised leaves plumping themselves up again as soon as they hit their first cold water bath.  “Want me to wash those?” my mom asks as I drain the first sand-infused water.  “Sure.  They had their first wash, just need one more rinse.”  

Mom rinses each bunch meticulously, making it look effortless.  I can tell she’s excited about using the salad spinner because when I get it out, she says something like, “I wondered if we should dry this somehow.”  

It cracks me up because she gave us the salad spinner as a gift after hearing I wanted one.  I suspected then that she might see it as a rather frou-frou gadget.  I mean, really, a whole big plastic contraption to dry off your lettuce leaves?  This is not something found in her kitchen where cast iron pans, wooden spoons, rolling pins, and cookie sheets with so many years of use soaked into their metal they’ve turned an obsidian black dominate her cupboards.  

Strangely enough, I remember back in grade school when my mom organized our 4-H group and another girl in the group gave a presentation about how to make a salad.  I was jealous of her, I think because she had the confidence to give a presentation.  I wanted everyone as shy and reserved as myself.  I remember her presentation because she used a salad spinner—something I’d never seen before.  When I watched her use it, I knew she must be rich to have such frivolous things.  It’s just salad, I thought, as she demonstrated tearing the dry leaves.  Who needed to learn how to make a salad?  I was defensive because I hadn’t known anything about leaves bruising, or that this even mattered.  

Truth is, I love my salad spinner.  (Too bad having a salad spinner doesn’t also mean I’m rich!)  It keeps salads from being soupy, and lettuce and spinach last longer when stored clean and dry.  Plus, it’s kind of fun….

Mom has the spinach in the basket.  I place it in the clear bowl, balanced on its axis.  We close the lid, and I show her how to unlock the large, center button that you get to push down to make the basket spin.  At first, she’s too delicate.  Pretending it’s a race, I shout, “Go, go, go!  Push it!”  

We empty the water from the bowl and go for another spin.  This time, Mom slams it down fast and furious.  We’re both laughing because it’s sort of a release of aggression, which we polite ladies rarely demonstrate.  

Finally, the spinach is clean and dry and Mom offers to cut it.  I’d imagined salad-sized chunks of spinach to put in the burritos, letting the hot beans wilt it a bit, even though I don’t really like this, the way it turns spinach into slimy strings within the burrito.

Instead, Mom slices the spinach super thin, like grocery store deli lettuce.  You know—all shredded like coleslaw.  Once in the burritos, it doesn’t wilt.  It stays firm and crispy like lettuce, a much better texture than my plan would have yielded.  

I eat the leftover shredded spinach with rice, avocado, and salsa for a late lunch the next day.  Sitting on the porch, I watch my neighbor’s mother and grandmother say good bye after their Mothers’ Day gathering.  My mom left just a few hours before, but I miss her.  It’s amazing what delicately sliced spinach can do for a meal, for a daughter, for a life.