Back in my career days, I traveled quite a bit, mostly all over the Southeast, but luckily enough also to one of my most favorITE cities, ever, San Francisco, because that's where The Nefarious Firm was headquartered. So for I'd say about the last 3 or 4 years of my professional life, pre-Bean, (who knows maybe I'll have a professional life post-Bean. Never say never, right?) I'd load up my black leather jacket and my black pants and all my twin sweater sets (San Franciso's female professional uniform at the time) in my rolling American Tourister luggage, sling my laptop over my shoulder and hop on a cross-country flight to the left coast.
Of course we spent our days in that gorgeous city 27 floors up in the conference room of a high-rise, with only a few windows overlooking more high-rises and the occasional glimpse of a blue sky to remind us where we were. (But gosh, y'all, there's something about San Francisco. The quality of the light. The way that no matter where you look - every single vista, the views down any street or around any curve - your eyes behold a scene right off a postcard.)
Oh, and of course the Starbucks® on literally every corner.
The out-of-towners always stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel right on Union Square, and we'd walk the few blocks down to Firm Headquarters each morning, stopping at one of the five (Yes, FIVE. In three blocks!) Starbucks® we passed along the way to grab a coffee. When the meetings began we'd all be full of energy and creativity - my team, usually scattered about the country and all focused and engaged in on our own geographic regions, worked so well together and had so much fun on the occasions we were all in the same room. And the mega-doses of caffeine didn't hurt either. We'd plow through the morning's work, talking and laughing and bouncing off the walls, until lunchtime rolled around.
On the first couple trips out to San Francisco, I followed my non-native colleagues blindly to lunch, where we'd snarf down marvelous fresh shrimp and Bay scallops on beds of garlicky, creamy pasta, sourdough bread bowls brimming with hot, buttery clam chowder, and ginormous hot fudge sundaes swimming in molten Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.
And then we'd go back to the highrise and sit down in the warm, sunny conference room.
Where, being from the East coast, I'd immediately fall into a time-zone shuffled, carbo-loaded, caffeine-buzz-fizzling afternoon coma. And come to, hours later, to the curious, fresh-scrubbed, ruddy, well-rested, daily-exercised, overtly healthy and never-overfed or under-hydrated faces of the West Coast contingent, staring back at me, smiling bemusedly, having been involved in coherent, focused, productive conversation for the same several hours I'd just spent frantically squinting my eyes and shaking my head to prevent the lines of the snappy tweed upholstery of the back of the chair in front of me from blurring into oatmealish oblivion and my forehead from lolling forward and thudding onto the large metal rings of the binder on my desk. The only rival to the haze in my noggin was the cloud of garlicky smog floating all around my seat.
This was embarrassing, to say the least.
And then when I'd go back home and get on my scale, I'd face the ravages of those lunchtime carbo-binges, and spend the remainder of the quarter working them off at the gym before my next trip to San Fran was upon me.
I resolved on my third trip that to preserve my employment, I really needed to stay awake for the meetings I'd flown out for, AND I really didn't want to need an additional plane seat for the flight home. And that's where the recipe I'm about to share with you comes in. Down at the foot of one of the Firm Headquarters buildings sat a shy but bright little sandwich and juice shop. At lunchtime the first day of trip three, my friend Kristin and I reluctantly shrugged off the seafood-and-starch-o-rama and walked down to that shop, where we perused walls of freshly-made, healthy sandwiches and salads. I found the salad below and bought it, with a bottle of sparkling apple juice, and we sat down at a little table outside to enjoy our lunch. Staying awake after eating such a vibrant little meal was considerably easier, and gave me the option of actually opening my mouth to speak in the afternoon meetings without fear of killing a colleague with my dragon-breath. And bonus! No extra seat necessary on board the return flight.
Salads like this one have always been among my favorite lunches - they're quick, healthy and full of flavor, and don't cast a drowzy pall over the rest of the day. I whip this crunchy bowl of color up frequently now, and something about the crispness, the clean, simple goodness, and the bursts of sweet, vitamin-packed flavor always take me right back to that beautiful city, the rich, filtery light, the post-card scenery, and my San Francisco friends, those rosey-cheeked, hearty, robust natives that ran the show from headquarters.
When Al and I were married, one of those friends sent us a set of gorgeous salad plates from Gump's, each bearing a tiny, finely-etched likeness of the Golden Gate bridge. It's a special treat to finish up my light lunch and catch a glimpse of that lovely landmark, a warm reminder of some truly happy, satisfying times of my life.
My Version of That San Francisco Salad
Hearts of romaine lettuce, diced
Very thinly sliced red onion rings
Blue cheese crumbles
Dried, sweetened cranberries
Roasted hazelnuts, or a mix of roasted nuts including hazelnuts, pecans and almonds
Peeled oranges, sliced horizontally to create orange rounds
Dressing (Enough for 2 to 4 salads)
1/2 cup salad oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp. spicy whole grain mustard
2 Tbsp. honey
salt, pepper to taste
Assemble salads individually on plates or shallow bowls lettuce first, followed by onions, cheese, cranberries, nuts and oranges. Combine ingredients for dressing in a cruet or jar and shake vigorously. Pour over salads just before serving.