Working with your hands and some unlikely salads


What drives a person to cook? Or to garden? Cane a chair? Build a backyard pool?

I think it’s built-in. People who like to work with their hands cannot be stopped. They find ways even if they end up making the same stew or the same knitted scarf.

I’d even say it’s a form of meditation: activity clears your mind.

Yes, you can daydream while you chop, hone, dig, or purl but it’s not quite the same as dwelling on unwelcome thoughts endlessly. For one thing, you produce something.

People who like to cook often describe it as relaxing. Especially if the preparations are familiar.

 Okay, 2 chopped onions. Done.                                                                                                                   Where’d I put that garlic? Okay. Done.                                                                                                                 Yikes! Forgot to turn the oven on. Okay…

(I’ve noticed that people who like the active nature of cooking aren’t that into cooking shows – they’d rather do it than watch it. But not all of us like to rush to the kitchen every evening and these shows provide not only entertainment but some incentive to attempt new things.)

Cooking may not be your thing but working with your hands in some manner is powerful. It goes beyond relaxing and heads right for peaceful, creative, healthful and happy!

In 2009, Matthew Crawford, an accomplished academic philosopher, wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft. In 2010, his book The Case for Working with Your Hands or Why Office Work Is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good details his journey from academia to running a motorcycle repair shop. Judging by reviews in the Guardian and the New York Times, Crawford makes a strong case but can be a little doctrinaire. It’s probably not a great idea to flee from your desk job without a pretty good alternative.

Still, whatever it is you like to do with your hands, go for it!

Okay, I”ll trundle back to the kitchen. But another pitch for the glories of cooking:my friend Susie’s husband Eddie does all the cooking – and he gets all the credit. “I do the housework”, Susie moaned, “But no one says, ‘Wow! What a sparkling toilet you have!'”

Summertime in the kitchen can mean having some fun with unlikely combinations. Tomatoes and peaches don’t leap to mind as a salad but they really complement each other – especially if your tomatoes aren’t really flavorful. In Oregon, the days are generally fairly mild with cool evenings and low humidity. Not terrific for producing tomatoes but they do grow. They’re just not like a tomato from Oklahoma or Washington, DC. So adding peaches, adds juice and sugar. And bingo! You’ve got flavor.

Tomato and Peach Salad

Peach and Tomato Salad

Really delicious.

  • Serves 6-8
  • 4 large peaches
  • 4 large tomatoes (or a weight of medium or cherry tomatoes equal to that of the peaches)
  • ¼ cup red onion, slivered or 2 tablespoons shallot, minced
  • 1 minced jalapeno (optional – this doesn’t need to be a spicy salad)
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Basil or rosemary, chopped – a tablespoon or two

Cut the tomatoes and peaches into slices and combine in a bowl with the onion and pepper. Salt lightly and dress with a little balsamic and olive oil. Toss with the basil or rosemary.

Watermelon and feta? Bear with me. It’s tasty. This recipe came from the Oregonian* but I’ve made a few changes.

Spicy Watermelon Salad with Feta and Basil

  • 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 1 jalapeno, cut very small
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Toss the watermelon gently with the jalapeno. Divide among 4 serving plates.

Combine, the lime juice, sesame oil and sugar and drizzle over the salads.

Top each with some of the feta, basil and pine nuts.

A salad of oranges and red onions is a pretty well-known combination – especially in Brazil where it’s a side dish for feijoada  –  but it works beautifully with all manner of grilled meats and vegetables.

Orange and Red Onion Salad

You can slice the oranges and onions in advance; keep them separate and then put together just before serving. Be sure to use fresh pepper.

Serves 4-6

  • 4 oranges
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 T olive oil, approximately
  • Black pepper

Peel the oranges and cut into sections or rounds. Arrange on a platter. Slice red onions very thinly and place over the orange sections. Season with freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Another summer treat: an array of fruits with spice from the Mexican state of Jalisco. This is a beloved salad of fruits with chile pepper and salt. In her blog ‘My Slice of Mexico’, Irene Arita writes about ‘pico de gallo’ and it’s history. Is pico de gallo a fruit salad or a salsa? She explains. A very interesting read with an in-depth recipe. See link below**

Pico de Gallo – Mexican Fruit Salad

Prepare about 2 cups of fruits per serving.

Chop plums, oranges, melons, nectarines, jicama, apples, and cucumbers into bite-sized pieces. Pour lime juice over and pico de gallo seasoning.

Note: Pico de Gallo is sold commercially as a salsa but in this salad, pico de Gallo is a mix of dry ground chiles and salt.

Thinking of Mexico, Diana Kennedy springs to mind. An English woman, she lived in Mexico for much of her life, was an author and authority on its complex cuisines and introduced Americans and British to Mexican food much in the way that Julia Child showed Americans what French food is like. She died at the end of July at the age of 99.  Tejal Rao wrote a beautiful homage to her in the New York Times*** . Among her many quirky habits, she loved dirty jokes. I suggest you make one of her recipes and tell some jokes.

Bon appetit! Mary



10 comments on “Working with your hands and some unlikely salads

  1. Lilly Gray Rubin says:

    Dear Mary
    Your writing your recipes original sensual relaxed entertaining charm filled
    Yes you are a generous soul: light life giving joyful marvelous enchanting engaging
    Fortunate are those who know you in one’s lifetime
    Hear Hear
    Enjoy Life Everyday

  2. Catherine Fox says:


    Really enjoyed your blog post, you are a gifted writer well as chef. Looking forward to trying these out for friends this week. Hope all well

  3. Maria Sundy says:

    Mary, I love your blogs! I learn so much from your recipes and the “how to do it”!
    The Salads sound really good! I hope you liked the Sherwood Story!
    Take Care,

  4. Maria – so glad you enjoyed the post. I Loved the Sherwood Story! Thank you –
    xoxo, Mary

  5. Sophie Zalokar says:

    Hi Mary

    It was lovely to receive your recent blog post. I felt so aligned with all you wrote. Hands are a truly remarkable part of our anatomy.

    As are feet. Something I never really realised until I very badly injured my left foot on an off-road motorcycle ride 3 months ago. It will still be some months away before I will be able to walk normally again. Being an active person this is as much a mental journey as it is physical.

    Anyhow, how are you? I see the Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures have been record breaking. Here in Fremantle we’ve had a wet, stormy winter. Lots of time indoors, which along with recovering from my injuries, I’ve used to spend time writing my next book.

    Anyhow I just wanted to send you a hello note and warm wishes from Australia.
    I hope this finds you well.

    Sophie Zalokar
    Food + Agritourism Consultant
    Recipe Developer | Food Writer + Stylist

    Mobile +61 (0) 421 641 397
    Web http://www.sophiezalokar.com
    Socials @sophiezalokar

  6. jessieglenn1 says:

    Thanks for another great post!

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