Close up of lettuce
An out-of-this world chef salad I enjoyed at a restaurant inspired me to plant lettuce like this so I could recreate the dish in my own kitchen.

by Carolyn Binder

photo of Carolyn Binder
Carolyn Binder

I admire people who plan weekly menus, complete with the lists of ingredients they need to pick up at the grocery store. I have tried to do this, but I either lose the list or the store doesn’t have what I need. Even if it does, it nearly always costs more than I anticipate.

So once the growing season gets underway, I take a different approach: I shop my garden. All of the veggies and herbs I need for a delicious meal are right there, allowing me to harvest dinner faster than I could possibly jockey through the frazzled shoppers picking over produce at the grocery store. As for what I cook, well, that depends on what’s ripe.

See, my springtime dreams tend to be filled with riveting adventures in cooking and gardening. Since I love playing in the kitchen as much as I love playing in the dirt, what I grow is inspired by delicious food I’ve tasted or wanted to taste – dishes I’ve discovered while leafing through cookbooks on a chilly afternoon, dining at great restaurants on occasional forays into the Big City, or just reminiscing about what I loved to eat when I was a kid.

close up of straberries.
A mouthwatering recipe from my past is the reason I’m growing strawberries this year.

A magazine feature about grilled figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto may have me fantasizing about planting a fig tree. A childhood memory of dipping perfectly ripe strawberries into sour cream and brown sugar directs my musings toward a strawberry patch. The rockstar chef’s salad recipe I stumble upon – a masterpiece of buttery lettuce dressed in lemony-thyme vinaigrette — spurs me to begin sketching out ruffled beds of red leaf, arugula, and romaine alongside a bodacious herb garden. After all, rockstar chefs aren’t the only ones who can serve seasonal baby vegetables and fruits!

So while dreaming about your spring garden, dream about dining too, and plant the ingredients you need to make the dishes you love. What you put in the ground this spring can reward you with everything from spicy pickled okra to sparkling jars of ruby red jam, to crispy lettuce for the best Caesar salad you’ve ever tasted. Here’s one of my favorite recipes to get you started – it’s my main reason for planting oodles of romaine!

Dreamy Caesar Salad Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 anchovies
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Grey Poupon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg (pasteurized)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (or try goat cheese!)

Place all ingredients in the blender and pulse for about 10 seconds. Add more Parmesan cheese if necessary to thicken. Toss with lots of crispy romaine lettuce and serve.

For more on gardening and cooking from the garden, visit Carolyn’s blog, Cowlick Cottage Farm.