Weather: 10 degrees, shimmery moon glow on the water
What I’m listening to: Photograph, Ed Sheeran

Just before Christmas, our middle-school-aged neighbor friend, Jace, walked up to me in church with a gleaming smile and handed me a box, carefully wrapped and topped with a bow. Without knowing the contents of the gift, I was already stunned and humbled by the gesture.

Then I opened it.

Inside was a handmade wooden cheeseboard, colorful and beautifully crafted. I had admired a similar one last year that he had made for his mother in his wood shop class at school. I told him I would gladly pay to have one like that in my kitchen. Several months later, and the conversation long forgotten by me, this gift is placed in my hands. He had not forgotten my words and had spent hours and weeks working at school to give this stunning cheeseboard to me, with a deep sense of pride written all over his face, in time for Christmas.

The tears welled up. I could hardly believe it.

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I’ve been thinking about gifts made of wood – the way they’re carefully and painstakingly crafted, the way they’re steady and sure and lasting. Jace’s cheeseboard sits on display in my kitchen and will be used often in food styling and photographs, because that beautiful thing carries with it the weight of so much more than pieces of wood – but the weight of hard work, the significance of an entirely unexpected gift, the force of memories and friendship and shared history.

I regard recipes much the same way: deliberately crafted, built on moments and relationships, long-lasting, steady and sure. The very best recipes leave a legacy, become heirlooms, to be prized and revisited and passed on again and again. The very best recipes feel like coming home. They remind us of moments passed while nourishing our present. The very best recipes are like an unexpected gift.

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My very favorite salads, the ones I make the most often, are ones that include combinations of fruit and nuts and cheese. This stunning spinach salad topped with ripe pears, pecans, pomegranate arils, and bleu cheese is a keeper. A simple dressing of good balsamic and extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is all you need to make this salad shine. If you’d like to add some protein to make this spinach salad more substantial, smoky crumbled bacon would be a winning addition.

Spinach Salad with Pomegranate & Pear

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A vibrant spinach salad topped with ripe pears, toasted pecans, juicy pomegranate arils, and bleu cheese.

Yields: Serves 2

  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 ripe pear, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1/4 cup pecans (preferably toasted), roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • good balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Divide the spinach onto two salad plates.

Top each salad with half of the pear slices, half of the pomegranate arils, half of the bleu cheese, and half of the pecans.

Season with salt and pepper to taste,

Drizzle with good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Serve promptly.

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