String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds: Summer of Salads (and private chef musings)

I’m in a relationship with a blue beach chair.

That is, I think it’s blue.

I’ve only met it at night, at 9pm at the earliest.

It’s one of many tucked under a long wooden walkway from the street across from the house where I work as a private chef (or private cook, as I prefer to call myself based on my skills compared to the chefs I interview for Serious Eats).

It could be green, for all I know. Or gray or black.

All I know is that it has a comfy headrest, and leans me back to the perfect angle. And, despite the dozens of chairs left by trusting locals and ready to be reached for, it’s the one I always grab, no matter where it’s ended up on the line.

I work for a good family, for which I’m very grateful. They have a beautiful home, and are respectful of who I am and what I do, which includes providing three healthful and impressive meals a day for a variety of diets put forth by themselves and their constantly rotating houseful of guests (they are very generous hosts). There are times I’m overwhelmed by the work – by the very early mornings and long days, by the constant focus that is timing food and constantly producing a creative variety of food. Some days it feels like just too much.

There have been a few moments I’ve sunk to the kitchen floor in exhaustion. And many moments when I’ve calculated the days until I can drive home to NYC and be in my own space, with my dog and my kitchen and my roommate and my desk and my dirty laundry and my neighbors and my bed!

But, no matter the lovely guests, the frantic preparation or the random quiet moments when I drive on crowded summer Hamptons streets…

… the day always ends in that chair.

I fill my Starbucks insulated cup with whatever wine I’ve bought and stashed in the garage fridge and throw on comfy clothes and head across to the beach. I bury my toes in the cold sand and look up at the cloudy/clear sky with the warm/cool breeze blowing on me, nestling into that blue/green/black/gray chair.

That chair has seen me through some medical shit I won’t go into. And through thinking I’m not worthy of this job. And through thinking I’m worth more than my salary. And through thinking that this job and me are actually quite fit for each other. And through thinking about him/her/it/them/there. And through long phone conversations, songs on repeat in my headphones and moments of quite contemplation when I just stare out at the crashing waves and have to trust that I’m where I’m supposed to be in that very moment.

For my birthday I was given a journal with many of the menus and odd stories about my time here – relayed in texts to a friend. Soon I’ll add my own scribbled notes to it. And, at the end of the summer, I’ll reflect back on the skills I’ve learned, on the dishes I’ve made that I look forward to making for my own loved ones, on how awesome my warrior dog who has shuttled between homes in my absence was, and how I made it through the summer.

That time of reflection is still a bit away.

But, until then, at least I know I have my blue/green/black/gray chair to look forward to at the end of the day…

… and more dish discoveries yet to come… like this salad.

String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (about 5 oz) baby arugula
  • 1/4 lb French string beans
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut into thin half-moons
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped fine
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp Macadamia nut oil (walnut or almond oil would work too!)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • hefty pinch of kosher salt and a few healthy grinds of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds (pistachios or pine nuts wouldn’t be the end of the world either)
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence

Directions:

Place 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the string beans and cook until they just soften but before they brown, about 3 minutes. With tongs (one of my top five kitchen utensils), remove to a large bowl.

Add red onion and garlic, and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl.

Add almonds (or whichever nut is currently striking your fancy) to skillet, and toss them around a few times until they start getting all nutty and toasty. Add remaining tsp of olive oil and herbs de Provence and keep flippin em until they’re slightly browned and glossy.

In a small bowl, whisk macadamia nut oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt and pepper until smooth and glossy-like.

Add arugula to bowl with warmed string beans, and toss to slightly wilt. Add dressing and toss to combine.

Pour into serving plate and garnish with almonds.

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8 Comments

  1. I love that your friends gave you that journal and that you are continuing to make entries in it. I have little doubt that you are worth more than your salary, no matter what it is you are making. The job of a chef is a hard and often thankless one, not to mention being a private one being at times, quite lonely. I know the family must appreciate you and I hope they show it.
    Life is all about meeting challenges, gaining new experiences and learning from both. I’m sure you will come away from this position with so much more than what you went into it with and your journal will tell all that. Until you can be back in NYC, in your home, your own kitchen do enjoy the respite that the chair gives you each evening (and don’t forget your Starbucks cup filled with wine in the fridge!)

    • Thanks, Paula, was a special comment to get and a boost I needed after this long week. I’m fortunate to work for a wonderful family but it is NOT glamorous and a LOT of work. Psyched to go home tomorrow and fill in the past 11 days, and take a break from my blue chair and hopefully detox from all the wine and snacking and just BE!!!! (She types while sipping away :)

    • I have the freezer here stocked with a variety of nuts that I get to buy with their money ;) One of the perks of being a chef – I can use anything (within reason) I want! Guests always love these toasted up. Fun discovery :)

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