From the summer of 2007 until the early spring of 2010
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I lived in a Tudor style house on the tree-lined street of Russell Avenue. It shared a block with some other 1920s and ’30’s houses with the one exception that the kids always referred to as Boo Radley’s house
I always loved the neighborhood, and after we adopted Z, I got to know it even better because he and Wally required a lot of walking. We found our habits. If the sun was shining, we’d walk to Brookside Park, along the way peeing on bushes (them) and ogling people’s tomatoes and pretty flowers (me)
If it was raining .. I’d pretty much drag them for a quick loop around the block (Z hated to be wet). If it was evening, dark already but not too cold, we’d walk a big rectangle to the Iowa DOT. We always circled back on North 2nd so I could sneak glances through the windows of the bungalows as passed. I knew every family, and I’d catch glimpses of them as they cooked and sat down together for dinner
Admittedly, walking the pugs wasn’t always my favorite thing. Especially in the fall and winter when it was dark at 5 pm, but once we got going and caught a rhythm, the glowing squares of the windows gave me momentum. “We’ll turn for home after we pass the next house. Or wait, no, let’s turn at the next one after that.”
I loved the smells that filtered onto the sidewalk. The elderly woman who, as soon as the leaves began to turn, started baking banana bread like crazy. Oh dear .. the teacher in the yellow house must be having a long day – clearly, there was garlic burning. Or the time the whole block of Hazel smelled like ripe apples. Or maybe someone was making applesauce? Maybe I’d passed under an apple tree?
It was too dark to tell.
I live on the other side of town now, about a mile from Iowa State University. The kids have families of their own. Wally and Z, I’ll walk with again one day in heaven. I don’t walk much after dark now, mostly because I’m working. Or I’m doing something much like I am the other evenings, sitting on the sofa with a kitty cat, avoiding dirty dishes, writing, listening to my husband, Harry and Sally sleeping down the hall
This evening, I took a long walk through downtown Fort Collins, Colorado. Somewhere between an impromptu stop at the thrift store and a not-so-quick walk through the used bookstore, I saw the cutest puppy coming down the block. As they approached, I asked if I could pet him, and that’s when I noticed it.
The air smelled exactly like the farm I grew up on so many years ago. Like dry pine needles in the heat, like the camp, I went to during the summer. There it was. My memory of the scent was immediate, below language, just boom, Iowa summer
I couldn’t stop thinking about it
I was going through my hard drive a few nights ago and came across some photos I’d taken with my old digital camera the summer we got Z. I surprised by how nostalgic I felt for the house I’d loved. The screened in back porch, the kitchen with the cabinets that were way too tall, the breakfast nook with such pretty light
All of the photos were in a folder called “Kids favorite things,” along with docs of some of the recipes we had on repeat during those years.
I can’t believe I’d forgotten about it after all of these years. A riff on the cheeseburger meat I made batches and batches of for my son, way back when. He’d put it on a bed of tortilla chips, melt cheese over the top and call it nachos. I’d put it on greens and call it dinner.
It’s all of the goodness of a cheeseburger (or Big Mac), in salad form. Croutons for a crunch, browned burger mixed with onion, dill pickles, ketchup and mustard for substance, and a special sauce that pulls everything together. (ps: the special sauce? You’ll want to put this on everything .. trust me on this)
It’s a meal in itself, and most of the parts can be prepped ahead of time. It’s a great option for weeknight dinners and potlucks. You’ll wonder where it’s been all your life.
A few notes about the recipe:
The key to this salad is not letting the beef cool before serving. Hot meat and fresh, crisp, cold lettuce is just like eating a handheld Big Mac
If you’d like to skip making the sauce, 100 Island is a great substitute
The Cheeseburger Salad You'll Want On Repeat
- Cheeseburger Salad
- 1 red onion, diced, divided
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 cup ketchup
- ½ cup finely sliced dill pickle (or pickle relish)
- 1 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 8 cups chopped lettuce
- 2 plum tomatoes
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Special Sauce
- ½ cup mayo
- 2 Tbsp ketchup
- 1 Tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp honey (or 2 tsp natural sugar)
- 2 tsp sweet pickle relish
- 1 tsp onion powder
- pinch of salt
- a grind of black pepper
- Cheeseburger Salad
- In a skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef (~ 10-15 minutes)
- Add half the chopped onion, ketchup, dill pickle, mustard, and mix well
- Arrange the chopped lettuce on a large serving platter, spoon beef mixture over the lettuce, and drizzle with Special Sauce
- Top the salad with the additional diced onion, plum tomatoes, shredded cheese, and croutons
- Special Sauce
- In a small bowl, add the honey and vinegar.
- Warm in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to dissolve
- In a small bowl, combine the dissolved honey/vinegar mix, along with all of the ingredients; stir well.
- Place dressing in a covered container and refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally, allowing the flavors blend.