Thanksgiving in Springtime and Strawberry Chicken Salad
“Thanksgiving should be celebrated in the spring,” said Anne one evening to Marilla, as they sat on the front door steps and listened to the silver-sweet chorus of the frogs. “I think it would be ever so much better than having it in November when everything is dead or asleep. Then you have to remember to be thankful; but in May one simply can’t help being thankful. . . that they are alive, if for nothing else.”
– Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
There are a few annual events I’ve learned to anticipate since moving into this house three years ago. In September, the three aspen trees bordering our little backyard begin their transformation to shimmering gold; I cheer for them to change color together, but the smallest one has greater ambitions and always goes first. Advent brings a breathless watch for a sugar-dusting of snow for our Christmas celebration, followed unfairly by a dreary outlook on all things cold and white through the long, cabin-feverish months of January and February.
But around the end of March or the beginning of April — this year, I am wise enough to look for her coming — Springtime dances in like a dryad with outstretched hands and laughing eyes, inviting me into a dance of renewed sight.
Spring is for planning, you see. This afternoon I slipped on my husband’s jacket and scattered Johnny Jump Up seeds in the iris bed. These merry-faced blooms will be newcomers to our garden this year, along with sugar snap pea vines and purity cosmos, star phlox and pear tomatoes. Despite the blessed repetition of cycles throughout the year, the plans I make in the spring always carry a distinctive tang of adventure, and garden seeds and menus are no exception.
We roasted lamb with lemon and fresh rosemary for the first time this Easter. A packet of Black Beauty zucchini seed sits innocently by the back door, and I cast a sidelong glance at a recipe I saved in college for Fried Zucchini Flowers. “When this is good it’s very, very good and when it’s limp it’s a disaster,” writes Frances Mayes. Normally those words would cause me to shy away from a recipe, but the dryad has got my foot tapping and cheeks glowing, and I think — perhaps this will be the year.
It was in the spring, after all, that Bilbo ran out of Bag End without a handkerchief, and Mole threw down his whitewash brush to scramble upward into the lively light. In spring I awake again to the wonder of green and growing things — and the gift of taste buds — and the deliciousness of food is in its simplest form.
Jewel-like red strawberries. Plump asparagus stalks with a velvet snap, roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper. I’ve been discovering a surprising difference between a shaved carrot slice (wonderful for a light salad) and a slim carrot stick (perfect for dipping in red bell pepper hummus) — who knew that the cut of a vegetable could make such a difference in a dish?
In both the seed box and the produce aisle I find evidence, in leaf and root and flower and fruit, of the gorgeous creativity and the jovial generosity of my King. If this is the kind of bounty He can bring even out of a cursed and crippled earth, my imagination fails utterly to envision the kind of beauty we will see in the new creation that’s to come.
It’s no wonder the Song of Solomon calls this the season for singing.
Try as I might, then, the best spring recipes I can think of are simple ones, and the most important directions are about how to enjoy the food. Pick the freshest ingredients, pour a glass of sparkling water, and above all — savor with thanksgiving.
Strawberry and Chicken Salad
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 c. sliced almonds
1/3 c. feta cheese
1 container fresh baby spinach and/or baby lettuce
Lemon pepper seasoning
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. red wine or pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. honey
Preheat oven to 350F. Sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning and salt over chicken breasts. Roast chicken for 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, read a good book, or step outside for a breath of fresh air. While the chicken is cooling, place salad greens in a large bowl. Wash the strawberries and gently pat them dry. Hull, halve, and slice the berries into juicy discs, and add to bowl. Scatter cheese and almonds on top. Whisk dressing ingredients together and toss with the salad. Thinly slice or cube chicken and place on top.
Eat using a “real fork,” sitting down, with the gentle fun of trying to include every ingredient in each bite.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.