Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad

"To create one's own world takes courage"
                                         -Georgia O'Keeffe

I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. Not so much the typical idea of work/life balance, but balance of a more internal and personal kind. That sweet spot between constantly striving for better and knowing that what you do, make or share—even in its imperfections—is worthy. That space between brash confidence and utter lack of faith in your capabilities or qualifications. That tenderness, compassion and flexibility that yearns to be breathed into your choices when you tell yourself you're "slacking off" on whatever aspirations or regulations you have set for yourself, be it exercise goals or eating goals or personal project goals. That delicate and somehow elusive courage to keep doing, making and sharing even though you know there is still so much space for you to perfect and to learn.

It is both incredible and entirely unsurprising how many beautiful food blogs exist today. And now, with the ubiquity of Instagram as a tool for people to compulsively and publicly share their lives, we can stare at gorgeously prepared and styled photographs of food literally ALL DAY LONG. In ways, this is massively exciting. It is also terribly overwhelming and can spark a dark vortex of self-doubt. The "I'm not ______ enough"s are endless, if you let them be. I speak from experience. Even if you aren't a food blogger or aspiring Instagram superstar, the avenues through which people are now able to carefully curate and share a particular image of their lives are many; with innumerable opportunities for comparison today, it is often hard to trust that what we have to offer is enough. Maybe you can relate.

I am so appreciative of the bloggers who keep their entire history of posts up to view even after achieving massive success, book deals, etc. It's easy to forget (or not realize in the first place) that many of them have been producing work online for YEARS, as far back as 2008 or 2009. If you look at those first posts, they never look like they do now. The lighting, the props, the composition, the image quality—all of these things are skills and resources that take time to acquire. And these bloggers acquired them through their passion, their tenacity, their belief that what they had to share was exciting and worthy even when they had five readers and their posts included sentences like, "Hi, Mom!". They had the courage to create their own worlds, to pursue the activities that made them feel alive, and to share their offerings with the world not because they wanted fame or notoriety but because it was something they felt deeply compelled to do. Everyone, at any given time, is at a different point in the process, the journey, of their life. In this world of excessive sharing and digital connectivity, we should take inspiration from those further along in their journeys than we are and, even amidst comparison and kernels of frustration or doubt, find the courage to keep walking our own.

I've been sitting on this post for awhile. I was excited to have a free morning to shoot it and thought that the early afternoon light would be perfect. As it turned out, the light was harsh, blew out the colors in most of the images and cast drastic shadows from the windowpanes onto every shot I composed. I didn't have the "right" plate ware for the dish (wherever I get my ideas about plate ware from), and the salad took up way too little space on the plate. Some of the images were salvageable, but needless to say, I was bummed. Weeks passed and the images sat idly on my computer. And as I continued to flutter between engagement and disengagement with the other projects and things in my life, I began to think about balance. And worthiness. And the courage to do, make and share things with this world even when I don't think it's my best. To trust that in being gentile with myself, in being authentic, and in continuing to actively show up in this process that is life—in all of its messy imperfections—everything will, in time, fall into place.

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If you read my first-of-the-season asparagus recipe post, you'll already know that this oft-coveted springtime vegetable was a reeeeeally hard sell for me. Like, 27 years of life hard sell. But eventually, as my taste buds and my psychological aversion to vegetables both evolved, I began to willingly eat these green stalks of goodness. The recipe that was the asparagus turning point for me is actually the one I'm sharing with you here. It was created by one of the chefs at my former place of employment (hey, Mike!), who made this for staff lunch one day. It blew me away, not only because it was delicious, but because it was RAW. Raw asparagus?! Who would ever think to eat such a thing?! As it turned out, I actually like the taste of raw asparagus better than cooked because I find its flavor to be more mild. It also retains more of its vitamins and minerals when consumed raw. Letting it marinate in some acid, like we do here, also helps break down its starches which makes it softer and easier to digest. Win-win!

Asparagus: All the Best Anti-'s

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that asparagus is crazy good for you. While it is not in the cruciferous vegetable family (think cauliflower and cabbage), it contains comparable levels of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients as these powerhouse vegetables. Its antioxidant profile includes beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, manganese and selenium. Eating a diet rich with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods is essential to ward off some of today's most prominent diseases—type 2 diabetes and heart disease—which develop out of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies. Vegetables like asparagus help keep our bodies in balance and these diseases at bay. Food is medicine, y'all! 

Another health-supportive property of asparagus is its incredible B-vitamin content. One of the main responsibilities of B-vitamins is to convert the food we eat (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) into into fuel (glucose), which then gives us energy. Because they play a key role in this metabolization process, they are essential in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar. Asparagus contains high levels of vitamins B1 B2 and B6, folic acid (B9), niacin (B3), choline and pantothenic acid.*

*Nutritional information from WHFoods and University of Maryland Medical Center.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves two
Recipe adapted from Mike de la Torre

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 medium red onion
1 large Meyer lemon (regular is okay too if you can't find a Meyer), zest and juice
3 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil
generous pinch of salt
1/4 cup raw almonds
goat cheese, to finish
soft boiled egg (optional)

Directions
1. Slice the onion into very thin half-moons. 
2. In a medium bowl, zest the lemon and then squeeze 1/4 cup's worth of juice into the bowl.
3. Add the onion slices, toss with the lemon juice, add a generous pinch of salt and set aside.
4. Cut off the woody bottom third of the asparagus stalks. Slice the remaining tender part of the stalks on a diagonal into 1/4" thick coins.
5. Add the asparagus to onions and toss to coat.
6. Heat toaster oven to 325°F. Toast the almonds until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through. Roughly chop.
7. Add the olive oil to the marinated asparagus and onions, gently mix, and transfer to your serving bowl. Add chopped almonds and your desired amount of goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a soft boiled egg, if desired.