Square foot garden salad, lemon thyme vinaigrette, and a simple saute

May 10th, 2010

Arugula basil salad

When a couple comes in for marital counseling, a counselor looks for clues as to exactly where the couple is at in their relationship – say on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 representing marital bliss, and 1 signifying divorce.
One of the things I used to ask when a couple came into my office for counseling was, “Do you fight?”
If they answered yes, I knew they weren’t as bad off as they might have feared.

Square foot garden

For one, fighting means each person has a sense of individuality and self and knows that he or she is worth standing up for and being understood, and it also means that the couple is at least attempting to communicate and address issues – albeit badly many times.

Lower on the scale is the development of total silence, often called “stonewalling“, which can happen when one or both people feel there is little hope left and have already emotionally left the relationship, and have shut down to such a degree that even fighting feels pointless and futile.

If a couple told me they had stopped fighting altogether, or that they had stopped trying to have their point of view heard in the relationship, that is when I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Red leaf lettuce

So, fighting’s not all bad – that’s what I tell myself when my husband and I have occasional spats.

Truth be told, my husband is a pretty great guy. He helps around the house, takes care of the yard, shares the care of our son, is a great cook, and he does cool things like make square foot gardens. It doesn’t hurt that he’s tall, dark, and handsome either.

And he is my friend. I like that.

Lemon sage chicken

Our days are pretty simple…

We work from home. We take care of our son. We eat. We sleep. We eat again.

Occasionally we travel – mountains and beaches, London and Paris, Germany, Italy, Costa Rica, Jackson Hole and the Golden Gate, next is NYC; these are the highlights that stand out from the daily.

And then we come home. We eat. We sleep. We love our son. I cook. Brian gardens. I eat Brian’s garden. I’m happy. I haven’t always been happy. Happy feels good.

No, happy feels great.


Here is a standard meal for us. I like chicken. I know many feel it is boring and common. Common, I’ll give you. But only boring if you let it be.

Brian calls chicken “foul”, but he likes this.

I saute lightly floured chicken in olive oil with fresh herbs from the garden – this time I used sage, but rosemary or oregano work just as well.  I add lemon juice and zest, a clove of diced garlic, a bit of crushed red pepper (we like to make our own), and sometimes a splash of white wine and whatever vegetables are hanging around the fridge at the time – in this case, green onions. It all simmers down and creates a lovely concentrated tangy, spicy, herby coating on the chicken that tastes anything but common.

This dinner takes me less than half an hour to prepare and I often serve it over a simple pasta, or just as is with a salad like you see here. I don’t measure anything, so the recipe is just a best guess – but no matter, there’s plenty of wiggle room in there to make it your own.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette

We eat a lot of salad around here – another perennial dish that is only boring if you let be. I make homemade salad dressing about once a week – usually a vinaigrette, and I like to try new flavors to keep it interesting. This week I used lemon juice and zest for the acid, and added thyme from the garden, shallot, whole grain mustard, a dash of sugar and sea salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

I really liked this dressing. We ate it the first day on salad beside the chicken with homemade croutons, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and fresh grated parmesan.

Day two it was perfect for my lunch on a salad made from the greens from Brian’s square foot garden – spicy arugula, young red leaf, and sweet basil leaves. I marinated fresh artichoke hearts in the dressing first and then laid them on the salad next to toasted pine nuts and large chards of parmesan. After I took my first pictures, I snuck in one of the last slices of another amazing quiche/savory tart (I’ve gone a bit tart crazy as of late, so I decided I should give it a rest here for the week and share the tart recipe at a later date) to eat alongside.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette saladLemon thyme vinaigrette saladSpinach, bacon, Emmanthaler quicheSommer's amazing banana bread

And finally, I made this banana bread, a recipe by my former college roommate and fellow food blogger, chocked full of pecans and coconut, for Jonathan to have for breakfast and snacks. It’s been gone for three days now and he’s still asking for it, if that tells you how it was.

It’s been a good week. If you are interested in anything garden related, mention it in the comments, and I’ll have Brian answer anything outside of my knowledge.

Lemon thyme vinaigrette
adapted from here

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon minced shallot *
1 1/2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
leaves from 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, lightly chopped or minced to release oils
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil (to taste)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together or place all ingredients in a secure container and shake well. May be used immediately, though flavors blend nicely overnight. Dressing should last several days in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving if oil begins to harden.

* I imagine garlic would be a nice substitute, but I would not use more than two cloves for this amount of dressing

Spicy Lemon Herb Chicken

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts *
olive oil
1 fat garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper *
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons of flour *
6 – 8 sage leaves finely chopped or 1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary *
6 green onions, including green parts, washed and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover a 12 inch skillet with 1/8 inch of olive oil. Heat over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the lemon zest, garlic, sage, and crushed red pepper. Allow to sizzle and infuse the oil, but do not brown the garlic or fully crisp the herbs.

Season the flour with salt and pepper (I use about 1/2 t. sea salt and generously crack the pepper). Dip each side of the chicken breasts in the flour mixture and place in the hot oil. The oil should sizzle around the chicken as it is laid in the pan, but still not smoke. Sprinkle up to 1 tablespoon of extra seasoned flour over the tops of the chicken breasts. Once the pan has recovered it’s heat from adding the chicken, turn the heat down to medium or medium low to slowly brown and saute the chicken.

Cover the pan and cook till the first side of the breasts are golden, about 4-6 minutes. If pan is starting to dry out at any point, add just a bit of water, one tablespoon at a time and allow to evaporate before adding more.

After turning the breasts, add the lemon juice and half of the green onions. Again, add a few drops of water at any point the pan is beginning dry out. Cover again and cook another 4-6 minutes. During the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the rest of the green onions to cook just till wilted. I usually knife into one breast in a thick portion to check for doneness. Try to get the chicken just done, but done! Sprinkle again with salt and pepper to taste (you may wish to taste a small bite first to check).

Transfer the chicken to a serving plate. Turn the heat up on the stove and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to release the pan drippings. The water should mostly evaporate in the hot pan leaving a just a small amount of concentrated pan juices. Pour this over the chicken while it is resting. As the chicken rests before serving, it will release more juices. Be sure to pour these juices back over the chicken on each plate when serving and check again for salt and pepper.

* the quality of the chicken makes all the difference in taste and texture – of course free range and organic is ideal, but I also obtain good results with Tysons

* if you do not like spicy, just eliminate the crushed red pepper

* I like to use white whole wheat flour because I think it has more flavor than regular white flour

* the fresh herbs should be to taste. You may use more than this or a combination, though you may try it with these proportions the first time and add more to taste on your next trial.

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Posted in Main Courses - Meat, vegetarian | 23 Comments »

23 Responses to “Square foot garden salad, lemon thyme vinaigrette, and a simple saute”

  1. grace says:

    good eats, lisa! no salad tastes as good as the one prepared using stuff straight from one’s own garden! and i’ll have to remember your words of wisdom the next time i have a knock-down-drag-out fight with someone. :)

  2. grace says:

    and clearly, i meant laura. because your name’s laura, not lisa. who the heck’s lisa? :)

  3. Amy says:

    Looks lovely! Marinated artichoke hearts sounds simple and delicious. Are you growing your own artichokes? Your relational insights make me think that maybe I should work on becoming more of a fighter. Hmmm… Hope you’re having a good week!

    • laura says:

      We are not growing our own artichokes, yet – these were from the store, but that would be interesting! Fighting is only good when we learn how to do it, and then it’s not really fighting anymore – it’s communicating differences of opinions and feelings – you are very good at this – I just fly off the handle… must work on that!

      • Amy says:

        Thanks for the compliment on my communication skills. This posting is making me think you could do something along the lines of kitchen therapy – counseling over good food… or at least blogging in that direction. Have you ever seen that movie “Waitress” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473308/) with Keri Russell? She makes pies infused with whatever her emotional state is at the time. I think you would like it. Be forewarned, it will probably make you want pie…

        • laura says:

          I think I like sharing insights in this manner, but I really do not have a desire to be viewed as an “expert” and I also have no desire to be paid for it – but perhaps, overtime, people will learn more of my history and be interested in this kind of casual exchange of insight and information – you make a good point, thanks! I’ll look for the movie – all I need right now, something to make me want pies! I’m still doing low-carb. ( : !

  4. Beautiful photos (as always) and garden! Every married person who reads your post is going to be rating their marriage 1-10! I think mine’s about a 9–usually blissful. The chicken looks moist and flavorful. You are right, all ingredients are as exciting as you make them.

    • laura says:

      And everyone is going to read your comment and want your marriage! XO Sommer! The banana bread was fantastic.

  5. Barbara says:

    I can’t wait to try that vinaigrette, Lisa! So light and lovely. The chicken dish too. I do miss having a garden; there’s nothing like wandering around and picking your salad, your radishes (we always had radishes), your lettuce.

    My marriage is long over. He didn’t fight. Ever. He also remarried immediately.
    Fortunately, I am a very happy woman and love being single…am good friends with my ex and his wife. He is a nice man, a good father, we just were not a good match.

    • laura says:

      Some people don’t fight or talk much at all simply because they never learned to communicate feelings growing up or talk things through (obviously I know nothing about your ex, but this is just a generality). If a couple really wants to make it work, sometimes they can then learn to talk to one another – that’s usually when the fighting starts! but sometimes, as you said, people are just not a good match. So many people are not comfortable being single, and I think it’s great that you are, Barbara!

  6. redmenace says:

    I heard John Gottman on the radio recently. He said the same thing. He said the telling part was the WAY couples fight. I try to keep this in mind when I pick a fight with my husband. I’m testy, but I fight clean! I love your blog. I love your garden. The pictures are lovely and I’m now dying for a piece of lemony chicken!

    • laura says:

      Thank you so much! And indeed, “stonewalling” was coined by John Gottman. It is one of the four things he outlines as capable of destroying a relationship along with criticism, contempt, and defensiveness (you can read more in the link I posted, if you desire). I’m pretty testy myself – it must be the red hair in my genes ( ; !

  7. Tracy says:

    The chicken and salad look gorgeous and delicious. The garden, adorable. I can tell that a lot of thought and time went into everything and the result was authentic and perfect. :)

    • laura says:

      Thank you! My husband is so passionate about gardening – I am lucky to reap the benefits, though he doesn’t complain about the cooking that comes from it all either, so I think it evens out in the end. ( :

  8. What a great post! As always photography is stunning and cannot wait to try the dressing!

  9. Liz says:

    I love chicken dinners, I just wrote about a chicken dinner myself! And they are only boring if you let them be, there is so much you can do with chicken, like you said. It’s versatile and easy and a great way to really start being creative in the kitchen if you feel tied to recipes.

    I am living vicariously through everyone’s real life gardens this year. I just planted some container veggies, and I enjoy it immensely, but I still feel like I missing out not having a square patch to putter around in, pulling weeds, and making sure everyone is doing OK. I wish I had that. In a couple of years hopefully.

    It’s also amazing how much better a relationship feels when you’re able to fight and say what you think and not worry that the person is going to walk away because you said whatever you said. I guess that’s growing up and the difference between a mature relationship and a teenage-serious relationship. Though I don’t think my relationship with the boyfriend would be would it is if we weren’t really solid friends at the heart of it. It’s so important. I’m glad we are both happy with the current state of our lives. :)

    • laura says:

      We eat chicken a lot – simple, easy to transform, and relatively cheap!

      Brian has been wanting to do square foot gardening for a long time, and he finally got to it this year with the one I photographed and one other as well. We are still working on planting the big garden – container veggies is probably more my speed if I didn’t have Brian and the yard, but I am not complaining! I hope you get a good yield even if it does not come from a square patch yet. ( :

      Learning how to communicate, disagree, and get things out on the table and still feel safe and loved in a relationship is not easy, but it is definitely part of the foundation of a healthy mature relationship – it sounds like you and your boyfriend do this well – best wishes for you both, Liz!

  10. Sara Creekmore says:

    Hey Laura,
    I can’t wait to try your herby foul. This looks delicious. And I love the idea of the square foot garden. It looks very organized. I have been experimenting with my own yard and it’s potential to grow food. Love to hear more about yours! I envy your life a lot…working from home and cooking all of time. I wish we could life swap for a couple of days, just so I could see what that would be like. Love the life insights mixed with pictures of the garden. :o )
    <3 Sara
    PS- If you want to take a little trip to the Gulf Coast let me know!

    • laura says:

      Sara – Thank you! Brian is quite the gardener and works very hard at keeping it all orderly ( :

      I suppose the grass often does seem greener on the other side – I am thankful to work at home, but sometimes it’s difficult to separate my work and personal life!

      I would love to visit!

  11. Joy says:

    aaaah Laura I always love reading your posts. The pictures and the writing are always on point! I love that you guys have your won garden, I CAN’T WAIT to have my own garden once we move into our new place. To be able to pick fresh salad greens for dinner, I honestly dont know what could be better. This dish is beautiful, light refreshing and down to earth — my idea of the perfect meal.

    Your hubs is one lucky man!

    side note: Collin and I use to bicker a lot when we were long-distance, but since moving in together, though we have our occasional arguments, we rarely fight anymore. I am a very open person so it is easy for me to put my emotions on the table, him being a Cancer, he has always struggled with that part. He is getting much better with the sharing part :)

    • laura says:

      Thanks Joy! I will be excited to see pics once you move into your new place and start a garden – it is very rewarding!

      As for fighting, once people learn to communicate well, having disagreements doesn’t have mean fighting because you both feel safe expressing different opinions – sounds like you two are learning this well – Brian and I are always working on it! ( :


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