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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Magic Glove: Confessions of a Germophobe

Everyone who knows me, could attest organization is not my forte. I'm definitely not a neat freak, I function making last minute decisions, and with a weird abstract order in my head that shows up as brief moments of clarity once in a while. I'm sure that if I ever make a debut on T.V., it will be at the show hoarders where the hosts will rescue our family of four from a gigantic mountain of cookbooks, magazines, financial research printouts and imported (Chinese) crappy toys received as party favors. 
However, and despite all this lack of organization, I'm very into cleanliness and mostly, into avoiding microbes. My name is Alexandra, and I am a germophobe.
It all started as a child when my mother told me to never walk into a public shower barefoot (in my early twenties, I almost killed myself in a shower at a Newark motel where Continental Airlines had put my friend and I, when our flight to Montreal was canceled. I didn't have my suitcase with me, so I thought I would improvise water shoes by wrapping plastic bags around my feet. I slipped dangerously a couple of times, but I didn't touch the floor!). It continued developing when mom explained me why I shouldn't use my favorite swimming suit again after it had been stolen in camp and eventually returned. "Never share your hair brush with anyone," she lectured me. And as I've said before, I'm a very obedient person. When I got to university, matters only got worse when I took my first microbiology class, a food microbiology one and its lab followed, and then I chose to specialize in nutrition for food service, where I had to get certified in an international food safety program. I received a special honor for great performance on the test...the problem was, and is, that some times, the more you know, the crazier you get...
I screamed my lungs out when my friend A rinsed cooked pasta with water from the sink (we were in Mexico, where the water coming out of faucets and sinks is not potable). The friendship suffered due to my hysteria, although after he became a chef, eventually learned that of course, I was right all along!
Another dear childhood friend of mine confessed that, after everything I had taught her (I repeated my mom's advice and my classroom acquired knowledge to her any time I got a chance), she was purposely not bringing flip flops to her son's swimming class. Needless to say, the boy caught athlete's foot. She told me the story and cleared that she had done it intentionally, as she wanted to avoid her child turning out like me!!! She wanted him to learn that foot fungus could be treated and wasn't a big deal.
As my friend is raising a resilient child, I've turned my oldest one in a photocopy of me. She refuses to touch door knobs and handles because "they are full of germs." She's right, though. But as I told her, she can't live staring at closed doors and waiting for someone to open them for her. I do feel a sting of pathological pride when I realize how well she understands the transmission of germs, but I don't want her to turn out like myself either, as I get sick in my head instead of sick with a cold; so I gifted an antibacterial spray to keep in her school bag and I pretend it's not a big deal.
Needless to say, my germophobia gets pumped up whenever I visit restaurants or other kinds of food service. I hate when cooks and/or servers are wearing hats or nets, but all their hair is coming out of them. Where buffets are not properly cooled, or when a cook wears a mask right under his/her nose. But what drives me the craziest are plastic gloves. For some reason, many food handlers think that the gloves are magical: just because they are wearing them, they will avoid food borne disease despite using the exact same glove to prepare a sandwich or serve a hot dog and then, charging the customer for their food, giving them change and moving on to the next sandwich, then more money, still same pair of gloves. I've seen some servers leave the establishment with gloves on, go buy a missing ingredient at a store, come back and keep preparing food, all without ever taking off their latex hand protection, and thinking they are taking extreme hygienic measures. There's a strange believe that the glove offers immunity against all microbes. Well, they might offer their hands defense against all the invisible, minuscule disease-causing agents they touch, but not your food, so good to keep in mind that in reality, if you wash your hands well with soap, and cook right away, you'll be much safer.
All this spiel, to suggest you wash your hands and then proceed to make the following recipe right away. A perfect fall/winter (flu season!!!) salad that provides everything your body needs to defend itself from the next meal you eat at a place where the server cooks your food and exchanges bills and coins with the same pair of gloves...


Kale loves to be pampered. When you massage (gloves or no gloves, up to you) the dressing into the leaves, you are rewarded with a soft, flavorful, slightly spicy and still crispy and leathery green. Especially when you do it ahead of time, so it's nice that for once, you can (and should) dress a salad ahead of time. The colorful result of this salad only shows the presence of a huge variety of phytonutrients. With this salad, the "rainbow-a-day" is met. Full of fiber, carotenoids, flavonols, vitamins K, A, B, C and lots of minerals, this should be a keeper!
This recipe uses delicata squash, which is a variety that doesn't need to be peeled, saving a nice amount of effort. However, feel free to use your favorite kind if you prefer, just peel before roasting it.

Note on seeding pomegranates: Of course you can buy the arils already extracted, but seeding a whole pomegranate is not as intimidating as it seems. Either one of the following methods works beautifully, it's fun, and kids love helping out:

1. Underwater: With a serrated knife, quarter the pomegranate, and working with a quarter at a time, submerge pomegranate in a large bowl 2/3 full of water. Seed with your hands keeping the fruit under water. The seeds will go to the bottom while the white, inedible membrane will float. Discard white skin, drain water and voila: you have all the seeds left and no messy spots or splatters anywhere.
2. Pinata style: This is Yotam Ottolenghi's method from Plenty- Cut the pomegranate into two horizontally (at the equator). Hold one half over a large bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds are coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

  • Vegan, free of: gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs
  • Contains nuts, but could walnut oil can be substituted for extra virgin olive oil and pistachios can be substituted with roasted squash seeds (or pumpkin)

1 Delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*, divided

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided

2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil*

1 tablespoon hot water

1 small clove garlic, peeled

1 1/2 teaspoons raw honey*

1 teaspoon coarse Dijon mustard*

1 bunch of kale (any variety), washed, patted dry, tough stems discarded and leaves sliced into bite size portions

1 pomegranate, seeded (see methods above)

2/3 cup roasted pistachios*, shelled and coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Place squash pieces on prepared sheet and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix with a spatula or your hands to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-25 minutes, until it browns outside and softens inside; tossing every 10 minutes.

While squash roasts, place remaining olive oil, and balsamic together with walnut oil, hot water, garlic, honey, mustard, a bit of salt and pepper in the bowl of a blender or a deep cup,  (if using an immersion blender) and mix until the dressing is well emulsified. Adjust seasoning. 

In a large salad bowl, place kale and add 1/4 cup of dressing. Massage the dressing onto the leaves until they are all covered. Add more dressing, if desired, or cover the rest and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

When the squash is ready, let it cool while you seed the pomegranate.

Add pomegranate seeds to kale, then roasted squash and top with chopped pistachios.

Mix well and add more dressing, if desired.


-Add 1 cubed avocado
-Instead of pistachios, roast the squash seeds and top the salad with them
-Add peeled and sliced Fuyu persimmons (instead of squash, or along with it)
-Some goat or feta cheese goes really well in this salad