In the average human lifetime, there are a handful of experiences that fall into the “Rights of Passage” category. A first haircut. A graduation. Getting the chickenpox. The first lost tooth. Learning the truth about Santa Claus.
These are all things that, inevitably, the majority of us will experience at one time or another (unless you’re my Dad and are seemingly immune to the chickenpox). For me, one of the more memorable experiences that would fall into this category was the night of my first high school prom. I’d spent the better part of the afternoon readying myself and, with my Vegas-esque floor length sparkly gown and enough hair spray in my ‘do to last a lifetime, I remember being excited and nervous all at the same time. Nervous not because I was anxious about my date – I went with a friend – but nervous because I tend to get that way when I know I’m about to check off a major line item on the Rights of Passage list.
I was jittery on my marriage day, shaky on the days each of my children were born, and a wreck as I prepared to take my driver’s test. None of these things made me nervous directly, it was just the fact that they were happening and that they were a big deal and that I was supposed to remember them to infinity and beyond that put my nerves all in a tizzy. To go from looking forward to something for so long to actually experiencing it can be a surreal feeling sometimes and apparently for me, my first high school prom was one of those times. So, what did I do to calm my nerves and steady my shaky hands? I guess I did what any self-respecting, well-adjusted 17-year-old would do … I quoted Dirty Dancing the whole night. Wait, what?
Half the fun of the prom-ing experience, at least in my hometown, was the dinner that you and all your friends had together prior to ever entering the large, slightly humid, crepe paper-filled room of Prom. And, much to my delight, my first prom dinner just so happened to be held at the small mountain resort where my favorite movie of all time was filmed. Setting the iconic scene for the movie Dirty Dancing, Giles County’s prized Mountain Lake was just a short drive from my small Virginia hometown and I remember it being one of the first facts I learned after I moved there when I was twelve years old. “Dirty Dancing was filmed just down the road!” people would tell me, proudly. “My Dad was an extra in the gazebo scene.” As a child of the eighties, this was not a fact I took lightly.
“Wow!” I thought to myself, upon learning this little nugget of information. “Dirty Dancing!?!? No way! I think I’m going to LOVE it here.” Much to my parent’s chagrin, two older cousins of mine gave me an illegal screening of the movie when I was at an inappropriately young age, and it kicked off a lifetime love affair that exists to this day. I owe them a debt of gratitude, really. At one point in time, I could practically dance each scene right along with the movie’s stars, twirling in sync with Jennifer Gray, using the back of the couch as my stand-in Patrick Swayze when I needed to execute a good lift. As one might expect, I knew the movie’s lines like the back of my hand, and apparently blurted them out ad nauseum throughout the entirety of that prom dinner; a decidedly bizarre and highly unusual choice of methods for calming one’s nerves. To make matters even more awkward, I’m 99% sure that my date had never seen the movie, even though he sort of acted like he had. Bless his heart for that.
“No one puts baby in a corner!” I said, at the first sign of a baby.
“Look spaghetti arms,” I said when the plate of pasta was placed in front of me. “This is my dance space. This is YOUR dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine.”
“Man, I’m really having the time of my life,” I declared, with a chuckle. My poor date just smiled and kind of stared at his plate most of the time, probably hoping I would put a cork in it.
But speaking of corks, there was one point during the dinner when our well coiffed waiter presented our table with a bottle of sparkling cider, to add a little fancy to the whole occasion and remind us that we weren’t old enough to drink actual champagne. It was watermelon flavored, a minuscule and insignificant detail that I only remember due to the opportunity it presented for yet another classic Dirty Dancing quotation.
“I carried a watermelon. I carried a watermelon?!?” Pleased with myself for remembering this classic Baby quote, I took a swig of my bubbly watermelon drink and mentally patted myself on the back for my excellent cinematic recall skills.
“Oh yeah, that’s a good one,” said my date, feigning recognition and interest. Again, bless his heart.
I drove up to Mountain Lake last weekend, with my actual baby in tow, to snap some photos and essentially get some extra inspiration for this post. It was pouring down rain that day and I had to strategically position myself in certain covered spots in order to get any decent shots of the resort. At one point, as I was scurrying back to my car after snapping a couple photos of the lodge, I saw someone wearing a shirt that said, “keep calm and carry a watermelon.” Another die hard fan! Where were they when I needed them on prom night, all those years ago? I couldn’t help but smile.
Now, in most circumstances when I see shirts or kitschy items with the “keep calm and … whatever” slogan, I keep right on walking. But this one resonated immediately and I had to let its wearer know that I fully appreciated the DD reference. “Nice shirt,” I told them casually, making the mental note to order one for myself ASAP.
“Thanks! You a fan too?” They asked.
“Yes. You could say that.”
Watermelon, Blue Cheese & Toasted Pecan Salad on Homemade Focaccia RECIPE
for the salad:
The amounts of each ingredient you use really are up to you with this one – I rarely measure with salads like this, and feel you should use as much or as little of each component as you see fit. These amounts are just intended to be guidelines. As for dressing, I usually squeeze half a lemon over the salad ingredients and drizzle a little olive oil and leave it at that. But a good store-bought champagne or red wine vinaigrette works really nicely as well.
Arugula (about 5 – 6 cups)
1.5 – 2 cups fresh, seedless watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
3/4 – 1 cup pecans
Handful of blueberries
1/2 cup sliced radishes
Vinaigrette of choice, for dressing (I like champagne vinaigrette or red wine vinaigrette)
DIRECTIONS: Add the pecans to a small pan and toast over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until you begin to smell them. Turn once or twice to toast evenly. Remove to a cutting board and chop roughly, if desired.
In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, arugula, blue cheese, toasted pecans, blueberries, and radishes. Toss to combine. Drizzle with your desired amount of vinaigrette and set aside until use. Pile on top of the fresh focaccia to serve.
for the focaccia:
This is a garlic and herb focaccia recipe but if you want to keep it plain, just omit the garlic and herbs.
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 (1/4 oz.) packet active dry yeast
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 cup warm water (105 – 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
DIRECTIONS: Mix the yeast and water in a small bowl. Let this proof for 10 minutes (until it starts to look foamy).
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine the flour, salt, sugar, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, basil, and pepper (you can do this by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon if you prefer). Mix on med/low to combine everything evenly. Add the yeast mixture and the canola oil to the dry mix and mix for a couple of minutes to combine.
When your dough has come together in a single ball, transfer it to a floured surface and knead it for a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic. (If you need to add more flour to get your dough to come together, that’s fine).
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl (you can use either olive oil or canola here), and turn the dough to coat it in a thin layer of oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or cloth and let it rise in a relatively warm place for 30 minutes (tip: I turn my oven on warm for about two minutes to allow it to warm up slightly and then place my bowl of rising dough inside for the 30 minutes, with the oven off. This creates the warm environment most conducive to a proper rise).
Remove the dough from the oven after it has risen for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Punch the dough down and place it on a well-oiled baking sheet (I use a generous coating of olive oil here, as it adds flavor and contributes to a nice crispy crust on the bottom of the focaccia). Shape the dough into a rectangle of about 1/2″ thickness and, using the tips of your fingers, create indentations throughout the surface of the dough, about 1″ apart. Prick around the surface of the dough with a fork, also about 1″ inch apart or so. Brush the top of the dough with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until golden brown.