Back in the early 90′s, I was the clinical dietitian at a small nursing home and retirement center for the Sisters of Charity order of nuns. It was a curious place to work, virtually overflowing with women of the cloth. For a barely practicing Protestant, this was a bit intimidating. I just tried to understand their culture and to not unintentionally offend anyone. I learned quickly that Sister Marion, a stern though kindly retiree, essentially “ran” the dining hall. Anticipating her needs was the key to a happy and peaceful existence.
Over the next two years, I also learned a great deal from the sisters about humility, dedication, exquisite end-of-life care, and especially about death. Up until that point in my life, death and I were not friendly. I was terribly uncomfortable attending wakes, went to funerals only if pressed, and felt awkward expressing my condolences to friends or relatives who had lost a loved one. Death was an awful, dreaded unmentionable and I was happy to sweep it all under a rug. Then, Sister Joseph, a long time patient in the nursing home, passed away. Over the next couple of days, the sisters industriously prepared for the funeral and reception. One of the sisters approached me to inquire how the menu was coming along. Then she said, with a beatific look, “That was truly a beautiful death. I’m so happy for Sister Joseph.” I was stunned and completely confused in that moment. But, over time, I understood it. They truly believed that death was just another step in everlasting life, and so found some joy in the sadness. It was comforting to be in a community that revered death and joyfully celebrated each life passed; and it changed my own outlook on the matter forever.
[STILL WITH ME? GOOD! IN THE HALLOWED WORDS OF ELLE WOODS, "I HAVE A POINT, I PROMISE!"]
Every day our kitchen staff prepared meals for the 150+ residents of the retirement center. The nuns had voracious appetites for things like prune whip (a ghastly concoction of pureed prunes and whipped topping), fresh grapefruit, horseradish, cranberry sauce, and pumpernickel toast. They were an opinionated bunch, and while quite appreciative of our efforts, also generous with feedback on every meal served. Our salad cook, Kate, loved the challenge of trying to please this finicky group, and constantly put concoctions out on the salad bar. Though some decidedly did not work, Kate’s broccoli sunshine salad was one of the nuns’ favorites. There would be a virtual stampede of shuffling, be-habited women making their way to the tiny salad bar the minute we were open for serving.
What made them flock to the salad bar lo those many years ago? It is simple and delicious. The broccoli, carrots, onion, raisins and bacon combine for a sweet/savory/spicy crunch, softened just a bit by the tangy sweetness of the dressing. It takes just 15-20 minutes to throw together, and will keep for a couple of days if refrigerated. And it’s so pretty, isn’t it?
There, now, wasn’t that worth the read? Hopefully, by sharing my story AND my recipe, I adequately paid homage to the Sisters of Charity, from whom I gained so much
Kids who prefer their veggies raw will probably go for this, as well as folks who like cole slaw but aren’t wild about cabbage. And it goes without saying that anyone who likes prune whip and horseradish is bound to love this. Give it a try, say a little prayer, and see what happens
Broccoli Sunshine Salad
Makes ~4 1/2 cups
2 cups of broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups grated carrot (2 large carrots)
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 large red onion, diced
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine veggies, raisins, and bacon in medium bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Stir into veggie mixture, cover and chill for at least an hour before serving.