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Mom's Salad Bar!

[From the 2024 Spring Magazine]

Spring has sprung and I am soooo looking forward to enjoying the first fresh vegetables of the season. Shopping for fresh produce at our awesome local farmers’ markets is so much fun, and I love creating new recipes that will dazzle my guests. But as much as like to be creative with food, at times I wax nostalgic for the recipes I grew up with. Those my family enjoyed on holidays and other special occasions are the most important to me, and many have sustained the test of time. So, in that spirit I’m sharing my mother’s simple way of serving salad to a crowd. Speaking of spirits, I haven’t forgotten to include my latest spring inspired cocktail recipe, but more on that later!

My beautiful mom Esther Vincent was always ahead of the curve, especially when it came to our family’s comfort. For example, camping with my mother was much like what we think of today as Glamping, well maybe not as glitzy, but definitely over the top by 1970’s standards. She and my dad packed our ”pop up” trailer and station wagon with a long list of her “necessities” including a television, kitchen appliances (she never traveled without her electric skillet!), and the same pillows and bed linens we used at home. 

Mom’s ingenuity and consideration of others influenced how she cooked and entertained as well. Traditionally she served a garden salad as the first course of any special occasion or holiday meal. However, it was a challenge to create a salad for a large group of family and friends with distinct food likes and dislikes. Mom’s solution to this conundrum foreshadowed another trend when she came up with her own version of the “salad bar.”

Mom would place a large bowl of salad greens at the center of  her dining room table. On either side of the center bowl she would line up small bowls of salad fixings down the length of the table. Many of the bowls were filled with traditional salad ingredients like cucumber slices, tomato wedges, chopped radishes and sliced red onions. Other bowls held things from her pantry  such as marinated artichokes, black olives, and chickpeas. Mom also included a variety of premium salad dressings (think "Marie's"), and her own Pesto and Olive Oil Vinaigrette.

There’s really no specific recipe for Mom’s Salad Bar, just assemble ingredients you and your guests prefer.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Maybe a bowl of butter lettuce with side bowls of seasonal berries, toasted chopped nuts and a balsamic dressing.  Or chopped romaine lettuce with a side bowl of pepperoni (vegan at my table, there are some awesome brands like “Yves” you can find locally), green olives, chopped pepperoncini and  mom’s Pesto and Olive Oil Vinaigrette. 

Now it’s time for my latest cocktail, the Saratoga Strawberry Pineapple Cooler! This refreshing tall drink has fruit forward flavor and is a little on the sweet side but not cloyingly so. It’s simple to make too, just mix it right in the glass and top it off with a splash of seltzer. 

Mom and I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I always say, have fun in your kitchen cooking (and making drinks!) for the people you love, and remember… 

it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to taste good!

Esther’s Pesto Olive Oil Vinaigrette


  • ½ cup of prepared basil pesto
  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup of white wine vinegar
  • A pinch of salt and black pepper


Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Or do what I do and dump everything in a small canning jar, secure the lid and shake till combined. Whichever method you choose be sure to whisk or shake right before serving.

Saratoga Strawberry Pineapple Cooler

Ingredients are for one drink. You can mix this drink in batches ahead of time too. Just combine the first 3 ingredients for the number of drinks you will need and chill. Top each drink with the seltzer before serving.

  • 2 ounces of strawberry flavor vodka
    I prefer "Pick Six" Homemade Strawberry Jam Vodka
  • 3 ounces of pineapple juice
  • ½ ounce of Grenadine syrup or more if you like a sweeter drink
  • Chilled seltzer
  • Fresh sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks to garnish


Combine the first three ingredients in an ice filled “high ball” or “Collins” glass, stir and top off with a splash of seltzer. Garnish with a few strawberry slices and a pineapple chunk. Cheers!