In my thirty-four years out of the womb I have never looked forward to eating a box of salad as much as I did on Friday lunchtime. My appetite wasn’t for the bright red cherry tomatoes which burst with a bite like a water balloon colliding with concrete, nor was it for the flavoursome spring onions which I’ve become quite fond of in recent weeks. My taste buds weren’t even being tantalised by the mild and aromatic blue cheese I had decided to crumble into the salad, or by the Dijon dressing I had prepared earlier in the week. What was truly enthusing me about this particular salad on Friday afternoon was that it was finally going to allow me to finish the last of the 450g bag of spinach I had bought more than a week previously.
One of the more challenging aspects of bachelorhood is shopping; specifically food shopping and the calculating of portions. There is an ongoing assessment in my internal monologue as I stalk the supermarket aisles trying to conduct an economical solo shop. Often if I am buying for one exact recipe I will have to think two or three meals into the future, like some culinary Marty McFly, because almost everything has been packaged for two or more people. It is easy to freeze two chicken breasts from a pack of four, but a little less straightforward when you buy a bundle of six spring onions because you need one for a pasta dish. This dilemma is made all the more difficult when I am trying to adapt a slow cooker recipe which “serves 6” to one which serves a single man. How does anyone divide a teaspoon of paprika into a sixth? And what else can you do with a 200g tin of chickpeas once you have meticulously weighed out 33.33 grams?
This issue came to a dramatic head recently when I required exactly 50g of spinach for a goats cheese and spinach pasta, which I had halved from the 100g needed to feed two people, although naturally I still used 150g of goats cheese because who wants to divide goats cheese? The only size of package I could find anywhere was offering 450g and I was faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to use four hundred grams of spinach before it wilted in order for me to get bang for my bachelor buck.
Spinach is not a leafy flowering plant for which I typically have much fondness. On the rare occasion that I have found it crossing my plate – usually unseen and unbeknownst to me, like some cruel game of hide and seek between vegetables (the most sneaky vegetable in this game is the parsnip, which cooked in a certain way can often resemble a chip, as I discovered to my eternal disappointment one Christmas dinner in my teenage years) – I thought the taste to be bitter and unpleasant. I wouldn’t say that over the years I have developed a fear of eating spinach, but the very idea of having to eat 400g of the leaves to prevent myself from wasting pennies of my disposable income left me feeling a dread I haven’t experienced since the time Aulay’s bar ran out of Crème de menthe.
I knew that I had to face up to this apprehension if I was going to get value for money. Despite my very real dismay I was simply going to have to find a way of consuming 400g of spinach in around a week or so. I considered this situation to be something similar to a pilot who suffers a trepidation when he thinks about flying, or a vet who feels a bit of a dislike towards kittens. They both put their concerns to the back of their mind because they have to; although it is without doubt that the potential consequences of eating so much spinach are more dire than in either of the scenarios I thought of.
I decided that the best way of disposing of large quantities of spinach would be to use it as the base in my lunchtime salads and layer it with enough tasty additions that might enable to me to forget what is lurking at the bottom of the box. After three days of using brie and olives and croutons and homemade Dijon vinaigrette I quickly came to the conclusion that it is impossible to jazz up spinach. It would be like wearing an impressive navy suit with a lovely pink shirt or tie and black socks in your brilliant tan shoes. You are still wearing black socks, and at the bottom of the salad box it is always still spinach.
As the week progressed and I had been eating spinach salads for more than five days I was finding myself contemplating the ways in which such a diet might be affecting my body, in the manner of an article one might read in the weekend magazine in The Times, though my experience was with spinach and not something more middle class like kale or millennial hipster such as quinoa. The ‘best before’ date of the 28th day of January 2018 passed and I still had close to a quarter of a bag of spinach left, though it was showing no signs of wilting and I knew I would be able to make a few more days use of it. In total I got around eight lunches out of the leaves and the more I ate them the greater my suspicion become that I was gaining some kind of Popeye placebo effect.
There is no way of saying for sure, but the tremendous portions of spinach in my diet seemed to be having an empowering effect on the things my body, and even my mind, is capable of. It was enhancing many aspects of my life. On Thursday I assembled a shoe rack in under 40 minutes and with minimal exasperation. My mind became concentrated enough for me to decide on the colour of scatter cushions I want for my bed, and I was able to source a sheepskin rug to warm the wooden floor of my bedroom. Remarkably I even remembered to have my recycling in the blue bin by Tuesday night.
Despite the Popeye placebo I was glad when the remaining few grams of spinach were emptied into my salad box on Friday morning. It had been an arduous luncheon process but I had finally managed to use all 400g of spinach and get my money’s worth.
In anticipation of a more exciting and stimulating lunch next week I went shopping on Saturday and picked up a box of king prawns which were on offer. They seemed like they would be refreshing and tasty in some kind of Asian inspired salad. I returned to my flat and asked Google to search for prawn based salad recipes for me. The first and most appealing result required spinach for the leaves.