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September 5, 2013

Is there a wrong way to spin lettuce?

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — I approach most things I do philosophically, whether it is writing, reading, teaching or drying freshly picked lettuce in a spin dryer.

Actually, since we garden organically and the only liquid that touches our greens is rainwater, there really is no need to wash things a second time, thereby using well water unnecessarily. However, around here the operable practice, as deemed from above by the ranking kitchen mavens, is to first wash greens by hand, toss a bunch into the spinner, crank it up to high speed for 25 revolutions (at the very least), apply the brakes, check the moisture content, then, like it or not, repeat the process at least one more time. Apparently, I come to lettuce drying with neither an acceptable attitude nor a defensible technique. I reckon that if one were to conduct a survey of the lettuce processing methods used in a sampling of households one would see a diversity of approaches – and attitudes. Having been brought up believing that there are multiple ways of approaching any challenge so long as one achieves the desired end without resorting to moral transgressions, getting the job done is all that matters. What was I thinking?

If my worth as a human being were measured against my approach to spin drying lettuce, at least around here, I would be an abysmal failure. It is tough enough to have your wife look upon your method with complete incredulity. Add a daughter into the mix, whose attitude and depth of disbelief mirror her mother’s, you have a pretty good idea of the atmospherics that late afternoon a week ago when I was confidently drying batches of lettuce at our kitchen sink in a somewhat Zen like state. As one who agrees with a mystic who extols the virtues of living in and making the most of the present, I was experiencing a kinship with lettuce impossible to convey. It turns out I had no business reveling in such a state of spiritual bliss.

It was a sham, a farce, an act of willing self-delusion. Clearly, if I had any instinctive grasp of the process I would have realized right off the bat that I had no business continuing with an approach that was so obviously wrong. In retrospect, the real question is this: Is there a wrong way to spin lettuce and what constitutes optimum dryness?

I believe it is still an open question, one rife with potential conflict.

It appears that my first error was assuming that the pile of lettuce I dumped out of the spinner basket onto a neatly laid out paper towel passed the dryness test. Just how dry does the stuff have to be? I guess there is a fluff test I am not privy to. To me, dry enough is, well, dry enough.

Mother and daughter both scoffed at such a notion with equal disdain. It appears that at least two 25-revolution spin cycles are the minimum allowable. As any father knows, when mom and daughter join ranks to assess dad’s skills there is only one plausible loser, despite there being equally acceptable approaches to whatever task is under review.

The dryness factor aside, I was advised to raise the whole basket out of the sink and place it on top of the counter. That would make pulling the cord so many times much easier. I tried it and found after a few pulls that I preferred to have it below me. It just felt more comfortable, and more natural, to reach down and pull upward. Suffice it to say, I was left to my own devices on that score. I felt the disapproving looks in their eyes but ignored them – not easy, ever. The crux of this particular issue is that an approach that feels natural and unforced to me might be absolutely incomprehensible to someone else. We often refer rather cavalierly to something we label as common sense, but what makes sense to one person might strike another as patently misguided. What comes naturally to me easily might seem unnatural to someone else.

Eventually, I was left alone with my lettuce. Not wanting to cause any further existential disquiet, I respun the not-dry-enough batch to meet specifications. I accepted that as a metric. What I would not do, and will never do, is reduce kitchen artistry to quantification. Otherwise, why mess around in the kitchen at all? As for the dryness issue, next time I might hang each leaf out on the clothesline to dry au naturel. I love sundried tomatoes. Why not try out sundried lettuce?