My Love Affair with Salads in a Jar

It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been loving salads in a jar.

The premise is pretty simple: take a jar big enough to hold the size of salad you like to eat, and layer in all the ingredients, starting with the wettest ingredients at the bottom and ending with the lettuce as the top layer.

The beauty of this idea? You can make your salads a week ahead of time (time-saver!), and the crispy parts stay crisp. The flavors sometimes blend in wonderful ways. And the lunches you prepare are full of the good things you know you should be eating anyway.

I’ve got a handy little tool in the kitchen that helps pull air out of the jars and seal in the freshness…it works with a food vacuum sealer machine. But I’ve done salads both ways, and they always turn out great!

There’s really no limit to what kinds of salads you can put in a jar: I’ve done Caesar, Nicoise, Garden, Southwestern Chicken, Chef, Cobb, Summer Berry…you get the idea.

This week, I tried out a group of recipes to deliver a variety of flavors while also encouraging us to eat lots of veggies and protein. One was a more formal salad recipe that I adapted slightly for jars, and the others were made up based on what we like to eat. Here they are…


Left: Cafe Brenda salad. Middle: Chicken Mediterranean Salad. Right: Steak and Onion Salad

Café Brenda Salad

(Serves 8)

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Spicy Nuts (see recipe below)
  • Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Combine lettuce, apples, spicy nuts, and cheese in a large bowl. Toss with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette. (Add a little amount of salad dressing at a time – a little goes a long way!)

Spicy Nuts

  • 3 cups pecans
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet, and toast in a preheated 350 often for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crunchy. (Rely on your nose.) The nuts will begin to smell nutty and toasty.

Melt the butter. Turn the nuts into a large bowl and toss with the butter and remaining ingredients until the nuts are coated. (If you don’t like a lot of spice, sprinkle in the spices a little at a time to taste.) Spread coated nuts out on the cookie sheet to let them dry. Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to assemble the salad.

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coarse mustard
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Put all ingredients, except oil, into a blender. Blend on high, then pour oil in a slow, steady stream, until the mixture is thick and emulsified. Pour into a mason jar and store in the refrigerator.

 Adaptation for Serving in a Jar

I scaled back the quantities by 50% on both the nuts and the dressing. That gave me enough for approximately 4 jars. Then I layered the dressing, apples, nuts, cheese and lettuce.


Chicken Mediterranean Salad in a Jar

  • Balsamic vinaigrette dressing of your choice
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, chopped
  • 1 8-oz. jar roasted red peppers
  • 1 5-oz. container feta cheese crumbles
  • 12 ounces chicken, cooked and shredded into bite-size pieces
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 wide-mouth quart jars with lids and rings

Start by measuring 2 tablespoons of dressing into each jar. Moving from “wet” to “dry” ingredients, divide tomatoes, then red peppers, then cucumbers, then feta on top of the dressing. Place chicken on top of vegetable layer, then fill the remaining space of the jar with as much lettuce as you can fill in.


Steak and Onion Salad in a Jar

  • Red wine vinaigrette dressing of your choice
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • leftover steak or deli-sliced roast beef, cut into bite-size pieces
  • blue cheese crumbles
  • baby arugula, red leaf lettuce, or other lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 wide-mouth quart jars with lids and rings

Caramelize the onions by melting the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sautee until browned and soft in texture, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In the jars, pour 2 tablespoons salad dressing. Layer the cooled onions, steak, cheese and as much lettuce as you can fit into the jar.

Super Simple Summer Dessert: No-Bake Key Lime Pie

Tonight’s dessert is brought to you by a healthy dose of nostalgic impulse.

It was one of those mornings where it felt like nothing was going according to plan…from a toddler waking up more than an hour before she was expected to, to unbridled resistance to the order of getting dressed, the act of meal planning during a holiday week with a weather forecast that made me want to put my husband on grilling duty. Every. Single. Night.

With the humidity adding to the weight of the day’s to-dos, an unexpected traffic snarl only added to the mental frazzles, where you have to remind yourself that you’re a grown-up. You’ve handled worse. You can get through this. And besides, you need to restock the wine.

That’s how, as I stood in the produce section of the grocery store and saw that limes were on sale, my mind went on a trip. Back to my early teens, when my parents would drop me off at the bus station in in the city with a ticket taking me north to the station nearest my grandparents’ cabin, and my grandpa would pick me up for the hour’s drive to the point where their cabin stood. Back to one of those heavy-hot summer mornings, where the occasional breeze that danced across the lake’s surface before drifting through the wide-open cabin windows felt heaven-sent. The mental picture of my grandma, rummaging through her pantry for a can of sweetened condensed milk to join the two limes and pre-made graham cracker crust on the counter.

“We had this for dessert at a friend’s place the other night, and it was delicious,” she explained, shouting a little because her head was still deep in the pantry. “I asked her for the recipe, and she rattled off four ingredients.” That last part was kind of spat out, like she couldn’t believe something so good took such little effort.

“So,” she sighed as she clanked the can down on the counter, “let’s teach you how to make key lime pie.”

Little flecks of lime zest bring the promise of sweet-tart coolness.

There we stood, side-by-side in the cabin kitchen, as she walked me through the very simple process of making a no-bake key lime pie. She was right: it was so easy, and so good. For a day when you didn’t want to heat the rest of the place with an oven, it was just right.

Topping the pie with whipped cream helps cut the richness of the dessert. (I kid, I kid.)

There’s no secret to the recipe, and I’m sure it’s been shared tons of times. But limes were on sale, and thinking through tonight’s dinner plans — grilled burgers, corn on the cob — the thought of a little key lime pie, tangy-sweet coolness giving the palate a pick-me-up and soother all at the same time, felt like a must. Less than a heartbeat later I was adding two limes to the little bag I had started, and mentally adding a can of sweetened condensed milk and mini graham cracker crusts to the shopping list.

No-Bake Key Lime Pie


  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 limes (the zest of 1 lime collected for the pie)
  • 1 large graham cracker pie crust, or 6 mini graham cracker pie crusts
  • Whipped cream or topping – according to your preference


  1. Zest one of the limes, reserving the zest for later.
  2. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, juice the 2 limes (they should yield 1/2 cup of lime juice).
  3. Add the sweetened condensed milk and lime zest, stirring briskly to combine.
  4. Pour into the pie crust(s) and place in the refrigerator to set, for approximately 2 hours.
  5. Serve with a healthy dollop of whipped cream.

Kindness starts

Every now and then I’m struck by the immense power of kindness.

It doesn’t cost a thing to be kind. And the benefits of kindness are far reaching and do more good than charging after the unattainable.

Just as it’s important to remember to be kind to others, it’s also easy to lose sight of the importance of being kind to yourself.

That’s why it feels like a blessing to remember that small but critical point: Kindness has to start with being kind to yourself.

Mama Wren

There was no sweeter sight than when we were outside this morning, enjoying a little fresh air before going off to daycare and work, and the kiddos caught sight of a mother wren flying to the little wren house hanging off the porch. 

We talked about the babies inside the house who wanted their breakfast; smiles spread across their faces as Mama Wren lit on the perch, some morsel in her beak, and the tiny cacophony from inside the wren house quieted down.

I watched the universe shrink just a bit for them. They recognized how other creatures are “mothered” (for lack of a better word), and it was my luck to capture that realization as it dawned on both their faces.

Right before they resumed the squabble over who got to use the sidewalk chalk.

Tiny steps of progress

One of the hardest parenting lessons for me — hands down — is slowing down and being okay with not charging ahead at the breakneck pace I’d really, really like to do.

Progress is progress, though. And I’ll take any measure of it I can get. Especially when it’s taking way longer to complete than I’d like.

One-on-one time

Having two kiddos gives me a new appreciation of time: how precious it is, and the neverending tug in many different directions to give everyone the quality of attention they deserve.

Which is why I appreciate the opportunities for one-on-one time with our youngest. Given all the more gladly knowing the oldest is getting his own one-on-one time that he also craves.

It is a blessing to be surrounded by so many who are so eager to lavish adoration and attention on these little beings.