Cheeseburger salad

Cheeseburger salad is…ugly. And while the main point of cheeseburger salad is to ditch the bun and whip up a nutritionally sound meal fairly quickly, it just doesn’t photograph well. I saw this idea a few years back on a paleo* or gluten-free website, and really dug the idea. Gluten-free frozen buns just…suck. I refuse to eat crappy replacement foods for the grains I can’t tolerate. Food doesn’t have to be terrible, even if I have to spend a little time finding creative ways to make the things I love.

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I do love a quality cheeseburger. And back when I was a wee, carefree kiddo, I absolutely loved McDonald’s cheeseburgers. When I was a kid, I swam and rode horses, and my sister figured skated on the opposite end of the city. My parents could barely keep up with shuffling my sister and I to our respective sports practices and school, and homemade dinners were mostly a thing of the past by the time we each started taking our sports seriously in early puberty. On the way home from swimming practice at 7:30, I was always ravenous from simultaneously growing into an adult, swimming hard for nearly two hours, and not having eaten since 11:00. My parents gave up and started feeding me fast food. I don’t remember for sure, but I bet even back then I had a terrible “hangry” (hungry-angry) attitude from hell. I’d almost always order two double cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a large soda. I wolfed them down in the remaining blocks home, and logically, gained a problematic amount of weight that yo-yo’d for years.

I gave up fast food cold turkey when I was 18 after a sleeve of McDonald’s fries failed to rot in the eight months I’d forgotten about them in a fourth-story apartment without air conditioning, but I never lost my appetite for those sweet, sweet cheeseburgers after a good workout.

Cheeseburger salad is as simple as it sounds: all of the ingredients of your favorite cheeseburger, over your favorite kind of lettuce (or more likely, whatever the hell lettuce you have on hand for making this lazy meal). I use lean 93/7 ground beef to avoid much of the fat drippings and having to strain the grease from my meat — an extra step that makes this meal slightly less lazy. Cook the meat completely, and if necessary, strain the grease from the meat and throw away. Add about 3 tbsp ketchup, 2 tbsp mustard, and 1 tbsp barbecue sauce to start, adjusting proportions as desired. With the meat coated in condiments and hot, spoon over a bed of lettuce. Add diced onions, pickles, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and bacon in any combination desired. Add additional ketchup or mustard if desired, or if you dare, throw on a little mayonnaise.

Because I live alone and don’t eat an entire pound of ground beef at once, I save the beef mixture in the fridge separately and will have a few hamburger salads over the next few days. It’s an easy one-minute prep meal if the other toppings are also already diced and sitting in their own Tupperware.

If you find a better way to photograph an assembled cheeseburger salad, feel free to post a link in the comments.

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*Yes, I realize that ketchup and barbecue sauce aren’t strictly paleo (because of the added sugar), but the idea is there. And you, Paleo Police, can certainly eat your salad dry if you prefer (ew), or find some way to make your own paleo-compliant ketchup and barbecue sauce.

On the road: pizza and hummus and temptation

Armed with a new audiobook, I hit the road for my first 2015 road trip. I travel very often, and one of the barriers to my no-restaurants year was to negotiate being away from home and maintaining my restaurant abstinence. It was only six hours from home — and for a road trip warrior like me, that isn’t too bad — and I didn’t need to take a cooler or make much in the way of plans. I stopped a few hours from home for the best hummus in the whole wide world, some crackers, and a pile of groceries to enjoy with the pal I was headed to visit.

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I wasn’t sure what to make, since we both have a few dietary restrictions and I wasn’t too familiar with her kitchen, but I found a solution in homemade pizzas. Everyone likes some sort of pizza, right? We giggled, and she’d never made one. I’d worked for Dominos when I was a bitty eighteen-year-old for $6.25 an hour, churning out a lot of great pizzas and a few intentional, edible mistakes. We had three pre-made crusts to work with, alfredo or pizza sauce to top with, grassfed ground beef, and sauteed some yellow sweet peppers, onion, and broccoli. My friend’s young son topped his slices with mozzarella only, and I piled on the alfredo sauce.

Late into the night, we talked and talked. I had such a privilege in enjoying a family that is so close to each other, and so very involved in each others’ lives. My friend deeply cares for her sons and her unconditional acceptance of her boys and others in her life is a treat to actually witness, late at night, deep in adult-level conversation. It was great to cook with her while her son hung out; in a way, I felt like we became closer through food. We’d both had devastating eating disorder issues for many years, and sometimes working those things out with another person who has had the same experience can be more detrimental than helpful. It used to be a big trigger of mine to cook or eat with others that had similar issues, but over the years, I’ve felt far less judged and worried about others’ opinions of how I eat, how I look when I eat, or what I choose to eat.

This time, my temptation wasn’t in disordered behavior, but in staying off the restaurant food! I mindlessly ordered some Steak ‘n Shake fries, if only because I was hungry, tired, and simply…forgot, for a few minutes while the kid ordered some food late at night. Being a perfectionist, I had a moment of sorrow at breaking my perfect streak of restaurantlessness. But in the end? I ate about 30 fries, and learning to roll with mistakes and imperfection is a good thing for me.

What an excellent road trip.

(And I very highly recommend the book!)

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