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Green Bean and Radish Salad

July 11, 2011

I moved to Alexandria ,Virginia to follow a short-lived romance. Alexandria itself is a lovely city, close to the nation’s capital.  There’s a striking monument to George Washington and the free masons; and Old Town, as it is called, is steeped in history with its colonial influences and architecture.  My love and I had a two-bedroom place on a hill; a friend from college lived downtown and was thinking of getting married.  It seemed like it was the kind of place I could come to call home.

In the end, I was there only for about a semester, the romance having lasted a little less.  I had no plan when I arrived really except to be out of Maine and must have landed at just the right time, because I marched in to the local Catholic high school, asked for a job and got it.  The Spanish teacher had been let go and the headmaster was scrambling to find someone to replace her when I showed up and needed work.  I was grateful for the work, though looking back, it turned out to be a bit of an oddity in my resume.

I had a classroom in the section of the building furthest down the hall from the entrance.  The bathrooms were at a bit of a hike from the hallway where Sister Gena and I would give our classes.  My students were average and behaved like all teenagers do—with inattentiveness and apathy.  “Why did I take a job in another high school?” I wondered more than once, until one day, things started to turn around, or so I thought.  Sister Elizabeth was a rather imposing nun, a no non-sense kind of gal, had her classroom up another hall from mine, closer to the auditorium where Mass was held every Friday afternoon.  It was Sister Elizabeth who helped me to feel that God was on my side as a teacher.  All I had to do if a student got out of hand was to invoke the good sister’s name, and the room would fall silent.  I was sure it was magic.

A few weeks in to my tenure at that school, I was informed that I would be observed by the head priest to ensure not so much the quality of my work in Spanish, but rather the doctrine I espoused.  Having grown up Methodist and working in a Catholic school, I was a natural subject for suspicion.

Sister Gena and I had “had words” over lunch one day in the priests’ refectory when I expressed my concern over the announcements read over the loud speaker every morning.  For days, the head priest’s voice rang out a message of intolerance for abortion, without ever asking the children to reflect upon why they felt abortion was wrong.  Sister Gena couldn’t imagine anyone, let alone another of the language teachers, disagreeing with the Holy Father of Rome on the issue.  I, of course, told her that I had no opinion on the matter itself, but what I did find offensive in a place of learning was that the children were being expected to take His Holy Father’s word for it, rather than learning to reason on their own.  The head priest recommended, despite my being right in the argument we were having, not to sit next to Sister Gena again.

Sister Elizabeth was there to witness the scene as well.  She rather liked me, I think, and took the time to teach me the Ave Maria and its importance so that I could convey the good word to my students in Spanish during my observation.  Come that day, I really pulled out all the stops.  Pope John Paul II had given mass in Spanish in Mexico years earlier and I found a cd recording of it at an Old Town Alexandria shop.  What could be better than learning the Ave Maria in the target language from His Holiness himself!  Sister Elizabeth applauded my ingenuity, and also liked my new found Catholic fervor, just in time for the priest’s visit to my classroom.

Teaching high school is what it is.  I have done that and think I have reserved my place in Heaven as a result.  At least for this particular job, getting to work every day was easy.  My apartment was just up the hill from the school.  Between my residence and my classroom was a short hike past a planned parenthood facility and the sports fields.  On Monday morning before classes resumed, the head priest, a nice fellow everyone called Father, was curious as to how I enjoyed the neighborhood.  He lived in a rectory just off the school.  I said that I enjoyed the surrounding area very much but that I could do without the protestors at the planned parenthood clinic every Saturday morning, mentioning that perhaps I ought to call the cops that weekend if they woke me from my sleep again.  “On what grounds would you involve the police?” the good Father inquired.  “I would have them see if they have their permit for assembly!”  As I prepared to go home on Friday afternoon, Father met me in the hallway and said dryly, “I thought I might mention that I have my permits in order for the weekend, Mr. Wilson.”  I have wondered how long my job would have lasted if I had actually managed to get my boss arrested at an anti-abortion rally!

While I was at the school, I made friends with one of the secretaries, Terry Arnold.  I miss her.  She invited me to join her family and friends that Thanksgiving, since I wouldn’t be making it to Maine and my then about-to-be-ex was off to visit with family.  I spent the morning serving food at a local shelter and then joined Terry and her kids for dinner.  It was a wonderful time.

Terry is an excellent cook, I discovered.  When asked if I could bring anything to the dinner, she declined and said that she had everything all taken care of in that regard.  She was going to make her signature dish, it seemed—a cooked radish dish.  When fresh, radishes have a wonderful peppery note and are perfect on a salad.  I worried though what they might be like cooked.

Slightly caramelized, the radishes lost all of that fresh bite, and picked up some wonderful flavors of the garlic and olive oil in which they had been heated.  Mixed with a little honey, some red pepper flakes and a batch of green beans, they became the background flavor of a delicious salad.  Instead of one of the ingredients hogging the spotlight, they all played nicely together.  I wished that my students could have done the same!  Despite the honey in the dressing, this a more savory dish than a sweet one.  Since I didn’t get to see Terry make the green bean and radish salad, I had to recreate it at home from memory; it is one of my favorite food memories.

Terry Arnold’s Green Bean and Radish Salad


1 pound fresh green beans (or a nice bag of frozen), chopped in to 1” bits

¼ cup olive oil

½ pound radishes, stem removed and quartered

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon honey

¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

If using fresh beans, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Toss in the green beans for 3 to 4 minutes so that they are al dente. Remove from the heat and drain thoroughly.  If using frozen, steam them slightly so that they don’t become mushy.

Pour the oil into a skillet and turn to medium heat. When hot, add the radishes, garlic, and chili flakes.  Cook for 3-5 minutes or until the radishes have softened.  The radishes will become a bit translucent, in fact.  Add the green beans to the skillet.

Add the honey and stir to coat the vegetables.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. They should just start to caramelize.  Transfer to a serving bowl and season with salt and pepper.

 Can be served warm (not hot), or cold and is a delicious compliment to any meat dish, or as a stand alone vegetarian dish.

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