Chicken Salad atop a Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quickbread

The past several months, something has been growing inside of me (and no, Mom and Dad, not literally - you can breathe). It began in, oh, maybe late February as a mild distraction, a feeling that, perhaps, I wouldn't be able to breeze through the semester as per usual. By March, I was beginning to feel the inklings of exhaustion that are more typical for the end few weeks of the semester, as Finals week approaches, the weather turns more consistently toward sunshine and warmth, and the Summer Itch descends upon us all. Now, it's April, and that mild distraction, that inkling of fatigue, has bloomed into a fully-germinated flower of unfathomable overexertion. I have stretched myself too thin, and I find myself fading in every sense of the word. My school work has suffered, both the quality and quantity of my entries here have suffered, my ability to give back to the greater community through volunteering has suffered, and - perhaps most importantly - my ability to maintain meaningful relationships with the people around me has suffered, as I have turned into a blob of what was once a girl, now only capable of bursting into tears about how I can't possibly go on like this.

Yesterday was a low point, and then today I woke up after 10 1/2 hours of heavy sleep to find sunshine and a high of 85. I finished my work early and even had time to shower before the day ended. It was easy to feel good on a day like today. Now tomorrow, I have a gloomy, rainy, chilly day ahead of me, with a to-do list that will propel me from my apartment before 8am and refuse to let me return before 5pm. Spring, I have decided, is the embodiment of Floptimism: one day it's gorgeous and warm, and the next the clouds have rolled in and the wind has picked up. It's a constant challenge to maintain a sunny disposition even when Mother Nature denies us that same luxury. My goal for myself is to have a good day tomorrow, even if the bottoms of my jeans get all wet, I don't have time to finish my school work before the sun sets and I have to play loud music to prevent myself from passing out in my tomato soup at dinner. I will maintain a positive outlook on the day no matter what.

The recipe I have for you tonight is much like my perception of tomorrow's forecast and sequence of events. Well, okay, almost. Unlike how I feel about tomorrow, I discovered this recipe for caramelized onion and spinach quickbread and just thought there was no way it would be anything less than heaven in food form. So, I borrowed a loaf pan from my house and set to work in the Floptimism Kitchen making this delicious sounding bread. I stuck it in the oven and, after the suggested amount of cooking time, tested it with a toothpick and discovered that the toothpick was clean. Excellent! So I removed it from the oven and let it sit in the pan, as directed, for 15 minutes. Then I happily inverted this beautiful, amazingly-scented bread...and it completely fell apart. I mean, I had a blob of gooey bread crumbles mixed up with some onion and spinach. It was not unlike the blob that I imagine myself to be on those particularly trying days throughout this semester. My heart sank. What do you do with a blob of quick bread? I put it back in the oven, thinking it just needed longer to cook, but nothing really changed it. I had a flopped recipe in front of me, and there was no way to salvage it.

Or was there? I took a few "slices" (re: hunks) and stuck them in my toaster oven to broil for a few minutes while my very-un-flopped Chicken Salad sat patiently awaiting the carbohydrate that was to complete it. The broiling helped...a little. I refused to give up on it, though. I plopped it on my plate with the chicken salad and dug in, and enjoyed it. It was underwhelming - I called it relatively bland - but not at all inedible. The chicken salad was flavorful and crunchy, with a little zing and crunch to it.

Even then, I refused to give up on it. I "sliced" the rest of the loaf as best I could and froze them, to be pulled out here and there for various meals. And that's exactly what I did. I had some alongside soup, with salads, you name it. And you know what? I love this bread! I almost don't even care that it crumbled to pieces before my very eyes and failed to impress me right from the start. It's savory and has this essence to it that I can't even describe. It just makes you want to go back for more. And more. In fact, I wish I still had some in my freezer - pop it in the toaster for 5 minutes and you have yourself a warm, sizzly, golden slice of perfectly imperfect quick bread.

I don't know what I did wrong, why this bread turned out so devastatingly, but I do know that I'm glad I didn't just pitch it when I saw it fall apart right in front of me. I like to think that there's something deep and profound in my persistence, and the inner beauty and longevity this particular recipe was able to bring to the table again and again. I plan to make tomorrow like this onion and spinach quickbread: a situation that seems destined for failure, but turns out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I can name (well, for the quickbread, it just tops the list of culinary life is not so devoid of activities and human contact that a homely loaf of bread would be the highlight of my life, but you get the idea).

So now, if you're still with me (I know, it's late - I might have fallen asleep by now too if I weren't the one typing it), I'm going to do something absolutely groan-worthy: I'm not going to post the recipe. I took so long blathering on about metaphors and positive thinking, and now it's way too late for me to get into the formatting aspect of this entry. I'm sorry. I will, without a doubt, have the recipes for these two delicious foods up tomorrow night, but that 7am wake up's coming up way too quickly. I hope you understand.

But in the meantime, here's to a good day tomorrow for everyone - rain or shine!

Chicken Salad-topped Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quickbread, adapted from  The Food Network and Cookin' Canuck
Yield: 1 serving chicken salad + 1 loaf of quickbread

The Ingredients - The Quickbread
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, cut in half through the root and thinly sliced
2 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce feta cheese
butter and flour for pan

The Ingredients - The Chicken Salad
1/2 cup shredded, cooked chicken
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1/8 small onion, finely chopped
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
salad greens, for serving

The Method

Start by preparing the quickbread: preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter and flour a loaf pan. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil along with the onion over medium heat in a fairly large skillet, and cook for approximately 10 minutes before reducing the heat to medium-low and cooking for another 10 minutes, looking for a golden brown color to develop on the onions. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan and stir in the garlic and spinach, continuing to stir until the spinach has wilted and turned a bright green, approximately 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs and milk and add in the remaining 2/3 cup olive oil, whisking well to combine. Pour the flour mixture into the egg mixture, stirring only until just combined - taking care not to overmix. Finally, add in the spinach and onion mixture along with the cheese, stirring again to combine, but minimally.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Place into the oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the top has developed a golden brown color and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out dry. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

While the bread is baking, assemble the chicken salad: combine all ingredients in a small-medium mixing bowl and season with pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When all components of the meal are ready, place a handful of (washed) salad greens on a plate and top with 1-2 slices of the bread and all of the chicken salad. Enjoy!

(By the way, despite several obstacles that could have easily undermined my determination to have a good day today, today was, in fact, quite excellent - Floptimism prevails!)

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