resuming life, and a recipe: watermelon and arugula salad with basil vinaigrette

The past two weeks have been a blur, filled with hours and hours spent On Call. Fifteen days, 24 hours per day, which turns out to be 350 hours. Granted, my evenings – and three out of four weekend afternoons –  were spent at home, with Sam and the kids. Most nights I was not awakened by phone calls, only some nights.

I would love to say that being On Call doesn’t stress me out, but to say that would be telling a lie. While my work-life balance is always a struggle, during these stretches of On-Call time, the balance leans heavily in favor of work. It is my nature to take home my worries about patients, about giving bad news, about difficult work situations. I dream about my patients, my clinic (which gets neglected while I’m in the hospital)…or that I’m back in college and it’s exam day and, not only have I forgotten to attend class all semester, but I’m also not wearing pants or shoes.

watermelon and arugula salad with basil vinaigrette | the merry gourmet

For two weeks, I’ve neglected cooking regular meals. I baked a key lime pie last weekend, and it was a big disappointment. The pie didn’t set up the way I wanted, and the filling was too tart. I forgot to mail Father’s Day cards. My family has consumed entirely too much take-out food. I’m still paying for my daughter’s gymnastics lessons that I meant to cancel two weeks ago, and I’ve neglected to sign her up for the swim team like I promised her I would.

Despite all of my complaining, I know that I have nothing valid to complain about. I left the Cancer Hospital each of those 15 days feeling blessed. Exhausted, yes, but mostly I felt fortunate. My family is healthy and happy and whole – and for these things I am grateful.

So, it is time to get back on track. Back to writing regularly. Back to this blog and posting here in this space, my happy space. Back to cooking good meals for my family, back to baking up cakes and cookies simply for the therapy of baking. Back to the gym, even.

This sweet little salad is one of the few kitchen successes that I had during one of the past few Saturdays. It was inspired by a watermelon salad at our local pizza place, the restaurant that’s been feeding us quite well while I’ve been too busy to cook. The salad is a breeze to throw together, and it’s filled with contrasting tastes that make the salad interesting and addictive.

So, thank you for waiting patiently for me while I was away. I’m here. I’m well. And I missed you.

watermelon and arugula salad with basil vinaigrette | the merry gourmet


Yield: 6 servings.

Watermelon and Arugula Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Peppery arugula is a great contrast to the sweetness of watermelon and saltiness of the feta. Use a blender for the vinaigrette and your life is all that much easier.


Basil Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4-5 large fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces baby arugula
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
3 cups cubed watermelon
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese


Make basil vinaigrette: Combine vinegar, mustard, basil leaves, and olive oil in blender and puree until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered tightly, for up to one week.

Assemble salad: Toss arugula and cherry tomatoes with vinaigrette, reserving some vinaigrette for drizzling. Carefully toss in watermelon cubes and sprinkle with feta prior to serving. Drizzle with the extra vinaigrette if more dressing is needed.

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15 Responses to “strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce”

  1. Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — April 6, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

    All I can offer is the encouragement for you to hang in there. And remember to be kind to yourself.

  2. Liren — April 6, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

    Each day is a process, I’ve found, when grieving. It never goes away, but the good days eventually outweigh the hard ones. The nights and those dreams, though…sigh. When we were in NY I dreamt of my father in law, it was so real, and I didn’t want to let go. Agonizing, but in many ways, I hope for those dream visits, from him and especially from my mom. I’m glad you found your way into the kitchen again, MJ. It’s such a good way to heal. Hugs.

  3. Macaroni Mama — April 6, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Wonderful blog. It’s hard Merry Jennifer. At least you have a focus .

  4. Kathryn — April 7, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    Such a wonderful post – after my grandfather died I had similar dreams (I still do every now and then) and it took me a while to remember him how he would have liked to be remembered, not how he was at the end. It does take time and the space to grieve. Thinking of you all xxx

  5. Katy — April 7, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    So glad sharing and cooking is part of your healing. It’s such a blessing to read your posts!

  6. Paula — April 7, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    I’m so sorry that you must take this journey Merry-Jennifer. No one can tell you how how long it will last, nor what you should be experiencing. It’s a personal and solitary one but remember that you have many, near and far who support you throughout its duration.

  7. Cherie — April 7, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I’m just glad to hear something from you again – another baby step – good to know you’re paying attention to yourself at least a little in this process – so difficult.

    Wishing you dreamless nights, at least for a while . . .

  8. Justine — April 7, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    My father has been gone for 6 years. I still have dreams of him. I like my dreams as it makes me feel connected. Hope this helps. 🙂

  9. LeeAnn — April 7, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost both my Mom and Dad 4 months apart,so I really understand your pain. I can tell you for sure, as cliche as it sounds, that time will help heal the pain you are feeling. Please take care of yourself and know that you are making a difference in so many lives.

  10. Melanie — April 7, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Merry – I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. It’s so wonderful that you were so close to him. Regarding your dreams…..I wonder if he keeps visiting you because you don’t want to/haven’t really let him go. I don’t know how to offer help with ‘letting go’, but if you know someone who could guide you, maybe that would make the dreams stop or at least turn them into ones where he is a live and stays alive…..not where you knows he’s going to die at the end of each dream…..that has to be incredibly painful. I wish you the best.

  11. Eileen — April 8, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Ah, the dreams. After my mom passed away I’d dream she would visit me. In the dreams I’d know that she was gone and that I only had a limited time to visit with her before she was gone again. The dreams seemed so real and I would always wake up crying. I experienced a sense of joy and grief all at the same time. I’d like to believe that it’s not just our subconscious was of trying to deal with death, but rather a spiritual experience that many would conceive as highly improbable. I guess that’s where the word FAITH comes in. Glad to see your are slowing healing and getting back to the things you enjoy. I can’t eat strawberries anymore and that in itself makes me cry…. Thanks for sharing your great stories and recipes Jennifer 🙂

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  13. Jenni — April 11, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    The first couple of years after my brother died, when I dreamed of him, he was sick or dead, and the dreams were horrifying. Eventually, though, my dreams found him as he was when he was healthy and happy. When I dream of him now, this is always how I see him. I awake smiling, if a bit wistful. But smiling.The cloak of his illness eventually fell away and turned to dust, leaving only him.

    It will come. Give yourself time. Be kind to yourself.

    PS I would bathe in that strawberry sauce if I could. My brother would have made it into a milk shake. He was always much more refined than I. =)

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  15. Liesl — April 21, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    Thank you for your words. My father passed away on February 3rd, a wonderful man, too. I miss him terribly. I knew that I would, but I was unprepared for how different life would feel without him, for feeling less safe and secure in the world (though of course, I am) and for the feeling of a huge hole in my life. I started cooking again about a month afterward, too. Thanks for all you do, writing and cooking and helping me feel less alone.

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