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The orange provides a bright spot in a gray season


ORANGES HELP ME make it through the winter. Their bright color, their tangy flavor and their powerful aroma stand in marked contrast to days that are often dim, dull and repetitive.

Traditionally one bright spot in the gray season has been the arrival of a box of navel oranges from Arizona. They are part of a cross-country exchange of holiday foodstuffs among family members. My sister-in-law ships oranges from Phoenix to Baltimore, and we in turn ship homemade fruitcake from Baltimore to Phoenix. Gifts of food, I have learned, build family harmony.

The westbound fruitcake, properly packed, can withstand virtually any assault. But as the oranges wend their way east they are vulnerable to attack by freezing weather. Like a ship's captain waiting in port for the distant waters to calm, my sister-in-law watches the weather reports from the Midwest, the "rough seas" portion of the passage. When the coast is clear, or more aptly, when the Midwest is not being battered by a blizzard, she sends the oranges east.

It is a chancy journey. Some years a surprise January ice storm will sweep down, and the oranges will arrive in Baltimore displaying signs of battle. The oranges on the outer edges of the cardboard box, the oranges most likely to feel the effects of sitting on a loading dock in subzero weather, will be shriveled, dry and bitter.

But other years, such as this one, the oranges successfully navigate the perils of winter travel and appear in juicy, fragrant glory. My wife made a centerpiece out of them, arranging them so they spilled out of a large, white bowl like fruit in a Cezanne painting.

This, however, was edible art. Their first days in the house sparked a citrus feeding frenzy. We peeled oranges and ate them for breakfast, for lunch, for snacks and for no particular reason other than it felt so good.

Eventually I got around to attempting some "cuisine" with them. I peeled and sliced four oranges, tossing half of the slices on top of some grilled tuna and using the rest to make a salad with fennel, onion and lettuce.

The tuna topping was OK, nothing spectacular. But the salad was a keeper, a dish that added flavor, crunch and a whiff of citrus perfume to an otherwise ordinary meal.

Salad With Orange, Fennel and Red Onion

Serves 6


3 / 4 cup olive oil

1 / 4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup pitted and roughly chopped green olives

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted in saute pan for 2-3 minutes (or substitute 1 tablespoon ground coriander)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 / 4 cup finely chopped parsley

salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste


1 large head of lettuce (Bibb, Boston, red leaf)

2 oranges, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch slices

1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, and halves very thinly sliced

1 large fennel bulb, fronds and root end trimmed off, and rest of bulb very thinly sliced

salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and whisk together well.

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, oranges, onion, fennel, and salt and pepper. Stir the dressing well, add just enough to moisten the ingredients (there will be some dressing left over), toss well and serve.

-- From Lettuce in Your Kitchen by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1996)

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