Waldorf Salad Refresh with California Walnuts

get your creative juices flowing

Get your creative juices flowing

You all know me by now. I just can’t resist a recipe contest that requires me to think way outside the box. Add in the fact that I am required to use ingredients that I already know and love and I am all in. Ingredients like healthy California walnuts, crisp sweet-tart apples and crunchy celery are already in my fridge and pantry, so let’s get started recreating a something new and different Waldorf salad.

California walnuts, apples and celery add healthy crunch

California walnuts, apples and celery add healthy crunch

The Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City is well-known for its luxury accommodations as well as its famous salad. Checking out their restaurant menu the current version of the salad includes apples, candied walnuts and celeriac which got me to thinking how to re-mix, remake and refresh those ingredients into something unexpected and delicious.

building the perfect sandwich

building the perfect sandwich

Like I said you all know me by now, so I bet you’re not surprised I created a fantastic grilled cheese featuring some fresh ingredients. Doesn’t every restaurant menu need the perfect grilled cheese sandwich? Don’t you just love to order that soup and sandwich combo like grilled cheese and tomato soup. It’s such a classic. What makes mine Waldorf Astoria worthy? Without a doubt it is the candied California walnut pesto that makes this “refresh” fantastic.

The Waldorf Salad Grilled Cheese with Candied Walnut Pesto

The Waldorf Grilled Cheese with Candied Walnut Pesto

The Waldorf Grilled Cheese Salad Sandwich with Candied Walnut Pesto

1 small clove garlic

3/4 cup packed basil leaves

¼ cup fresh celery leaves

2 tablespoons walnut oil

¼ cup California Walnuts

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 slices firm white bread

1/3 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped celery

½ pink lady apple or apple of your choice, thinly sliced

1/3 cup shredded gruyere cheese

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 grapes, optional

With food processor running drop garlic through feed tube and process until finely minced. Add basil, celery leaves and oil; pulse until combined. Add walnuts, sugar and salt; blend until smooth scraping down sides of bowl, if needed. Spread candied walnut pesto evenly on 1 side of each bread slice. On top of the pesto on 1 slice of bread, evenly layer the smoked gouda, celery, apple slices and gruyere. Cover sandwich with remaining bread slice, pesto side down. Gently press sandwich together. Spread half of the mayonnaise over top of sandwich and place mayonnaise side down on non-stick griddle. Grill sandwich, over medium-low heat, for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Spread remaining mayonnaise over bread before flipping to brown the other side. Sandwich is ready when both sides are golden brown and cheese is melted. Top with a skewered grapes, if desired.

Waldorf Salad Grilled Cheese

PS: For the carnivores in the group…if you must…add some high quality cooked crispy bacon on top of the apples. Or get your own creative juices flowing and refresh your own Waldorf salad.

Survival with Ants On a Log


Fight or flight survival mode kicks in pretty much immediately with the news of  a sudden death.  There is an explosion going on in the brain and devastation in the heart. How does one pick up the pieces and move forward?  How can one think or do anything? Does one take cover or run away? One can’t breathe as the heart races for answers. Inability to make a decision turns me into a robot. I am happy to hand the remote control to whoever will take it. Being a robot is how I survived the first week.

Thankfully, certain extraordinary friends took the remote and led me around. This is another key way to be helpful when one just doesn’t know what to do.  Don’t be afraid to simply ask, “what do you need right now to survive this?” Then spring into action with whatever talents you can offer. Food, yard work, babysitting, running errands……..

Jason, the navy chaplain who delivered the blow offers to plan the funeral, but Dennis, a friend and pastor who knows William doesn’t hesitate to collaborate. Dennis goes above and beyond traveling from his church in Massachusetts during Easter week.  My friends, Carol, Ann, Bev and Diane, spring into action offering their homes to any marines and sailors coming to the services.  They know it is important to me to have these special visitors feel like family. My friend Lynn flies in from TN and never leaves my side. She helps me get dressed, tells me where to be and makes me eat. She is watching over my husband and daughter, too.

When Maria, whose daughter is a close friend and schoolmate of William’s, calls to be helpful my only response is, “I think I need to have a party after the funeral. I always do all my own cooking for parties, but I don’t think I can do this. Can you please recommend a caterer?” Maria takes care of it. The next thing I know we are having a wake on William’s 23rd birthday and a funeral and a party at The Taft School that honors my son like I never imagined.  Between six to seven hundred people show up to celebrate him. He is clearly “more bad-ass today (even in death) than he was yesterday”. So many to thank! Yes, help me keep up with correspondence.

That “bad-ass” phrase is one of William’s favorites and one he often uses to describe his learning of survival skills in the woods. I remember him wanting to read everything about marine, Scott O’Grady who was shot down in Bosnia in 1995 and survived 6 days in enemy territory before being rescued. Will, age 7,  is fascinated by the fact that O’Grady evades detection by camouflage and survives by eating ants.


apparently no one could find him hiding in the tree that day

Fast forward to the teen years. One of my all-time favorite Will Keys stories involves Pastor Dennis’ daughter Abby. William and Abby are long-time friends and spending the summer together life guarding at the local lake. One day Abby comes home from the lake and asks her mother, “Mom do you know that ants taste sour? Her mother responds, “no, and how do you know?” Will got me to try some today.”  My boy had some kind of charisma and loved a girl who had a taste for adventure! So, Abby, this recipe is for YOU! It might be a fun little appetizer for your Thanksgiving feast.

Deconstructed Ants On A Log

15 Athens mini fillo shells

1/3 cup whipped cream cheese

¾ cup small dice celery hearts including the tender leaves

3 tablespoons raisins (black ants) or dried sweetened cranberries (red ants), chopped

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon bottled poppy seed salad dressing. Fill each shell with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese. In bowl, toss celery, raisins or cranberries and salad dressing. Spoon on top of cream cheese.