The smell of butternut squash brings back one of Naylet LaRochelle's fondest memories. It was during early autumn about 13 years ago that she moved into her first home with her husband.
"I remember watching my husband and my dad do repairs, and the anticipation of that time. In addition to me buying my first home, I was also pregnant with my first child, my daughter. Everything was coming together, I had already finished school, gotten my degree, and I was working. It was time to start a new chapter," she recalls.
LaRochelle, who lives with her family in the South Miami area, said she craved certain foods during her pregnancy, and one of the things she enjoyed eating most was salad. And a butternut squash salad with dried fruits and nuts typifies fall.
"It's amazing how you can attach a memory to a smell of a food of a flavor. Whenever I eat it, I get a cozy feeling of excitement. I remember the anticipation and the thrill of that time," she says.
But this salad has done LaRochelle more good than bringing back positive emotions. She recently won a trip to Napa Valley from Dole and, last month, took cooking classes at the Culinary Institute of America -- all for expressing her "salad'tude." As part of the Dole Salads Salad'tude contest, she sent in a photo of her expressive Home Sweet, Autumn Home Salad, along with a short story about her memories tied to it.
At the Culinary Institute of America, LaRochelle took courses on pairing food with wine and tasting wine like a professional, learned about salad techniques -- from making even knife cuts to grilling protein to top a salad -- and also won a Chopped-style basket challenge. She even met Clinton Kelly, host of TLC's What Not To Wear and ABC's The Chew, as he spent a day interacting with the Dole contest winners, answering questions, and taking photos.
Although we're still soaking up the sun rays this July in Miami, it's never too early to get excited for fall -- when it's cool (70 and sunny) and we can sit outdoors sipping pumpkin spice lattes without being judged. In addition to dried cranberries, dried cherries, and red onion, these are the ingredients LaRochelle uses to make her Home Sweet, Autumn Home Salad and what she has to say about them:
Dole Baby Garden Blend or Dole European Blend: "I like the different types of the darker leaf lettuces because I feel they have more nutrients than a regular iceberg. Plus they have the red leaf lettuces. The colors are just so beautiful. It really makes it very appealing. And we eat with our eyes too.
Butternut squash: "Sometimes I'll roast it or pan fry it or sauté it if I want to have a warm salad."
Walnuts or pecans: "I like to toast them. It becomes really nutty and changes the flavor a little bit."
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Parmesan or asiago cheese: "Just to bring in a little bit more protein, I like to shave some parmesan or asiago."
Apple cider vinaigrette: "It's a little sweet from the apple, but it has the tanginess you need from a vinaigrette."
Jealous of this lucky Miami lady? Dole Salads is already having another contest for travel-loving foodies. You can enter to win a $40,000 trip to Spain -- a 9-day culinary exploration for you and a friend.