Bonded by a cookbook- Spinach salad w/toasted almonds, apples & Vermouth vinaigrette


Sometimes the simplest of things can end up blossoming to be the most beautiful and sophisticated creations. As cliche as it may sound, it’s so true that simplicity is often the best and most gratifying approach to cooking. It took a while for me to apply this same philosophy to finding recipes from cookbooks because I’ve always had a big heart and open pocketbook (Visa credit line) for big, extensive, beautifully-photographed books. As our library of big, bold, complicated cookbooks filled our shelves, I always turn to a humble little bound book amongst the mass of books written by high profiled chefs.


This wonderful little book, called Private Collections, was written by The Junior League of Palo Alto. I just adore this simple little book that belonged to Todd’s grandmother, Alta.

When Todd and I first met, we were both immediately bonded by our love of the outdoors, nature, the arts, food and cooking. To meet a guy that loved food, cooked food, and obsessed over food as much as I did was someone worth passing on my phone number to. As we got to know each other more, we spent a lot of time talking about anything and everything related to food, including cookbooks. He shared with me a cookbook that was immediately apparent it was one of his grandmother’s favorite cookbooks, being that she repeatedly marked her personal notes and frequently ranked recipes her highest rating, 4 stars.


This amazing little 110 page cookbook that belonged to Alta has lovely, simple recipes that have never, ever been disappointing. It’s one of those books that might not have the big visual appeals of most other cookbooks, but the honest, home-style (yet sophisticated) recipes in this book, that were contributed by members of The Junior League of Palo Alto, are what give this book character and sincerity.

There are no photographs in the book, only occasional, simple, exquisite sketches of flowers and butterflies. I immediately fell in love with this book for the pure reason that Alta had personally recommended particular recipes herself, with her inscriptions of star ratings, date she first cooked it and her thoughts on the dish. If she loved the dish, she would give it a few X’s, her delicious signs of approval.

I felt that she was speaking to me through this cookbook with her personal hand written thoughts. I trust her insights on recipes because from the stories that Todd told me about Alta, she was an amazing grandmother and a wonderful cook.

Alta’s gentle writing highlighted her approval on a  large number of recipes in this cookbook, but a spinach salad recipe with four X’s and a “very good” comment on it had me smitten. If it was good enough for Alta, it was exceptional for me. With our additions of oil droppings marked on the page and bits of curry powder dust settling on the inside bindings, this recipe has seen it’s time between two generations.

I can’t rave enough about how much I just love this spinach salad recipe with it’s Vermouth based vinaigrette. It is by far, my favorite vinaigrette of all time. The dash of soy sauce for savory depth, the touch of curry powder for spice  and the bit of Vermouth for a touch of sweetness, all harmonize perfectly in the oil for this spinach salad.


With our garden bursting with fresh spinach growing in our whiskey barrels, I can finally have this salad again with the freshest spinach available. I’ve been counting the days and spinach leaves until the first crop was ready for this salad. Today, I was able to collect enough tender leaves for two big servings of salad.

It’s so simple, sophisticated, lovely and most importantly, eaten up. All gone!

It’s an amazing recipe that has been passed on to us by Alta, someone I have never met, but now feel so bonded to by this one cookbook that she left behind for both Todd and I. I hope you enjoy this amazing salad as much as Todd and I do, and Alta did.



I adapted the recipe a bit this time around by using whole grain mustard instead of dijon mustard. I wanted to add a bit of new texture to the vermouth vinaigrette and the tiny mustard seeds added a great pop of tangy flavor. For the assembly, I simply replaced the spanish peanuts with toasted almonds and the final addition was adding some sliced apples. That’s all there was to today’s spinach salad: almonds, apples and the wonderful vermouth vinaigrette.

Previously I have followed Alta’s denoted recommendation of the sesame seeds (check mark!) and this variation was equally outstanding.


Whole grain mustard gently speckling the dressing and salad


Spinach Salad Recipe

From Private Collection, from the Junior League of Palo Alto.
Note: There are two cookbooks, Private Collections and Private Collections 2. This recipe is from the first book, Private Collections.




Recipe Source:

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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.


We’re submitting this Spinach salad recipe to Grow Your Own event, started by Andrea of Andreas Recipes. This great event celebrates the food that we cook from our garden bounty. Anyone can participate! This event is hosted by Nate and Annie of Chez Annies. Send in your submissions to the Nate and Annie by April 30,2009 . You’ll be included in the round up and featured with the rest of the worlds garden bounty!

Update: Read the whole roundup of 27 delicious homegrown recipes HERE!


{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Mei

    Last night my fork met your salad. This salad is quite lovely and probably the only spinach salad recipe that I will make. I found this wonderful story and recipe through

  2. Sarah B.

    I am grinning broadly and also have tears in my eyes. My parents had this cookbook and this salad was the recipe they made most frequently from it. I can picture the pretty cover of the book clearly ( a painting of flowered branches and a bird, right). I was invited to a dinner this weekend where the host is making pot stickers. She asked that I bring a salad. I wanted something light and spring-like in honor of the season that’s arriving in parts of the country (but has yet to make it to Maine) and that resonated with the flavors of ginger and soy. I thought of this salad and wondered if I’d ever be able to track it down. Here’s to Google. I have visited your blog before, so it felt fortuitous that you had posted the recipe. And then to read your story behind the recipe and see the actual page from the cookbook (complete with oil smudges that I am certain match similar marks on my parents’ copy) has me on a wonderful sentimental journey. THANK YOU!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Your memory of the book is perfect. Out of the hundreds of cookbooks in our library, this always remains one of the best books. And always the most sentimental favorite. So glad we helped reconnect you to this bit of both of our family histories.

  3. mamacita

    I bought this cookbook from Amazon based on your recommendation. It really is amazing! Some of the Amazon reviewers recommended other California Junior League cookbooks, so I’m going to check out the Oakland, Pasadena and San Diego ones as well. They’re a good balance for my collection, which is heavy on Texas and southern Junior League cookbooks.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      We really love that cookbook. It was one of my grandma’s favorites and became one of ours. So glad you love it too. Make the Kona Inn Banana Bread recipe, it is amazing. We’ve adapted it and made it choc. chunks but even straight it is incredible!

  4. Andrea

    What a neat story about the cookbook, which must be a great reminder of Todd’s grandmother. My mother has some of my grandmothers cookbooks with her notes and recipe cards in her handwriting, and we’ve enjoyed going through them to see what she had to say about certain recipes. Your spinach looks wonderful! I must try it in barrels because I’ve had no luck so far in the ground or in plastic planters.

  5. White on Rice Couple

    thank you everyone for your wonderful thoughts. I enjoyed reading many of your own connections about your special family cookbook.

  6. Lori Lynn

    Darling post.
    I can’t wait to try it. Never thought to put Vermouth in a vinaigrette, sounds excellent.

  7. Allen

    What a great reflection on the cookbook — sometimes the best recipes have little to do with high-end chefs but instead come from the homes of friends and family!

  8. Tiina

    Interesting salad, and how beautifully you managed to assemble it! The first picture in your post is very, very beautiful.


  9. Heather

    cookbooks hold so many wonderful memories! this salad looks amazing!

  10. pam

    Those are my favorite kind of cookbooks, and they also share my space with their fancy friends.

  11. The Italian Dish

    Okay, I’m going to have to try this if it’s your favorite salad dressing of all time. I’m jealous of your spinach, you Californians!

  12. Alicia

    New reader… this salad looks awesome!

  13. Food Woolf

    What a treasure. In a time when most people wouldn’t give a half-second to a cookbook without pictures (let alone grease stains and handwritten comments) it’s so good to know that wonderful, talented people like you are reminding us, your readers, the value of family recipes and good, old-fashioned, simple cooking. I have a Lutheran Church cookbook (the one my grandmother used) and it is full of all sorts of recipes (and no photos of course) that make me remember all the tasty dishes she made me when I was a little girl.

    Thanks for the lovely recipe and wonderful reminder to go back to my family cookbook!

  14. Toni

    I love cookbooks like this – the kind that have been in the family and have hand written notes by women who took the time to write them. And of course, anything with fresh spinach is terrific in my book!

  15. susan g

    Thanks for the nostalgic post. My mother-in-law wrote up favorite recipes when my husband first lived on his own, such as baked beans (canned) with hot dogs. First things first.
    I often buy used books and appreciate when they are in good condition (although personal notes are enlightening). I used to make notes in my books and had a rating system (+, check mark, -). Now I keep slips of paper in the book — a list of recipes I want to make, and reworkings or comments on the recipes I make. Can’t lose those inspirations!

  16. desiree@lookiloos

    Great post. How wonderful to have her hand written notes! That is a treasure. The salad looks delicious. That Junior League knows how to put a cookbook together. I have one from the San Francisco chapter that is my go to book.

  17. Jen

    Thanks for this touching post and delighful recipe. I love it when cookbooks trigger reminders of familial ties. My mom always sticks mementos between the pages of her cookbooks and when we seek out recipes those trinkets are shared all over again. Also, a cousin photocopied and compiled all of my Granny’s handwritten recipes and mailed them to each of the women in our family. You are so right about the feelings conjured up when reading her handwriting.

  18. Dominique (de vous à moi...)

    So simple ans surely so tasty. I love this sort of recipes: simply is the best. I don’t use anymore my Big Chef’s books: photos are beautiful, but recipe are so difficult! Simple ones are sometimes fantastic!

  19. Jaden

    Such a beautiful post – I used to be so against making any marks in my cookbooks – like I didn’t want to ruin a perfect book. But recently, I started marking up recipes in my fav books because I want to hand them down to the kids, hoping one day they will cherish! Okay, so the marks are still in light pencil, but its a start!

  20. krysta

    i love it… i never think about writing in my cookbooks… it always seems like sacrilege but then i read this post and maybe my grandchildren and great- grandchildren will see my cookbooks and know a little something about me and since i don’t have any jewerly to pass down this might be the next best thing.

    i’m having an arguement with someone about the simplicity of recipes, i’m all for them… this person is not and might have cost me a job. but thank you for confirming that most times people love anything as long as it’s good. and simple can be best.

  21. bhavana

    I loved reading about this – I love the cookpage with stains from another generation – thanks for sharing.

  22. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

    Great post Diane. I love that Grandma Alta wrote in her cookbook. I’m always jotting notes in mine and writing down what I added or changed. I hope years from now, someone is reading my notes and making the recipes I made.

    Were putting spinach in our whiskey barrels too. I only hope that the bunnies that are multiplying by the dozens in my yard won’t munch it all on me.

  23. Asianmommy

    Yum! This does look good. How sweet to have a cookbook with a personal touch.

  24. Jennifer Hess

    What a delightful post. I have a small collection of vintage cookbooks as well, one of which was a gift from my mother-in-law, and I don’t peruse them as often as I should. I’ll have to do that soon, and try this salad recipe, too – tender young spinach is one thing there has been plenty of at our local farmers’ market in still-chilly RI.

  25. Jeff

    That is amazing. Reminds me a lot of my grandma who did not have a collection of cookbooks but rather everything was written down on recipe cards and stashed in recipe card holders. However, she had the same notes written on the cards.

    The spinach salad sounds amazing and definitely a great use of a fresh spring veggie. So jealous you have spinach growing too.

  26. Nhu

    sounds yummy…def giving this recipe a try. Didn’t know what salad oil was so had to look that up :) Feeling motivated to grow some spinach myself.

  27. Melissa

    Great story, great salad. I’m intrigued by the little book. And you make the vinaigrette sound mouth-watering.

  28. Manggy

    Lovely sentiment, Diane :) I’m sure you have Alta’s stamp of approval too! It’s interesting to hear of good cookbooks from that long ago– I feel like the ones we did get in those days here were kind of written by publishers looking for a quick buck, with uninspiring recipes. I’d love to see you exploring more of Alta’s favorites– that beautiful salad is a great start! :)

  29. Jen Yu

    I’ll be right over to nip some of that spinach! :) What a sweet post, D. Despite being drawn to the big glossies, my goto cookbooks have no photos either. Odd that, no? Maybe not. And while you may never have met Alta, I think in some ways you have. Clearly, she had a great influence on dear Todd, and so I think she lives on in him to some degree – and I don’t mean genetically. At least, that’s how I like to think of those who have passed on… that in some ways they never really leave us. xxoo

  30. Phoo-D

    What a touching and lovely post. Thank you for sharing the recipe and I’m jealous of all your fresh spinach! We have months to go but when it happens I’ll definitely reach for this recipe and give it a try.

  31. matt wright

    Fantastic writing guys – such love. I love passed on cookbooks. Great looking salad, wonderful photos. Man, your growing season starts so much earlier than ours :(

  32. Nate

    ooh, will you enter this one in our Grow Your Own roundup?

  33. Helene

    Great post, this reminds me that when I got married I took with me one of my mom’s favorite cookbook. It’s was not written by any big names but it has the best comfort food recipes. When I cook from this cookbook it reminds me of my mom’s cooking. I’m glad I can have my kids savour those recipes. I’m bookmarking this one and will make it soon for sure. Thanks.

  34. Kristina

    Nice salad! I can’t wait for my spinach to grow so I can try this. Funny, I almost always mix my dressing in a jar too!

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