At the end of all the holiday activity I had carved out a day to go see Les Miserables with a couple of friends. The previews alone were enough to fill my eyes with tears so I knew well enough to grab a couple extra napkins to sop up my tear-stained cheeks but what I didn’t know was that it was through watching the movie I would pick up a sentence that I now hope to be my theme for 2013.

First let me tell you briefly of the story – enough so that you see the power in these words but not enough to spoil it as you really must see this film. It’s a story of redemption. For stealing a loaf of bread to feed his nephew, a man named Jean Valjean toils in prison for over 20 years working tirelessly and endlessly cast down with shame. In the end he skips parole and spends the rest of his life running from the law. Along his journey he meets a priest who sees him not as a criminal but as forgiven and free from the shame that he had carried with him as a heavy burden. He struggles with his identity until he understands his forgiveness and finds peace in that freedom. Jean Valjean’s freedom allows him to love others and care for a child that is not his own. He overcomes shame and alters the lives of others through his love.

These few sentences don’t do the film nor the book any justice but it is this picture of grace that always speaks to me most clearly when watching this story.

In one of the final scenes (I promise, I’m not giving it away) the words “to love another person is to see the face of God” ring throughout a candlelit chapel. With tears streaming those words rang in my ears and have not since left.

I have a few goals for the new year. I’ve already begun the annual call for health by supplementing all the cookies and fondue I ate over the holiday with greens; loads and loads of greens. Also, I’m allowing Jillian Michaels to kick my butt by way of the 30 day shred. I’ve even made the doctors and dentists appointments I’ve been putting off for months. There’s talk of tighter budgets and bigger homes. We’re thinking about travel plans and garden plans. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the blog – how I want to be a better writer, photographer and recipe developer, but most importantly I just want to be here more. Even when the words are fumbled and the images aren’t perfect I just want to be here. Because of course we all know reality isn’t perfect and I’d rather you know more about the real me than see me as something that I am not.

I’m not setting a lot of specific goals this year but with the ones I do make I am I’m holding them with an open hand. The idea of creating a goal is not to create anxiety along with it. To rob my year of peace in order to live a year devoted to doing a lot of “things” is actually exactly the opposite of what I want. Which is why everything I do put on my list of “goals” or to dos for the year must first pass through the filter of “to love another person is to see the face of God.” That’s what I ultimately want. To get a glimpse of glory by loving those around me.

I want to love my husband better. To enjoy him more freely and to be less selfish in my love for him. And my children. It’s so easy to go throughout our hectic days and miss the opportunity to pause and look them in the eye and remember that they aren’t just little ones clamoring for more of this or more of that but they are individuals each with their own needs, desires and gifts. I want to know them more and love them as who they are more effectively this year. And myself. I want to stop fighting to be some sort of image of who I think I should be and really enjoy who I was created to be. To not make excuses for what I have deemed weaknesses but to live fully in all of myself – forgiving and asking for forgiveness often and laughing at myself the hardest. And my community. The one closest to me and the one beyond – which also includes you all. I feel so loved by you and it’s quite humbling in that I’m not sure how to return the favor but I do want to share more, show more and eat more so I do hope you’re okay with that.

After many days of very few vegetables, we are loving our bodies a bit better by upping the salads and decreasing the sugar. I love vegetables but it’s still hard to make that transition after cookies, candies, cakes and cocktails became the norm for a few weeks so I make it a little easier on ourselves by making a delightfully creamy dressing to coat our greens. The thing is though, that although this dressing is creamy and as satisfying as the one found in the Hidden Valley it’s made from plain yogurt instead of the usual mayonnaise and sour cream. It’s tangy with a bit of garlic bite and the sort of freshness that you think is only possible in the summer.

It seems silly to talk of dressing while at the same time speaking of love but ever since I’ve had those words stuck in my head it helps me give intention to my actions. It helps me prioritize and simplify. My life is filled with purpose and joy – even in the little things, like a green salad.

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Yogurt Ranch Dressing

After a holiday party where fresh vegetables were served with a classic Ranch dressing I knew I had to recreate that nostalgia with something a bit lighter. Since then our carrot sticks have never looked back. Feel free to use whatever herbs you might have. I used fresh but dried would work too – just not too much as dried packs more punch than fresh. And of course real garlic can be used instead of the garlic powder but for the sake of nostalgia I went with the powder.


½ cup whole milk plain yogurt

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, chives, thyme – whatever you have)

salt & pepper


Combine all ingredients. Taste and adjust to your liking.

If you think the dressing too thick you can add a bit of milk, water or olive oil.

Spoon on top of clean, cool greens.

49 Responses to “Thoughts for a new year and salad”

  1. Jeni Kramer

    This is a beautiful post. Very eloquently sums up what I’ve been feeling in 2013. Pretty much perfect to start with – then you end it with ranch dressing and it’s even perfect-er 😉

  2. sarah

    That sentence from Les Miserables stuck with me, too, and hasn’t left. I haven’t been to church for years, but both my husband and I felt like that moment in the movie struck us so, was some sort of church in it’s own way, moved us to be hands and feet in our community. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and goals – they are beautiful ones.

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Sarah – That’s beautiful. That movie was totally like church – the story of grace, forgiveness and redemption is the same one taught every Sunday. I love your response to the film. Thanks fore being here and for contributing to this community.

  3. jessica bates

    beautifully said…I too need to pause and appreciate my husband & children more often. thanks so much for the gentle reminder and for the lovely blog…it’s truly a happy spot to visit. happy new year!

  4. katie//salt+pine

    I love your list of goals. I’ve been ruminating a lot in the last few days–inspired by the new year, but not wanting to commit to anything sounding as foreboding as a “resolution.” The goal of loving better in all aspects of life is wonderful. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Rachael

    I’m finally going to see the movie tonight, and you’ve picked out my very favorite line from the whole musical! Have you read the book? It’s very long and there’s lots of political stuff that’s not really relevant anymore, but there is so much more to each of the characters. It’s beautiful. And so is that salad! I’ll be making this dressing tonight.

  6. Kasey

    Ashley, this is so beautiful. I, too, saw Les Miserables over the holidays and felt touched by the message. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I completely agree that it should always be our goal to embrace who we are and be more present – with ourselves, our families and our friends. I hope to slow down a bit in 2013, and also focus on sharing more of the real me on the blog, without worrying about what that means. I just want to be a better writer, cook, photographer, wife, mother (!!!), and friend. Here’s to 2013! xoxo friend

  7. Kay

    I don’t know you (except through reading your writing here) but I want to give you a big hug right now! I look forward to reading more and getting to know you better through your blog.
    Happy 2013!

  8. Ashley

    You had me at the hello? Ha, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read one of your posts. Looks like I’ve been missing out all these months…

    This was one of those posts that’s both beautiful and inspiring and makes you want to carry it around in your pocket for the rest of the day for continued reflection. Thanks for that.

    You are a lovely writer and a talented photographer and recipe developer. Looking forward to more in the new year.

    Best, Dana

  9. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I’m not one for resolutions, but I am totally with you on goals. I think that we will carry these around for the rest of our lives… and we should. To be better husbands or wives, to love a little more, to give a little extra, to challenge ourselves.

    Wishing you and yours a very happy 2013.

  10. Ahu

    Love this post – beautiful message. And I love anything with yogurt and dill as well. Happy new year!

  11. Dorie Colangelo @ BrooklynSalt

    Yours is one of the blogs I actually read top to’s your positivity and good vibes that draw me in. I love a good yogurt-based dressing and that’s the loveliest shot of romaine I’ve ever seen.

  12. Eva @Adventures In Cooking

    What a wonderful filter for your goals for the new year. I agree so deeply with so many of them, especially when it comes to enjoying who you really are and embracing your faults rather than cutting yourself down for them. It can be unpleasantly easy to get caught up on a mistake, but we all need to remember that at the end of the day we’re human. We make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad wives or mothers or cooks or friends. It just makes us imperfect beings, and those imperfections help make up who we are.

    A beautiful post, indeed. (And the salad sounds delicious, too! I love dill-y yogurt on greens and fresh veggies.)

  13. Rose

    It’s been awhile, but I absolutely loved this blog, but I’ll just focus on the food part 🙂 Overindulgence is an understatement for me this holiday season. Unfortunately, our love of food and cooking loves us back so to speak :). I have struggled with the “healthy” lifestyle for many years and although its easy to make anything with bacon cream and butter taste amazing, it’s not equally so for “healthy” food. I think you will find that the more whole foods you eat, the better you will feel no doubt. I’ve learned to love the “healthy” stuff too right down to making everything from scratch including salad dressing and condiments (a little extreme to some). I feel like the indulgences have their purpose but should remain the exception rather than the norm..good luck in discovering how exciting it can be. I must admit there are some items in the pantry that have people scratching their heads. Jillian’s workouts are killer!! Her “Master Your Metabolism” book is pretty good too..its what got me thinking about how to make changes and avoid most of the American diet. Happy New Year! I hope its filled with all you are determined to do!

  14. Laura

    Oh gosh. That scene. I was a mess of tears for much of the latter half of that movie. It certainly did my favorite musical of all time justice. So many reminders of what is truly good in this life.

    Very excited to see the love and goodness you put into this space in the new year, Ashley. Wonderful salad too. Hidden Valley ain’t got nothin on this one.

  15. val

    I just found your blog a couple months ago, but i love how you write. Its so poetic and from the heart! (I might have spend a night or two reading through your archives..) 😉 And love your new years goal.

  16. Laura Dembowski

    It’s great you have so many goals for the year but they’re open ended enough for life to take its course. I am putting a lot of pressure on this year, wanting my dreams to come true: novel to be published, blog to grow, screenplay made into movie, move to California. I really hope this is the year it all happens.

  17. Cookie and Kate

    Happy new year, Ashley. I loved reading your heartfelt resolutions for 2013. I loved Les Mis, but I had forgotten that quote. Thanks for bringing it back into focus.

  18. Dana

    All of this is beautiful Ashley. I am passionately stirred by salad so I have no trouble seeing the connection with those lovely words. I wish you and your beautiful family the happiest of new years.

  19. Ashley

    I feel like there has been a theme for 2013 to start actually living life and being more present in the day, as opposed to just getting to the next weekend. To be more yourself and stop any of the acting. To show your uniqueness and not hold back. I’m all for it, and your post was just another push in that direction for me. Thank you. Can’t wait to see + read more from you. Cheers!

  20. Betsy

    How beautiful! That line from Les Mis always sticks with me, and what an insightful way to weave it into thoughts about the new year. Thank you!


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