It was an amusing trip down memory lane, trolling through the old posts. A lot of them are really freaking rough, but that's part of the beauty of just throwing your hat into the ring and saying, "Let's Go!" Right?
This post is one of my favorites, because it's so oddball that it's almost picaresque. Don Quixote chased windmills. We ate The Orange Potato Salad.
Enjoy. And again, thank you so much for being here.
Admit it, you have some strange food skeletons clanking in your closet. Every family does. Maybe it's white trash food, or scrapple, or liverwurst on toast at midnight. But somewhere in your past, guarantee ya, you've got some embarrassing food lurking in the corner.
I do, too. And for some reason I'm not just embarrassed about the weird food I've eaten--I'm embarrassed about the weird food my family's eaten as well. There's some strange guilt-by-association thing going on there. If I see my dad eating slices of raw salted potato for a snack (which he does) shame just seeps outta me. Which makes zero sense--it's not my freakshow snack, it's my father's.
Food and family are so closely intertwined it's scary. Take Thanksgiving, for example. The food that ends up on your holiday table says a lot about you and yours. Illustration: cornbread stuffing. If you eat cornbread stuffing on a certain day in November, I'm betting there's Southern knocking around somewhere in your family tree. Creamed pearl onions? Yankee. Green jello mold with shredded carrots and pineapple in it? Hello, Midwest.
Now some of those family foods are stamps of pride; my Grandmother's fried chicken was legendary. It was so crisp, so perfectly Grandma-seasoned, so juicy...the day she died, fried chicken died too. I've never eaten it since, because she owned fried chicken. I can't look at a chicken without mourning her loss and knowing that never, not ever, will I eat fried chicken that perfect again. Ditto for Aunt Lee's Chocolate Cake. Maybe in your case it's your Nonna's Marinara or your mother's stuffed cabbage. Those are the family gems, the heirlooms you guard passionately because they are your history.
But just like that one cousin you had with the buck teeth and the donkey laugh and the ears that didn't match, some food appeared on your family's guest list that made you squirm. And darned if you aren't as ashamed of that as you are proud of Dad's bbq sauce. Because those oddities say something about your family too, and they're not always fun to examine.
I recall dying of embarrassment in 6th grade when a playmate and I walked into the kitchen just as my father was whipping up his favorite little afternoon refresher, a tall glass of saurkraut juice mixed with V-8. "YARGH," was all the horrified kid could sputter, eyes a-buggin. I wanted to vaporize into thin air.
In fact, my German father had plenty of little doozies in his arsenal. The strips of raw turnip, salted to death, which he snacked on during football games. The wedges of watermelon he salted, peppered, then ate. The hideous Braunschweiger roll he smeared on crackers. The bologna he sneaked from the package, rolled up and popped in his mouth. The peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. Embarrassments, all of them.
My mother's diet was pretty plebian in comparison, but she did make her famous potato salad, which she toted to every potluck and party of my youth. The Orange Potato Salad. I remember one 4th of July when a kid next to me in the buffet line said, "Who the Hell brought orange potato salad?" And I replied, "No idea."
Orange Potato Salad was one of my mother's "experiments." Experiments happened when my mother, missing an ingredient or two from a recipe (in the middle of a North Dakota winter), decided to improvise rather than drag two young children to the supermarket in 8-inch drifts of white misery.
In the case of the potato salad, my mother was out of vinegar and had a scant cup only of mayonnaise. Normally, she tossed the cooked potatoes with a drizzle of vinegar and let them cool before dressing. The hot potatoes absorbed the tang and salt of the vinegar and resulted in some spunky salad, let me tell you.
But she didn't have any vinegar, so she went shopping in the refrigerator and came up with Kraft French Dressing (yeah, the neon orange kind). She had about 3 tablespoons of it left in the bottle, so she tossed the hot potatoes with that, let them cool, and then tossed in some celery, onion, seasonings and that scant cup of mayonnaise. Orange Potato Salad was born.
Crazy thing is, as unsightly as that crayola-hued salad looks, people love it. It's different and un-boring (and admit it, most potato salad is boring). People started asking my mother to bring Orange Potato Salad to parties and she was happy to oblige. "Ah! You brought the Orange Potato Salad!" neighbors would announce, and she would beam.
I guess it could be worse--at least Orange Potato Salad was a crowd pleaser. Mrs. Mondry always brought oyster stew and nobody wanted that, so I shouldn't complain.
This Father's Day, I had my parents and the K family over for a barbecue. Mom called earlier in the week to ask what she could bring. "Orange Potato Salad," I said. Of course. Orange Potato Salad may be an embarrassment, but it's our embarrassment and what's a family without a few quirks?
Mom's Orange Potato Salad
2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled
3 tablespoons Kraft French Dressing
1 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 scant cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes about 15 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Drain potatoes and cool until warm enough to handle. Peel potatoes, chunk them and toss with French dressing while still warm. Cool.
Whisk mayonnaise, pickle relish, mustard seed, salt and pepper. Add celery and onion to potatoes, then toss with mayonnaise mixture. Make a few hours in advance to allow flavors to blend, and re-taste for salt/pepper before serving. If salad seems dry, add more mayonnaise.
Confession time, I hope! What humiliating food lurks in your family history? Pleeeeease? It can't be any worse than the freaky sauerkraut concoction!