Friday, April 9, 2010

Orange Potato Salad and Other Family Oddities

Hi awesome readers! It's been a year since I parked my snarky ass in this space, so I thought I'd dig through the archives and share a fledgling post with you. This one's from the very young days, when it was absolutely a 2-minute enterprise to check the comments section. But those of you who encouraged me early meant the world.

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

serves 6-8

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.

Serve to non-judgemental people who love you.


Confession time, I hope! What humiliating food lurks in your family history? Pleeeeease? It can't be any worse than the freaky sauerkraut concoction!


  1. Omg my dh eats peanutbutter and pickle sandwiches too. LOL will have to think about any other embarrassing foods we might have.

  2. My dad...let's just say he drinks orange juice with his spaghetti and likes orange juice in his apple pie can see where I'm going with this.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think you are a great writer. I love the way you seamlessly connect food and words.

  3. i'd eat it. except the sweet pickle relish, it sounds good. Except, is it sweet? I don't really like sweet food. I am a tangy, salty, other-than-sweet food gal. I don't even like breakfast food

  4. ck, thank you. Coming from you, that really means a lot.

    Siren, I don't do sweet food either. Honestly, we were, umm, poor growing up so whatever relish is in the side pocket of the fridge...go!

  5. Hmmm... I'd tend to go with the German end of the equation. My family is all German and I'd take a good German salad made with bacon drippings and pimento. Mmmmm.

    But your story of orange salad?! Brilliant.

  6. I love it! I'm going to try it b/c I don't really like regular potato salad. :)

    Our family embarassment is "Shit on a Shingle"...makes you want to dig right in, right? It's chipped beef on toast and I can't even tell you where my family came up with the term of endearment....

  7. Wait, and you make fun of me for tuna casserole???

    As for family oddities, let's just say that my great-grandma came from Czechoslovakia (which doesn't even exist anymore!) and brought all the starch that country ate with her. We honor her by making all that food for Christmas Eve. Starch, starch, and more starch. With some weird sourkraut and poppyseed in there. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

  8. I love Braunschweiger! And smoked oysters. My Dad and I ate those all the time and grossed everyon else out. But my favorite sandwich as a kid and now....a plain dill pickle sandwich. See! My kids will be embarrased too!

  9. You guys are all so funny. T, believe it or not, we ate shit on a shingle growing up,too (because it's, you know, cheap!). I hated it. My dad claims the name was coined by army dudes who were seved it in the mess hall, but who knows?

    Kestrel, a pickle sandwich is indeed weird. Now a tomato sandwich, that's something else...

  10. What a great post! Our family oddity was "porcupine meatballs". They were a Dad dish and Mom wouldn't touch it (which made us kids love it even more). No porcupines were harmed, but it involved turning canned tomato soup, ground beef, and rice into a thick gloppy mess that we would top with ketchup!

  11. Hey, Phoo-D, I think a friend of mine in Minnesota makes those! Apparently, kids love 'em? Harass your dad for the recipe, seriously!

  12. That actually looks yummy, KW! Your mom must have been a genius. :)

    And...creamed pearl onions = Yankee? YES! To the extent that supermarkets would RUN OUT of pearl onions at holiday time, and we'd all plan ahead. 'Course we never eat them any other time of year...

  13. I thought of you today because I saw an ad for a new movie out (of course I forget the name) about Julia Child and a blogger. Julia Child goes back to cooking school and the blogger makes every recipe out of Child's cookbook everyday for a year and blogs about it. Totally up your alley...

  14. I can't wait for that movie! It is Julia and Julie or Julie and get the gist.

  15. I can't wait for the movie either, NOR can I remember the order of the names. :)

  16. "Serve to non-judgemental people who love you." LMAO!!!!! (Enjoyed rereading this. You should post more of your "early" work.)

  17. I'm relatively new to your blog but wished I would've been around this whole past year. You are great!

    I eat my tacos with Miracle Whip. There, I said it. :)

  18. My uncle eats mayonnaise on cantaloupe. Nuff said.
    Happy blogoversary!

  19. Kraft French Dressing with Potatoes!?!?!?!? Does it glow at night? can you plug your teevee into that dish?

    My mother made some weird macaroni concoction with "ketchup sauce" which was breadcrumps, ketchup, and whothehellknowswhatelse. Apparently, I used to eat it. Explains alot now.

    We had SOAS too - beef, gravy, bread slapped on a plate.

  20. I love this post!!! I love you too. ;) Strange food skeletons...fried bologna sandwiches and shit on a shingle!

  21. Happy Anniversary to your blog! I'm so glad I found you! It's so fun to pop over for good food, laughs and fun! I'm going to have to try the V-8 sauerkraut juice concoction! I've never thought of doing potato salad this way. I think I'll have to try it too! :)

  22. I had an interesting food childhood. My family were coal miners that had lived for generations in the shanty corporate towns of West Virginia. I am not sure which family member left the mines but, it seemed that the remaining primary family followed, and started a new life on Miami Beach-I was the only one born and raised there. I am sure I was the only kid who's mother had a 15 quart saucepan on the our tiny stove everyday simmering beans-we ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner...Grandma used to tear white bread and out it in a bowl of buttermilk and eat it like cereal.Nothing was wasted and everything was made with onions and potatoes. I just wanted a bagel and cream cheese and a sub sandwich! I could probably tell you stories that would make you cry with laughter about our family and lfe on Miami Beach.

  23. French dressing? That's ingenious!

  24. A year! Damn! Well you can park your snarky ass anywhere nearby, in my book.

    Orange potato salad. Go figure. (My mother used to hide pennies at the bottom of green jello. But then, that's another story entirely...)

  25. Loved this story KW! We must have had a boring upbringing, because I don't have anything weird - but I do remember my mom making open face bacon sandwiches.

    Two slices of white bread, two pieces of cooked bacon crossed each slice and then a thick slice of mozzarella cheese went on top - under the broiler until the cheese was all melty. Funny thing is, I don't remember her serving us anything else - no vegetables, no fruit - just the cheese bread. But it was divine!

  26. I love potato salad. This one sounds very interesting!!

  27. Embarrassing family foods? Never. Not us. Not the onion and mayo sandwiches. Not peanut butter and mayo sandwiches. Not the curried pea salad. Not the shrimp aspic (gagsville is any savory jello).
    My mom's cornerstone dinner as we were growing up, time was short, and boneless, skinless chicken breasts were new to stores? Chicken breast slathered with plain yogurt and topped with parmesan cheese and browned in the toaster oven.
    Nothing says white trash like three layers of white in the toaster oven.

  28. How cool, I just came in to a copy of my family cookbook. Filled with embarrassing recipes I found a couple from the church pot lucks that gave me the same reaction as you. "I don't know who the hell brought the shredded carrot and orange Jello."

  29. Happy Year blogoversary!!
    And let me tell you, you were as funny a year ago as you are now.
    Isn't it funny to think back about all the things we were embarrassed about as kids?? How silly of us. (I wonder if I embarrassed my kids? I'm going to ask next time I have them all in the same room.)

    As far as weird foods are concerned...would you believe my kids still ask for some of the weirdest? On holidays, the white trash motherlode (as you call it) comes out. I am still in shock they would prefer that ghastly frozen fruit salad to a nice fresh salad.

    My father was the strangest. Sugar on cottage cheese. Condensed milk on his toast and in his coffee. Black bing cherry jello salad. Iceberg lettuce with thousand island. (I hear this one is coming back!)
    Mother's boiled chicken feet was always a winner. And grandpa's fried muskrat. Oh yeah. My list could go on and on.

  30. I make that recipe! It's one of my MIL's favorites! Amazing how these things get passed on:) We were reliving the old days this past week with my family in town. My grandpa used to make us braunschweigert (I know I royally screwed up that spelling!) sandwiches. My brother used to beg for them - "I need a rolla!" because it came in a roll! Can't stand to eat the stuff now but it was the best thing since sliced bread when I was growing up!

  31. Oh, good! You guys are making me feel better :)

    Barbara and BLW: I think anything with Jell-o in it, by today's standards, automatically exudes shame. BLW, I await the penny story with open ears!

    6512 and Lindy--what is it with creamy substances? Ack! I am going to have to pass on the idea of cantaloupe with mayo to Daddy though, because he thinks mayo is a beverage, he loves it so much.

    Velva: you were a coal miner's daughter? God, I can't imagine. I'd love to hear those stories--I'm sure you've got some whoppers.

    Heather B: I cannot believe you make the Orange Potato Salad!? How freaky is that?

  32. Vinegar on warm potatoes- I gotta try that.
    As always a great post and I love the saurkraut and v-8, I could get into that

  33. Since we Belgians have "impacable" food taste (bull testikels anyone or how about some brains on toast, my dad loves those) my family does not have a weird food tradition. Altough my fathers 'calfs brain on toast' does come close. But my family eats dessert (icecream, triffle,...) and pie in the same meal. That is correct, pie is not desert, pie is pie. No family gathering is complete without dessert and pie and woe betide he or she who breaks from the tradition.

  34. If this is an example of one of you "rough" entries, I'm in serious trouble! I smiled, giggled and laughed out loud. My dad was German as well and I totally related to many of those German food oddities. I hate to admit, when I was a kid, I ate raw potato slices with salt (thank you, dad). Never developed a taste for makes me gag to this day.

    As for my Midwest kitchen escapades...I tend to cook by improvisation as well when I'm out of an ingredient or just too lazy to look up a recipe! Haven't had too many complaints to date. :-)

    Thanks for all your wonderful ideas. And for your witty writings to compliment any meal.