Last year I spent my birthday in the one place I most wanted to be, where I usually am on my birthday: celebrating our friend Carolyn’s birthday at her birthday party. Carolyn is about five days older than I am, though light years ahead of me in soul and spirit.
Every year when Tim, Carolyn’s husband, invites us to Carolyn’s birthday barbeque, he asks me to bring my “famous” potato salad, which I am happy to do, because I am terrible at making the small decisions in life, such as deciding what to bring to a potluck. Put a Baskin Robbins’ 32 flavors of ice cream menu in front of me, and I become a quivering mass of indecision, yet I seem to have very little trouble making the really big life decisions: “Let’s get married!” “Yes!” “Let’s have a baby!” Yes!” And I routinely volunteer to do very large jobs that I have never done before in my life, at the drop of a hat, all the while thinking: “I can do that! I already know how to do part of it. I’ll figure it out as I go.” I call this my “Sewing the parachute on the way out of the airplane” philosophy. Astonishingly, this usually works just fine, because I never volunteer to do anything that I am not convinced that I can figure out. But the small decisions in life stymie me: “Which ancient outfit from my woefully inadequate wardrobe should I wear to a reception?” I have no idea. “Which entrée should I order?” Maybe the waiter could come back in a year or two when I’ve had time to figure it out. Actually my restaurant indecisiveness has gotten a lot better in the past few years, because I’ve finally figured out that it doesn’t matter whether or not I order exactly the most delicious item on the menu. It’s just one meal; there will be others.
Back to the potato salad: When I pulled the bag of potatoes up off the floor of the spice cabinet, I discovered that there had been a magical transformation. The potatoes had started to sprout and now resembled a very homely flock of sea anemones. (Which made me sadly ponder the fate of sea life in the Gulf of Mexico: surely sea anemones cannot survive the toxic tentacles of spewed oil.) It was that potatoey time of year when even incarcerated potatoes are trying to reach the light, and the ones bedded down in my garden were shooting up so fast that I could barely keep them adequately covered.
Luckily for me, most sprouted potatoes are still perfectly edible, as long as one removes the sprouts. (Green potatoes are the dangerous ones — potatoes, like tomatoes, eggplant, tobacco, and petunias, are in the deadly nightshade family — the green pigment in this plant family is toxic.) So I scrubbed and rinsed, removed the eyes, and then started peeling, and all the potatoes but one were perfectly fine.
Ellen’s “Famous” Potato Salad Recipe
(feeds a bunch of people)
A colander of potatoes (no green ones). Peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces, and then boiled until just barely cooked through.
Half a dozen eggs that were not born yesterday, hardboiled. (Eggs that are still wet behind the ears, as it were, make terrible hard boiled eggs. No matter how long you boil them, really fresh eggs never achieve the lovely, rubbery consistency that is requisite of a hard boiled egg. We learned this the hard way: our lovely fresh eggs are so fresh that we have to set them aside for at least a week in order to make decent hard boiled eggs.)
One medium onion, coarsely diced and then soaked in extremely salty water for several hours. (Peel the onion. Cut off and discard both ends. Dice coarsely. Put in a bowl just big enough to hold the pieces, pour a tablespoon of salt over the onion, cover with cold water, then put a lid on the bowl and refrigerate for several hours.) The salt soak removes the sting from the onions, so that once they are rinsed, they are sweet and lie easy on the stomach.
A couple of dill pickles or a couple dozen pickled dilly beans
Fresh dill and/or cilantro, chopped (if this is a winter potato salad, use dried dill)
A cup of mayonnaise
Garlic powder, or fresh garlic cloves, squeezed
Freshly ground black pepper
Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or seasoned salt
Mix the mayonnaise with curry powder, cumin, paprika, garlic, freshly ground black pepper and soy sauce or seasoned salt, to taste.
Coarsely chop the hard boiled eggs and the pickles.
Use a strainer to drain the water out of the soaked, chopped onion, and rinse very thoroughly, to remove the excess salt.
Chop the dill and cilantro.
Stir the chopped eggs, pickles, dill, cilantro, and rinsed chopped onion into the cooked potatoes. Add the mayonnaise and stir in gently. Serve.
Photo by Ellen Sandbeck