Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

He Wants To Lasso The Moon For Us

He gets excited to the point of anxiety. Much of the angst is wrapped up in a child-like enthusiasm, a wish to make everything fairy-tale perfect. He is my Sir Galahad. He wants me to be happy. Happy with him, happy with us, happy with life in general.

Some of it is tied into social mores. He comes from a family whose Black Forest roots dig deep in soil that is perfectly primed-- the ph is balanced, it is watered regularly, the sun shines and the rain falls at all the appropriate times with a clock-like precision. By cocktail hour everyday, all the white picket fences are mended and painted where he grew up in New Jersey.

Holiday cards are sent by December 5th. Mayonnaise is never added to Nana Ost's German potato salad on Independence Day, though it's permissible at other times. Apple pies are cooked in Pyrex dishes. Being late was the height of rudeness. Guests showed up at least an hour before the appointed time to family gatherings to both show their excitement and to assist the host or hostess.

I remember the Easter when my poor mother-in-law was apoplectic because we were about to arrive for dinner at her sister's home at noon:

"But, Ruth, Evelyn told us to show up at about 12. It's five minutes to."

"That's right. We're late."

was all she said. Letting an exasperated breath burst into the atmosphere. I looked at my husband quizzically, he said nothing. Sure enough when we arrived bearing Ruth's signature New York cheesecake, the entire clan had been there since 11. We were, in fact, late.

His family's rules are implicit, created organically, everyone accedes to them. Success is measured by the adherence to a tradition that follows well-established norms. Boundary lines are rarely crossed without a passport.

I come from a family in the concrete jungles of East Harlem; showing up on time was considered rude because you knew no one was going to be ready. We considered the day a triumph if the ambulance or police didn't show up to cart one of us away. Ours was a family held together by Crazy Glue, Bacardi and tears.

We had rituals, of course, and shared a communal love for my abuelita's sacred dishes: her pernil asado with the exquisite crackling skin that we all fought for, her perfect long-grained rice which she turned into luxurious variations of a theme with savory additions of gandules, olives, capers, Vienna sausage, chicken or shrimp and achiote. My abuelita kept her annato seeds oven-warm, steeped in the finest Spanish olive oil we could afford - her pilon always ready to saturate taste buds with the fine pastes she created from the crushing of seeds and aromatics.  Her pasteles (which sadly  I never ate because I was a ridiculously spoiled picky child) were legendary, but I tried to help her make them many a holiday- grinding as much skin as green banana in the process. I can still feel that grater against my knuckles on certain nights, when the stars are right.  Only she knew her recipes. Unlike, my husband's grandmother, she never shared hers. She didn't have any. There were no index cards scribed with careful instructions. She didn't cook, she enchanted food into being. She was an alchemist.

This difference in family culture sometimes creates friction between my husband and me. I just can't start packing 3 weeks before vacation. Not even when I know I will see my first moose, or lie beneath the canopy of stars that my husband promises will delight me, but can never be as bright as my eyes when I finally gaze up at the sky on my first Montana night.

"You know it's only three and half weeks away." , he sings out to me for the 7th time this week as I'm wrestling with a leg of lamb that I'm convinced refuses to acknowledge it's been slaughtered. I take a deep breath, swallow three Hail Marys and four Holy Bes and say with feigned patience, "Sweetie, relax. You know I don't care what I wear so long as you're there. I'll be packed before it's time to board the plane. PROMISE!"

Pleased with my response, he misses the irony in his own words as he discusses how imperative it is for me to get the new Golf Pride Black Widow club grips before the trip.

Nana Ost's Warm German Potato Salad

Kartoffelsalat (which translates simply to potato salad) has its origins in Southern Germany where my husband's maternal grandparents sailed to the United States from during the '30s to escape the Third Reich. They landed in Brooklyn. They left all their worldly goods behind, all their possessions seized by the government, except for the thing that no tyrannical madman can take away from anyone - your love and memories of a treasured homeland's culture...

No mayonnaise is used here. Nana Ost thought mayonnaise was an atrocity when mixed with potato. The first time I tasted it at one of the "Cousin's Picnics" my husband's family have every August was when she waived me over to the oven with a hushed, "No... no... eat THIS. Not THAT!" as she saw me about to help myself to a dish of traditional cold American potato salad that had been laid out on the dining table. "This is the good stuff.", and she ladled it on to my plate with great care. Then she quietly explained how to use bacon, hot bacon fat, sauteed onions, and vinegar with bits of mustard seed and a sprinkle of fresh minced dill. "They all like to eat the other kind now. Terrible!"

This is an elegant dish to serve with any meal.


4 whole medium round red or white potatoes ( about1 1/3 lb)
3 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
(I am loving Himalayan rose salt, these days, though I am not a salt fan)
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed (or one teaspoon of Dijon-style mustard)
Freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup white or cider vinegar (I love using Chinese rice vinegar for this)

fresh minced dill or parsley (optional)
  •  Place the whole  potatoes in 3-quart saucepan; add just enough water just to cover potatoes. Cover; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low. Cook covered 30 to 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender; drain. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Leave the skins on. 
  •  In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
  • Cook onion in bacon fat in skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender. Stir in salt, mustard seed and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat.
  •  Stir stock and vinegar into onion mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute til reduced by a 1/3; remove from heat.
  •  Stir in potatoes and bacon and dill (or parsley). Heat over medium heat, stirring gently to coat potato slices, until hot and bubbly. Serve warm.

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