Pink Potato Salad
Potato salad is a staple of every summertime gathering, traditional recipes and creative variations competing for attention. I didn't learn to cook until I left the house, relying on a single volume of Betty Crocker to instruct me in the culinary arts.
I tiptoed cautiously through one item at a time, working a recipe over several times to calibrate cooking times, methods and temperatures, ingredients, adaptability to crock-pots, ambient humidity, etc.
Can you tell my dad was an engineer?
Remember Photo-mats? And film? Years passed before I grasped that most finished glossies emerged from an exponential number of outtakes, pictures that never made the cut. Good cooking, too, results from trial and error. I wanted to get to the prizewinning dish via the shortest route so I grabbed my behemoth comprehensive cookbook that every kitchen has like a dictionary or reference book, looked up all the potato salad recipes, reduced the ingredients to common denominators and went to the pantry.
Potatoes. Mayo. Vinegar. Salt. Pepper. Seasonings. These formed the foundation with myriad add-ins and regional preferences. So I went to work. Large potatoes would take an hour to bake, longer to cool, so I sped up the process by boiling cubed spuds, then cooling 15 minutes in the fridge. Hard-boiled eggs at the ready, radishes, celery, onion. For the dressing, 2 tablespoons of prepared relish and mustard added to great scoops of mayo. Vinegar: apple cider seemed appropriate, and I could economically dispose of the tiny bit of plum vinegar left by my Japanese friend at the last potluck. Excavate the large stainless bread bowl and stir.
Something wasn't gelling. Seeking a gourmand's opinion and mouthing my disclaimer about still-warm potatoes melting the mayo while a mere teaspoon or less of plum vinegar tinted the results, I presented the dish to my critic who gazed stunned into the pink liquefied vortex that was the culmination of the afternoon's efforts.
A story I once heard best described my hypersensitivity about cooking – all my endeavors, really. In the days when cooking was the crucial fabric that bound families together at the dinner table, a new bride prepared a simple sheet of cookies for her husband. Burnt. New home, unfamiliar appliance, factors outside her experience. Placating his tearful young wife, the spouse uttered those fateful words: “Oh, don't cry, honey. I like them that way.” Instinctively I recognized the far-reaching implications, for not only was this man now doomed to forever eat burnt cookies, he could never be seen eating unburned ones.
My critic knew this story, and understood his next words could establish a lifetime of generous capitulation or abstention from one of life's simple pleasures. Several seconds stretched into long moments before he spoke. Finally he said, “I've never seen anything like it!”
We collapsed into laughter, delicate feelings assuaged. Actually, the flavor was wonderful but I was the only taster. When I discovered purple potatoes some years later, I prepared those for dinner one evening and he got the first fork-full right up to his open mouth but could go no further.