Anniversary Potato Salad

A number of years ago today—I’d have to go into witness protection if I gave the actual number—my mother and aunt arrived in New York City from Jamaica.  They were 11 and 9 years old and had been separated from their parents and brother for four years.  My grandparents left one island where the sun actually provided warmth for another one where the few rays of sun were deceptive.  My grandmother left first, going to Canada and then coming into the United States where she found work in the Garment District and set up a small approximation of the life they’d had in pre-independence Kingston.  My grandfather and uncle followed, and I imagine that the rationale for leaving my mother and aunt behind was that it was easier to start a life in a new place with only one child instead of three.  I have been told this story for as long as I can remember. 

Every year on this day, either my mother or aunt would call the other and wish each other happy anniversary.  Then they would reminisce about how it was so cold, a sensation they couldn’t possibly have ever imagined, and how a few days later it snowed, just little flakes, but enough to make them stop whatever they were doing to watch this magic falling from the sky.  They’d talk about how the American accents sounded so odd to their ears—so flat—but how they were the ones who got teased for their lilting British voices.  The phone call always ended with memories of their first Thanksgiving, just a week after they arrived, with friends who lived in the same building.  First they were served Velveeta and Ritz crackers (imagine never having had American cheese and your first introduction being Velveeta!) and then the turkey and stuffing and ham and the thing my mother remembers most, potato salad with mayonnaise.  As she tells it, the white potatoes (which they’d also never had) were completely overwhelmed by heavy mayonnaise and it was cold and unfamiliar and just so not good.  The texture and the temperature and the very idea of mayonnaise were more than she could handle, and to this day she will make a face when she thinks of it.  Again, I’ve been told these stories for as long as I can remember. 

This is the first year that my aunt will not be here so that my mother can wish her a happy anniversary.  It is the second that my uncle is not here to chime in with what little he may have remembered about his two older sisters on this day.  It has been more than a decade since my grandparents told their version of the story.  Even though they were separated for years, the five of them stayed a family and were finally brought together many years ago today and remained together from that moment on.  There was so much between then and now, more than I’ll ever know, about struggles and fear and being strangers in a strange place where everything was new and sometimes not so shiny.  But I know that they were happy to be together, that they were happy to be here in this country where they made the best of every day, that they loved to dance and laugh and taste new foods (even things like mayonnaise), and that their story—which has become mine—is one of the best stories I’ve ever been told…

 Mustard Potato Salad With Capers (Happy Anniversary, Mom!)

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Three Steps to the Best Sandwich Ever

img_0405It’s late January, the high temperature here in Wisconsin today is twelve, and you know what? I am sick of hearty soups and stews and roasts. I just want a little reminder that summer exists, that vegetables do actually grow in the (unfrozen) ground, and that one day, I might eat a light meal and go for a walk in a T-shirt. It is times like these that call for roasted red peppers.

I loved roasted red peppers. They are always fresh and bright and ready to perk up any dish with a robust smack of flavor. You can buy peppers already roasted and packed in oil, but I prefer to roast batches of them myself and keep them in jars in the fridge. They won’t go bad, or at least, I have never had a jar of them around long enough to find out. They are the perfect addition to any sandwich, but they are also great in starring roles.

So without further ado, here is step one to the best sandwich ever.

Step 1 or How to Roast Peppers

  • Preheat oven to 450.
  • De-stem and core red peppers (however many you like).
  • Place them directly on the lowest oven rack. (Their juices might drip a little, but so what?)
  • After about 15 minutes, turn.
  • Roast and turn until burnt black on all sides.
  • Place in a plastic bag and tie the bag tight.
  • Wait until cool and then peel the charred skins off.
  • Store in a glass jar in the fridge in their own oil.

Now that you have roasted all these peppers, what do you do with them? One of the many ways I use them is to make a salad of sorts and serve them as an appetizer or side dish. The recipe I use in Step 2 is my recreation of an amazing antipasto I had recently on a vacation in Italy.

Step 2 or Roasted Red Peppers and Capers Salad

  • Cut four roasted red peppers into strips and arrange on a plate.
  • Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of capers (preferably packed in salt, but any will do), the juice of half a lemon, chopped parsley, oregano (preferably fresh, but dried is fine) salt, pepper, and the highest quality olive oil you have.
  • Enjoy.

Step 3 or Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwich (aka the Best Sandwich Ever)
If you and your guests can help yourselves, you may have some Step 2 leftovers hanging out in your fridge. Don’t fret, because they are the key ingredient to the Best Sandwich ever, a sandwich so good it will make you remember gentle summer breezes, weep tears of joy, and go dust off your sandals. Well, almost.

  • Take two slices of fresh, crusty Italian bread.
  • Spread one side with goat cheese.
  • Place Step 2 on top.
  • Garnish with alfalfa sprouts.
  • Voila!

If ever there were a sandwich good enough to lure Persephone back to earth early, it would be this one.

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