Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th Musings on Potato Salad

It's the 4th of July, and I made potato salad.

I will be the first to admit-- and openly declare-- that I loathe most potato salads. Especially the "bland white" kind found at so many BBQs and picnics... which-- to my way of thinking-- amounts to little more than tasteless, mayo-infused mashed potatoes with a hint of pickle-juice flavoring.

No disrespect to anyone who likes the stuff. I just don't.

In my world, potato salad is supposed to taste of something.

It is supposed to be able to stand alone, and hold its own against spicy, tangy, heavy and deliciously flavorful BBQ.

Don't get me started on flavorless BBQ, either...

I grew up with potato salad in Denmark. My mom's was bland as F%$#!* and I didn't like it. However, my Aunt Ulla's was stellar, robustly flavored and based on a substance known in the family as "Dad's Lobster Sauce."

"Dad," in this case was my grandfather; my aunt's father.

I'm not sure there was ever an official recipe for "Dad's Lobster Sauce;" my impression has always been that it was created through some delicate blend of genetic inheritance and alchemy... my aunt would make fairly large batches of it, bottle it and distribute bottles of it to family members who seemed worthy of possessing the sacred drops. The rest she kept and used for flavoring in a wide range of hot and cold dishes, dressings, sauces and other things.

Oddly enough, my own father didn't much like it. "Tastes too Danish," he'd say, and turn his nose up.

But I digress.

The point is that "Dad's Lobster Sauce" packed an explosion of intense flavor, and I loathe bland potato salad.

Absent "Dad's Lobster Sauce," I spent some 8-10 years coming up with a potato salad that was some reasonable facsimile of what I grew up with. Much of this experimentation took place after I'd left Denmark; at least half of it after I'd moved to Texas.

In spite of occasionally battling performance anxiety, I have made my potato salad in front of dozens of people, for dozens of festive occasions. Dozens of same people have been outraged and baffled by the ingredients I use... and have let me known in no uncertain terms:

"Potato salad isn't supposed to be pink!"

"Where is the celery? Where are the mustard seeds?"

"Eeewww! You can't put YOGURT in potato salad!"

"OMG! You're putting cocktail sauce in it? Curry?"

The exclamations have been many and varied... as have the facial expressions and wrinkling of noses. As a concession to popular demand, I eventually agreed to add eggs... even though there were never eggs in potato salad, when I grew up. Eggs were for egg salad. But I kinda like them in there...

Of course, the point of this story is that 90% of the skeptics have been very surprised, once they tasted the finished product... often inspiring statements such as "Wow... I'm surprised-- this actually tasted REALLY good" and even "Will you make a huge batch of this for my next BBQ party?"

I once made a batch for 150+ people. I thought I'd made a lot. There was not even a tiny scrap left over.

I suppose the bottom line here-- which I also take to heart, myself-- is that just because something is nothing like what you're familiar with doesn't mean you won't like it.

Happy Birthday, America!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Home Thoughts From Abroad, Part X: Reprise

It was raining a little, as we got ready to leave Denmark.

It was also raining when we arrived, and such is the way of the Danish summer. I remember a local joke from when I was little... the Dane who shrugs and tells the tourist who's complaining about the weather "Well... summer fell on a Tuesday, this year."

I came to realize-- during this visit-- why I moved to Western Washington, and why the relative gray coolness and rain of the greater Seattle area doesn't bother me; it is very much like "Denmark with mountains." In some way, this corner of the US feels like "home," at least in the physical sense of the word. The light is the right "color" here. The trees and plants look and smell right. There is water and islands everywhere. There is a (hard to describe) "gentleness" of the land and people here that I have not found elsewhere in the US.

In Denmark, we have a saying that goes "Øst, vest, hjemme bedst."

Literally translated, it means "East, west... home is best," and is ultimately a commentary on travel, and how we find rest in the place we feel is our home.

I am a global nomad-- I was raised and have lived all over the world. As such, I have an easy time settling, wherever I am. Doesn't mean I feel at home there, just that I can easily adapt and fit in. France, Spain, Kenya, Texas...

What is "home," though?

Perhaps it is a state of mind, not a place. Perhaps it is only "a place" to the degree that a series of small vignettes of life; little slices of good times in different places-- make them feel like home. My aunt's house in Denmark (where we stayed) feels like "home," but only to a degree... since she is no longer there; only the memories of her there linger. Denmark feels like "home" when I eat certain foods there. Spain feels like home when I walk on certain beaches and see snow on the coastal mountains.

Port Townsend, Washington is now home. But it's only home to the extent that I choose to embrace it as such... not because I lived there in my youth, nor because I moved there, nor because it's a really cool place, nor because Sarah and I now own house there, together.

"Home," is-- in some way-- a fleeting feeling, or perhaps a series of brief moments in which the chaos of life arranges itself in such a way that we feel like-- in that moment-- we are connected to something, and belong. In my case, I now know that it is deeply a reflection of whom I am sharing those moments with, and the places themselves serve more as a kind of window dressing that makes everything crisper; more in focus; more beautiful.

As I consider that, maybe it could be said that home is Love, and Love is home... if you have found the right person to share your moments with.

In end, perhaps that's the key.

Our quest to find "home" reflects our desire to feel deeply connected to something/someone outside ourselves... someone (or something) that allows-- even if just for a moment-- to feel like we "belong."

I have that sense of belonging, and I feel blessed that she is in my life.

And that... makes me feel home...