We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grandma Elsie's Delicious Whole Wheat Pancakes

by Michelle

"We follow in the steps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken." ~Midnight Oil

   Many of my early memories about food are connected to my grandmothers. Of the two, my dad’s mom, whom we called Grandma Elsie was the superior cook, although I was recently corrected on that matter. To write about the past makes me realize just how unreliable memories can be. I started a new blog post a few weeks ago that went like this:
   “Both of our grandmother's were terrific cooks with polar opposite styles. Two prominent women in our gene pool could not be more different, and both have left indelible impressions upon us on how we cook and live our lives.
   Our dad's mother, Grandma Elsie was the queen of her kitchen domain (and probably everything else for that matter) easily turning out country delights: fried chicken, biscuits, pies, ice creams, you name it. On one notable occasion, our cousin Larry ate so much that he actually cried from being too full.
   Grandma Elsie worked her magic in the tiniest of kitchens in a house "built" during the depression by placing two railroad boxcars together, adding a roof and veneering the outside to resemble a typical residential house in Yucaipa, California. Grandma could also produce fantastic meals on a large scale. She directed the volunteer staff at her church's kitchen where she and her friends turned out amazing congregational dinners and meals for fundraising purposes.
   Grandma Elsie was not only a wonder in the kitchen, but she also sewed beautifully and had a green thumb. She made almost all of her own clothes, outfitted her best friend, Harriet, and sewed extensively for our cousins with a few special things for us, too. She dressed plainly and I do not remember her ever applying makeup.
   As children, we sisters were all rather intimidated by Grandma Elsie. I remember finding an old black and white photo of a couple obviously enjoying each other’s company - arms around each other, wide smiles, faces radiating happiness. I immediately recognized the man as my Grandpa. The woman, who I was not entirely sure was my Grandma, wore a drop-waist flapper dress and one heel kicked away as if she had just leapt in joy. Mom confirmed that the effervescent woman in the aging photo was indeed Grandma. By her demeanor as an elderly woman, I could not fathom that Grandma once upon a time had been that happy... ever!

   A family friend once commented on how Grandma loved to dance when she was young. I had to clarify, my Grandmother? Yes, YOUR Grandmother. After all these years, I still can’t quite believe Grandma danced anywhere, at any age. I recall her regularly watching The 700 Club and Lawrence Welk, attending church and not allowing appetizers before dinner. Mom would keep crackers in the car, so if we were dying from hunger we could sneak out of the house for a snack. Grandma would have flipped her wig if she had discovered us. When we finally sat down to dinner, we gorged ourselves to the point of being stuffed, and then we would try to beat each other to the couch so we could lie down and unbutton our pants for a little relief. The looming threat of further discomfort never stopped us from eating dessert.
   Grandma’s vegetable garden was lovely, lined with a “wall” of sweet peas, green beans climbed poles, sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, varieties of squash (among other vegetables), and plants like aloe to relieve burns and skin problems. The neighbors had a peach orchard and in season, Grandma loved to make peach ice cream. Grandma traded vegetables for eggs with another neighbor. They all helped take care of each other during the hardest of times.”
   When I sent the post to my mom, dad and sisters to check the facts, I found out that I had some wrong. Mom wrote, “As a child I was not that fond of my mother’s cooking. Most of her dishes you never had at our house. I was glad to leave them behind. I had no weight problems in those days. Everything Grandma Elsie made was DELICIOUS.”
   Mom continued with the corrections: “Grandma catered all of the Woman’s Club Luncheons for years in Yucaipa. Her reputation was noted to Nana when I first started seeing your dad. Actually Grandma Elsie and Grandpa Charlie were not active in church until he was retired and able to attend with her. I imagine she did cook for church affairs, but her fame was the Woman's Club of Yucaipa.”

   Corrections number three, from my dad, “No doubt Mom was crabby in her later years, but I believe the change in personality was directly related to diabetes and chronic neck stiffness and pain and frayed nerves. My guess is that if you polled your cousins, you would get a different slant on the subject because when they were kids, Mom was younger and didn't have as many problems.”
   Dad added some of his own memories: “You were born after we left Yucaipa, so you wouldn't remember many of the frequent summer dinners in the yard at Mom's house in the evening. I'm sure Juliette and Linda remember them well. Tomatoes and corn, beans, hamburgers, tacos, cucumbers, etc. and of course the homemade ice cream. Makes me salivate just thinking about it. Don't know whether you know this or not, but my mom loved breaded eggplant and she grew those as well.
   At the time I was growing up, I didn't know any different so I took what my mom did for granted. Looking back on it from a totally different perspective, I honestly don't know how she did it. Tiny kitchen, one refrigerator, and no freezer (although they did add a large freezer when I was probably 12 or so)."
   And this from my sister, Juliette: “I would like to say that I never felt intimidated by Elsie. Perhaps it is because this apple did not fall far from that particular tree. That is increasingly clear as time goes by. In my youth - when I was in trouble (and I was in trouble a lot of the time), I comforted myself by imagining I was adopted. No one understood me, and why would they - there was surely a mix up at Kaiser Steel Hospital, and I had been bundled home with the wrong family.
   But in hindsight it would seem that the Smith blood runs true blue in my veins. I have realized that for at least the past three decades, and each passing year I feel a bit more "Elsiefied". Always, when I have been taxed beyond my already short fuse, I channel Elsie. When the angry or impatient words are spewing out of my mouth, I can hear her voice and mine meld. Elsie wouldn't have used the "F Word" like I do (with reckless abandon), but the tone and message are the same. I get you Elsie, and I get you more with each passing day.

   Grandma Elsie was always fair, extraordinarily skilled in gardening, cooking, and sewing. All things I admired, or was at least interested in. I did not enjoy wearing her dresses. Beautiful yes, but they were scratchy and uncomfortable to wear. Compounded by the fact that I have never been a "frilly" kind of girl, and do not prefer lace & tulle in the garment department. Fortunately I did not spend more than a couple of days a year in them, but I remember complaining the entire time.
   I found it interesting that you made no mention of the Hollyhocks and Snapdragons that were abundant in her garden. I would spend hours wandering among the Hollyhocks that towered over my head, and break the seed pods open to inspect the spool of black seeds wound tightly inside. I would often hold a orange snapdragon blossom in one hand and a yellow in the other and mime long conversations between them - I can't remember what was said, or took place entirely in my imagination, but I know it made me happy, and kept me occupied for hours.
   I have Hollyhocks in my yard. Right this moment. They are tough. They have to be. Between my neglect and the arid environment, you've got to be a tough cookie to bloom in Bisbee! But bloom they do, and in towering splendor. Each fall, I break the seed pods off, and peel them open one by one, just like I did in Yucaipa many, many years ago. I think about Elsie as I scatter them in the yard.
   I have a bowl of Elsie's. It is a wide and shallow fiberglassish (yes I'm making words up!) pale and translucent bowl, with dried flowers embedded in it. Bowls are not given their due respect in my household, and serve many functions; mixing papier mache, thinning paint, storing sourdough starter, pet feeding, sorting of seeds, shells, beads, and scrabble pieces. Not limited to, and not necessarily in that order. If you've ever eaten at my house - I apologize! I do wash things with very hot water and soap!

   This particular bowl only has one function, and that is the serving of family recipes. This bowl is sacred to me, and given by my mother when I moved to Bisbee. I figure it has about the same expiration date as I do - it has seen many years of duty, without the added weight of sin and regret, so perhaps it will fare better in the long run.
   The thought of future generations eating out of that bowl gives me hope. So I treat is as a treasured family heirloom, a relic, only to be employed in the serving of heritage comfort foods: Three bean salad, macaroni salad, and the most popular of all... potato salad. I also use it to rest the pulled beater out of the lemon ice cream, and watch the kids scoop the remnants off of it and into their mouths with sheer delight just like I did with my sisters and cousins long ago.
   Elsie taught me many things. When I was 11 or 12 she taught me to sew. She taught without tears or judgment. I remember making my own dresses in high school, and Linda and I sewing up my maternity clothes when I was pregnant with Paul (my eldest), thanks to Elsie's expert instruction. She taught me to serve dinner at least an hour late. When you are ravenous, anything coming out of the kitchen that is good or better will taste like the best thing you ever ate!
   I learned that there is not much better in life than a bowl of frosty lemon ice cream, eaten in a microscopic box-car of a kitchen, with your Grandmother in a cotton house dress with her remaining wisps of silver hair blowing in the breeze of the huge wall fan in the bedroom on a hot summer afternoon.
   She taught me the art of the TV tray. Many evenings spent dining with our black and gold trays in front of the T.V. with Lawrence Welk, Hee Haw, or the evening news. The food was great, the 7-up or Root Beer floats even better, but the TV selection sucked! The sheer novelty of watching TV was the saving grace for me. I still get the horrid shiver down my spine when I happen across re-runs of those shows while desperately seeking entertainment on random evenings with my remote in hand! It also makes me crave a Root Beer float!
   She taught me how to set a good table. Joyful and full of food. Her dishes didn't match (at least that is my recollection), brightly colored tablecloths, lanterns glowing in the tree branches, and a longggggg table set with the promise of food. Lots of food! The hum of the ice cream maker and the laughter of the family while we waited anxiously for the food to be served is embedded in my DNA. Well, that is all I have to say about that. For now.”

Grandma's Delicious Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries

   Remberance from Linda, "One of my favorite memories of Grandma Elsie is of her cooking blueberry pancakes in an electric skillet set on a TV tray in the kitchen while we all sat around the little formica table. I remember that she beat the egg whites separately for her batter, which made the pancakes lighter. The pancakes for our family recipe are made entirely with whole wheat flour, but you would never know because they are light and fluffy."
   The pancakes are especially delicious slathered with real butter, drizzled with maple syrup and served with Oven Fried Bacon on the side.

3 large eggs, separated
3 Tbsps sugar
3 cups buttermilk
6 Tbsps oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsps baking soda
1 package frozen blueberries

Blend egg yolks and then add liquid ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into batter. Thin with additional buttermilk, if necessary. Serves 6.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thai Spicy BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili Sauce

by Michelle

   Thai cuisine is so prevalent that it seems as if it has always been part of the American gastronomic landscape. It is hard to believe that once upon a time, say back in the late eighties, there were few Thai restaurants and even fewer publications dedicated to exploring the vivid flavors of Thai cuisine.
   I was twenty years old the first time I stepped into a Thai restaurant, The Pink Pepper, in Phoenix. I grew up eating Mexican food so I was no stranger to chiles and garlic. Thai food incorporated those aromatics plus ginger, lemon grass, fish sauce and lime juice building a full-spectrum flavor bridge to a mouthful of sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. One bite, that's all it took, and I was hooked - for life.  
   Although I have always enjoyed cooking, Thai food seemed like restaurant food to me. Great to have out on a Friday night but too difficult to make at home. That is until Linda discovered celebrity chef Tommy Tang in the early 90s at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. Tommy was there providing an animated cooking demonstration and promoting his new cookbook.

   Tommy Tang arrived in America from Thailand in 1972. Ten years later he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles and then followed-up with a second location in New York. He came out with his own line of seasonings and marinades. Later Tommy had a cooking show on PBS. Tommy Tang's Modern Thai Cuisine cookbook has sold more than 100,000 copies. He rode the wave of success by giving his Thai food a decidedly western twist. Some have even gone so far as to call it California Thai. I call it tasty.
   The first time I tasted this dish, Linda made it for my husband and me. We thought it was the best thing ever. Still do. I immediately bought Tommy's book. In it he writes that it is one of his most requested recipes. I bet. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it would be next to impossible to deconstruct the recipe without his help. Since I have not been able to tell him in person, I will write it here: Thank you, Tommy. The world is certainly a better place when I share Thai Spicy BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili Sauce with my family and friends.
    For best results, the chicken should rest in the marinade overnight in the refrigerator. I've even let it go two days. My friend Victoria, who lives in Greece, can attest that we even let it go three days (quite unintentionally). It cooked up just fine although it had a distinct green color, which was kind of strange. We called it neon chicken as an inside joke for quite some time.
   To use Tommy's slogan, "Let's get cooking."

Thai Spicy BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili Sauce

   This is one of our favorite entrees served with Pineapple Fried Rice and Asian Slaw. The recipe is adapted from "Tommy Tang's® Modern Thai Cuisine" by Tommy Tang (Doubleday, 1991). Leftover chicken, if there is any, is terrific on Thai Pizza or transformed into a kind of Thai Chef Salad with Dragon Noodles and Ma-La Green Beans decoratively sprawled over fresh greens with mango and avocado.

Two 13.66-fl. oz. cans coconut milk, preferably Thai Kitchen®
1 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup ginger, unpeeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce, preferably Thai Kitchen®
1/4 cup curry powder
2 Tbsps black pepper
2 Tbsps white pepper
2 Tbsps granulated sugar
1 Tbsp tumeric
6-8 pounds of chicken: whole and halved, or pieces (breasts or thighs)

Sweet Chili Sauce:
1 cup water
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Sweet Ginger Chili Dip, preferably The Ginger People®
2 Tbsps tamarind paste
2 Tbsps fish sauce, preferably Thai Kitchen®
2 Tbsps lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsps tomato paste
2 tsps garlic, finely minced
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp roasted red chili paste, preferably Thai Kitchen®
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp all-purpose flour mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

1. For the Marinade: In a food processor, using the steel blade, turn machine on and drop the garlic and ginger through the feed tube and let machine run until finely minced. Scrape sides of bowl and add coconut milk, olive oil, fish sauce, curry powder, black and white peppers, sugar and tumeric. Pulse to combine.
2. For the Chicken: Remove fat from chicken and place chicken pieces in a large bowl, add marinade mixture and combine well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3. For the Sauce: In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients from the water through the flour, and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking. Reduce heat to low and simmer 4 minutes. Let cool. Serve at room temperature.

4. Final preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare charcoal grill. When the coals are ready, cook the chicken for about 25 minutes, turning as required. When the chicken has nice grill marks and looks to be about half done, remove to half-sheet trays lined with foil and coated with non-stick spray. Drizzle additional marinade over the chicken and bake in the oven until done, about another 25-30 minutes, rotating trays as necessary for even baking.
5. To serve: Transfer chicken to warmed serving platter. Drizzle with Sweet Chili Sauce and pass more at the table.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ode to Los Olivos and the Secrets of Linda's Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Linda

   Once upon a time, I baked professionally. One of the places that I baked for a living was in the small and charming town of Los Olivos, California, recognized for its fine vineyards and Western Art Galleries. For a few years, I was known as the "Pastry Chef" at the The Los Olivos Grand Hotel even though I have no formal culinary training (however, you should see my extensive cookbook collection - quite an education in and of itself).
   I baked from scratch all bread for the hotel (every single slice of toast and sandwich bread), muffins, hamburger buns and a full array of dinner breads. In addition I was given complete freedom by the chef, Linda (Linny) Largent Mayer who had come to the hotel having formerly been a chef at Cal-a-Vie Spa in San Diego, to create the seasonal desserts featured each week on the dining room menu. It was in this venue I created many of the recipes you will see from me on future posts.
   The Los Olivos Grand Hotel was purchased by Fess Parker in 1998, and is now Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn and Spa. I had the great pleasure of making the aquaintance of Fess Parker and his lovely wife Marcy, when they asked to meet the pastry chef one evening when they were dining at the hotel. They were regular patrons of Remington's, the hotel restaurant, and I was thrilled to learn that they were fans of my creations. Of course, I had no idea at the time that a few years later they would buy the hotel. By the time that came to pass, I had moved on, as bakers and cooks often do. (Hmmm...do I stay home and bake, or live in Florence, Italy for the summer to study The Renaissance?) Italy won and that's another story.

From the left: Joshua, Linda and Jordan during the holidays in 
Los Olivos in December of 2005.
   The town of Los Olivos was made famous by the movie Sideways in 2004, just a couple years after I had moved from the Santa Ynez Valley and made my new home in the San Francisco Bay area. When Michelle and I talked about writing a post on Chocolate Chip Cookies, I was flooded with warm memories of my days spent baking at The Los Olivos Grand Hotel, because that is where I perfected my recipe.
   The cookies were a favorite of just about everyone who tried them, including the actor, James Garner, who used to call ahead when he and his wife were on their way north to stay at the hotel for the weekend, wanting to make sure that Linda's Chocolate Chip Cookies were on the menu that day.
   Over the years I made countless dozens of them for business meetings and to serve on large silver platters on dessert buffet tables. The cookies were also a huge hit at Los Olivos Day In The Country, where we sold the cookies wrapped two to a package, stacked up on large tables on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. This was the enterprising way we earned extra money for the staff Christmas party.
   Los Olivos will always be one of my favorite places on the planet. Not only because of its natural beauty but for reasons more sentimental and dear to my heart. When in town, we always love to have a meal at the now famous Los Olivos Cafe, featured in Sideways. For me though, the Los Olivos Cafe will always be the place of cherished memories with family and friends, where we have shared delicious meals on many occasions, ordinary and special. When my identical twin sons Jordan and Joshua, graduated from Santa Ynez High School, we continued our celebration there over dinner. It is also the place where I met my son Joshua's girlfriend, Rachel for the first time, who later became his wife.

    If you are planning a visit, Andrew Murray has a tasting room on Grand Avenue, and both Michelle and I are huge fans of the gorgeous wines that he makes. Hands down though, our favorite place for dinner, was the now defunct Masami. Cantankerous Chef Max made the best Pollo Parmigiana that we have ever tasted. There was one particular evening when Michelle, Richard and I coincidently crossed paths with David Crosby, Noah Wyle and wives at the door. David Crosby was so gracious and good natured, greeting us as with a smile at the door, holding it open for us to enter as if he was a doorman. I bet, based upon his engaging demeanor, he was a wonderful dinner companion.
   As Los Olivos grew, J. Woeste was a very happy addition to the community because of my love of gardening. It is a great little nursery, a new incarnation for a heritage home and extensive yard, filled with a tantalizing array of plants, statuary and fountains. Panino moved in on the main corner in town and is a good place to grab a gourmet sandwich.
   Even if Los Olivos has grown from the sleeply little town that resembles Mayberry RFD (the primary filming location of the reunion movie filmed in 1986), the flavor has stayed true to it's early western roots. Mattei's Tavern, now the Brothers' Restaurant, was a stage coach stop in the late 1800s. There still are no stop lights. The flag pole (which doubles as a Christmas tree during the holidays) with the American flag waving in the breeze, is located in the middle of the main intersection and is a sight that continues to warm my heart. But I digress, back to the basics of baking a great chocolate chip cookie.

Secret #1: "Activate" the baking soda called for in a recipe to create superior results in cookies, cakes and just about whatever you are baking. In a shot glass or smallest measuring cup, stir together the baking soda and a touch of warm water until emulsified. If the recipe calls for vanilla, add it along with the warm water. Add the "activated" baking soda to the other wet ingredients and proceed with your recipe. Also, make sure that your leavenings - both baking soda and baking powder - are fresh, if you only bake every now and then.
   My brother-in-law Jay will attest to the success of the activation method. On particularly raucous Thanksgiving (I recall Michelle and I having been a little tipsy on the Kir Royals we were sipping in the kitchen while preparing the feast), I transformed his mother's holiday Carrot Ring into a Carrot Soufflé. It became a fluffy masterpiece with the addition of this simple trick. Jay's mother was quite surprised at the transformation of her holiday standard. Joan's eyes grew very large and she exclaimed, "Oh my." Much giggling erupted from the cooks.
   In the same way, I used this technique on the Italian Cream Cake, a recipe given to me by Michelle's best friend to bake for her 40th birthday bash. It was a much different cake than the family was accustomed to, and they were very pleased with the result.
Secret #2: Make sure that your dough has enough flour in it. The finished dough should be rather stiff and hold its shape. I form my cookies with a scoop and then slightly depress the top.
Secret #3: Let your dough sit covered for at least 20 minutes before baking.
Secret #4: Bake the scooped cookie dough on lightly greased parchment paper. We like the Silicone Coated Unbleached Parchment baking paper made by IF YOU CARE®. It is environmentally safe and non-toxic. Parchment can be saved and reused, as needed for cookie sheets and cake pans. The unbleached parchment is a pleasing antique taupe in color, a rustic and natural looking emblishment in tins packed with candies, cookies or sweets.
Secret #5: (All children seem to be born knowing this) eating the dough just might be the best part.

Maddie loves cookie dough.
    On a final note, don't be afraid to make a big batch, although this recipe can certainly by halved. We take the extra cookies and freeze them in wrapped packets of two, the same day that they are baked. We put the individual packets in a Ziploc bag and then in the freezer. When we want "freshly made" cookies, we put the unwrapped and frozen cookies straight onto the rack of our toaster oven for 2-3 minutes at 350 degrees. Voilà... you have cookies that taste like they were just baked with the chocolate chips all melty and gooey. The frozen cookies are also great to pop into a lunch. They will be thawed and ready to eat at lunch time.

Linda's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Use a #24 scoop (1-1/3 ounces) to portion dough.

6 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups salted butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 tsps baking soda
4 tsps vanilla
4 cups chocolate chips
3 cups chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Arrange two oven racks so one sits in the lower third of the oven and the other in the upper third. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line four baking sheets with parchment; lightly grease.
2. Blend flour and baking powder together in a bowl; set aside. In a mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together very well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Dissolve baking soda in vanilla with a little hot water then stir in vanilla. Beat into butter-sugar-egg mixture. Gradually beat in the reserved flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

3. With a scoop, portion cookies, six to a sheet. Slightly depress the dough with your hand to flatten the tops.
4. Put first cookie sheet in oven on the bottom rack, after six minutes, move sheet to the top rack. Immediately slide the second sheet of cookies on to the bottom rack. After six minutes, check cookies on the top shelf - they should be done. Remove from oven; let cookies sit a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
5. Immediately place the second sheet on top rack and slide the third sheet on to the bottom rack. After six minutes, check cookies on top shelf - they should be done. Remove from oven and let cookies sit a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cook completely.

6. Immediately place third sheet on top rack and slide the fourth sheet on to bottom rack. After six minutes, check cookies on the top rack - they should be done. Remove from oven and let cookies sit a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cook completely.
7. Repeat process, rotating the four pans until all the dough is baked into cookies.
8. Once all the cookies are cooled, you can package the cookies in bundles of two using clear wrap. Transfer the bundles to Ziploc gallon freezer bags and store in the freezer up to two months.
9. To thaw, simply transfer bundles to lunch bags. They'll be ready to eat in an hour or two. Alternatively, unwrap the frozen cookies and bake in the toaster oven at 350°F for a few minutes for "fresh baked" cookies any time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our Family's Potato Salad

by Michelle

   In the early 1970s my family and I lived on a small five-acre farm sheltered by a canyon wall with a creek running through dividing the property into two parcels. A two-story barn was the anchor for corrals that contained our horses, goats and sheep. The white ranch house sat serenely between the barn and the pastures where a couple cows grazed on green grass. Chickens in the coop laid fresh eggs under the watchful gaze of the cranky rooster. Our German-Shepherds roamed freely guarding the property. An asparagus bed, a large vegetable garden, rows of boysenberries and fruit trees grew in the fertile land. A towering California Oak tree graced the front yard, complete with a swing hanging from a sturdy branch.   
  A small farm is an ongoing promise of responsibility and unrelenting work that is not easily left in another's care, even for a short while. We did not travel much other than an occasional trip in our Volkswagen bus to visit both sets of grandparents who lived about 4-1/2 hours away in Yucaipa and Redlands. My world view was mostly confined to our small farm for the five years that my parents owned it.
   So, imagine if you will, my paternal grandparents arriving in our small farming community to share tales and photographic slides of their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. After dinner, we gathered in our living room cuddling on couches and flopped into chairs. Dad set-up the portable white screen on its tripod legs, plugged in the slide projector and fiddled with the adjustments. Once the slides were correctly oriented and inserted into the carousel, we settled in to look at the wonders of foreign lands.
Back Row: Maria and Juliette
Front Row: Snow, Linda is holding Lora, and  Michelle
   I remember viewing the travel log with rapt attention. Perhaps it was because nearly all the statues were naked or in stages of partial undress. Clothing was not optional in our little slice of the world (unless mom was sunbathing in the backyard.) I distinctly remember the image of Michelangelo’s David and wondering why he wasn’t wearing any underpants, especially if he was preparing for battle. In the end, I guess David did show Goliath a “thing or two”. Upon going to sleep that night, I made a promise to myself that someday, when I was old enough, I would travel to Europe and visit the same sites.
   Flash forward about eleven years and I was on a plane headed to Amsterdam with a newly minted friend for a four month self-guided tour of Europe. We began and ended our adventure by staying with Debby’s grandparents, aunts and uncles in the Netherlands. For the two months sandwiched in the middle, we borrowed backpacks and traveled using “Eurorail” train passes to explore Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I made my pilgrimage to Florence – or more correctly, Firenze - to pay my respects to David and to take the obligatory photos. I also took the opportunity to send a risqué postcard of David to my Mom. I knew the wow factor would make her laugh.

   As the young are apt to do, in Holland I quickly made friends with a few students whom invited me to stay for a week in Groningen, a University town in the northernmost province. If you want to hear something funny, ask me to pronounce Groningen using my best Dutch accent. When goaded by friends, I was a pretty good sport about trying native “delicacies” such as pickled herring, smoked eel and mayonnaise on friet (French fries).
   In general, I’m not a big mayo fan. I don’t care for it “slathered” on anything. Just thinking about dipping a French fry into mayo can nearly induce a gag reflex. After a few “come on, try it, you’ll like it's,” I did. Honestly it was pretty tasty with this concession: Dutch mayo is different, with its pale buttery hue, than the average offering found in American grocery stores.
   When my new friends discovered that I liked to cook, they asked me to prepare a “typical” American meal for them. Pleased, I readily agreed. I quickly ruled out Hamburgers and French fries – too obvious. I thought Italian would be a letdown because it would not seem “American”. Ditto for Mexican food. Plus, locating chile peppers and the appropriate spices would be like going on a treasure hunt without a map to guide me. I finally decided to make fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad and garlic bread.
   The refrigerator in the apartment was the tiniest I had ever seen. I would call it a Barbie refrigerator if it wasn’t so unattractive. Due to the meager size of the cold box, I decided everything on the menu needed to be made on the day of the party. On the chosen day, my friends duly departed to school or work, and I was left to fend for myself – find my way around town, complete the shopping, lug the goods home and to cook in the minuscule kitchen with the available equipment that is found in a typical bachelor’s pad. It wasn't a problem, it was a challenge!

   If you have been to Europe, you know there is no such thing as one-stop shopping for a meal. The local “supermarket” looked like a miniature Costco with canned and bottled foodstuff available for sale in open cartons - no merchandising whatsoever or fresh produce. I had to look closely at subtle clues on labels to figure out if a pickle was sour or sweet (and so on.) Then I walked to the specialty purveyors, greeting each owner or clerk with a big smile and a garbled, “Goedemorgen” before switching to communication mostly comprised of hand signals and facial expressions to select and buy fresh poultry, bread and vegetables.
   In every country I visited, I was particularly fond of shopping and eating the delicious offerings from the specialty food establishments: bakeries, butchers, cheese shops and produce from open-air markets. Debby and I would make our way around the block to each small store, carefully choosing items for our frequent picnics enjoyed in parks, on trains, or in our small hotel rooms. 
   Back at the Groningen apartment, I cooked (and invariably danced) while I listened to new records from U2, Simple Minds and Bronski Beat. At the end of the day, my friends began to trickle in, peering into the kitchen to see how and what I was doing and to exchange, by way of warm greetings, double-kisses on each other’s cheeks. We poured a lot of beer and wine that night. We laughed and carried on at the table until late in the night. Nary a crumb was leftover. Hungry students are hungy students everywhere, I suppose.
   They peppered me with questions, in very good English, about life in America with a special focus on politics. They wanted to know who would receive my vote for President: Ronald Reagan or Walter Mondale. I remember being amazed at how politically minded they were and being embarrassed that they knew far more about American politics than I did.
   The entire meal was a win for this American girl and cross-cultural relations. Being a potato loving nation, it is natural that my friends especially loved the potato salad. I explained that our family has made this potato salad for generations. My mom learned how to make it from both my grandmothers who had very similar recipes and now my sisters and I make it as well. I told them that the secret is the red wine vinegar and the sweet pickles and to dress the potatoes while still warm – oh… and for a mayo-loving people, they should not be tempted to add too much of the white stuff.

Our Family's Potato Salad

   Russet potatoes are the best choice for this recipe. While Yukon, red, white and fingerlings are preferred in other dishes we make, they do not work as well for this particular salad.
   When stored in the refrigerator, a potatoes' starch changes to sugar, which might sound okay, but it is not. Exposure to light can give the potatoes' skin a green undertone in appearance and a bitter taste. The best option to store the tubers is in a cool, dark place such as a basement, cupboard or pantry.
   For a party, you can successfully make the potato salad 24-hours in advance, but no more (although I eat the salad for 2-3 days afterwards.) I'll even eat it for breakfast. Pull the salad out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving to warm it up a little. The flavor is better when the salad is not so cold.
   Check-out our recipe for fried chicken. Few meals are tastier than fried chicken and potato salad.

6 medium to large russet potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork
1 Tbsp kosher salt, preferably Diamond®
about 3-4 Tbsps red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 1/3 to 1/2 cup sweet pickle relish, Del Monte® preferred
1 medium red onion, skin removed and diced finely
1 small celery, ends and leafy tops removed; stalks diced finely
5 large eggs, hard boiled, cooled, peeled and diced
about 1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise, homemade or Best Foods® preferred, or to taste
about 2 tsps yellow mustard, French's® preferred

   Preparing mayo is as easy as whirling together the following ingredients with a stick blend. I place all the ingredients in the body of a cocktail shaker. Slowly pull the blender up from the bottom of the shaker until the mixture is emulsified. This only takes about 15 seconds. Easy! The mayo keeps for a couple of weeks stored in the refrigerator. Use leftover mayo to make Chicken Curry Salad or Grandma's Best Macaroni Salad, to name just two of my favorite recipes.

1 cup avocado oil
1 cup olive oil
1-1/2 Tbsps white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp sea salt

Quickly chilling hot boiled eggs in a ice water bath.
1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Fill the pot with water to cover potatoes by one inch, cover and bring to a boil. When the water begins to boil, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Lower heat to maintain a simmer for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are cooked and are easily pierced with a fork. Remove potatoes to a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooling, prep the onion, celery and hard boiled eggs.

2. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, working with two potatoes at a time, remove the skins with your fingers or lightly using a paring knife. Cut each potato in half and then each half into thirds, then across into bite size chunks. Add the potato chunks to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a little red wine vinegar and with some salt and freshly ground black pepper; toss with a large spoon. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Add the pickle relish and toss well again. Taste the potatoes for seasoning. Add more salt, vinegar or pickle relish, if needed. The potatoes should be bursting with flavor.

3. To the seasoned potatoes, add the prepared red onion, celery and eggs. Stir until the ingredients are well distributed. Add mayonnaise and mustard, smearing across the top with a spatula, and then stirring well, over and under, until all the potatoes are covered with the dressing. Transfer to a nice bowl. Decorate the top, if you like, with a dusting of paprika and sprinkling of minced parsely. Chill until serving, then let the salad sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Servings: About 10-12

The potato salad was a hit at the final Astronomy Night for the school year.
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