Sometimes on a Sunday night I’ll walk through the back door after a day away from home and see my daughter’s backpack on the floor, so crammed with stuff that it’s lying on its face, straps and back padding exposed.
It’s always a forehead-slapping moment. There’s a lunch bag with Friday’s meal half-eaten in there, and a thermos of milk that’s turned. Also a stack of crumpled papers from the previous week: finished worksheets, art projects, reminders, homework. Each requiring an action: file, recycle, tape to the wall, add to the calendar. So I sit down after the kids are in bed and sift.
One of the papers this week was a white sheet with the title of the school-wide theme for the year printed at the top, Sense of Place, and a list of questions to discuss at home, including the obvious starting point, “What does home mean to you?”
That’s an easy one. Home is finally normal again, I thought when I read it, a warm place where the washer works and the freezer stays cold. Where the last dirty blobs of snow on the driveway have melted away and the frost in the yard burns off by mid-morning.
But, as I said, that’s the easy answer. Home is figurative, too. Maybe even primarily figurative. This week I sat in a pew beneath a ceiling paneled in blond wood and heard a sentence that began, “You sit wallowing in all that old sourness…” (quoted from here). It was a moment of coming home, again and briefly, to myself. Sourness and disappointment tend to crop up again and again for me and they make the world a smaller and less possible place and isolate me from my pod of friends and family, my community – the people who make life engaging, challenging and, during the times when my heart is breaking, more bearable.
You may be wondering about the pensive mood I’m in this week and what all this has to do with food. An awful lot. Connecting with people over food is one of the ways I unpack my own neglected stuff and pick through it, one thing at a time. I think a lot while I’m mincing, boiling and combining foods and photographing them for you. And it’s a homecoming of sorts to cook with someone else, observing their work patterns in the kitchen, how exactly they grate a nub of ginger, what triggers them to dig through the fridge for some fresh tarragon.
This week Chie and I got together to cook, something we’re hoping to do more often, and it was fun and healing to talk and laugh and chop together, tasting as we went. She came up with this warm potato salad held together by a vinegar dressing. Which, in my current state of mind, is something more than coincidental. The sourness of the apple cider vinegar (something you couldn’t happily consume straight from, say, a shot glass) is mixed with oil and mustard, blending boiled potatoes and chopped vegetables into something more.
A mixture of red, yellow and purple potatoes (about 4 lbs.)
¼ onion, thinly sliced
2-3 ribs celery, sliced into moons or on the bias
4 small carrots, halved and thinly sliced on the bias
4 small green onions, finely chopped
1 apple, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2-3 leaves lacinato kale, finely chopped
scant 1-inch nub ginger, peeled and grated
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
½ cup olive oil
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp spicy or Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste
½ tsp Celtic sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Fill a large pot with water, add enough salt to make the water taste briny and bring to a boil.
Scrub potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes and lower into the water.
Cook until just soft but not falling apart.
While the potatoes boil, slice the onion and place in a bowl.
Salt the slices and toss to mix. Let stand for 10-15 minutes.
Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
Set aside. Prepare remaining ingredients.
When the potatoes are done, drain, place in a large bowl
with the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing to mix well.
Adjust to taste with extra sea salt, pepper, lemon juice and vinegar.