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27 May 2009

at home, with potato salad

chicken on the grill

After returning from a week in the hospital with our baby, we sat around in a bit of a stupor for a day or two, holding her close. We watched her giggle and crawl, clapping at everything, her eyes open and her smile wide. She rebounded more quickly than we did.

Seeing her thrive, we revived. The rainclouds lifted. The sun shone through. We moved into the garden and started pulling up weeds, planting beans, laughing at the black dirt on our hands. Summer's coming.

Time to put chicken on the barbeque. Time for a picnic.

garden-grown lettuces

Good friends came to our home on Monday. (Like many of you, we fired up the grill for the first time on the holiday marking the start of the summer season.) It was an impromptu party, planned over Twitter. (new social media, indeed.) Casual and nothing fancy. Just a few of our favorite women, Danny, and Little Bean, out in the backyard. Sitting on a picnic blanket, eating good food.

It doesn't take much to make us happy now.

Like this beautiful bag of lettuce, which Kim grew in her garden. (Our lettuce seems slow to start. I don't know if I did it right.)

she loves her sock monkey in the box

Kim made Little Bean happy by bringing her this sock monkey-in-a-box. Taken aback by the leaping, at first, Little Bean spent most of the afternoon exploring the edges with her hands.

(We love her intent gaze. And the fact that she can see.)

barbequed ribs

Danny bought 5 pounds of spareribs from SeaBreeze on Friday, brined them on Saturday, braised them on Sunday, and coated them with barbeque sauce on Monday.

I think they were gone in 10 minutes.

tossing the salad with ranch dressing

Whitney dressed the salad for us with the jug of fresh ranch dressing I made a few days before. The flavors blended and grew together over that time. We've re-discovered the joys of buttermilk ranch dressing around here. Simple. Garlicky. Greens from the garden make it all taste better.


And then we sat in the backyard, under the cherry tree, next to the daisies. We talked about books and children and photography and publishing and neurotic authors and New York and the splendors of summer.

It felt good to put on my skirt again and sit in the grass.

rhubarb compote

When everyone arrived, we hacked rhubarb stalks from the enormous plants out back. Danny chopped and simmered them with vanilla bean, a pinch of sugar, lemon zest, a bay leaf, and a touch of water. Melting soft, but still with chunks of rhubarb, soft to the touch. From garden to our plates? 1 hour.

tea among the daisies

Bones littered white plates. Watches off. Feet bare. We lounged at our leisure, lifting our faces to the sun for the first time all year.

Little Bean bent her legs on her papa's lap, bouncing up and down, wanting to be thrown into the air one more time.

Tea wore her straw hat and sat against the daisies. Just seeing her there made me grin.

picnic on the grass with flan

As the sun started to shift toward the west, we ate Tea's almond cookies with raspberry jam. And Viv's gorgeous flan, spread with Argentinian dulce de leche, topped with the rhubarb compote.

Of course, everything we ate was gluten-free. We didn't talk about that. It was just good food.

Our guests left for an evening ferry, sighing with relaxed happiness. We all agreed — it was the best afternoon we had experienced in a long time.

We really are home from the hospital.

potato morel asparagus salad with a basil vinaigrette

Potato Salad with Morel Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Basil Vinaigrette

I love potato salad. I'll eat it in the middle of winter, but I never can settle into it during a January meal. Potato salad means picnics on the grass, sun-warmed skin, the smell of chlorine from swimming pools, and long evenings not dark until 9. This season. Right now.

We all have a different platonic ideal for potato salad, I'm sure. Mostly, I'm partial to creamy potato salad with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Little slivers of celery too. You know, the throwback kind, the salad my mother made in the 70s. That's still my first definition. Molly has a recipe for potato salad from her father that throws a couple tablespoons of ranch dressing into the mix. We've tried it. We approve.

Danny was playing on a variation of a basil vinaigrette he has made for years, since we grabbed several bags of glossy green basil at the farmers' market the day before. When he tasted it, he danced to the other side of the living room. That means good. He dressed this potato salad — dotted with morel mushrooms and just-blanched asparagus — with the vinaigrette and I danced too. Our guests each had two helpings.

This one's worth making, especially if you are planning a picnic on the grass for this weekend.

6 large russet potatoes, peeled quartered and cubed (1 inch)
1 bunch asparagus, 1/4 inch chopped
1/2 pound morel mushrooms (or whatever mushroom is in season)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 Walla Walla sweet onions, sliced (if you don't have these, then 1 medium white onion)
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, fine chopped
salt and pepper

Boiling the potatoes. Fill a large saucepan with cold water. Add the potatoes and a ton of salt. Turn on the heat. Boil the potatoes until a fork slips into them easily. Take the saucepan off the burner.

Blanching the asparagus. Throw the cut-up asparagus into the boiling-hot water, just after you take it off the burner. Swirl the water around, gently, for a few moments, to give the asparagus a quick blanch. (This gives the asparagus a slightly tender bite for the salad.

Strain the potatoes and asparagus.

Sautéeing the mushrooms. Bring a large sauté pan to heat. Add in the oil and butter. Sauté the mushrooms until they start to soften, and then add the onions and garlic. Cook about 1 minute or until the onions and garlic start to soften. Throw in the thyme and cook until it is fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the sautéed vegetables with the potatoes and asparagus. Spread them all out on a baking sheet to cool.

When the potato mixture has cooled completely, mix it together with the basil vinaigrette. Serve.

Feeds about 10.

basil vinaigrette

1 cup basil leaves, packed firm
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1 shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
3/4 cup grapeseed oil (or canola)
salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a blender except the oil. Turn on the blender to begin pureeing everything. Drizzle in the oil slowly. Enjoy.


At 12:20 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Delicious day delightfully described!

Perfect timing for the potato salad with morels. Off we go mushroom hunting in the mountains... buckets in hands, bug spray in backpack...

Wish us luck! Could be lots of morels and boletes to eat. More mushroom recipes on the horizon, por favor?

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Anaquita said...

I read your earlier post about the little one, and now this. I'm glad she's alright. :) I couldn't possibly imagine how I'd be able to deal with such a thing had my kidlet needed to go through it. I'd likely have had a panic attack or something along those lines. Still your telling all of us something so personal was quite touching.

I'm glad she's well and thriving.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous beyond said...

that potato salad looks divine. and the flan! your daughter's baby arms looks delicious also.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger healingvibration said...

I love how Danny got "upgraded" from "the Chef" to his proper name! Thanks for letting us in!

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous StuffCooksWant said...

Love potato salad and this twist sounds great. Can't wait to try this. Thanks for sharing.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous radish said...

so glad to hear that little bean is fine and that all is good - i've JUST caught up on so much - had some family hospital vigils myself, so behind on just about everything. but glad to hear little bean is doing well and hopefully her parents can get a little rest!! :)

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Lisa Cooks Allergen Free said...

I have a potato salad that uses tarragon vinegar and I love seeing all kinds of versions with other vinegars on the blogs, it is such a yummy alternative to the mayo version. Thanks for the great recipes.

At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Sho said...


This post reads like a storybook, and the photos wreak of happiness. What is the trick to that gorgeous (looking) grilled chicken? You did say that was your friend in the hat, right? At first, I thought it was you. The facial expression looks so relaxed and happy.

I am glad to hear that you are all well.

Take care,


At 5:00 PM, Blogger String said...

If you can where you live try burning off the lettuce bed next spring. It needs a really hot anaerobic fire next to the soil to do best. Can be tricky to do but it makes the lettuce grow like crazy and kills off weeds.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger MelissaG said...

Beautiful post - you all deserve many days of sunshine now!
Any chance you will post your Ranch dressing recipe?

At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Karla said...

Thank you for sharing your world with us. You are an inspiration to me. Your depth, your humor and your painterly writing: I feel fortunate to have you on my team (team celiac). And to see a glimmer of your little tyke outside looking alive; what a gift. Enjoy every second.

At 8:42 PM, Blogger The Soul Reporter said...

Live your site. We just learned about a gluten allergy in our household, and we have begun the gluten-free journey. Your site has been most helpful. If you would like check out my new post on my blog where I wrote about my experience of changing my diet.
Thank you for doing what you do.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Bonnie said...

What a wonderful day! I can just picture it so clearly in my mind as I read it.

My littlest one is turning two next week and we are planning a low-key, birthday picnic on our back lawn. I do believe that potato salad will be on the menu. The basil dressing sounds amazing!

At 10:00 PM, Anonymous tamara said...

I've got, oh, twenty-two years on Lucy, but I've been entranced lately by the sock monkey in a box, too! Sounds like the perfect afternoon. Glad your family is well and so happy.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Pille said...

May you enjoy many more impromtu picnics with Little Bean and your favourite ladies :)

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Crystal said...

Wonderful. The kind of day we're planning for a coule of weekends now...except for the actual lawn part...patio will have to do.

Any chance you'll give up Tea's recipie for almond cookies?

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Janel said...

The photo of Little Bean's arm is my favorite thing about this post. My kids are my very favorite photography subjects, especially when they're not looking.

I have a brunch on Sunday. I'm going to make this potato salad in celebration!

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Ann said...

oh morels!

the photo of your daughter's arm is precious...

i'd like to second the request for your ranch dressing recipe :)

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Jenna said...

First off... I'm so happy to hear your little one is doing better, your whole family has been in my prayers lately. I'm just happy to be able to finally move you all from the "Please help" list to the "Thank you!" line. Give her a squeeze... and when she's all grown up, tell her quite seriously that she owe her parents a VERY nice bottle of wine for all the nervous nights you spent with her when she was small - wait long enough and she can enjoy it with the both of you.

Secondly, thanks for the morel recipe, the next time I get to go hunting with my father I'll definitely have to give it a try. Up until now, morels make me think of spring, my father, and burnt fingers covered in butter : never has a morel made it to a plate in my family - we tend to crowd around the pan like ravenous wolves snitching each mushroom from its sizzling pool of butter! But this salad sounds like a great way to save the tips of my fingers.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Jenn Sutherland said...

Mmmm...sounds like a perfect afternoon. Warm weather has not yet come to Chicago, but spring veggies have, and I am definitely going to make a big batch of the potato salad for dinner this evening to share with friends.

So glad to hear that Little Bean is doing so well after her surgery!

At 12:29 PM, Blogger cyberprof said...

Ahhh...the silence is over. I had thought, perhaps, that you, the Chef and Little Bean had perhaps taken a vacation to Ireland, and hadn't wanted to post notice of it here on the WWW. My other thought was that something was wrong and I tried to put it out of my head by thinking good thoughts about you and sending them off into the ether.

SO glad LB is her cute, funny, charming self again and that the whole family is back on the Island.

And boy am I happy to see your post about Bob's GF Corn Grits. I am originally from the South and just recently visited and wanted to make some. I hesitantly bought the old non-GF version but will give it away, now that I got my shipment from Bob's. I also ordered the GF Rolled Oats, since they've been off the shelves here at PCC and elsewhere for months.

Wishing you a very happy summer, one to remember for its sweetness.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger cottagesweet said...

Reading this has made me feel happy. So glad you could enjoy a picnic with your little bean there. Thanks for the recipes and thanks for your blog. You've been a great deal of help to many.

At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Mefi said...

as a new mum, it is painful to hear about your experience with little bean. but i am glad little bean is doing well. keep fighting little bean - you have lots to look forward to with your mum and dad.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Thanks again, everyone. Yes, we really are thriving. The weather has been clear and in the 70s for days on end. That's what life is feeling like, after months of clouds.

healingvibrations, you noticed. You know, when I first started writing about Danny here, he really wanted me to call him the Chef. It always made him giggle. And it was just the thinnest veneer of anonymity. But once Little Bean was born, and we were struggling with these terrifying medical issues, it felt wrong to me to call him the Chef. we're parents now. It's a different world.

We actually do call her Little Bean, among 58 other nicknames. So it still feels right to protect her here.

Crystal, Tea will have to give you the recipe herself. But it was based on the orange cake I have on this site, based on the Rose Bakery recipe.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Eden said...

I really want the chicken recipe too. Is it available? It all looks yummy.

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous dogear6 said...

I felt like I was right there with you, enjoying the day, the weather, the company and the food. Thanks for taking time to share it and show it to us.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger gfe--gluten free easily said...

Oh, what a lovely post! I could feel the sunshine and happiness, hear the laughter, and sense the pleasure with all the foods. (I'd be ga ga over that flan myself.)

So happy all is okay again!


At 8:44 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Beautiful post!!! So happy life is getting back to normal for you three.
Any chance you would share your buttermilk ranch dressing recipe??

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Paige Orloff said...

I laughed reading this post--this is what we ate for dinner at the home of a certain foodie you admire just last weekend. We even had the rhubarb. Great minds, and etc.!!

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Karen said...

I love a good potato salad, and will eat the leftover for breakfast. Very good with my morning coffee.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Sarah Caron said...

What a beautiful day! And that salad! I love my potato salad best with a good vinaigrette. Mmmmm.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger kario said...

What a lovely story! So glad the little one is home and I'm pleased that the way she was welcomed home was so fitting.


At 2:46 PM, Blogger Melanie said...

So happy that your family is back home together with health.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous GnuAttitude22 said...

Made a variation of your potato salad this weekend and got rave reviews! Thanks for the inspiration. =)


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