Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day 2006

I love Father’s Day. I didn’t have a dad to speak of growing up, and my first attempt at supplying one for my children didn’t work so well (though the children are loyal to the ideal of him, as children are -- no matter how grown). The second try was serendipitous and truly fortunate for someone like me whose life has been more fated than it has been filled with destiny.

But I digress… back to Father’s Day, 2006.

Yesterday Big D arrived with two of my grandsons. I invited him to come and celebrate his own vocation as a father – both the effort he has put into it and the joys he has experienced in teaching his children to fish, to hunt, to get about in the world.

He’s too soft sometimes, this tough man who had to fend for himself too young. He was close to his mother, but he learned to be a man by himself. His first paying job, at the age of thirteen, was breaking horses. I have never seen a man better with animals than he is.

So we sat under the shade of the hickory tree and ate steak and potato salad and sauerkraut and smoked sausages. I hauled a bowl of trifle out for our dessert. The boys loved the gooey mush; even Big D ate a bit, though he’s not much on sweets.

I have much to atone for to Big D. When my daughter decided he was The One, I wasn’t happy about it. Big D, being shy, wasn’t much help in bridging the gap, either. They had some stormy times before they eventually parted many years later, but by then I had come to appreciate this quiet, capable man. And here, three years after my child’s death, he and I share her memories, the good and the bad. They are all we have left now.

So for Father’s Day we talked about her love of food. The potato salad, I told the boys, was their mother’s favorite. She often ate it for breakfast. It is a recipe from her paternal great-grandfather, who was a wonderful cook. His daughter, my former mother-in-law, passed it on to me (me own mither, being Irish, didn’t believe in potato salad in theory. Boiled “in their jackets” or mashed, or pan-fried, yes. But even baked potatoes were borderline).

Potato salad, like spaghetti sauce, is one of those idiosyncratic dishes. Everyone prefers their mother’s version. In my case, I preferred my mother-in-law’s and will share it here, slightly modified for laziness:

Rose’s Potato Salad:

Enough potatoes to serve the purpose (in our case, six people, most of them men or growing boys, meant 10 potatoes)
Chopped celery, including some of the leaves
Chopped onion, sparingly
Vinegar (malt is best)
Salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes or not, depending on your preference. If unpeeled, scrub well. Cube them and drop into cold water. Rinse, cover with cold water again and bring to a boil. At this point, salt them to taste (unsalted water boils faster), lower the heat and cover. [HINT: if you lightly grease the top half-inch of the saucepan, the pot won’t boil over].

When the potatoes are cooked to your taste (about twenty minutes for us), drain in a colander and shake. Return the potatoes to the pan and immediately toss in onions and celery. The heat from the potatoes will soften them a bit.

Then pour about 3 or 4 Tablespoons of oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of vinegar on that, and lastly, about a teaspoon of sugar. Mix well and taste. If too sour, a bit more sugar. If too sweet, a bit more vinegar. Mix again and set aside.

When potatoes are cooling, but still warm, add mayo to taste. Adding it while they're warm allows the flavor to develop more fully. Add ground pepper at this point.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

This is even better made the day before. Especially if you hide it from those who would eat it for breakfast.

After dinner, the boys gave us a small fireworks show. It was fun to watch the colors against the black sky and the outline of the trees as the rockets ascended and burst into trails and sparks of color.

Yellowjacket FlameoutAfterwards, the Baron had his own pyrotechnics, in the form of wiping out a yellow jacket nest he’d found earlier in the day while mowing. Actually, they found him when he came too near the nest and they came out in military formation to sting his leg. This group is no longer extant, but I’m sure there will be others. After all, it’s only June.

This is the second year in a row that the yellow jackets have come so early. And when I think of that, I realize I haven’t seen many skunks in awhile. Or smelled them, rather. A spring ritual used to be the odor of skunk on the roads as they performed their migration ritual in March. I don’t recall being assaulted with eau de skunk this past spring…and we sure do have the yellow jacket nests to prove it. Perhaps we’ll have to import some wild boars to do the job.

Which reminds me of the time a neighbor’s pigs got loose and tore up the sod in our yard, leaving a mess behind. I was annoyed until I discovered they ate Japanese beetle grubs and yellow jackets. Now I wish they’d come to visit more often.

We are all so enmeshed, we humans and animals and insects. Which reminds me: time to set out the Japanese beetle traps…