Life lessons from Potato Salad

Memorial day is nearly upon us and with it comes the official beginning of summer, complete with all it’s sun warmed activities and delicious produce heavy food.

We all have our classic summer recipes, some go back generations and some are a gift from the google gods.  However you came across them I bet you have “your recipes” just as I do.  You know the ones I’m talking about right?  The ones that you are specifically asked to bring to picnics, cookouts and pool parties?

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Well my classic summer dish is “that potato salad,” which I make from scratch.  I’ve already made three batches this year and I see no end in sight.  I still have the leftover chilling in the fridge, waiting to cozy up to a burger or be enjoyed as stolen afternoon snack.

People who don’t like potato salad LOVE my potato salad, because it’s perfectly firm, lightly dressed and sprinkled with bacon.  It always surprises people when they try my potato salad because (and I quote) “I never even thought of making potato salad from scratch.”

Ugh, we are so conditioned by goopy store bought tubs of potato salad that the idea of starting with real potatoes never even crosses our minds anymore.

This disturbs me on several levels, one because your average potato salad has an artery clogging amount of mayonnaise and two because I worry we have gone too goopy and easy across the board.  I’m talking food, relationships, hobbies, clothing… all of it.  

Do we understand the raw ingredients of life anymore or do we think that anything worth having comes in a box or from a hook at Target?

Last week I made my daughter mac and cheese from scratch with noodles, butter and cheese.  Then I baked them into little cupcakes and served them on her favorite plate with excitement and triumph.

She hated them and refused to eat them:  “I don’t like this gross stuff you made mom.  I only like the kind of Mac n cheese from the box, the kind with the bunnies.  This is gross.”

I’m sure I screamed something about real cheese and perhaps used the words real, better and crazy but she wouldn’t budge.  “I want the box mom.”

I’ve failed as a parent!  I may as well give up now!  Nooooo!  Real cheese trumps powdered cheese every time, you’ll learn… I’ll make you understand… 

I sit quietly with my iPhone across the room often these days and wonder if store bought potato salad isn’t just the tip of the iceberg here.  Are we swimming in gunk these days on a deep and profound level?  Always overdressed like goopy potato salad?  

We have so many toys
So many clothes
So many options
So many screens distracting us
We see everything as disposable… whatever it is we can go get a new one, a better one. Even when it comes to people, everything is replaceable, especially when fixing it seems like hard work.

Do we even remember the basics that compose a life well lived?  The ingredients we used to know so well have become a strange and foreign language.

Can we taste the metaphorical potatoes at the heart of it all or has living become so gooped up that all we can taste is crappy mayo?  

We’re surely losing touch with all the nourishment we were handed in the garden, where we were taught that relationships, food and homes were the work of our time and our hands.

I believe in doing a lot of things from scratch, like making chicken stock from bones and turning old discarded sheets into rag rugs.  I believe in looking around my home and seeing the work of my hands instead of the work of my Visa card.

I believe in making meals out of food, real ingredients that I understand and can relate to like meat, veggies and nuts and cheese.  Things I can buy at the farmers market or at mom and pop farm stand by the side of the road.

I believe in friendships that last a lifetime, that take work and understanding between two people who refuse to walk away from the table.

I believe in life, from scratch and I worry that in many ways the “easy way” is costing us so much more than money.

So this is me, hoping that you’re out there making things, your things, Your life from scratch.  I pray that you know how the components of your life feel raw in your hands. That you understand the ingredients that sustain you whether they be people, potatoes or time.  

So go make real food and eat it with real people.  Use your hands to create something lovely and then display it as a reminder, or better yet give it away.  

And come over for some potato salad this summer, I’ll share my recipe if you’d like… on a handwritten 3×5 card that you can take home and smudge with messy fingerprints of food love.

Penny Potato Salad
5 lb bag of Red skin or new potatoes
4 hard boiled Eggs, diced
6 oz of bacon, chopped into bits (or store bought REAL bacon bits, I often cheat here)
1 (or so) cups of sharp cheddar
1/2 – 1 cup Real Mayo
2 – 3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper to taste
Green Onions, diced

1) Scrub the potatoes, unpeeled and cut them into bite sized chunks
2) Boil them into barely fork tender.  Overcooking them will cause the salad to be a mash.  This is the only tricky thing about this recipe.  When they’re cooked cool them off in the fridge in a large bowl.
3) Mix your mayo and mustard together and add it along with the salt, pepper, bacon, cheese and green onions to your potatoes.
4) Gently toss with salad tongs
5) Allow to chill in the fridge a few hours before serving, Add a bit more dressing if you feel it’s dry.

The thing about this recipe is that it’s got fatty ingredients in small proportions spread out over 5 lbs of spuds and actually is far healthier than goopy store bought stuff.  

  • MatthewShedd

    This is a great thought! And thank you for it!

    • Leanne Penny

      :) Thanks and you’re welcome right back!

  • Beth In the City

    Thanks – I want to try it!

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  • Jill –

    Just finished making this again! It’s my go-to potato salad recipe ever since you posted it. Love!