best potato salad ever

I couldn’t resist the young healthy plants I found on the small stand outside the post office in May. Just $1.50 for four starts of yellow squash. They were the deep green of a plant well nourished. I didn’t have yellow squash last year and, why not? I knew I planted them a little too close to each other, felt compelled to allot only one quarter of one bed to these plants. Besides, who knew if they would all take. I didn’t have a lot of luck with squash plants last year.

I am now swimming in yellow squash. The beautiful blossoms just keep coming.

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Every day I bring in another three or four. You’d think I’d be totally sick of it. But I’m not. I’ve discovered the joy of adding yellow squash to just about anything. A few of my favorites so far; avglolemono soup made with equal parts chicken stock and chopped yellow squash simmered together, half the mixture puréed and put back in pot before adding eggs and lemon. Delicious as is or the next night heated up with leftover quinoa and ribboned collard greens added.

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Chopped yellow squash is a great addition to the coconut curries that beg to be made with so much fresh produce, absorbing extra heat if necessary, soft and firm and yielding all at the same time in a dish that can overwhelm if not careful. I made a colorful Mediterranean salad to take to a pot luck the other day of thin mandolin made slices of young firm yellow squash mixed with handfuls of chopped fresh parsley and basil, thin ribbons of red pepper, garbanzo beans, feta cheese and chopped olives, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. But the favorite so far is the potato salad. The best potato salad ever. Inspired by the paper bagful of just picked organic yellow new potatoes found at a local farm stand. Of course any good potato salad has to begin with the potatoes, and oh, there is nothing like the crisp fresh of a just picked potato.

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A kind of altered state moved into the kitchen and took over the process of boiling, chopping, retrieving from the garden, being present with. Overcooked potatoes just wouldn’t do. They had to be just done, firm and yet completely soft to bit. Equal size boiling chunks (3-4 pieces per medium potato) complete with skins were added to a pot of water and the fire turned on. Attention swung to the sweet potatoes in the bowl next to the stove, begging to be included. Just one, peeled and cut into equal size as their white brothers and sisters in the pot. Ah, water beginning to boil, what a perfect time to add some fresh green beans, also picked up at the farm stand, ends removed and cut into bite size pieces, a handful added as water began a rolling boil, the momentum of a stone soup brewing, other offerings coming into view. But I had to wait, hold the vision while watching for the moment the potatoes and beans were just cooked, ready to be rinsed with cold water and left in a colander to finish cooling. Now I could make a sweep through the garden, plucking a perfect, not too big and seedy yellow squash there, a handful of snap peas here, pinching off the tops of parsley and basil to make room for the new growth below. All prepared in short order, squash cut into small chunks, herbs minced, snap peas cut in half, everything added to a bowl with the beans and now just barely warm potatoes, skinned, cut into bite size pieces, and tossed with spoonfuls of delicious mayonnaise, a dream of making fresh mayonnaise floating by, but happy with the creamy organic variety (by ‘The Ojai Cook’) that I was trying for the first time. The meld, that moment when everything gets coated just so, happened after adding a swirl of olive oil to the mix. The final touches, a handful of chopped green Spanish olives, salt and pepper to taste.

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It’s daunting to consider all the possible combinations. Growing up, our family favorite was always made with chopped celery and green pepper, radishes, a little red onion, chopped hard boiled egg and Hellman’s Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Up until now, this is how I always made it. How could something so different take hold after all these years? Realistically, there are only a few months each year that it will be just like this, with such fresh out of the garden ingredients. It calls into question the very act of making something out of season, out of rhythm with what is there. What’s the point? Next year, something will change and so will this salad.

It’s like the constellation of the meadow right now. It couldn’t be more different than last year. There is a profusion of Black-eyed Susan’s amidst the Queen Anne’s lace and stalks of high grass. There is a distinctly new patch of something lavender down toward the forest edge.

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I don’t know what it is is. I watch it, take in the sweep against the edge and shadows of what surrounds it. Even the apple trees look different in the meadow this year.

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I’ve made this potato salad three times. Exactly the same way. Feeling the rhythm now that is so familiar, making something soft, adding something crisp and crunchy, dressing with something fragrant and discernably tangy, being one with the freshness of it all, the dance of taste and sensation hanging in the balance. I will be making this all summer, exactly the same way, letting it be that which marks me in this place right now, with the meadow and the dogs,

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all equals in growth and discovery just this way, soon to change again into something altogether different, and the next version of best ever.

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