The peculiar sadness of my potato cookbook

potato salad and mixing bowl
Desaturation makes everything sadder.

I was making potato salad for a bbq. I’ve never made potato salad before, but when I asked what I could bring, Syd said, “Maybe potato salad?”

“Sure.” I got a recipe from a potato cookbook my mom had given me. She’d found it at a yard sale. There was a Christmas card in it, presumably given to the original book owner with the book, or maybe just stuck in to hold a page. The note on the card hints at some kind of estranged relationship, or maybe not, that my mom and I had puzzled over. It doesn’t feel right to reveal the whole thing, but here’s the first chunk (names changed):

“Dear Chuck, Janice, and Arthur,
My appreciations for the New Year:
To Arthur:
–for being born
–for always being yourself
–for melting my heart the first time I held you (at the Jewel)

The note goes on to reveal that Chuck is her son, so my mom and I always wondered, what’s with the Jewel? Was she shopping with her daughter-in-law soon after Arthur was born and the new mom suddenly needed mom-in-law to hold the baby? Or, as we suspected, did Grandma and new mom run into each other at the Jewel, months after the birth, and Janice was like, “This is your grandson. Want to hold him?”

The note goes on to thank the son and daughter-in-law for making her feel welcome and loved, so maybe everything was okay, but still… something seemed off. A little sad. Like, too much detailed gratitude extended within a Christmas card that would have been a lot shorter if everything had been okay between them. Or maybe not. But I tend to read the card every time I open the cookbook, and wonder.

Anyway, Syd said potato salad, so I went to the bookcase in the living room, where there’s the shelf that holds the urn of my mom’s ashes (sealed properly for a Catholic cemetery, though we haven’t gotten around to burying it), and also her prayer book and rosary, and on either side of that little shrine all my cookbooks, starting with Where’s Mom now that I need her?, which she gave me when I graduated college. I pulled out the potato cookbook, re-read the Christmas card, found a potato salad recipe, and stuck the card in to hold the page.

The recipe said three pounds of red potatoes, but I discovered on my Harvestime receipt that I’d bought five. So I almost doubled the other ingredients, except for the mayo and sour cream, because I didn’t want it too creamy. Before I even started chopping I grabbed two glass bowls that have plastic covers. I mixed everything, and the results were okay. Not bad, but not great. Which, sad to say, is the case with most of the recipes in the potato cookbook. Sweet Potatoes Anna, bland. Parmesan-Roasted Potatoes, did I forget an ingredient?

But what amazed me was that I’d randomly chosen two bowls, randomly sort of doubled the recipe (wait, that could be a clue…never mind), and then when I transferred everything from the mixing bowl, the amount filled both bowls exactly. Right to the top but not over it. Is there some part of our brain that figures that stuff out, that calculates spatial tolerances and then safely guides us to the right bowl choice, the right number of celery stalks to chop? Or is it just dumb luck?

It’s another mystery of the sad potato cookbook. On one side, a possibly estranged relationship. On the other, mildly disappointing flavors. And smack in the middle, incredibly perfect storage container results.

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  1. I had a similar experience recently… without the estranged relative. A friend was over for dinner & I made us gin gibsons. Measured, iced, shook, strained; and I had two perfectly filled glasses. Apparently my brain has the capability to accurately measure spacial tolerances but I devote the skill to things that are… not quite as nourishing as potato salad, mildy disappointing or not. Maybe I need to write out a Christmas card and stick it in the liquor cabinet?!

  2. Uh oh…making sure it wasn’t too creamy eh? Did I have a hand in the adjustment of this one? Sorry. Also, have you ever seen the book “Found?” It’s an entire book of randomly found notes just like yours. It’s strange reading. I have a copy; I’ll have to bring that out next time you guys are over.

  3. “Desaturation makes everything sadder” reminds me of why I quit taking zoloft. I the end, I longed for saturation. Taking it made me sadder that not.

  4. potato salad is a peculiar thing. but i do believe syd and ummm….george (?)…enjoyed the leftovers. and will return the bowl soon!

  5. I could send you one. I’m sure I could come up with some vaguely fraught references for you to puzzle over every time you mix a martini.

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