When my Mom and I are travelling together, everyone always asks us if we’re sisters. It’s happened ever since I was in college when she used to come and visit me for the weekend. The salesperson at the store, the server at the restaurant—they would look at us and say, “You two are obviously related. Sisters?”
While I sometimes roll my eyes (do I really look 26 years older than I am?!), I’m also proud and flattered. My Mom turned 66 last Monday, and she’s more beautiful than ever. She won’t mind me sharing her age. My Mom has more energy than anyone I know. She has always been actively present in my life, supporting, encouraging, cheering me on. She’s the kind of Mom everyone should have.
My Dad was stationed at Fort Ord in California when I was around five. I attended Montessori there, and my Mom made me a set of butterfly wings for our school butterfly parade, creating a flexible wire structure covered with canvas that she perfectly painted to match the wings on a Dogface Butterfly. Until I got too old to think it was cool, Mom made me Easter and Christmas dresses, and bows for my hair to match every outfit in my closet. In middle school, she helped me create an exact replica of the Kentucky Governor’s mansion, one that looked just like an architect’s model, complete with tiny trees and hedges. In high school, our home was the center of activity for slumber parties and after-school gatherings, and Mom was always discretely in the background, there with homemade cookies and snacks and a non-judgmental ear for listening. In college, she supported all my crazy schemes and moves, because she believed in me and my dreams. After college, she helped me pack a U-Haul with odds-and-ends of furniture, and we drove from New Hampshire to Washington, DC to move me into my first apartment. That list just begins the ways in which she’s supported me.
Creative, adventurous, determined, whole-hearted, enthusiastic, selfless, protective—those are the words I think of when I think of Mom. She’s one of the most creative people I know—able to turn weeds and sticks into beautiful floral arrangements and with a skill for turning any house into a home. She once ‘papered’ the concrete dining room of our military housing with fabric starched to the walls, and she painstakingly matched the pink paint of my bedroom to the exact shade in a square on my grandmother’s quilt. With what seems like super-human ability, she can rearrange a whole house of furniture on her own – she once moved an armoire by herself up a winding staircase. A great writer, she always wanted to be an English teacher. She collects pottery (some of it her own creation) and antiques and heart rocks. She has an uncanny ability to find four-leaf clovers wherever she goes, and if you flip through the books in her house, you’ll find dozens pressed between their pages. She believes in Jesus, but also in the stars.
At this stage in her life, she seems more beautiful and vibrant than ever. A successful entrepreneur, at 66 she’s an example that our lives have seasons, and each season can be a rich and fulfilling journey in and of itself. I hope I’m like her 26 years from now.
And since you come to this site for the food, a recipe. When I was little, I remember Mom making potato salad often for picnics and barbecues, and she and I recently made this version together. If Elie’s going to eat this potato salad, I make it with yellow mustard, because he has a strong aversion to the horseradish-like flavor of Dijon. Otherwise, I like it with a spicy or grainy mustard. Also, if you have access to those beautiful baby celery just appearing at your local farmer’s market, this is where to use them. Those celery leaves have so much flavor, and the young, tender stalks are just delicious.
- About 3 pounds baby potatoes, I like a mixture of purple and red
- 2 large leeks, sliced
- 2 heaping teaspoons mustard, either yellow mustard, Dijon or grainy mustard
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon, about 3 springs of tarragon
- a big handful of whole parsley leaves, about ½ cup
- a big handful of whole celery leaves, about ½ cup
- a stalk of young celery or a celery heart, finely chopped
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Place the baby potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and then generously salt the water. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. You should easily be able to break them apart. When the potatoes are done, drain them in a colander.
- Meanwhile, cook the leeks. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft and tender.
- To a large mixing bowl add the mustard, sherry vinegar, 1/3 cup of olive oil, sea salt and red pepper flakes. Whisk together until emulsified. Add the tarragon, parsley, celery leaves, chopped celery and reserved leeks. Stir together.
- Pour the hot potatoes into the bowl on top of the rest of the ingredients. Using a fork, roughly break each potato apart. I just poke the tines of the fork into the potato and twist, leaving large pieces. Use a wooden spoon to stir all of the ingredients together until the potatoes are all coated with the dressing. Taste, and add additional salt, if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.