a blanket fort of sorts August 20, 2012

Growing up, the notion of family was one that was sort of foreign to me. Our unit of three was tight knit – when I was a child, at least – and it was mostly always just us. I always thought that was odd considering my mom was one of ELEVEN children. My mother moved away from North Dakota, where she was born, in her late teens after high school and I think, much as I do now, that she felt like the black sheep. We went up north just for summer trips and weeks of vacation – my dad rarely went – and spent time with them. Those summers were really wonderful. Running around in open fields with my cousins, playing Uno at the kitchen table at Grandma’s house. Seeing strong women cook everything from scratch…even though they spoke German-English and I couldn’t understand anything ever. Living a life I knew nothing about in the big city back home.

When my mom suddenly got sick – six years ago in just a few weeks – her two sisters came to Atlanta to help out. To sort things out. To know how bad things were for themselves. It was bad. Two days after they went back home, my mom passed away. In the midst of going through drawers of paperwork, old bills, costume jewelry…we found some of my mom’s old sewing work. She used to love to cross-stitch and do needlepoint…but I hadn’t seen her do any of that in over a decade. In this random drawer were close to a dozen floral panels. These beautiful, homespun botanical pieces. They went home with my aunt Karen. All of the women in my mom’s family knew how to sew…except me…so I had no use in keeping them. Karen told me she’d try to make something with them…and that’s the last I’d thought about them, honestly.

So many other things about my mom fill that void that she left.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from my aunt Karen. I felt so guilty because, like many other things in my life, I have a hard time keeping up with keeping up with her…and the rest of my family, for that matter. Maybe it’s the black sheep syndrome or maybe it’s my fear of not wanting to be a tourist in a family life I don’t really know…but I’ve been distant since my dad’s passing in 2008.

She told me she had a quilt to send me….made from the panels I sent back to her in North Dakota almost six years prior. When that box arrived, I have to be honest – I couldn’t even open it at first. It felt like there was a ghost inside – something my mom held in her hands. Worked tirelessly on. I hadn’t felt that in over five years. It sat on the dining room table all morning and then…powered by coffee and a bit of courage…I opened it. Mike was there with me and it was emotional. So emotional. Just as I expected. It was the most beautiful quilt I’d ever seen…and in this family, I’d seen a lot. What else are you going to do through a North Dakota winter? Don’t answer that.

I’ve been wrestling back and forth with myself about whether to use it or hang it up somewhere as a display piece in our home. Part of me wants to make this a precious relic – the last remains of my mom’s handiwork. Something to put behind glass to remember her by. Most of me, however, wants to make memories with it. Sure…the sewing is from her and, gosh, it’s beautiful. However, just as the memories of her in that quilt are so special…so are the memories of her making it. What’s more precious? Thinking back on her sewing those panels or thinking ahead to the 40 or 50 years – friends and generations to come – being cozy under it living their lives. It’s still up in the air…but I’m leaning toward watching movies under it with my family. Taking it on picnics. Taking comfort in it the way I took comfort in the threadbare quilts I grew up using.

What does all of this have to do with salad? Nothing….except the recipe for this is a memory for me, too. Of a wonderful birthday with my dearest and some dear friends. Celebrating my birthday proper at Roberta’s in Brooklyn with cocktails and pizza – and a version of this salad. Purslane is this wonderfully wacky and woolly thing that grows wild for many people but is also available at many a farmer’s market. It has a lovely texture and a peppery, tangy quality that is really versatile. If you can’t find it, substitute spinach, arugula or sunflower sprouts – a combo of any of those together would be lovely. This isn’t a fussy recipe…or really a recipe at all. It’s a guideline to make a really wonderful summertime salad. You’ll remember it.

Purslane Salad with Blueberries, Blue Cheese and Buttermilk Dressing – serves 2 as an entree salad or 4 as a side salad

  • 4 cups purslane – picked through, washed and dried – if you don’t have purslane…use a combo of arugula, baby spinach and/or sunflower sprouts
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries – washed and dried
  • 4 ounces Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese - this was in the original recipe so I used it. It has great texture in this salad. Substitute your favorite Blue Cheese in its place
  • 3 tbsp. buttermilk dressing – use your favorite recipe (i love this one from Simply Recipes) or a great quality pre-made from your farmers market
  • zest of one small lemon
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

- In a large mixing or salad bowl, place the purslane or greens mixture. Drizzle on the buttermilk dressing and toss to combine thoroughly. Gently fold in the blueberries and Blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste and zest the lemon over the greens. Stir gently one more time to combine again. Serve immediately.

Comments

Tricia Aug 20, 2012 11:08 pm

Oh. My heart. It is with you, my friend.

Meghan Aug 21, 2012 12:08 am

Please, please use it, cherish it, fill it with love and memories, and pass it along to your children or nieces and nephews filled with all of that and knowing a piece of your mother will be in each use.

Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic Aug 21, 2012 01:08 am

thank you for sharing this story. we’ve lost recently, and still see the ghosts in J’s possessions.

but family. it’s always connected by threads even when you can’t see them.

Lynn Aug 21, 2012 05:08 am

The heartbreak of losing your parents never goes away (I’ve lost both now in the last two years.) That quilt is a treasure. Truly special. Any way you use it – your mom and your aunt will be with you.

Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite Aug 21, 2012 07:08 am

A lovely post Tami. And use the quilt. Make memories.

DessertForTwo Aug 21, 2012 07:08 am

Oh, Tami. This is beautiful. The quilt, your writing, the photos. Everything.

xo

merry jennifer Aug 21, 2012 07:08 pm

That quilt? Cherish it. Use it. Hide under it when you need to, wear it as a cape.

In my job, I see lots of beautiful things happen…this ranks right up there. I just know your mom would have loved this.

thyme (sarah) Aug 21, 2012 10:08 pm

Just as you could barely open the box…I had to pause before reading your post. It is very beautiful and your aunt knew just what your mom would have wanted you to have in her absence. I am so sorry for your loss. From one black sheep to another…

Preston Aug 22, 2012 12:08 pm

Thanks for such a lovely family story. What a wonderful memory and piece of history about your mother that you can pass on to future generations. And thanks for a tasty and easy summer salad suggestion!

Helene Aug 22, 2012 01:08 pm

So powerful. I felt like I was right there with you staring at that package.
You are definitely one of the strongest women I know.

Paula - bell'alimento Aug 24, 2012 11:08 am

That is the most beautiful quilt I have ever seen Tami. I hope you decide to use it. Wrap it around yourself like a big giant hug xoxo

joey Aug 29, 2012 09:08 am

This is a poignant and moving post…beautiful sentiments. Lovely memories…make more with that quilt, it deserves to be loved and lived with!

liz harwell Aug 30, 2012 08:08 pm

such a lovely and touching story. thank you for sharing it !

Mandy Aug 30, 2012 10:08 pm

I normally do not read blogs that go with recipes, but you caught my eye with North Dakota and I was drawn in.
You story is sweet.
My mom’s grandparents came from Germany and settle in ND.
My grandma had a thick german accent.
Thank you for sharing:)