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
– 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.