In the forty-six years that I have lived in my comfortable split ranch, the two features that I have enjoyed most are the half-acre treed lot (realtor speak) and the modest back deck. The appeal of each is intertwined with the other. The deck in itself is ordinary and really quite forgettable. The back yard, with its variety of mature trees, vines, and volunteer shrubs, is more attractive, especially on a summer day when the late afternoon light filters through the greenery, which is almost always in motion. Observing the pleasing scene through a window, distorted by the glass and screen, cannot compare to watching it play out while sitting in a comfortable chair on the deck, especially if one has a cold drink and an engaging book or company nearby.
I have served countless meals on the sturdy brown deck – largely standard summer fare comprising burgers, grilled steak, barbecued chicken, or hot dogs. From time to time, I have experimented with more adventurous dishes such as beer-can chicken, brined turkey breast, herb-laced pork tenderloin, or teriyaki beef kabobs. Whatever the menu, the main dish is always cooked on my unpredictable charcoal kettle grill. Though other outdoor chefs have tried their hardest to convince me to switch to more reliable gas, I have resisted. The challenge of getting the fire going, not so easy after a summer shower, and regulating the heat by adding or moving the briquettes around with metal tongs is part of the fun of outdoor cooking for me.
My simple version of summer potato salad has been a side dish with just about every one of the countless main dishes that I have prepared on the grill. While I do not recall each of these occasions in specific detail, I do remember them all as a category – “outdoor dinners on the deck.” One meal, however, does stand apart from the rest. It was not a dinner, and it did not involve grilling on the barbecue. We had just two guests that summer day – my late brother Arthur and my teenaged niece. They had taken a road trip to New England to visit my mother and other family members. I invited them to lunch and planned a casual menu, so we could relax and just enjoy each other’s company. I recall putting out a platter of Italian cold cuts and rolls, my cousin’s famous bean casserole (see September 2016), a pasta salad with pesto (see August 2016), and my old standby potato salad. We sat on that deck for hours while my charismatic brother regaled us with his comical stories and thanked me more than once for the lunch – his kind of food.
I wish I had a photograph of that day, but I do have another of him taken on the back deck last year. While other family members helped me plant my vegetable garden, Arthur, restricted by a cast on his intractable sore foot, sat at the patio table and watched his beloved Red Sox on a laptop computer. My sister-in-law snapped a picture and sent it to me later in the summer after his sudden and unexpected passing. I treasure the memory of him that day and the one many years earlier when he and my niece came to lunch.
Stir 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed. Then sprinkle the mixture over 4 cups of potatoes that have been cooked until they can be pierced easily with a fork but still hold their shape. (I use red potatoes and remove the skins after they have cooled). Fold in 1/4 cup of chopped onion and 1/4 cup of minced celery. Then add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and mix gently but well. Sprinkle a chopped hard boiled egg over the top and garnish with paprika and chopped parsley if desired. Let chill for two or more hours before serving.