Summer days back home always felt languid in the small residential community in the desert where I grew up. Like our own oasis, we had a lake in the backyard that made the hot summer days just a little bit more enjoyable. It was an exceptionally hot day reaching the triple digits, and my mom and I had been running errands all day and the final stop was to get groceries for that night’s dinner. I guess the heat made us a bit giddy, because when those automatic doors opened, we turned into culinary fiends. Just a normal dinner was now becoming a feast in our minds. Cucumber Salad (a release from the vault as it hadn’t been prepared in a while), Au Gratin potatoes (a true gift from the heavens), freshly baked French bread, chocolate chip cookies for dessert and, of course, a hearty marinated tri-tip to appease my dad’s carnivorous appetite.
The car ride home brought giddy smiles and fast talks between mommy and me about our plans on how we were going to prepare our exceptional meal. We got home and unloaded the groceries, but we had been running around all day, the heat was beating on our backs, and it was time to cool off for a while. Swimsuits on, rafts blown up and bottles of malt liquors open, we lounged for the remainder of the sunshine. Dusk came and it was time to prepare our feast for five.
First we began with the salad, a light and refreshing combination of sliced cucumbers, wedged tomato slices, red onions and feta cheese all tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Salad tossed and placed in the fridge to chill, we moved onto preparing the mother of all potato dishes (trust us, we’re Irish): Au Gratin potatoes. To begin this delicacy, one needs a few simplistic ingredients: golden potatoes (obviously), a block of cheddar cheese, one medium white onion and two cans of cream of mushroom soup. After peeling and slicing the potatoes, laughing the whole time as we tried to hold onto the slippery spheres, we sliced them and the cheese up into medium thick chunks. Then the delicious part began. In a large deep bowl we layered the ingredients much like a lasagna — potatoes, cheese, soup and onions until we had filled it to the top. Cooking this masterpiece was simple: we placed it into the oven at 440 °F for 1-2 hours, or until potatoes were tender enough.
The potatoes were sizzling and getting all gooey, so we waited as the house began to smell like the tantalizing meal that we were preparing for ourselves. The tri-tip was passed off to my dad, the self-proclaimed BBQ master. We sat on the patio waiting for the timer on the potatoes and watched the smoke lazily drift out of the grill.
So, potatoes were golden brown, salad was chilled and tri-tip was grilled to a beautiful medium. We cut the fresh French bread, which crackled like a good baguette should, and it was white as a cloud inside. My family and I sat down and enjoyed my mom’s and my spontaneous decision to cook a special meal for fun.
The meal may not seem extraordinary, but growing up in a household that struggled (my mom worked two or more jobs all my life), I really appreciated every home-cooked meal as if it was something extraordinary. This lazy summer meal will forever be one of my favorite experiences cooking with my mom.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you!