Joni Woolf: Memorial Day — pause to give thanks before you party

Published 2:10 pm Sunday, May 27, 2018

This weekend is traditionally known as Memorial Day Weekend, and for many it is a three-day- long celebration lasting through Monday. It’s fun to gather with friends, compare and share recipes — and food — and wave a flag or two. Perhaps it is time to pause for a moment and remember why Memorial Day came to be, and what its observance means. Begun after the American Civil War, the holiday was created, and remains, as a tribute to all those who have died in military service to their country. Since the Revolutionary War, that number has reached 1.2 million. Before you nibble on your Vidalia Onion Ring, ponder that for a moment. Ever since military service became all-volunteer, the majority of the populace doesn’t give it much thought; their children won’t be called up; some other parents’ child will go in their stead. Just a little food for thought, before we move on to food.
Happy Memorial Day Weekend and here are a few picnic recipes to make the occasion one to celebrate.
I tried a new potato salad recipe this week, one found in the Barefoot Contessa’s “At Home” cookbook. I really liked it. As usual, I altered it a bit. Having no celery or red onion on hand, I added two boiled eggs and ½ a Vidalia onion. The dressing makes the difference. It’s quite tasty.
She calls it:
Old Fashioned Potato Salad
3 pounds small red potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup good mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
¼ cup buttermilk, milk or white wine (I used white wine)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
½ cup chopped fresh dill (I used 1 tablespoon dried dill weed)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup medium-diced celery
½ cup small-diced red onion
Place the potatoes and 2 tablespoons salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes with a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot off the heat and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Leave the potatoes to steam 15 to 20 minutes until tender but firm. (Note: this really works). Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk (or wine), Dijon and whole-grain mustards, dill, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Set aside. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters or halves, depending on their size. Place the cut potatoes in a large bowl, and pour enough dressing over them to moisten. (I did not use all the dressing.) Add the celery and red onion, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, cover and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Blue Cheese Burgers
(Blue cheese takes these burgers to another level)
2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound ground sirloin
3 tablespoons Crosse & Blackwell steak sauce
6 extra-large egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
8 to 10 hamburger buns (Pepperidge Farm are good ones)
8 ounces blue cheese
Arugula, for serving
Sliced tomatoes, for serving
In a large bowl, carefully mix the meats, steak sauce, egg yolks, salt and pepper with the tines of a fork, but do not mash the mixture. Lightly form hamburger patties and press lightly into shape. Press a thin slice of butter into the top of each hamburger, making sure the meat entirely encases the butter. Prepare the grill (or stovetop) and cook the hamburgers for 4 minutes on one side; turn and cook 3 minutes on the other side for medium rare. (Adjust for personal preference.) Remove to a platter and cover with foil. Let burgers rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile, grill the buns, cut side down, for 1 minute, until toasted. Place a hamburger and a slice of blue cheese on each bun, plus arugula and tomato and serve hot. (Lots of folks serve buns cold. That’s fine, if it’s your preference, but I really like a toasted bun.)

Now, ask a friend to bring a large dish of baked beans, and you are set for a classic Memorial Day celebration. Pour a drink of choice and lift your glasses in a toast to those who made this celebration of freedom both necessary and possible. Give thanks.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at