by Celia Barbour
I think our everlasting love for vacation probably has as much to do with the places we leave behind as the places we go. Whether you spend two weeks in a farmhouse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as my family does every year, or jet off for a week in a villa on the Amalfi coast, going away means renouncing — temporarily — a household full of stuff, and your daily load of responsibilities towards it.
Which, to be honest, is really, really hard.
Packing is bad enough. For me, it means trying to figure out the minimum number of things five people need to remain clean, safe and relatively happy on a hilltop 250 miles away — inevitably more than will fit in our trunk. Worse still is the stuff we leave behind: pets, bills, unmowed grass, houseplants, mail. They don’t just take care of themselves, do they?
For me, however, the most painful adieu is the one I must say every summer to my refrigerator and its contents. Not those eternal condiments, mind you, many of which have lived through a dozen such partings, but the perishable ingredients that must be eaten now or tossed. Inevitably, I allow myself too little time to work through them all, and, try as I might to come up with an eve-of-departure meal based around lunch meats, yogurt, leftover mac-and-cheese and eggplant, I am forced to throw the lot of them into the compost.
But pasture-raised eggs I cannot discard. I adore them in a pure, mooning way that feels reminiscent of teenage crushes, and I buy at least two dozen a week. Which is why, late on the morning of our departure, I find myself boiling nine of our 10 remaining eggs and making the last one into mayonnaise, for egg salad.
Even as I place the eggs in a pot of cold water (for, yes, that is how to make perfect hard-boiled eggs, and by “perfect” I mean eggs whose whites are totally cooked and whose yolks are slightly gooey and buttery: start them in cold water), set the pot on the stove, and bring it to a boil — uncovered — even then, I am telling myself that I am possibly batty for undertaking this dish when time is so short, and also reminding myself that the window locks still need to be checked.
When the water comes to a boil, I start watching the clock intently, which means forcing my brain to focus on its second-hand and not on the fact that I have yet to pack my toothbrush. After two minutes, I shut off the stove, place a lid on the pot, and set my timer for six minutes — just enough time to write a note to the cat-sitter. Then I plunge the eggs in very cold water, which will make the shells peel off easily. The eggs sit there, chilling, as I mix up the dressing.
I make mayonnaise from scratch because I love it (and, well — see above re: the batty problem), but the important parts of egg salad are the other things: a little heat from mustard, a sweet-sour tang from finely-chopped pickles or sweet relish, a bit of crunch if there is celery sitting around, and the essential zing of onions, scallions, shallots, chives or whatever allium you need to use up (any of which must be minced very finely). Egg salad is also happy to welcome any soft herbs you have on hand. Tarragon or dill are especially lovely, but mint, parsley or basil will do nicely, too.
Once the dressing is mixed, I peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl of dressing. Then it and every slice of leftover bread in the kitchen, every open box of crackers, and even a few remaining hamburger buns gets hauled out onto the patio, where we all gather to eat one more meal in the shade of the house that hates to see us go away, though we nonetheless do so, leaving behind our crumbs for the birds to clean up after we’ve driven away.
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ tsp mustard
½ tsp chopped pickles or relish
½ tsp chopped capers (optional)
1-2 T minced celery, or more to taste
1-2 T finely minced red onion or shallot, soaked for 5 minutes in ice water and drained
up to ¼ cup mixed herbs, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
8 hard boiled eggs
Mix together the first eight ingredients in a bowl. Peel and chop the eggs. Add them to the bowl, and toss gently to combine.