Friday, October 30, 2015

German Potato Salad Inspired by Andy Weir's The Martian

If I was stranded on Mars, impaled by an antenna and left behind by my crew, I think it’s safe to say that I’d be dead within a day…three, if we want to be optimistic. I wouldn’t know how to establish communication with NASA. I wouldn’t know the ingredients needed to create water. And the chances of me being able to grow potatoes are very slim. Succulents have been known to die in my care, and they’re one of the sturdiest plants on earth.
I think that’s one of the reasons I loved reading The Martian by Andy Weir. The main character, Mark Watney, actually knew how to do all of that stuff. But he also somehow came across as a regular guy. The kind I’d want to have a beer with. If, you know, I was old enough to drink beer....

The Martian is the most hard-core science fiction novel I have ever read, and this made me very, very happy. I’m a huge fan of biology and chemistry and am always frustrated when sci-fi novels ignore their existence. And, though I’m not as adept at other kinds of science, I’m always excited to learn about them. So reading The Martian was like Candyland to me: It brought in biology, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, botany, astrophysics, and a ton of other sciences that I’m not even smart enough to be able to name. It also featured Mark Watney, who's basically a smarter, foul-mouthed, male version of me. Not sure whether that's creepy or awesome, but I'll go with awesome. 

In case you don’t know what this book is about, here’s a quick summary (I stole part of it from my longer, more in-depth analysis of The Martian, which can be found over at Constant Collectible):  

Mistakenly left behind by his crew, Mark Watney is the first person to be alone on Mars. The first to perform over one hundred EVA’s. The first to grow Martian potatoes. The first space pirate…which he’s pretty excited about.

And possibly the first person to die on Mars. He’s not too hyped up about that last one.

But Mark’s not about to let that happen. He’s determined to find a way to survive until Ares 4 comes to pick him up. Easier said than done, but Watney’s a botanist and an engineer, so he knows what he’s doing. Sort of. When all else fails, he can always use some duct tape. Duct tape fixes everything.

Except for the fact that Watney’s only source of entertainment is the USB his captain left behind. If lack of food, oxygen, and water don’t kill him first, then maybe it will reach him through having to suffer though 70s TV shows….and disco music. Disco music, man. Doesn’t get much worse than that.

A sarcastic botanist/astronaut who is determined to get off of Mars because he won’t let a dead planet get the better of him, Mark’s voice keeps the novel alive. His brilliant cynicism and eternal fight with Mars, boredom, and NASA getting up in his business makes The Martian a hilarious read. And let’s not forget his annoyance with Disco music, love affair with duct tape, and epic nerd references.

You’ve probably heard rumors by now, so yes, this book has a ton of cussing. And no, I did not mind at all. The Martian is, in fact, the only novel to feature large amounts of foul language and still gain my approval. It somehow managed to meet my rules for using swearing in writing. And, honestly, if I was stranded on Mars, I’d probably be cussing a lot, too, so I'm willing to cut Watney some slack because of that. 

I'm also willing to cut him some slack because he happens to be an amazing character. He’s brilliant and just fun to read about, particularly his struggle to get those darn potatoes to grow. Of course my recipe inspired by this book is going to involve potatoes. How could it not? I decided to make German Potato Salad, for two reasons: 

1) It uses potatoes. Yeah. Mind blowing. 
2) Vogel, one of Watney’s team-members, is German, so I’m just going to pretend that Vogel told Watney about his recipe, and then Watney tested it out on Mars. Which is impossible for several reasons that I will explain later on, but hey, it’s a fun thought:
Ingredients - 
  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chopped onion (that's about 1 medium onion), depending on how much you like your onions
  • 1 tablespoon of gluten-free flour. Or gluten-ful flour, if you don't have diet restrictions. It makes no difference to the flavor. 
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, or to flavor.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed.  It's interesting to note that NASA actually only lets you take a liquid form of salt into space and absolutely no dry seasonings. This is because astronauts can't sprinkle salt (or other seasonings) in space, since it would simply float away, possibly clogging air vents, contaminating equipment, or getting stuck in an astronaut's eyes. The scenario is probably different in a pressurized Hab, but I wouldn't know since I don't work for NASA. Apparently they don't hire sarcastic girls who just really, really want to ride in a spaceship while carrying a towel and blasting Star Wars music. Anyway, all that to say, the chances of Watney having access to these seasonings are very slim, but let's just pretend.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper 
  • 2/3 cup of water 
  • 1/4 cup of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar or a mixture of both (which is what I did).
  • If you want to be super astronaut-y, you can triple the seasonings, though I don't recommend that unless you plan on eating this potato salad in space. Why? Well, space is a weightless environment, so all the fluids that usually drain out of a person's nose have a tendency to stay put, leaving astronauts stuffed up and unable to taste food very well. The most popular foods among astronauts tend to be highly seasoned so that they can actually taste the flavors through their stuffiness. Why do I know this? Because I'm a writer. I also know how much the average mallard duck weighs, as well as some random Turkish mythology. It's my job to know things like this. Don't question, just go with it. 
Directions -

1. Put potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, add some salt, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until just tender. 
2. While waiting for the potatoes to cook, chop your onion and measure out your seasonings. My younger brother just happens to own an orange Lego astronaut, a fact that made this entire process about 42 times more fun. Whoever invented the "Don't play with your food" rule clearly led a very sad, uninteresting life:
3. When done cooking, cool potatoes, then peel with a fork. Or you can be like me, not wait for them to cool, and see if you can peel them with your fingers without getting 3rd degree burns. Live dangerously. Then cut peeled potatoes into bite-sized pieces: 
4. In a saucepan, saute onions. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, dry mustard, and pepper. Add the vinegar and water. Cook until bubbly and thick. Add in the potatoes and heat for 2 to 3 more minutes.
5. Transfer to a serving dish. Eat warm or cold. German potato salad usually features bacon. I'm vegetarian, but if you want to be carnivorous, just cook up 4 to 5 rashers of bacon and add to the potatoes.
I had a lot of fun making this dish. I think Vogel would be proud and I'm sure Watney would have found time to test this meal if he hadn't been so busy trying not to die. 
If you haven't yet read The Martian, I'd like to share a few of my favorite Mark Watney quotes. Don't worry, I censored some of the language for you: 
Have you read The Martian or seen the movie? What were some of your favorite parts? Leave a comment before you leave!

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  1. I have heard fantastic things about The Martian from multiple people, and I hope to read it soon. With the science and sarcasm, it sounds just like a book that I would love to read! I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it as well.

    1. I'd love to hear what you think about it if/when you read it! It really is a very unique book.

  2. Hannah, I am down to fourth in the library queue to borrow this book and will see the film next week.

    Super summary and fun transition to potato salad. Was Mrs. Potato Head your photographer Cute, cute, cute!

    1. Yay! That's awesome. I hope you enjoy them both. Of course the book is better than the movie, but isn't it always? =D
      I actually took the pictures myself while Mrs. Potato Head sat on my shoulder and gave me instructions. =) Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. LOL, Hannah!!! One of your funniest posts yet :) I loved that science took center stage in this. I read the book and saw the movies, and enjoyed them both. I thought the movie was kind of dense and not as easy to follow if one hasn't read the book. The book was entertaining as heck! :D Very upbeat, hopeful, and generally ridiculously implausible in that fairytale-isn sort of way that renders the implausibility inconsequential - in the end, you still root for Mark. Your salad looks and sounds delicious as well :)

    1. Haha! *takes a sweeping bow* Thank you. I had a hysterical amount of fun putting it together. =)
      I agree with you on the movie. I saw it with my Dad and brother. Neither of them had read the book, and, though they enjoyed the movie, they mentioned that there were parts that they had difficulty following.

  4. I've been meaning to read this and you've just bumped it up a few places in my TBR pile. Thanks for a great review!

    1. Sweet! I'm so excited to hear that. I hope you enjoy it!

  5. That recipe sounds super yummy. I'm not a bacon-eater, either, so thank you for having a recipe without it. :)
    And, I loved The Martian, too. I'm usually not a fan of swearing, but like you, I thought it went with the awesome characterization and Watney's situation. The book made me laugh, and it made me feel a bit smarter than I am. I mean, I actually understood some of the science and I'm not that great with science.
    Thanks for this review and recipe!

    1. Glad you liked the recipe, Tyrean! And I agree: The book did make me feel a bit smarter. I wonder if we could inspire a love of science in kids by providing them with good sci-fi books to read? Hm. Now you've got me thinking. =)


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