50 years (featuring Salmon Bites on Potato Chips with Ali Verde Sauce)


We were sitting in one of the many bars at the Kennedy School, a grade-school-turned-hotel, where my parents were staying during their short visit to Portland last January.

With a glass of house red in his hand, eyes softly focused on my mother across the table, my dad revealed the plans for their 50th-anniversary party in June.

“We’re going to have it in Italy. A big party with all our Italian friends! Max and Megan are already on board. And you’ll come too, right?”

Eagerly nodding as I sipped Diet Coke through a straw I said, “Of course we’ll be there!” Francis was nodding too.

“We’ll have a bartender and food and a band!” My dad’s eyes darted around as if the lawn of their Italian home filled with their friends had suddenly appeared before him. 

“What kind of food will you have?” I swear, this was an honest, not leading-the-witness question. Hey, I’m in the food biz. I like to know what I’m going to be eating.

“Probably the Palazzaccio will cater it or…” my dad’s voice trailed off in thought. “I’d love to serve something other than Italian food actually because that’s all most of our Italian friends eat. I’d love to serve something exciting. Something out of the norm. Something fun!” He was selling it with this little shoulder dance he does. If you know him you’ve seen this jig. It’s his trademark impish jew samba.

Then there was a pause like the whole bar went silent for a moment…


and out of nowhere, I heard myself say,


“Sounds like I should cater it.”


My dad:

My memory is different.  It all happened over the phone, so my impish Jewish Samba-ish shoulder moves were in Alison’s imagination — or in her memory more likely, because I will admit to doing that dance many times over the years.  Anyway, she said, “Who’s doing the food?”  Just like she said she said. And I said, “Oh the Palazzaccio, maybe, or Le Casaline.  We’ll figure it out.”  Just like she said I said.

“I’ll do it,” Alison said.

“No, honey!  We don’t want you to work the party.  We want you to celebrate with us!”

“I want to do it.  And I’ll tap into all kinds of different cuisines.  No Italian food.”

“Bo,” I said, (a name I used to call her when she was a kid) “You really don’t have to do this.”

“Yeah,” Alison said.  “I do.”  I’m gonna cook for you guys on your 50th anniversary.”

And the penny dropped.  This was a blessing on us from our daughter.

And so it was.



The radiance of the “blessing” started to dim later that night when, after dinner and jazz at Clyde’s Prime Rib (where my brother plays drums every week), I realized what I had done. 

“You can back out of this at any time,” Francis said, still in shock that I would submit myself to the uncertainty of cooking in another country, another kitchen, and without any of my own equipment or purveyors. Add to that the indisputable pressure that comes with cooking for family and I broke into a flop sweat that lasted from January till June.

I wrestle with tremendous anxiety about catering. It’s part of the job. It’s number one on my prep list: 1) freak out about gig   2) buy ingredients… 

These particular waves of terror were occurring months before the gig, so by the time we got on the plane at the end of May we were like old chums, this party’s anxiety and me. We were BFFs.

I told my parents that I was going to let fate guide the menu. I had some great Chinese/ Vietnamese/ Indian/ Peruvian things in mind, but no idea if I could source any of the ingredients. I knew that the task of searching foreign markets for the things I needed would be an exhilarating and distracting project. I was not wrong.

My dad:

My angst was about the food, which should surprise no one.  What if our Italian friends turn up their noses at Alison’s dazzling international dishes?  Italians – even the most sophisticated of them – believe in their heart that theirs is only cuisine and that they are the only people who can make it.  I fretted about that.



Haha. My fears were so much more focused on if I could pull it off, rather than if the food would taste good. It honestly never occurred to me that anyone wouldn’t enjoy the food. That is, until I was having lunch in Montefalco with Francis and our two former Portlanders turned ex-pat Italian friends, Calvert and Tom.

“I’m worried about sourcing cilantro for these little salmon on potato chip appetizer I love,” I said as we sat on the sun-drenched piazza.

The piazza at night

They both nodded and agreed that it was close to impossible to find.

“Italians hate cilantro. They say it tastes like soap.” Tom said.

“Like, as a whole country?” I whined, “They all think it tastes like soap? I know I have non-Italian friends in America who experience this too so how can it be regional?” It seemed impossible to me that a whole country could hate an herb, but if that was true it was going to destroy one of my appetizers where cilantro is the star.

“I don’t know if it’s all Italians, but it’s certainly a lot of them. I doubt you’ll find any cilantro,” said Tom.

“Wait! I know you can find it at a Halal store,” Calvert chimed in very enthusiastically. It truly takes a village.

She started googling Halal stores in Spoleto and found one quickly.

I relaxed as I swirled another large helping of strangozzi al tartufo onto my fork.


The following day, we went to the Halal store.

“Not today,” the tall bearded store owner said to my dad in Italian. “We’ll have it on Friday.”



My dad:

I was also worried about the weather.  It had rained – often violently – every day through April and every day through May; and the forecast was for more of this in June, which is unheard of in Italy.  We were having a garden party, with a jazz combo and a bartender doing cocktails.  What if it rains? I caved and spent the sizable fee on renting some tents. Better safe than sorry, right?


Here’s something I didn’t tell anyone… I was praying for rain. There’s a level of chaos that I thrive in, an amount of pandemonium that puts party hosts and guests face-to-face with their own worst-case scenarios. A torrential down storm can break a diva and let the inner kid skip forward. 

But that’s stuff that you learn after 30-plus years of being a partyologist. It’s impossible to explain properly, especially to the hosts.

So we sat in the car, driving to different stores throughout Umbria, listening to my dad’s jazzy bluesy Pandora mix, staring up at the cloudy sky wishing for two different outcomes. 

The downpours were both recurrent and dramatic

I was nervous about shopping because of my incoherent Italian, but my dad, as my driver and shopping assistant, was incredible.

I had snuck some curry leaves and paunch puran (an Indian spice blend) in my suitcase for my tomato chutney. In Rome, where Francis and I stayed before arriving at my parent’s house, we picked up some tamarind and rice paper for the coconut shrimp and the spring rolls. I wasn’t putting the entire menu in the fate of Umbrian stores, just a lot of it.

My dad and I hit the local supermarkets and found a lot of the basics. Before we went in to talk to the butcher, I found a diagram of different cuts of beef to explain where the flat iron steaks I wanted for the crostini with lemongrass cream were cut from (the shoulder). My dad spoke to him in Italian and then held up the phone and the butcher got it. Amazing!

Then we cut across the street to see if the little local farmstand lady had any chili peppers or lemongrass. She had a lipsticked sourpuss glower like a villain from a children’s story and there was no way I was going to talk to her. 
“Lemongrass?” my dad asked her in his pressureless. it’d-be-so-great-if-you-could-help-us-today way. She frowned double and lazily extended a knobby finger to a basket of lemons.

“No, grazie,” he continued. “Citronella?” which was what my phone said the Italian translation of lemongrass was. She became a statue of disinterest. But then a woman entered the store and said she spoke English and could help. I had downloaded a picture of lemongrass on my phone.

“Lemongrass?” we both said. And she pointed to the basket of lemons. 

“No, look, lemongrass?” We held up the picture on the phone and this second lady also turned to stone. 


My dad:

I polled my experts.  Jojo and Bruce, world travelers and brilliant cooks, said that they had brought some lemongrass seeds back from Thailand, but haven’t had a lot of luck with them.  Karen and her husband, Martin, cook the most arcane international dishes at their dinner parties, but they, too, have never seen lemongrass in Italy.   There isn’t even an Italian word for it.  The best google translate could do was citronella, which we looked up.  And citronella may be many things, but it is not lemongrass.  For one thing, lemongrass is edible.  Citronella is used in cleaning products.  Definitely not what we’re looking for.

Our friend, Sophie, who knows where to find everything, suggested we try the Asian Market in Perugia, which sounded like a sensible suggestion.  So, Alison, Francis, and I set out for Perugia, the only problem being that we didn’t know what to ask for.   

The market was surprisingly big and seemed to have everything.  Alison quickly found gyoza wrappers and sesame oil for her chicken-ginger potstickers and then we scoured the vegetable racks to find the Holy Grail.  Alison had the lemongrass photo on her phone, so we all had an idea of what we were looking for.

Nix.  Nothing.  Not even close.  Before we gave up and left, I asked Alison for her phone with the photo and I went up to an Asian woman at one of the registers.  She was a bit older and had glasses on, so she looked authoritative.

“Excuse me,” I said in Italian, “we’re looking for … “ and I showed her the photo, which she looked closely at.

“Lemongrass,” she chirped.  My jaw dropped.  It seems the Italian/Asian for lemongrass is lemongrass!  And she had some – in the freezer section!


My dad raced back to where I was looking with no hope for dried lemongrass. He quickly repeated the story.

“It’s here?!?! You found it?!” I began jumping and hooting like a kid on Christmas morning.

I was almost done.


Friday morning, my dad and I headed off to the Halal store.

His beard now in a frown shape, the owner shook his head, “no cilantro delivery today.”

The party was set for 6:00 the following evening and so I let my cilantro dreams go. Fate was in charge, after all.

“To Conad!” I commanded my dad to return to the local supermarket and I grabbed a small forest of Italian parsley. Later that day, I blended together a new sauce, an Ali Verde, which was the perfect solution for all our problems! Except one.

The rain.

At 5:20 that Saturday afternoon, with guests 40 minutes away, the dark grey skies opened and emptied. The rental equipment arrived, the band set up, the bartender unpacked bottle after bottle as lakes and rivers formed. My parents stared out at the soaked backyard, happy they’d spent the extra money on tents.

Staring at his phone, Francis said, “According to my weather app it should clear up soon.”

And just as predicted, around 6:30 the clouds parted and the sun appeared along with a row of cars as far as the eye could see full of eager and excited guests. 

It was a perfect day after what I’ll always remember as a perfect, stress-free week with my dad.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad, once again! I love you.


Salmon Bites on Potato Chips with

Ali Verde Sauce


If you’ve got a hankering for the original sauce, just replace the parsley here with fresh cilantro. I won’t take it personally.

When I make this for parties I always fry my own potato chips, but this is such an easy and surprisingly delightful way to start off a meal (maybe a barbecue???) with a bag of store-bought potato chips. You can make the salmon and the sauce early in the day and assemble them when you’re ready to serve.

makes about 20 bites

Marinated Salmon


  • 2 6-ounce salmon fillets
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • potato chips
  1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar in a bowl and marinate the salmon for about an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and roast salmon for 10-12 minutes.
  3. Let salmon cool and then place in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the appetizer (or if serving the salmon as an entree you’re ready to go!)

Ali Verde Sauce


  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 serrano pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Kewpie mayo)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend blend blend until the sauce has become smooth and bright green.

Arrange your potato chips on a platter, place delicate chunks of salmon onto the chips, and then dollop them with the sauce. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve.


And here I am on KATU’s Afternoon Live, marveling at my own potato chips creation…


10 thoughts on “50 years (featuring Salmon Bites on Potato Chips with Ali Verde Sauce)”

  • I didn’t want this story to end, Alison! But now that it has, gotta go get some potato chips at the store before they close. Thank you to you and your dad for a bit of vicarious pre-event anxiety and a lot of food for thought!

  • I love this! We’re still glowing from that wonderful party. And the raves are still coming in for the food. One after another gorgeous platter with sensational bites!! It was amazing to see you do your thing!!
    Thank you, my daughter/ my chef for making it a truly memorable anniversary.
    Love you so much

  • Now that was a true adventure in cookery…and as twisted as it sounds I’m with you on the pre-party panic being weirdly and masochistically soothing . Cheers to Jill and Mike…and cheers to your great cooking and beautiful writing ❤️

  • I’m a long time reader of Wonderland Alison, and it’s always great to read. I often pass it along to friends and to Jess and Sasha too. (Jessica knows who you are more than Sasha, gotta admit!)Delightful as always, but special special cuz of your mom&dad. I loved the dialogue and drama!! And the food— always appreciate your recipes!! Happy Anniversary dear Michael and Jill!!❤️

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