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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Passion For Potatoes

This is a paean to potatoes. Trent and I both love them. As a matter of fact, when our little dog Paris was alive, she loved potatoes, too. I know that there are some people who are currently of the opinion that you should not eat any "white" foods, like sugar, rice, and potatoes. I don't plan on eliminating potatoes, or rice for that matter, from my diet. They are just too delightful and satisfying. So I didn't think it was at all odd to make a huge batch of potato salad a couple of days ago. I know that a lot of people think that potato salad is something that should only be eaten during warm weather. I think that makes absolutely no sense. Do we stop eating lettuce or other green salads just because it's cold outside? Of course not! And do ice cream and other frozen treats only get eaten during the summer? I should say not! In fact, I love eating ice cream during the winter. But then again, maybe I am just weird like that.

As I worked on making the potato salad the other day, my thoughts turned to my little Gram, as they often do. When I make potato salad, I am using her method and "recipe." Recipe is in quotation marks because very little of what Gram made, including baked goods, involved any specific measurements. It was a matter of using enough of all of the necessary ingredients to make things right. So as I mixed up the dressing, a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard (more on the mustardy side as far as flavor is concerned) I thought about when Gram would make a batch. She used very basic ingredients; potatoes, onions, and pickles. She never put hard-boiled eggs in her potato salad like some folks do, so I don't either. The only real difference between hers and mine is that I add some celery salt for a little extra bit of flavor. Yes, I'm a real wild child, right?

When I make this dish, which I am often asked to bring to dinners at friends' homes, I also think of a cousin by marriage. Janet (not her real name, naturally) is someone who could easily have been a chef in a fancy restaurant. She could easily whip up any number of complicated dishes and never break a sweat or even show a furrowed, worrying brow. It was the simple stuff that really boggled her. I remember her once having a tremendous problem with making a Jello dish. She could make an incredibly delicious p√Ęte with her eyes closed and one arm tied behind her back, but she couldn't get any gel into her jello. 

She also got flummoxed by potato salad. Once when we were having a summer picnic at Alice and Bill's home, Janet was asked to bring a potato salad. Everyone thought it would be the world's best because she was such a good cook. Not so much. Her potato salad was merely lumps of cooked potatoes mixed with bottled Green Goddess salad dressing. Not so delicious. Janet told me quietly that it was awful, and she would rather have cooked just about anything instead of what she was asked to bring. Not only did she have absolutely no idea how to make potato salad, she said, but she couldn't really cook potatoes at all. For at least five minutes, I actually felt like I had better culinary skills that she did. When I told Gram about the conversation, she gave me one of the best compliments I have ever received. She told me, "Janet is a good cook. She can make all sorts of fancy stuff that nobody's ever heard of. But you are a great cook, honey, because you can make the things that people really want to eat." From her, this was praise indeed. And I am more than willing to be considered someone who cooks things that people would like to eat! 

Tonight, even though there is still some potato salad left, I decided to roast some potatoes. Although with the modern convenience of air-conditioning I can roast and bake all through the year, there is something psychologically comforting about having the oven going on the first really cold day of the year. So our side dish this evening was something I like to call Mahogany Potatoes.  I simply scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks on top of a baking sheet lined with some parchment paper, and roast them in a hot oven. When they come out of the oven, they are beautifully brown, chewy but not crunchy. Each piece is like a small baked potato, and we devour them with gusto. Trent treats his like he would a regular baked potato, slathered with sour cream, while I savor the natural earthy flavor of the potato with a bit of seasoned salt. Happiness abounds in our tummies, and since we enjoy it so much, it feeds both body and soul. Not bad for a humble tuber, eh?