whistlestop caboose

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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Stepping stone recipes, part 5: mash!

A few years ago, when I lived in Paris, I bought a big fat French cookbook with lots of colored photographs. I thought it would unlock some of the mysteries of French cooking - not the fancy stuff, just the day to day basics in a French household kitchen. I tried to use it regularly for a while, but I stopped when I mastered purée de pommes and decided that this was one dish where I preferred the American version: mashed potatoes.

Go back a bit. It is the 1950s. A little girl visits her grandparents in Reinbeck, Iowa for Thanksgiving. She is small enough and shy enough to crawl under the round dining room table, which has fat carved wooden legs. She scoots up against the base and listens to the grownups talk about the couple across the street who didn't speak for 30 years but were buried side by side for eternity. They rake over who hasn't paid his bills to the store and why that might be. Who isn't long for this world.

The smells of pumpkin and apple pies drift down and curl under the tablecloth. If I, the little girl, try hard enough I can almost see them cooling on Grandma's very old iron stove as I peep through the holes in the lace tablecloth.

The meat is roasting, a warm, cajoling perfume that makes me very hungry. I crawl out long enough to sneak a few black olives, a luxury Grandpa insists on, that we never have at home. He grabs a fistful and without looking at me shoves a couple in my hot little fist. I duck back under the table. He talks loudly and listens only when he feels like it, the result of a hearing aid and a fierce sense of independence in old age.

Voices and noises buzz above and around me. It's possible I doze. And then suddenly I am sitting at the table and there is a beautiful brown drumstick with crispy skin in front of me ("yyyy," mutters my sister Tara in disgust at me as she slices her more elegant white meat). Next to the turkey leg are some of Grandma's bright green garden peas. And next to that is the most beautiful sight on earth to a hungry little person, a round and smooth lump of mashed potatoes. I hurry to make a well in the middle with my fork, making neat lines in two directions, a gravy-holding grid.

"Gravy?" asks Grandma, but she doesn't wait for an answer. The steaming meat juice is poured into my neat well. I pause to let it cool and observe Grandma's lovely long silver braid twisted into a thin knot at the back of her head. Someday, I think, I will have hair like Grandma and bake pies and. . .

But by then the gravy is just cool enough not to burn my mouth. I tuck in.

Purée de pommes is a watery substitute for all that. Apologies to the French, but I love my mash.

2 Comments:

Blogger christin m p in massachusetts said...

Ellen,
This blog always makes me hungry -- with the photos of all those tempting desserts, and now these vivid descriptions of my biggest weakness of all -- potatoes, mashed with butter and milk...

At the risk of inspiring some readers to mutter that same "yyyy" that your sister did, I'll admit that I would even like them with sour cream and gravy at the same time.

Thank goodness for "thin genes"!!!

2:13 PM  
Blogger whistlestop caboose said...

Ah, thin genes, not fair! If you could market those you would be very rich. Meanwhile, some of us will just duck behind the counter and sample the butter + sour cream + gravy, mmmmmm.

We ran out of butter the other day so my husband had the bright idea of stirring in Swiss cream cheese with garlic and herbs. Oh my, a wonderful discovery! Not low in calories, either.

6:21 PM  

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