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Posts Tagged ‘mashed potatoes’

Okay, I know I meant to write more about food writing* this week, but I’ve had so much fun with another idea that I want to talk about it first. It’s my dearest love of sloppy food.

There’s such pressure to be perfect these days. It’s not new; our great-grandmothers used to compete, silently, to see which woman on the block was first to hang her clean wash on the clothesline on Monday morning. Those days are over, mercifully. But new ones, and pressures, took their place. With the advent of movies, TV, and now social media, we’re holding ourselves up for comparison to endless others paraded in front of us, forgetting that what we see is not likely the whole enchilada. Very not likely. (Philip Galanes of The New York Times recently received a letter from a young woman asking why on earth her stepmother, who had always been cold to her and her sisters, would post kitten memes on Facebook that read, ‘I heart my stepdaughters!’ He replied, ‘Facebook is not the real world. It is not even adjacent to the real world.’)

One way to counteract the deluge of pretentious perfection is to go whole hog in the opposite direction, at least for a time. An excellent way to start is with eating.

I work my way down this list if the pressure mounts, or when my life gets too tidy, and would encourage you to do the same. Sandwiches feature prominently.

  1. Tomato-raw onion-Cotija sandwiches. The ingredients slide out in 17 different directions, and I slurp extra-virgin olive oil off the backs of my arms.
  2. Dark chocolate that I’ve melted for a recipe, and had extra at the bottom of the Pyrex bowl, so I put it in the refrigerator to firm up overnight. This is one of my favorite choices for chocolate day: wedging the tines of a fork into that bowl to chip out the chocolate in shiny shards, and eating just shy of a migraine. I take my joys where I can get them.An example of bloomed chocolate. Looks cool in the bowl. Not so much on candy.
  3. Italian subs. With everything on it, and lots and lots of oil and vinegar. A sopping roll is a blasphemy and an aberration to many; to me, it’s a requirement. I learned from a counter guy at a local sub shop that if you like your sandwich this way, you should say, ‘WET.’
  4. Tuna-anchovy sandwiches. It drips out the edges of the bread as you bite into it and you get to pick up all the fishy little bits with your fingers.
  5. S’mores. Homemade, baby.
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  6. Ice cream with leaky cones. I like to take the paper cone off the bottom and slurp.
    on the clock to take the shot before I wear this.
  7. Thanksgiving dinner. The ultimate. On the floor. I grew up eating a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, but it was far too straight-laced for the likes of me. So one year I spread out my best friend’s grandmother’s afghan on the floor and we had a picnic of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. We wore fleece and socks instead of dressy clothes, and we deliberately ate the whole thing with our fingers. It was one of the most liberating meals of my life.StuffingIn the early ’90s, I taught a camp group of Pre-Ks (four-year-olds). One rainy day when we were stuck inside, all of the Pre-K groups were given smocks, big sheets of glossy fingerpaint paper, and bowls of chocolate pudding. I plopped a blob of pudding onto each of their papers with a plastic spoon. For most of my kids, this was exceedingly well received. One little girl, though, Lucy, didn’t want to touch it. Her mom always had her dressed just so; I can still picture her, with tiny gold stud earrings and her long hair pulled back with a ribbon. Everything she did at camp she did with caution, and I would gently encourage her to try more, to do more.

    At first she agreed to put her pointer finger in the pudding and swirled it around a little. That went on too long. It was a rainy day, and this was all we had to do in the cramped gym for 45 minutes, so I kept cheering her on. ‘Come on, Lucy Luce! Get your hands in there!’ She put two fingers in and Mona-Lisa smiled. That was it. I looked away for a few minutes and came back to find her with both hands flat to the paper and pushing them up and down and laughing her little beribboned head off.
    There’s a place for excellence in our lives…not perfection. There’s a place for tidiness. But too much, and with the wrong expectations, and we stifle ourselves. Life is a rainy day in the gym. Every day is. Go messy for a while, laugh, lick your fingers, and fresh new ideas will start bumpity-bumping around in your head. Let yourself enjoy it, too. Be a Lucy.

*Sorry if I melted your brain there. Peace & love.

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Next up on my British (kitchen) invasion: The meat pie. It’s a dish that, when prepared well, altogether dismisses the region’s poor reputation for cooking.

I’ve had two meat pies—shepherd’s pie (made with lamb) and cottage pie (made with beef)—and love them quite dearly. But both are topped with mashed potatoes, and I’ve always wanted to try a meat pie enveloped in crust. This desire became more pressing after seeing a gorgeous one that Nigella posted last week on Facebook. It doesn’t take much with me.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday here in the States, and while I don’t share my countrymen’s enthusiasm for watching chilly gentlemen chasing a ball, I do share their fondness for extravagant treats. This year I would not have a veggie burger or some such nonsense for dinner. I would have my meat pie.*

I went to my trusty The Cooking of the British Isles (Time-Life Books, 1969) and opened up to a recipe that has had me mooning like a lovesick groupie since acquiring the book some eight years ago: pork-and-apple pie, with chunks of seasoned meat, apples, and onions baked under potatoes. I tweaked the recipe, baking the mixture under a short crust instead.

The Cooking of the British Isles was my go-to for the ingredients and the pork, apple, and onion proportions (I halved them). And I layered them per the recipe (the British charmingly like to layer things). But after that, I winged everything.

First, I cut a yellow onion into thick slices and tossed the slices in salt and dried sage. I cut up two pounds of lean pork into chunks, sauteed them, transferred them to a bowl, and stirred in a good amount of ground black pepper, salt, and more sage. Then I peeled and sliced a couple of apples into thick chunks.

I really wanted this pie to be high and mighty, and one of my Easter bread spring form pans served very well. I rolled out 2/3 of the pie dough for the bottom crust, layered in pork, then onions, then apples, and made a second layer.

Then I rolled out the 1/3 pie dough remaining and plopped it on top. My crimping skills are less than spectacular. (The result is above. Let’s call it a rustic look.) And because I read that way, way back in the day, bakers distinguished savory pies from sweet pies by decorating the top crust, I pulled a little bit of extra dough off one side of the pie and made a sticky little apple for the center. Then I slashed the top crust a few times to let steam escape. Last of all, I brushed on an egg wash—one egg with a little water added—to help it brown up in the oven.**

It smelled delectable. It tasted delectable as well, save one issue: the pork was a bit overcooked. Me being chicken, I was worried that if I only half-cooked it, it might not cook all the way through in the oven. Nope—for 30-45 minutes in a 400F-degree oven, it would have been fine.

I’m having a slice for breakfast tomorrow. Laugh all you like, but I’m following in the grand and ancient British tradition of a meaty breakfast. My favorite quote from the cookbook is courtesy of an English army general before taking breakfast at a London eatery.

‘Will you start with porridge, sir?’ the waiter asked. ‘Or would you prefer cornflakes?’

‘Cornflakes!’ roared the General. ‘Cornflakes be damned! Bring me a plate of cold, underdone roast beef and a tankard of ale!’

You have to admire the guy.

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*I actually woke up excited that today was the day I got to make this. Simple pleasures.

**You can use milk instead of water for the egg wash, or even cream if your cholesterol is dangerously low.

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This time of year we overwhelm ourselves. An oven that’s on from morning to night, especially in the hectic last few days before Christmas. Thinking you have to make tins of cookies AND a gingerbread house AND fancy schmancy cookie ornaments with guests’ names piped on them in royal icing. Then there’s hosting too many events, or cooking too many things for those events, or worst—knowing you’re not that comfortable a cook, but you still attempt roast pheasant wrapped in bacon and a three-layer chestnut dacquoise. We think—and I’d bet it’s a misguided thought—it has to be this way or your relationships will go up in a mushroom cloud.

Today I am going to argue for doing Christmas exactly the way you want. (If just reading that sentence gave you hives, then this is really for you.) Christmas is supposed to fun and nourishing to mind, body and soul. For kids. For guests. For you, too.

Think back on your favorite Christmas memories, and try to distill them down to the ones closest to your heart. If I can bet again, I’ll bet they’re about something simple. Warm gingerbread. A candy cane. Playing with your cousins. Watching the snow fall at night.

Sink into that nice calm feeling for a little bit.

Now think about what you can to pare down your holiday. If the train you drive at holiday time is already at maximum speed and can’t be flagged down at this point, you can save what I’m saying for next year. Like a rum cake, it’ll probably taste even sweeter by letting it marinate. But I’m positive there’s at least one thing you can scale back.

As for me, I grew up in the kind of family for whom food, great food, was tantamount. We ate always well, especially at holiday time. But it came with a price, at least for me: It was required that we dress up for every holiday, and with that came an air of pretension at the table. I’m not a formal girl (as you’ve probably guessed by now), so this was exhausting.

Many years later, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for myself and my new husband. I wore sweats, spread a blanket on the rug, fixed myself a plate…and ate every bite with my fingers. Even the mashed potatoes.

Liberating doesn’t even come close to how that felt. It was fun, it was a boost to my integrity, and let me tell you…the food tasted that much better for it.

I know that’s an extreme response. But it’s a good jumping-off point for you.

How can you eat with your fingers this year? Pick just one thing—and do it.

*You’re looking at the photo and scratching your head. No, I have not become a botanist (that whoosh you just heard was the field of botany breathing a collective sigh of relief; I barely passed biology). I took that photo on a beautiful foggy day last winter, and it’s on my Christmas card this year.

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