When I got to college, I discovered that most people (not just Southern-fried folk) ate their mashed potatoes with tons of butter and sour cream and salt. Some even added CHEESE and GARLIC. What??!? My mind was blown. So, one night when potatoes were on sale at the Super Walmart near my apartment and I had some time to kill before my roommate came home, I decided to make mashed potatoes to go with our weekly chicken dinner. I figured that if they sucked, we could go back to the box of Stovetop but it was worth a try. We all wound up eating second helpings and scraped the pot with our spoons before we put it in the sink. As I got older, I felt bad for my mother because I realized that she gave up all these wonderful flavors to accommodate my father. If she accidentally put too much milk in the potatoes and they actually tasted creamy, he would accuse her of dumping a bunch of "grease" in them. I began to resent him as my own palette bloomed and grew through friendships with people from various cultures and getting the opportunity to travel.
Thanksgiving will be sad again this year. After two years in a row of loss, it seems we have also lost the title of "Thanksgiving Hosts". But, after many, many changes of plans, it seems that my parents will be the only ones joining us on Thursday. I'm sad that we won't be able to celebrate with everyone we love, but I'm also slightly relieved that I won't feel as stressed. Mom volunteered to bring something and since Mike mentioned a craving for yams, she's going to make those and her famous cranberry sauce. While I was visiting them on Monday, I asked Dad if there was anything in particular that he usually looked forward to on Thanksgiving. As usual, he responded as if I was annoying him and he had already answered this question 3,000 times, but he said, "It's not that complicated. Some turkey, mashed potatoes, and a roll and I'm happy." While I was annoyed by his tone, I was just grateful to get an answer.
Since then, I have been thinking about mashed potatoes. I haven't made them much since college and since my darling husband doesn't mind the powdered kind, we keep it simple. But Dad will be looking for the real thing. It's Thanksgiving after all. And, you know, DUHHH, it's not that complicated. Everyone else on the planet gets excited about my hashbrown casserole, which is basically loaded mashed potatoes and therefore, not included in Dad's limited palette.
Sidebar: I don't know exactly what point in my life I realized that my parents were now the teenagers, but at some point, we switched roles. Wait--scratch that--I do actually know the EXACT moment I realized my parents were human, but that's another post for another day. A looong day.
Still thinking about mashed potatoes, the first of many hilarious Thanksgiving-themed episodes of Friends popped into my head. As I fretted over making them the way Dad likes them AND making hashbrown casserole, I heard Monica's voice in my head, "Potatoes are ruined. Potatoes are ruined. Potatoes are ruined!"
I turned to my favorite recipe site, Serious Eats, to see if they could give me any guidance on making them smooth, but not too smooth, and avoiding the worst--gummy. Blech. But, their answer to mashed potatoes is similar to everyone else's--BUTTER. I literally laid in bed stressing out about how and when I was going to prepare these mashed potatoes.
Another sidebar (sorry): I have loved potatoes in all of their forms since I was an infant. I've been told that before I had teeth, I loved mashing a french fry in my fist and sucking out the guts. I love the texture, whether it's fluffy or crispy or even burnt. I will top them with anything including spinach, BBQ, turkey, and anything else nearby. I love them boiled, baked, fried, mashed, diced, and even cold--just give me all the potatoes.
What occurred to me today is that part of the reason I love potatoes (beyond the obvious--who doesn't like carbs?) is that I enjoy their flavor. They don't have a strong or distinctive flavor, but they're earthy and filling and comforting. If I had grown up in a house where the mashed potatoes came from a packet or were crammed full of so much delicious "grease" and other flavors, I may not have noticed the subtle amazingness of the potato. So...thanks Dad.