Saturday, August 22, 2015

Smile Although Your Back Is Breaking, Laugh Clown Laugh - Old Fashioned Mashed Potatoes

Yesterday I engaged in two acquisitions which brought me cheer.  Cheer is hard to come by lately, so I count it as a very good day.

The first one was something I'd been promising myself to do; I got an Osceola County library card. Don't laugh; this was a big deal for me, living in a shell as I usually do. The second one was one of those things I buy rarely and try to keep forever; we bought a car, a 2013 Ford Escape to replace my 2001 Ford Expedition.  When I woke up yesterday, the last thing I expected was to buy a car.  Or get a library card, for that matter.  All I had on my agenda was getting out of bed and a trip to Publix. See how that works sometimes?

Driving the Escort from the dealer. In Plainview. In the snow.

I have come to really appreciate Fords although I was raised to drive only General Motors cars by my Pop, who was an old-fashioned car-loving man.  This will be my fourth Ford.  The first was a 1979 (I think) Escort we bought after my 1972 cardinal red Pontiac Ventura was unceremoniously stolen from the parking lot at our condo in Central Islip.  Who steals an 8-year old car? Since that was my very first car, bought in a joint venture between myself and my parents while I was a sophomore at SUNY New Paltz, I was beyond upset.  After all, that was the car that survived the Route 44-55 Hairpin Turn On The Mountain In The Fog.

My contribution to half the purchase price of that car represented all of my savings from baby-sitting, birthday presents, and my first job at Mays - Woodmere Department Store (although it was really in Rosedale, Queens.  Come to think of it, while the store sat on the wrong side of the Nassau-Queens county line, it bordered Cedarhurst, not Woodmere.  I guess in some marketing man's mind, one Five Town was as good as the other).  Having your car stolen is a terrible intrusion of personal space, besides an unneeded financial burden. And the tassel from my 1970 high school graduation was in the car when it got stolen, which still bothers me.

I'm not a car person; I have no car vanity.  I love old cars - show me a 1962 Chevy Impala and my eyes will light up - and I can appreciate the good looks and vroom vroom of the ultimate American sports car, the Corvette - but I won't drive a Corvette, and I don't really like riding in one either (both my boys are serious Corvette fans).

The goodbye photo of the Expedition.  Well-done, good and faithful servant.

My car needs are relatively simple.  I prefer American-made cars that are higher off the ground, get decent gas mileage, have wide, comfortable seats and get me where I need to go, like the nearest Publix or Little Rock, Arkansas. New cars are nice, but the last new car I bought was a 1989 Ford Taurus.  I like a car that plans on hanging around for a while and doesn't mind growing old with me.  That Taurus was just shy of 300,000 miles when I gave her up for a mad whirl with a bright green Chevy Geo, and my Expedition, battered and bruised as she is, passed the 200,000 mile mark a few months ago.

Amtrak passenger train, crossing and blocking Dakin Avenue.

The library card cheered me up so much I didn't even mind being stopped by the Amtrak train resting majestically at the Kissimmee station.  I even took a picture because that's the kind of hairpin I am. That's my officially former office building in the background. I also tried to get a picture of Mama Duck and her five imprinted ducklings, but the shadows were too dark. I might have been able to work on better lighting, but did not want to startle her and cause her to waddle into oncoming traffic, duck babies strung out obediently behind her.

The last time I had an Osceola County library card was 1991, so to say that things have changed is a vast understatement.  And even though I have - or had - an Orange County library card, I did not hang out there often enough to more than read every book in the Mystery section.  I'm a specialist.  So it was a surprise and a pleasure to NOT have to fill out any forms, as the young lady at the desk took care of this from her keyboard, with my driver's license.  She also gave me a bunch of handouts, outlining all the various free services available through the library system, including online learning opportunities that made my mouth water.  My tax dollars at work, and damn glad of it.

In case you were wondering, and even if you weren't, my very favorite top-of-the-list comfort food is mashed potatoes.  My mother made the World's Best Mashed Potatoes (didn't everybody's mother?) which were of course, from scratch, full of margarine and milk.  Good stuff.  Between my trouble swallowing and my trouble chewing, mashed potatoes are also the World's Best Food For Me.  If I happen to have mashed potatoes and green peas (my favorite vegetable) on the same plate, I will eat them the way my mother showed me when I first learned to hold a fork: first, I scoop up some of the potatoes and then I take the fork and press down lightly on the peas, so that they stick to the potatoes gently leaking out from between the tines of the fork.  One perfect bite of two perfect foods. Nirvana, kids, and don't knock it till you try it.

Mom always used regular old white potatoes that could also be used for baking under other more formal circumstances.  She always peeled them.  She never bought new potatoes; I think she thought they were for goyim (Gentiles, non-Jews) only.  A proper balaboosteh (superb Jewish housewife) always peeled her potatoes.  Me, I'm a rebel with a cause - I not only buy new potatoes, I use them in a myriad of ways.  I have been known to mash a pound or two of unpeeled new potatoes, in the interest of time constraints.  Peeling takes a little more time but is worth it.  I have also been known to grate a bunch of unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes when making potato latkes for Hanukkah or just because we love latkes.  I'm not sure Mom would approve, although she finally admitted, in the later years of her life, that one could make a decent chopped liver from chicken livers, rather than beef, and adding a couple of hardboiled eggs was good taste, not heresy.

4 medium to large white potatoes (Idaho, Russet - but no thin-skins for this.)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter (Butter is better. Forget margarine, or "healthy" spreads.)
1 cup hot whole milk, half and half, or cream (Cream is a dream.)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Mo' butter
Mo' hot milk, half and half, or cream

Peel the potatoes and cut them into eighths.  Put them in a medium pot and cover with cool water.  Throw in some kosher salt.  Put the pot on the stove top, and bring the potatoes to a boil over High heat.  Boil them for 15 to 25 minutes until done.  I like 'em softer, so I go the full 25.  If the water is boiling too furiously, drop the heat to Medium-High so it boils without splattering.

Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot, place back on the stove (residual heat is fine) and let the potatoes dry out for about a minute.  Start mashing them (by hand!) and then add the butter, which  is best if you cut it into small cubes.  Mash the melting butter with the potatoes, and then add the hot milk, etc.  I used cream today, but any of the three will work. Add salt and pepper and mash until you get the texture you prefer.  Lumps are to be expected, nay, PREFERRED.  Taste and season - these soak up a lot of salt.  Finally, if like me you want a really creamy mash, add a little more butter and up to a half a cup more of hot milk.  These do reheat well in the microwave.

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