Glossy, gluey, and gelatinous. I suppose there aren’t actually any foods I’d like to carry these adjectives, particularly something I’ve made at home, without the aid of fillers or artificial ingredients. But I hold potatoes with such high regard, I’d like them to be nothing short of perfection; fluffy, comforting, and buttery with just the right amount of salt and cracked black pepper. I want them to encompass everything I associate with home…not craft supplies.
About a week ago, I stood over my Kitchenaid stand mixer bowl, staring at this odd mixture that was supposed to be simple: red potatoes, warm milk, melted butter. Instead it appeared to be oddly complex and lacking in any real cohesion. These were not mashed potatoes; rather, they were a science project gone horribly awry and I felt a little heartbroken over my now ruined side dish. We ate them anyways, all sticky and shiny, only tasting of potatoes.
When I was in college, homesick (or perhaps heartsick) and only able to eat dorm cafeteria food, I managed to find solace in the mashed potatoes. Surprisingly, they were made from real potatoes, rather than flakes or pearls or some other dehydrated starch with their slightly tangy aftertaste. Sometimes I’d even go back for seconds. On one particularly lonely afternoon, I ran into a fellow choir member, who worked at the cafeteria, and he told me he’d pull a few strings – mashed potatoes weren’t on the menu, but he’d see what he could do. I was upset, I felt very much alone, and “pull a few strings” were some of the sweetest words I’d heard all day. When I went down for dinner, there they were, gloriously whipped up, waiting in a chafing pan. It was a small gesture, something that most people would forget, but whenever I eat mashed potatoes at home or in a restaurant, on a plane or on a train, I recall him: large eyed, with a perpetual cowlick and a good heart.
Tonight I had to try again. I boiled the potatoes and let the milk and butter come to room temperature instead of trying something fancy (and accidentally scalding the milk, which I imagine is the root cause for the odd viscosity of last week’s potatoes), mashed them by hand, placed them into the stand mixer bowl, and said a little prayer to the side dish gods. They still had a sheen to them that I will probably never be able to figure out, but instead of having a consistency much like mucus, they were solidly starchy and smooth.
It was comforting to know I hadn’t failed again.