When I opened the brown bag of potatoes yesterday and they were sprouting and looking particularly sad, a bit from Nora Ephron's, Heartburn sprung to mind. It's on page 124, entitled Potatoes and Love: Some Reflections.
The first time I read it, I laughed out loud. Then I went to read it to my sister and it made her laugh out loud. True to its theme (the lead character is a food writer), it has a kind of balance that is akin to an excellently executed culinary dish.
That being said, I guess I'll just get right in there and add a quarantine twist.
Potatoes and Love Quarantine: Some Reflections
I have friends that begin with pasta, and friends that begin with rice, but whenever I fall in love find myself in quarantine, I begin with potatoes. Sometime meat and potatoes and sometimes fish and potatoes, but always potatoes. I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love while in quarantine, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.
Not just any potato will do when it comes to love quarantine. There are people who go on about the virtues of plain potatoes – plain boiled new potatoes with a little parsley or dill, or plain baked potatoes with crackling skins – but my own feeling is that a taste for plain potatoes coincides with cultural antecedents I do not possess, and that in any case, the time for plain potatoes – if there is ever a time for plain potatoes – is never at the beginning of something (such as quarantine). It is also, I should add, never at the end of something. Perhaps you can get away with plain potatoes in the middle, although I have never been able to.
All right, then: I am talking about crispy potatoes. Crisp potatoes require an immense amount of labor. It’s not just the peeling, which is one of the few kitchen chores no electric device has been invented to alleviate; it’s also that the potatoes, once peeled, must be cut into whatever shape you intend them to be, put into water to be systematically prevented from turning a loathsome shade of bluish-brownish-black, and then meticulously dried to ensure that they crisp properly. All this takes time, and time, as any fool can tell you, is what true romance quarantine is about. In fact, one of the main reasons why you must make them in the beginning is that if you don’t make them in the beginning, you never will. I’m sorry to be so cynical about this, but that’s the truth.
One day the inevitable happens. I go to the potato drawer to make potatoes and discover that the little brown buggers I bought in a large sack a few weeks earlier have gotten mushy and are sprouting long and quite uninteresting vines. In addition, one of them seems to have developed an odd brown leak, and the odd brown leak appears to be the cause of a terrible odor that in only a few seconds has permeated the entire kitchen. I throw out the potatoes and look in the cupboard for a box of pasta. This is the moment the beginning ends and the middle begins.
The middle (II)
Sometimes, when a loved one has announced that he has decided to go on a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-salt diet (thus ruling out the possibility of potatoes, should you have been so inclined), he is signalling that the middle is ending and the end is beginning.
In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you’re feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re blue is that there isn’t anyone to make them for you (especially if you, like me, are quarantined alone). As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it’s almost always at the wrong time.
For mashed potatoes: Put 1 large (or 2 small) potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and place the potatoes back in the pot and shake over low heat to eliminate excess moisture. Peel. Put through a potato ricer and immediately add 1 tablespoon heavy cream and as much melted butter and salt and pepper as you feel like. Eat immediately. Serves one.