Mashed comfort

Andreae Prozesky takes it out on the taters.

Don’t even talk to me about food right now. Seriously.

Over the last two weeks, my body has been host to every cold bug and non-lethal flu virus in town. Nothing bad enough to warrant prescription drugs, mind you. My doctor’s expert advice on the subject was simply, “try to stay hydrated, and get some rest.”

Thanks, doc. I hadn’t thought of that. Now give me the damn pills.

If I had half a brain, I could have stopped this misery before it started. I could have been chewing raw garlic cloves, and chasing them with ginger-echinacea cocktails and hot lemon-honey infusions. I could have been eating huge bowls of grapefruit, blueberries, and kiwi to pump myself full of vitamin C. I could have gotten a flu shot.

But no. Now I’m a weak, whimpering, sniffling mess. My kitchen, usually a haven of bubbling pots and sizzling pans, is a wasteland of empty teacups, dirty spoons, and sticky Buckley’s bottles (the stuff is actually starting to taste good).

I could blast my sinuses into clarity with some hot and sour soup, or a fiery curry, but my stomach rejects outright anything with complicated or intense flavours. And although chicken soup is the traditional home cure for what ails me, it’s something you should have someone else prepare for you. Handling raw chicken right now is a terrible idea, in a “Food-Nerd-hospitalized-for-Salmonella-poisoning” kind of way.

If I can picture myself eating anything at all right now, it’s a bowl of mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes have always been my comfort food, the solution to everything from winter blues to a broken heart.

Also, “bowl of off-white starchy paste” pretty well sums up my emotional state right now.

Like all comfort foods, mashed potatoes are only right if they’re prepared exactly the way my mother does it. None of these fancy smashed red-skinned potatoes with frizzled green onions. No roasted garlic, no celeriac, no parsnip. Some other time those things might be fantastic, but not right now.

The potatoes have to be floury russets, for ultimate fluffy mashing, and there’s nothing going in there but milk, butter and salt, although I know that dairy foods are no good for people with colds. Too bad. Don’t care.

Some cookbooks will tell you that the best potatoes for mashing are boiled with their skins on, but I disagree. It makes sense in theory: the skins would keep the potatoes from absorbing too much water as they cook, thus protecting the potato flavour. But whole potatoes take longer to cook, and then you have to wait for them to be cool enough to handle so you can scoop the flesh out of the peels, by which point they’re too cold and you have to heat up your milk and butter – I’m too sick to have to think about all that.

Besides, potatoes don’t have much flavour anyway. That’s the whole point.

Like my mother, I am adept at peeling potatoes so that not a trace of skin remains. This means stopping to carve out all the little eyes with the tip of the peeler, leaving conical holes here and there. It doesn’t really take any time, and it saves me from the horror of picking the beady little bits out later.

Mashed potatoes must be perfectly smooth, without any undercooked nubblies to ruin the experience. The potatoes have to be cut in half or thirds in order to be the same size, so they all cook at the same rate. That’s all the work done, really. Cover them in water, bring them to a boil, turn the heat down to medium so they simmer half-gently until they’re cooked through. Twenty minutes or so. Drain the water out, throw in a hunk of butter and go at them with the masher (this is where I deviate from my childhood version, which would surely have involved glowingly yellow Eversweet margarine). Pour in a bit of milk, sprinkle on some salt to oomph them up, and there you go. Mashed potatoes.

If you’re in the state I’m in right now, eat your mashed potatoes unaccompanied (except by more butter, and a glass of orange juice), out of a bowl, on the couch, in sullen silence, with the television flicking some inane American comedy into your glazed-over eyes. Sigh deeply a few times to emphasise, to yourself, the unfathomable agony you’re in.

Then fall asleep in a fitful haze of cold meds and carbs.

Send your questions, comments, suggestions and get well soon wishes to dreae@thescope.ca

If you’re starting to feel a little better and want to get up and move without actually going outdoors, or if you’re in a feverish delerium, you might want to try this slightly more involved mashed potato recipe:

THE MASHED POTATO
(as found on Wikipedia)

“…The dance begins by stepping backward with one foot with that heel tilted inward. The foot is positioned slightly behind the other (stationary) foot. With the weight on the ball of the starting foot, the heel is then swiveled outward. The same process is repeated with the other foot: step back and behind with heel inward, pivot heel out, and so on. The pattern is continued for as many repetitions as desired. The step may be incorporated in various dances either as a separate routine or as a styling of standard steps.”