Mashed Potatoes and the Internet

Today, a Facebook Friend said

 ♥ instant mashed potatoes. Yeah I do.

 Now I haven’t met this person in real life, but one of the wonders of Facebook is that such details aren’t all that important in cultivating a real friendship.  However, I told her that this love of instant mashed potatoes might be grounds for our breaking up.

Mashed potatoes are not just a high-glycemic carbohydrate.  When the tuber is boiled, combined with milk and butter, and mashed, the resultant gestalt is home, family, nurture and nature – in short, love on a plate.  If the potatoes contain a few lumps, the effect is intensified.

Piffle - NOT a great value.

Instant Mashed Potatoes go with take-out Thanksgiving Dinners and gas station champagne.  Just because somebody sells it, doesn’t mean anyone should buy it.  Some things are travesties of the spirit. 

I was a small child during that era that Mad Men is making trendy.  Dinner was at 5:00 and involved meat and potatoes most days of the week.  Sure there were buttered noodles and converted rice as well as fried, baked or boiled potatoes, but mashed potatoes were the norm. 

When we moved to Hawaii in 1967, we were met with the potato problem.  Getting spuds to the islands was expensive and they arrived rotten.  That first box of mashed potatoes entered my mother’s kitchen.  Mashed potatoes were such a norm it didn’t occur to anyone to eliminate such from the menu in the absence of real potatoes.  I suppose if for some reason Thanksgiving found me without a home-cooked feast, I would succumb to Bob Evan’s take-out offering just as I have, on occasion, succumbed to gas station champagne.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and champagne my favorite party drink.  Still.  These are travesties of the spirit.

I cannot stress this enough, I am never going to post in my Facebook status that I  ♥ either one.  Let’s not get silly.

When we were stateside again, the return of real potatoes to the table was a delight.  My brother was beside himself.  He was so young when were in Kaneohe that he had no memory of real potatoes.  He fell in love with Idaho’s export.  The first thing he would do when presented with mashed potatoes was to look for lumps. 

 My mother did not use an electric mixer to mash her potatoes.  We had the tried and true masher.  And those things take work.  Only someone with a great hatred of lumps in the mashed taters would use one of those things long enough to eradicate every potato chunk.  Lumpy potatoes became a sign of non-instant potatoes.  Whoever mashed the potatoes in our house, and we took turns, did so intentionally leaving lumps.  Lumps made my brother happy. 

Lumpy potatoes = good. = great = love =somebody cares about me.

As a family, we talked about this. Lumpy mashed potatoes were explicit in our family culinary lore.  Besides lumpy, we liked our taters with enough backbone  to form a bowl to hold the gravy or the butter – none of this whipped into frothy, drippy frenzy of tortured tubers.  Oh no!  Our potatoes had character and a stiff backbone. 

My dad’s spaghetti sauce was legend.  The homemade pizza pert near.  And we were known for the taters.  Some folks ate them politely, but with varying degrees of puzzlement.  After all, we didn’t look like slovenly folk who would half mash the potatoes and be stingy with the milk.

 As my burgeoning interest in cooking collided with my anachronistic interest in 50’s music, I became obsessed with Dee Dee Sharp’s Mashed Potato Time.  A good friend and I, Charlene, made up our dance we dubbed the La Hava” which we could even do on roller skates.  We had to make up our dance because You Tube didn’t exist and we couldn’t find anybody to teach us the real Mashed Potato

The La Hava was very versatile and worked for lots of the 50’s songs we loved – Leader of the Pack, Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love and The Last Kiss.  We must have been quite a sight – our teeny bopper suburban hippy selves rocking out to my mom’s music.

Joy to the World

But before La Hava and Charlene, there was Nancy and long afternoons in my living room with a Monopoly board, iced tea, and the top-40 radio station.  We were wildly, giggly, obnoxiously in love with Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog as was much of the country.  [I was also wild about Patsy Cline, but Nancy teased me about it and I remember one horrible fight over it.]

I wonder if she remembers the day she and I, my mom and some more of our friends (including Charlene) danced around the living room to Three Dog Night.  My mom had the tambourine.  Nancy and I were using wooden fruit for microphones singing loudly and unabashedly off-key – drunk on happy music and the ridiculous sight of my mother with a tambourine.  Or maybe it was Charlene and I singing off-key.  I have this tiny, incomplete memory that Nancy may have been musically gifted.  [To this day I still don’t know why we had a tambourine – we were not then nor are we now a family gifted with even the semblance of musical ability.]

I found Nancy on Facebook the other day.  Quite by accident.  After 36 years, it will be like building a friendship.  I haven’t spent any of my adult life with people who knew me as a military brat.  Who knew me before life started settling into predictable patterns.  It will be interesting to see how building a friendship with someone I was once close to compares with building one with someone I’ve never actually met. 

Dancing to Mashed Potato Time wouldn’t have been as much fun if we hadn’t had to invent the steps.  I’m grateful You Tube didn’t exist.  I’m delighted that Facebook does so that I could reconnect with Nancy.  I’m also delighted with Facebook’s penchant to bring me friends I’ve never met.  I’ve switched to a Kitchenaid to make my mashed taters these days.  If you time it carefully, the lumps remain.  Technology preserving the old ways in new ways – if you time it carefully.

I can ask Nancy if she remembers.  I can also ask her if she knows where Charlene is.  If the La Hava becomes the next viral line dance, you’ll know we three hooked up in a bar somewhere. 

Dive Diners and Seedy Motels

My favorite motel on the Mother Road

Growing up, we did Route 66 from beginning to end a couple dozen times.  At least.  My dad, being the man he was, insisted that each run down the Mother Road be done faster than the time before.  We did not sight-see.  We did not stop and shop.  We did not eat in restaurants or stay in hotels.  We made time.

A lot of our meals were taken from vending machines in gas stations.  Truck stops were a favorite.  (To this day, I will choose a truck stop over a chain restaurant if I’m looking for home-style food.)  My dad likes to joke that my brother and I learned early not to ask “are we there yet?” – but to ask “when will we need gas?” 

The need for automobile fuel was the only earthly reason for stopping until Dad was so bleary eyed he couldn’t see the road.  It was then that we pulled into a motel.  There was some discernment in our choosing, but not much.  I don’t remember seeing a lot of loose women or ex-cons in the places we stayed, but we did not stay in anything even approaching the sanitized motels of today. 

[Come to think it of it I do have memories of Magic Fingers massage beds.  Maybe at 6, I couldn’t recognize a woman of loose morals.]

It was a real treat to stay in the Wigwam Motel.  I’m not sure, but I think we stayed in the Arizona Wigwam when the opportunity presented itself.  But trust me, the Wigwam was pure luxury compared to our normal road digs.  I’m pretty sure we only stayed there because otherwise I would whine for 500 or 600 miles – the Wigwam was my idea of the epitome of luxury accommodations.

Driving cross-country as often as we did, I became a connoisseur of diner cuisine.  We usually ate at the closest eating establishment to the motel.

Somewhere along the way I became a fan of patty melts. 

Not perfect, but still good

Not perfect, but still good

There’s an art to making the perfect patty melt.  I’ve never managed to make a perfect one, though God knows, I’ve tried.  The absolute best patty melts are to be found in the places the Health Department shuts down for gross violations a couple times a year.  The next best place to find a good patty melt is at the IHOP, but they’re inconsistent.  Sometimes they’re greasy chin dripping, onion breath fabulous.  Other times they’re better than what I do at home, but not much.

For the uninitiated, a proper patty melt consists of a good quality ground beef patty, grilled onions, American cheese, and rye bread all cooked in the same fashion as the traditional grilled cheese i.e. fried in butter.  When done properly, it’s the perfect gestalt of heart-attack-on-a-plate and good eatin’. 

Usually they’ll offer you fries or onion rings (sometimes both) to go with your patty melt.  I prefer hash browns.  Real ones.  Grated and grilled until crispy with tomato and onion mixed in.  If you haven’t already discovered it, let me tell you that the Waffle House, hands down, has the best hash browns.  IHOP is a distant second.  The Waffle House also has patty melts but they’re inferior to IHOP’s.  If I could get it all home hot, I’d order the IHOP patty melt and the Waffle House hash browns and just eat at home where I could moan, groan, drool, and roll my eyes all I wanted to.

I stopped at the IHOP tonight for a patty melt.  I sat next to some folks who were evidently on a road trip.  Dad poured over the map, Mom looked ready for a Valium, and the kids were fighting about how much room the other was taking up on the booth seat. 

Nostalgia set in.

The patty melt was a disappointment tonight, but it was still damned good eatin’.  You have to work pretty hard to screw up grilled onions, rye bread, cheese and hamburger.  I had an urge to find a seedy motel and check in, but it’s no fun alone.  Sometime I should tell the story of the really seedy motel in Zanesville, Ohio, and what a fine time HMOKeefe and I had.  There was a picture of Jesus on the wall, mold  in the bathroom, iced vodka,  and a plastic chair outside the door.  Wish we had pictures.

Don’t ask about the time Boston Boy ordered shrimp in Richwood.  Flatlanders.  . .gotta love ’em.

[Hot Damn!!!  There’s a Wigwam in Kentucky!  Woo Hoo!  I am so going to go there.  Soon.]