For years, my daughter had been talking about going camping – not the kind of camping that involves a 40-foot luxury RV, but the type that involves a tent, sleeping bags, and a propane stove. As the temperatures had finally dropped to a manageable level, we decided that the time had come.
After all, we had all been forced to construct a tent-like structure for my daughter's Barbie collection so that Barbie could cozy up in her sleeping bag, roast marshmallows by the campfire, and marvel at the stars above.
As any parent will do, we made a plan that naturally involved quite a bit of thought about our nutritional needs. I like to eat hot dogs when camping and can probably do so for four weeks straight. My wife, however, refuses to embrace this type of bare-bones food intake and wants something just a tad better. As you already know, our daughter is yet another story and presented the biggest challenge.
What do you feed your picky eater while camping? Obviously, there is no large fridge with an endless supply of fresh produce. There is no spice rack with anything more exotic than Cinnamon. There is no oven. The stove has one or two burners.
While browsing the aisles in my local grocery store, I came upon a rather large section devoted entirely to “mashed potatoes.” There were bags and packages in all shapes and sizes. There was also a wide (and wild) variety of flavors. They all had one thing in common: They involved dehydrated potatoes – you know, the powdery stuff that crinkles in the bag a bit why you shake it.
Having had the displeasure of eating the kind of prepared mashed potatoes that can be found in the refrigerator section of most grocery stores, usually adjacent to the hot dogs and other pre-packaged and pre-cooked meats, I thought I might give this a try. Surely, these bags couldn't be any worse than the manufactured crap that I had tried before. Thus, I opted for a bag that sounded least offensive – which proclaimed in big, bold letters that it was made with “REAL IDAHO POTATOES.” Well, that sounds great – let's go! Without a doubt, I could feed this to my daughter – after all, she does like mashed potatoes.
One evening, we sat around the camping table with our collective tummies growling and the mood slowly turning sour because of hunger pangs. I didn't feel like cooking endlessly and thus, we decided on a simple meal – mashed potatoes, browned onions, delicious German sausages I had purchased at ALDI. We'd all be happy – even though my daughter would only eat the mashed potatoes.
Well, the faces every single one of us made upon tasting the mashed potatoes were simply priceless. I wish I had had my camera at the ready – our faces were that good! Rarely can one find such a collective expression of digust at one single table!
None of us ate the mashed potatoes and they ended up being fed to our dog, Lucky. I have smelled Lucky's dog food and let me tell you, that dog is NOT a gourmet. He ate it all.
I couldn't help but wonder if people actually thought that THIS was what mashed potatoes tasted like. After all, the huge selection of dehydrated mashed potatoes in the grocery store suggests that people must purchase this stuff – and not just in small quantities! If there wasn't demand, then certainly there would be no supply. Have you ever tried to purchase pectin for making jams? If you find it, you'll find only one product in the entire store. Why? There's no demand for it.
Perhaps it is just a matter of convenience. Then again, making mashed potatoes isn't exactly time-consuming, complicated, or hard labor. The ingredients are readily available, are inexpensive, and are staples in just about any kitchen. Oh well, I suppose I will have to keep dwelling on this mystery since I have not yet been able to come up with a good answer.
I was also reminded of another story – I apologize, but this is a blog and today, I am in the mood to tell stories:
One afternoon, many, many moons ago, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in a little sugar shack in the backroads of San Jose, Costa Rica. Back roads that are generally feared and usually avoided by foreigners. I forget why we were there – some type of official business, I am sure.
At any rate, the sugar shack housed a small “tipico” restaurant that served authentic Costa Rican fare. It was owned by a Colombian woman and her Costa Rican husband.
We had lunch in this little restaurant – in a room that felt more like the couple's kitchen than a restaurant. The whole thing reminded me of some Anthony Bourdain episode because, like him, we started to rave about the woman's food. It was absolutely delicious.
One thing stood out about the rest: Her mashed potatoes! They were the creamiest, most spectacular mashed potatoes I had ever tasted.
Her creation inspired me to experiment in an attempt to emulate her success. What follows, is the result of my many attempts at making the most delicious mashed potatoes available:
Salt Water (1 tsp. salt)
1 ½ lbs. White Potatoes (white potatoes, when tender, turn fluffy while yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Gold) remain much firmer. For mashed potatoes, the white fluffy varieties result is a much smoother and creamier consistency that most kids find really appealing.
Peel and cut the potatoes into 1 inch chunks.
Put them into a pot with cold salt water. Bring water to a boil and reduce to simmer. Let potatoes simmer until tender, about 15 - 20 minutes or until tender. Use a knife or fork to poke the potato pieces. If you can easily stick the fork or knife into the potatoes or if they easily fall apart, they are done.
Drain the potatoes in a colander and return to the pot.
Add 2 Tbsp. of butter.
Add ¾ cups of cream.
Add salt and a pinch of nutmeg to taste.
For lumpy mashed potatoes (yes, some people do like lumps!), mash less. For creamy mashed potatoes, use a fork and whisk until desired consistency is achieved. Feel free to add more cream until you reach the consistency most appealing to you and your child.
There are different ways to mash the potatoes. Some people use a potato masher – which I prefer, while others use a hand mixer – which speeds the process along tremendously. Either method results in a different consistency, contingent on the length of mashing. Experiment a bit and see which method speaks to you.
For added flavor, you can add freshly grated Parmesan. Don’t use the Kraft variety that comes pre-grated but opt for high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. The difference is well worth the extra expense.