If you follow my blog on a regular basis, you may recall that I’ve already bid adieu to my dream kitchen at least twice this year. I am starting to feel like Cher on her farewell tour because over the course of two consecutive weekends, I’ve had a return engagement at my kitchen to cook. Instead of saying farewell, I should be saying “until next time.” Eventually there won’t be a next time. My ex and I have been readying the marital home to put it on the market to sell. It is requiring me to spend time at the house to do my share to get it in selling condition. Most days it’s okay, but there is an element of stress and emotion that comes with undoing a 25-plus year relationship, and redistributing possessions housed under one roof for nearly 18 years. The kitchen is still my place to de-stress and after a stressful few days of packing and tossing items that had once meant so much to me (or so I thought), why not indulge in my favorite pastime and prepare a meal or two.
For one of the meals I got to cook alongside my son Keller. I had clipped some lemon balm from my potted plant at the apartment and had found a recipe online that I wanted to try. So we agreed that I would make the main dish, a roasted chicken with herb and lemon balm. Keller took it upon himself to prepare the sides—pimped-out mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans.
Like me, Keller enjoys cooking, but his style reminds me of my father’s. My father never relied on recipes for his creations. Instead, he would either try to cook meals from his childhood from memory or try to replicate the meals prepared at the hotel he waited at. Keller also likes to cook on the fly, though on occasion he will consult a recipe and even call me for instructions on how to make a beloved dish. I’ve gotten calls inquiring about ingredients and cook times as late as midnight. It’s a good thing I am a night owl.
Like a lot of mother-teen son relationships, ours can be fraught with tension. Keller has a strong, independent streak causing us to go head-to-head when we’re at odds with each other, usually when he’s exerting his independence and resisting my help or his father’s. Occasionally, this gets him into trouble, like when he found himself on academic probation at the end of his spring semester of college freshman year. The reason: he had skipped several classes to work so he would not have to ask me or my ex for money. He also kept his underwhelming academic performance from us until the end of the following semester when he had pulled his grades up and restored his academic standing. On the one hand, I find it admirable that he wants to be independent and can resolve his problems on his own. But on the other hand, he could have avoided putting his academic standing at risk, if he had only reached out to us and asked us for some extra spending cash.
Fortunately, there are plenty of times where we can enjoy each other’s company over common interests. Cooking is one such activity and it is also one of the few areas where he accepts direction and advice from me. Which brings us to the mashed potatoes. Wanting to show yet again that he could figure things out on his own, Keller did his research on how to boil potatoes. The instructions he went with—cook potatoes in salted boiling water for 10 minutes—did not yield potatoes suitable for mashing. They were edible put still firm enough to make mashing them a challenge. He spent a good 20 minutes mashing the potatoes with a handheld beater borrowed from our neighbors Jack and Jill (yes, that’s their real names) yielding lumpy mashed potatoes with well-cooked but firm potato chunks. I offered the following tips for him to consider the next time he boils potatoes.
Though it should not come as a surprise, he graciously accepted my guidance on the potatoes, as he often does when it comes to matters of the kitchen. Perhaps because I am able to give him the space he needs to cook, try new techniques, fail or succeed with minimal parenting. I wish I could remember what we talked about over dinner that night. It couldn’t have been that important as act of cooking and passing on basic cooking tips.
Keller’s Pimped-out Potatoes
Disclosure, while this recipe calls for roasted garlic, Keller used garlic powder at my urging. Why? Because he had intended to use raw garlic. I am all for letting him experiment. Unless I have to eat it.
4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
1 ¾ cups of milk
½ cup stick of butter
2 green onions finely chopped
1 whole head of garlic roasted
Salt & white pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Peel potatoes and cut into one-inch chunks. Place in a large saucepan, and add enough cold water to cover the potatoes, about two inches. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.
- Drain the potatoes and place them in potato ricer and press the potatoes into a large bowl
- Meanwhile prep the garlic for roasting. Cut about ¼ inch off from the top of the garlic bulb exposing the tops of the cloves. Place the garlic bulb in a garlic roaster; a small casserole and cover with aluminum foil; or wrap the bulb tightly in aluminum foil and place in a regular sized baking dish. Roast the garlic until the garlic skins are golden brown and the garlic cloves are tender. Remove from oven, allow to cool until the bulb can be handled. Remove the outer skin layer and squeeze the cloves from their skins into the bowl with the potatoes.
- Heat the milk with the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the butter has melted.
- Remove the milk-butter mixture from the stovetop and pour it over the potatoes and garlic.
- Stir the liquid, potatoes and garlic together until just incorporated. Add the green onions and stir until just incorporated.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.