Mashed Potatoes For Passover
The first time I had Jeff's kids over for Passover I wanted everything to be perfect. He and I were recently engaged, and I adored his kids. Cate had been to my seder the previous year, but this would be the first time that Charlie and Eli came. I was hoping to blow them away with my mad skills in the kitchen. I had never had kids of my own. Suddenly I was marrying into three, who were extraordinary. Cooking was one of the few "motherly" things I knew, and I leaned on my acumen - probably assigning a bit too much to it.
The boys were only with us on breaks from boarding school. Cate was in middle school here and stayed with us every other week. She and I had a great rapport. For the most part, I could understand a girl. I had been one myself, yet I didn't possess half of her sophistication. The boys were still a bit of a fascination for me. Charlie is passionate about the environment and driven to make the world a better place. Eli has never met a stranger - he's gregarious and charming. I loved spending time with them - listening to their music, cracking up at their jokes (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically) and hearing about their lives.
I hit the jackpot from a blended family perspective - they're great, and we all get along. I no longer needed them to like me. Now I wanted them to think I was cool. This is a bad place for a middle-aged woman to be. For one thing, I'm not that cool. And even if I was, my desperation was palpable. The kids already liked me. That should have been enough. So why was this night different from all other nights?
I've lived in Atlanta for decades and, while I've attended many amazing seders, over the last few years I've hosted my own. I draw a mix of Jews and Christians, blacks and whites, artists, writers, executives and politicians. I love the different perspectives that everyone brings to the table. And I love creating the menu. I start preparing weeks in advance -- homemade chicken stock, batches of matzo balls, mayonnaise from scratch for the chopped liver and selecting the perfect brisket.
That night as my guests assembled I was really proud of the cool folks around the table. They're smart, interesting and they all come hungry. Course after course everyone complimented the dinner. I kept side-eying the kids to make sure they were enjoying themselves. They devoured my chopped liver, lapped up the matzo ball soup, swooned over the smoked trout salad and delighted at the braised brisket over parsnip puree. But here's where the wheels came off the wagon: Eli made no secret of his surprise or distaste for the parsnip puree. This creamy side dish looks a lot like mashed potatoes. But it tastes so much better - says most everyone, other than Eli. I cook parsnips in half-and-half and then blend them to a creamy perfection. I only cook them once a year, and they pair really well with the brisket. Or so I thought. My meat-and-potatoes stepson-to-be wasn't having it. It was a crushing blow.
In the ensuing years I have cooked Eli countless meals that he has loved, but I'll never forget his disappointment in that one dish. Fairytales have given stepmoms a bad wrap. I guess, in a way, we're still trying to live down the metaphor of the wicked queen. I had waited until Jeff and I were really serious before I met his kids. By then I was madly in love with him. And in a way - even though I didn't know them - I had already fallen in love with the kids from their pictures and his stories.
I know how lucky I am. I never had to change diapers or teach anyone how to ride a bike. They came to me as smart, interesting people with passions and opinions. For the most part, they're complimentary of my cooking. Eli's a freshman at USC now, and I hope he finds a seder. I especially hope that they serve mashed potatoes and not parsnip puree. So in the spirit of my charming and gregarious meat-and-potatoes stepson, I may just switch it up this year and make mashed potatoes; they are tasty and will sop up the brisket sauce nicely.
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes washed (peeled or not) and quartered
1 Qt chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1/2 stick butter
In a large pot boil the potatoes in the broth until they are soft and have absorbed all the broth - about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and mash the butter into the potatoes with a masher or ricer to the consistency of your choice. Taste them before you add salt/pepper - the potatoes will have absorbed all the flavor of your broth, so they're likely pretty well-seasoned and delicious.