Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Mashed Potato Ceremony

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.

With Thanksgiving just days away, I’m bracing for a major production of something my husband calls his ceremony. 
For those first few minutes after a plate of food is placed in front of him, whether it’s bacon and eggs, a bowl of chowder or a turkey dinner, he is seriously intent on salting, peppering, and buttering everything that can be salted, peppered, and buttered. 
If there are eggs or fries on the plate, the ceremony moves to the next level with ketchup and/or gravy. 
No matter how hungry he is, he does not take a bite until the ceremony is completed. It’s so distracting, I can’t begin eating because I am compelled to watch what he is doing. There’s something about the idea of conducting a ceremony over food, like saying grace, I suppose, that makes it rather charming. 
The ceremony takes a strange twist, however, when mashed potatoes are served. After plopping two large spoonfuls onto his plate, before taking from any other serving dish of food on the table, he proceeds to flatten the potatoes until they are spread out over two-thirds of his plate. 
Seeing this, I think, ‘He needs a platter, not a plate.’
Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a potato person that I don’t get the ritual of devoting that much real estate to mashed potatoes. First of all, they’re already mashed. Must be a man thing to have to mash something beyond recognition. What’s wrong with a beautiful pile of fluffy mashed potatoes? Those white mountains of glycemic spikes rising from a valley of meat and veggies? Aesthetically, mashed potatoes should two be piles, eagerly awaiting the light drizzle of butter and gravy. 
If I’d wanted you to flatten them, I would have served squash. 
Time for an unscientific survey of the staff at the Journal office: 
Of four women, only one flattens them. The rest of us prefer them fluffy. 
Of three men, all three flatten their mashed potatoes. Apparently, it’s all about spreading the butter, allowing it to melt over every inch of potato. 
Seriously? If you’ve ever watched a square pat of butter melting gently down the sides of a whipped up pile of potatoes, you understand the beauty of that trickle of creamy yellow goodness, the agony of anticipation as you watch it slowly descend down the side of the mashed potatoes, oozing into every crevice like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
And I don’t even eat mashed potatoes.  
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether one’s potatoes remained piled up on the plate or double mashed across half of it; I’ve come to appreciate that it’s the ceremony that counts. There is something rather anticipatory in my husband’s actions, something rather intense in the silence as he performs the ritual that I will not interrupt. 
After all, I’m married to the high priest of mashed potatoes and one doesn’t mess with a man’s religious experience. Especially on a holiday.

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