Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Secret

This will be a quiet country Thanksgiving for the Logue/Hautman household. We will be enjoying our feast in Stockholm, Wisconsin with my brother Bob and Mary’s sister Dodie (who are married to each other), our new Stockholm neighbors Lisa and Carlos, and friends Tom and Lynn. Bob is cooking elk; I’m cooking a small turkey and making the mashed potatoes. We are using two kitchens. Everyone is contributing something to eat. Everyone is bringing wine. There will be no vegans.

Speaking of mashed potatoes, I have a "secret" technique for you. I thought I invented this several years ago, but I have since learned that it is an old technique of (possibly) French origin.

The usual additions to mashed potatoes are butter and milk. I throw in a few egg yolks as well. Properly deployed, egg yolks can transform your mashed potatoes from “Yummy” to “Oh. My. God.” Here’s how you do it:

Potatoes for eight.
Say you are making mashed potatoes for eight adults. You peel and cook as many potatoes as you think they can eat (I like a combination of russets and Yukon golds), then increase the amount by 50%. There is no excuse for running out of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, and if you find yourself with leftovers, so much the better.

When the potatoes are done (overcooking is better than undercooking in this case), drain them, saving some of the cooking water, and mash them well. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Soften one stick of butter* (1/4 lb). Don’t melt it, just make sure it is a soft as it would be sitting out on a warm summer day—droopy, but not liquefied.

Mix three or four egg yolks into the butter with a whisk, then whisk in some warm (not hot) milk—say half a cup. Stir the mixture into the mashed potatoes. Don't go nuts with the stirring, just mix it with a rubber spatula until the color is homogenous. If they seem too stiff and dry, add a bit of the cooking water you saved.

Serve with giblet gravy made from the fresh $130 Narragansett heritage turkey you had FedExed in last week. (You didn't forget to reserve your heritage turkey last July, did you? Yeah, me too. I got my non-heritage bird at Costco.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

*If you are using salted butter, go easy when you salt the potatoes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Minnesota?

Minnesota did well at this year’s National Book Awards, with two winners: Louise Erdrich and William Alexander. To put that in perspective, until this year only five Minnesota authors had won an NBA in the past seventy-five years.

Naturally, the 2012 NBA results have people asking, “Why Minnesota? Why now? Is there something in the water?”

Well, we have a lot of water here in Minnesota—11,842 lakes worth, to be precise. And we have a similarly impressive number of writers. In my little universe of Minnesota kidlit I can name 126 living, published writers of children’s literature, and I suspect there are a few dozen I missed.

And that’s just kidlit writers. There are similar numbers of published writers in literary fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. I would guess that there are well over a thousand published writers in this state, and probably twenty times that many who are working on as yet unpublished works.

That makes Minnesota, a state that has a mere ten electoral votes and contains only about 1.7% of the U.S. population, relatively saturated with writers. How and why this has come to be is a long story which I may address in a future post. For now, I’ll just say that the writer population in Minnesota seems to have reached the point of self-sustainability. Writers come to Minnesota, and they stay in Minnesota, because there are a lot of writers here.

You know that image of Doctor Zhivago huddled alone in his freezing garret scribbling out his love poems by candlelight? That is not reality. It never was. Writers need other writers. They need other writers who understand that what they do matters, and who understand how challenging it can be. They need other writers to compete against, to offer criticism and encouragement, to set an example, to raise the bar. They need other writers to applaud them when they succeed and curse them jealously for that same success. They need mirroring, they need to witness the triumphs and failures of their peers, they need community.

We have community in Minnesota. Many of us are quite active within it, others mostly keep to themselves. But even the most solitary of us benefit, I believe, from living in a place where we do not have to be alone. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book News: Mary Logue

The multi-talented and otherwise splendiferous Mary Logue (yes, my Mary Logue) has two new books out this fall.

For many years, I listened to Mary talk about an idea she had for a children’s picture book: the story of a little girl who is not sleepy, and of the kind, patient, and wise parents who coax her into bed. After many starts and stops, the story came together.

Told in economical and graceful prose, Sleep Like a Tiger is sweetly and stunningly illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. It is one of those children’s books that can be read again and again, with each reading revealing something new.

Here is a spread from the book:

And a detail from that spread:

And a detail of the detail:

Mary’s other fall book, written under the nom de plume Mary Lou Kirwin, is quite different. Killer Librarian (available November 27th) is a mystery featuring the delightful Karen Nash, a librarian who is dumped by her boyfriend on the eve of their planned trip to London. Karen decides to go to London by herself, and discovers to her horror that her ex is on the plane as well—with his new honey. Murderous thoughts ensue, with surprising results. A must late-night respite for those who have just read Sleep Like a Tiger to their three-year-old for the umpteenth time.



Friday, November 2, 2012

It's a little late, but...

My new lawn sign proposal for Minnesota, where two constitutional amendments are on the ballot, a defense of marriage act, and a voter ID act. Now, it's off to the artsy-crafty store for some tagboard.