later, tater

Sorry I'm late.  I've been stuck at a four-way intersection, notorious all over the globe for short-circuiting sensible behavior.  Mine was the place where a fresh wave of grief, my loony agreement to costume the 8th grade play, a very busy season writing and organizing, and a small farm animal in my kitchen all came together. None of these things could have been managed without friendship, and I am absurdly rich in this resource, but the pace of life has felt aerobic even so.

My friend Suzi once said to me, as I explained a day that seemed arduous but possible, "there's the logistics, and then there's living through it."  Meaning yes, it is technically feasible to drop your kids off at school, travel 2.5 hours to attend a one-hour event, get back on time for 2:30 pick up, then get dinner on the table and hit the class meeting at 7.  But then there is the state of mind and body that will result, which ought to be part of the calculations.

As this past week unfolded, I did find a few stretches of time where I was not scheduled to be doing anything, and I began to interrogate myself about why I still felt so overwhelmed.  A couple of days were a lot like the one described above, but others were not. It was the task of trying to yank my brain around to writing that revealed to me that time was not the issue. The problem was one of total mind saturation.  So many separate tasks, mammals, timelines, calories and physical objects were milling around my cranium in need of tracking and monitoring that there was no open space to breathe into any creative thought.

This naturally leads us right to potatoes.  Tamar Adler sings the praises of setting your week up right by roasting a whole bunch of stuff and stacking it neatly in the fridge.  If you want to follow the roasting tangent, Melissa Clark wrote a similarly inspiring bit about the merits of roasting things to eat right away.  Roasting, in my opinion, is the joint as far as making things tasty fast, but my tangent of the day is not roasting so much as little gifts that your idle self, when it is comparatively idle, can give your busy self when she comes around later looking for something to eat--and you know she will, probably with a few more hungry pals in tow.

So, if at any point you find yourself with the oven on for some other purpose, or just find yourself with a span of an hour or two that you can bookmark the end of, bake some potatoes.   They can be baking potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes or sweet potatoes or yams.  I don't care. Cool them down and tuck them away.

One subsequent day, when time is tight, get busy for about ten minutes with those potatoes. Split them and scrape them out and load them up with all kinds of nutritious tidbits, then bake them again.


Now you've done something pretty great.  Now humans dashing through your kitchen at high speeds can grab one and be pretty well sustained.  More inert persons can stumble down to the kitchen and get nourished while your attention (or your body) is elsewhere.  With a salad and maybe some soup, seated people can call them dinner. They are tasty at room temperature and comforting when warmed up again, which they tolerate well, so you can even tuck the finished product away for another future crunch.

An act of sustaining friendship, from your self to yourself, with the attendant ripples of good effects for others that friendship always produces.  I can hardly call this a recipe.  Just an idea.  Customize it to your market, pantry and taste.

twice-baked potatoes

Prick or X the potatoes, and bake them until tender.  Even if you are planning to do all the steps in one go, do let them cool a little before proceeding.  (Speaking of acts of kindness to the self, as well as acts whose lingering effects could be felt for some time.)

When you can interact with the potatoes without altering your fingerprints, slice them in half and scrape the flesh (leaving about 1/4" in the peel) into a bowl.

Mash this up, and add to the mash any or all of the following that you have, or anything similar that you like from the list below (amounts are per potato):

  • about 1/2 c finely minced greens (any combination of baby spinach, kale, chard, basil and other fresh herbs, etc)
  • 1T golden flax meal (oat bran, wheat germ, sesame seeds...)
  • 1/4 c buttermilk or plain yogurt (coconut milk, cashews whizzed with a little water, soy milk...)
  • 1/4 c grated sharp cheese (parmesan, cheddar, etc)
  • 1t olive oil
  • Any little nubbin that seems savory and appealing: capers, olives, minced up ham or bacon, smoked tofu....
  • Salt & pepper, paprika, cumin, chile powder to taste

Mix it all well, scoop it back into the waiting shells, and festoon the top with some more grated cheese, and/or maybe a sprinkle of paprika or sesame seeds, and bake those bad boys until golden.