When Only Potato Will Do
How can a grubby, misshapen vegetable be so life-giving? A rubbled, mostly-beige, trashy-looking creature from the dirt. At home in the ground with worms, burrowed cigarette butts, and half-gnawed bones. Potatoes: they're roughed-up and ugly. Yet, beauty is found with a little dust-off, some belief in its potential, and a championing of its naturally versatile ways.
I don't have potato all that often—it's a sacred 'sometimes food'. But when it's sideways-raining on my balcony and my feet are cold, or when I've worked like a little trouper all week and am both ravenous and spent, or when I want a juicy pash but there's nary a man in sight, or when I'm all coiled up in my cave after a tiresome day of knocking people's hats off, it's my starchy salve.
I love potato in all forms. But my favourite at-home version is mashed. I don't want to be a wanker and give you a recipe for mashed potato, but I am a wanker and so I will. I use the term 'recipe' loosely, however, because I don't believe in rules and instructions. Instead, I'll just tell you what I put in mine and you can work out the rest if you want.
Some mashing potatoes (as many as you want, you deserving beast);
butter (the really good kind. I like Pepe Saya.);
cheese (some Parmesan or pecorino usually, and sometimes a speckle of cheddar, too);
maybe a splash of a dairy product like cream or milk if you've got some (but I usually don't);
salt; and then, most importantly,
some luscious dollops of wholegrain mustard.
That's it. That's my special touch. That, in my gluttonous opinion, turns a side dish into a main. Mustard. King of condiments. The magic in my mash.
Some dishes really demand reverence. My mustard mash is that for me. I made it for the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted when I lived in L.A., catering to a bunch of wondrous misfits; I made it for a dear girlfriend, utterly forlorn and in desperate need for wine and comfort after she'd been drop-kicked in the fucking heart; I made it for myself after a guy I'd seen for two dates sent me a photo of his dick resting in a very ugly strappy sandal and, at 23 and with a contaminated Nokia, I despondently resigned from the Adelaide dating scene. The mustard mash has been a balm for many occasions, but never by default—always and only by design, such is its healing power.
Most recently the mash appeared as the final step in aid of the worst hangover of my life, though let's not demote it to a cheap and greasy hash brown cure-all. No, no. It was more than that. It was a Friday night, still in the thick of lockdown in Melbourne, and I was hosting my only permitted visitor—a vivacious, glorious girlfriend of mine. We had bubbles; we had red wine; we had gin and soda; and then, bless my mixologist heart, we had midnight tequila and kombucha. Suffice it to say, the next day was misery. That Friday night, not only did we temporarily rejoice at the hands of my creative cocktails, we unleashed months of tightly wound, cyclical thoughts. Both of us single and living alone. Both of us curiously analytical. Both of us driving ourselves fucking crazy with our fast minds fretting under a life put on hold. So, we laughed, and we cried, and we got angry, and I'm pretty sure at one point I sang some jazz standards. I'm telling you this so you can better understand the cathartic state I was in the following evening. That mash was not just a carb to ease a regular case of Hangover Jitters, but rather a comfort and prize for surviving the shit show of a 2020 lived mostly in isolation.
That Saturday, I made the mash and served it in the only clean bowl I had—a Mason Cash mixing bowl with bears on it. I watched Frida and was once again reminded of how attractive it is to be unapologetically true to self. I savoured that thought and the forkfuls of my poorly mashed potato (courtesy of Hangover Hands), and was thankful, not only for potato and mustard, but for precious friendships, and for stories that remind us that pain can transform into something good.
Holy and healing is the humble spud. Unassuming and versatile, making it all the more captivating. It's what I want to be: nimble; comforting; delicious; naturally dirty and slightly unkempt. No different to any of us, I guess? Grimy and grisly at first glance, perhaps, but with a dust-off and eyes to see beauty and potential, absolutely enchanting. Nubbly; loveable; great with mustard.