Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saturday's Child

Sure, there’s no book deal in the works, but blogging has gotten me far, and fast: a killer job, a purpose in life, a newfound respect for ketchup, an entrance into an awesome online community complete with new (real world) friends – and even a hot date this Thursday!

There’s been some luck involved, but, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the harder you work the luckier you are. And lord my roommates know I’ve put in the hours.

If I had to put a number on it, I’d say my good fortune is the result of about 90% blood/sweat/tears/long hours at the computer. That remaining 10% percent? Call it the luck of the honorary Irish (below: proof that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive – on the Devil's Causeway in Northern Ireland in 2005.)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this lucky girl enjoyed a table-heaving spread prepared by her lovely roommate, Jane: corned beef with boiled cabbage, carrots, and potatoes; precious slices of nutty soda bread (stowed in the freezer since my trip to Dublin); and, of course, a good-for-you glass of Guinness. Dessert was from American Food Writing: Irish potato pudding.

Confusingly enough, the pudding is a Jewish food, "one that will do for Passover" because it is an unleavened substitute for bready treats. The recipe, published by Esther Levy in 1871, calls for grated, boiled potatoes lightened with separated eggs, sweetened with sugar, and flavored with ground almonds and lemon.

My day was hectic, so sweet Jane offered to make the pudding (I told ya I’m lucky!). Unfortunately, I had already gotten us started on the wrong foot when I forgot to boil the potatoes a day ahead. They are supposed to cool overnight, which would have made them much less mealy. As it was, they were quite mushy and heavy. The whipped egg whites were powerless against them. Jane spread the concoction in a dish, dotted the peaks with butter, and baked it for 1 hour at 350 degrees F, until prettily golden brown on top. (By the way, we halved the recipe, and thanks bejeesus we did!)

The pudding looked tasty (that's it in the glass casserole dish) … but we could take no more than about three bites apiece. The flavors of the lemon and almond were a confusing pairing with the starchy, mealy texture. Overall, it was a food with an identity crisis: it needed to be either savory (with classic potato herb pairings such as rosemary or parsley) or quite sweet (in which case it needed about twice the sugar and a swig of cream).

There are better versions out there: an 1878 recipe adds milk and suggests baking the pudding in a pie crust (creating a dish similar to sweet potato pie). And an 1855 recipe does it one better, adding heavy cream and brown sugar.

As it was, the only circumstances I could imagine eating this pudding are if you were bound to do so by religious convention or nearly starving in a famine and were down to your last 3 potatoes (in which case, unlucky you, for what a waste!).

But of course I didn’t toss the pudding! My ancestors, though not Irish, must have gone hungry somewhere along the line – my thighs can attest to that – and their blood in my veins means I will never willingly waste food.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Well, I'm so lucky that my lack of preparation has presented me with an opportunity. My mission: do something with our mealy mush to make it not only palatable but exciting. I will debut the second reincarnation of the pudding at a shindig I’m having this Friday: a gumbo party (for this project of course)! Stay tuned, y’all!

1 comment:

Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

I wonder if, instead of using mashed potatoes, the mixture might end up lighter is you put the boiled potatoes through a ricer and then fold it all together before baking. Just a thought anyhow! :-)