Mashed potatoes are ghosts. White frothy ghosts  of grandmothers who taught mothers who taught daughters  how much milk and butter to add, how long to mash or beat them into a lather, how to keep them from becoming brick-hard globules in their round porcelain bowls. But not too much milk or they become mushy and slurpy, and the sons around the Holiday tables are tempted to play splat-splat with their spoons. Grandmas sometimes kept bits of redskin in, probably because they were too tired to pare off any scrap, not because they knew anything about fiber.

Mashed potatoes have gotten a bad rap lately for lacking enough nutritional content to justify the injestion of the starch.  Still, they seem to appear in varying forms on restaurant menus and home dining tables. I bet everyone who has grown up in that nebulous world known as the Traditional Household can relate to the mashed potato regimen in their family kitchen.

It was a banner year when my mom bequeathed the mashed potato-making to me. Before that she had presided over the holiday meals with queenly dignity and the firm hand of a control freak. It was really a bit sad; her eightieth birthday, for her,  was apparently a rite of passage into Crone-hood.

Whatever the reason, she entrusted me with the family mashed potato method, which, I was to discover, was more guesswork than anything.  I have always operated far better with a clear set of instructions. Give me a recipe and I’m fine. But when I asked how much butter, Mom said, “Oh, a gob.”  Now, how in the great grand world of Julia Child is a new mashed potato chef to determine how much is a gob?

Measuring the milk was worse.   I was informed by my knowledgeable chef of a mother that I was to “add a little then we’ll see.”  But how much is the little you start out with?  This was a bewildering task, forcing me to go so slowly I only put a few drips at a time lest I make potato soup.  Finally she came over and told me to put in a little more, no not drops, a quick slosh…okay a little more…that’s good. So at the end of the process I knew I had no better idea what the recipe for mashed potato success was than when I started. But the process gave me insight that has helped me in so many other aspects of living in this world.

With those two lowly milk and butter ingredients I made a wonderful discovery that has help me in non-potato-mashing circumstances.  I discovered that loosening up a bit can often produce better results than measuring something to the nth degree. And that goes for measuring relationships too. I’m sure my loved ones have been grateful on many occasions for this revelation.

Turns out I did what I often do in new situations. I over-think. I had made the process out in my mind to be a bigger task than it actually was.

Here, all this time, I thought the mashed veggies required much more specificity and finesse.  But like so many lessons in life, once you tackle something you’ve been on the outside looking in on for years, that has a bit of mystery to it, you discover it’s a lot simpler than you set it up to be in your mind.  and, for heaven’s sake, loosen up,  slosh and gob away with life’s butters and milk!

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