For food writers, Thanksgiving starts as early as summer, when November magazine issues are getting ready to go to press, and generally go through all the way to the end of November for web. I’ve been thinking about mashed potatoes a lot for work lately, and I remembered a particular lesson I learned when I was teaching myself to cook western food.
Early in my New York life, I used to dogsit a little blond dachshund mix named Luna. She had pee pads for days she couldn’t wait for her dogsitter to come home. Sometimes, I’d come back to the apartment after work and find little skid marks on the pee pad, but no poop. I never had dogs growing up. I’d think, she didn’t eat her poop, did she???
One time, there was a downpour and I tried to take her out for a walk, not wanting to shirk one of my few duties as caretaker. I fastened a little raincoat around her narrow shoulders and we took the elevator down. When we got to the lobby, she dug her heels in and refused to cross the threshold onto Bleecker St. I pulled on her leash. She growled. Petulant and indignant, she popped a squat and peed right there in the doorway. I don’t remember if the doorman offered the clean it up or if I went back to the apartment to get paper towels. I just remember thinking, well, even posh blond dogs in the west village are still just dogs.
Luna belonged to a very fancy couple who lived at Bank St. and Bleecker St. They had purchased two apartments on the ground floor and knocked the wall down to combine them. Even then, 15 years ago, I guessed I’d never have a life like that.
They had a pretty kitchen, gorgeous Le Creuset pots, and terrible Ginsu-style serrated knives. There were shelves of cookbooks for perusing. As a thank you for taking care of Luna, the lady of the house cooked me dinner once — a gigantic, curling fillet of monkfish over wet, tomatoey couscous. I had never had monkfish. “It’s supposed to taste kind of like lobster,” she said. I had never had lobster.
They encouraged me to cook while they were away, to take advantage of all of their amenities. Rooting around in their cabinets, I found a food processor, the first I’d ever touched. Here was my chance to take this technology for a spin. I decided to make mashed potatoes.
I boiled the potatoes, stuck them into the processor and poured hot milk and butter down the chute. Whizz whizz whizz! I removed the cover and stuck a spoon in.
Disgusting! The potatoes had become glue. There’s no other way to describe it — they were gloppy and elastic in a way I never knew potatoes could be. How could such a benign substance betray like that?
The food processor lost my trust that night, and, frankly, it hasn’t done much to earn it back in the years since.
If I had to draw a lesson from this persistent memory, it would be this: I’ve been in L.A. for five months now, and I’m frustrated with how little progress I’ve made getting to know the city. I still don’t even know my way around my local grocery store. This transition feels a little like those early years in New York did, when my days were full of questions and frustration and experiments gone awry. These feelings were fine when I was in my 20s, but they’re discomfiting now. I guess it’s good to remember what it was like to be green, and to know that it passes. And to know that, like Luna, I’ll always be who I am wherever I am.