Tonight for dinner, Danny and I had butternut squash soup (not made but purchased, overpriced, from Randall’s), loaded baked potatoes, and hot french bread. I can feel the carbohydrates slowly mutating into midsection chub, but it was totally worth it.
I learned how to perfectly butter a baked potato from my dad, Mike “Boots” Ford, who is a master baked potato butterer. (He is also a master potato masher, and his method involves an interpretive dance that surprises and often unsettles the uninitiated.) The key to baked potato buttering, I learned from Boots, is that you must resist the sense of embarrassment you feel about exactly how much butter this task requires. It’s a lot more than you would be willing to admit, and you just have to power through the shame and onto the deliciousness. Because if you’re going to do the potato, you should do it right.
As I forked delicious butter into my spud this evening, I considered how many cooking essentials you learn from your family. In addition to the butter thing, my dad has taught me how to make another Ford Family Essential: the egg-in-a-hole. My Mamaw Ford taught me how to properly scrape every molecule of batter out of a mixing bowl and, through her matter-of-fact delivery of wives’ tale cookery, convinced me against all logic that I must always stir in one direction. Failing to do so will unmix the batter.
And, of course, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. Kitchen time with mom wasn’t so much about recipes and measurements. Sure, I learned how to mix the dry ingredients before adding the eggs and oil. I learned how to ice a cake in thick scallops, never passing over the same spot twice. And I learned that you always put some fresh-cut veggies and fruit on the Thanksgiving table, even if they remain relatively untouched next to the stuffing and turkey. Someone is bound to want at least one gherkin, or perhaps a carrot stick.
But really, I learned one important thing: This is all a learning process. If you mess it up — well — either no one will notice, or you can start over. And if it’s irreparable, you better just deal with it as soon as possible and get to that mental place where you can laugh at yourself. There is really no reason to have a panic attack if you realize, once the cake is in the oven, that you forgot the vanilla. Sometimes slapping Halloween stickers on Little Debbie snack cakes instead of whipping up something from scratch for your Brownie troop is fine. And if it falls to the floor when no one is looking… well… just put it back on the plate. No one will know the difference, as long as you double-check for dog hair.
This fall, when I realized that I had sent out an important fellowship application with a careless typo, I tried to remember mom in the kitchen. Even when something seems so important, so last-chance, it’s still part of the learning process. I remembered calling home during my parents’ maiden attempt to brine a turkey — that fateful day when the bird, in the brining bag, slipped from the counter and hit the floor. The brine seeped through the tile and into the ceiling of the rec room below, shorting out some wiring and tripping the smoke alarm. This brine warped the floor.
Sure, the brining incident seemed disastrous at the time. But everyone lived through it, and now it’s part of the family mythology.
And really, next to rogue turkey brine, a typo is nothing.