When I was in my early-to-mid 20s, my relationship with my mom was…fraught. A tantalizingly efficient word meaning “causing or affected by great anxiety or stress” which feels…accurate.She would come to my two small, respective walk-up apartments – which I loved with their hardwood floors and proximity to the co-op and Blockbuster (was this late even for the 2000s, ppl?) and despair that I wasn’t living somewhere “nicer”. She’d look at my newly cut fringed bangs and ask me if I wanted an appointment at her usual salon when I was home next. She’d sit and (actually) get weepy when she’d see a little accumulated cat hair in a corner, sure that I was living in a hovel and not reaching my full potential by refusing to live a lifestyle more readily available to the general public in the pages of Teen Vogue or Allure.
It was bad!
I’d feel the anxiety start to creep up on me a day or two before her arrival and would launch into some heavy-handed apartment rearranging and cleaning, stock up on the nicest groceries/toiletries I could afford, and get my stories straight: Yes, I was okay at my current job. No, I didn’t want to move home. I mean, maybe I wanted to go back to school but I wasn’t sure and leave me alonnne!
I was (am) kind of a pill myself. What can I say, apple doesn’t fall far from tree.
Looking back on it now and being a mother myself, I can much more readily understand where she was coming from (though I still don’t fully agree with her delivery.) Her personal anxieties, though misdirected onto me, came from a place of fierce love and general Mama Bear-ness. She wanted the best for me no matter what, and though I believe she should’ve tried to empower me a bit more rather than set me up against the world based on her outlook,she did her best. And her best was pretty darn good.
When my mom comes to visit now almost a decade later…wow. Not only does she still buy me groceries like I’m 21, but she offers to watch Fiona, our 1 year old, while we go out together, run errands on our own, go to the gym for the first time in God knows…
It’s great. Obviously.
And most delightfully Fiona loves it. They giggle and squeal together as my mom chases and tickles her. They have little meals together and my mom always asks if there’s anything Fi shouldn’t have, and darnitall if she can’t get that kid to fall asleep on her chest for 1-2 hour afternoon naps where she just holds her. It’s pretty much fairy godmother time for all three of us.
Which isn’t to say it doesn’t go off without a hitch…
When my mom comes to visit now in my adulthood, it starts in small ways. “Oh! Is that how you cut your potatoes?” “Did you mean to put those pillows there?” “Just grab me the vaccum and I’ll get all these little pet hairs sticking onto your couch…”
God bless her but this woman is still obsessed with the removal of pet fur.
It’s all based around ways she’d like to be helpful but those little comments are also totally maddening. She birthed and raised me and made me the woman I am today, and I love her fiercely for it, but shoot. I realize the bathroom mirror needs a swipe. I know I need to take everything out of the kitchen cabinets and put new shelf liner in. It’s just that my priorities, right now, are providing a warm and loving (and “good enough” level clean) environment for our little one year old. Not to mention actively growing another one due in 5 months! When I get asked about outfit choices (myself and the baby’s) or whether or not I should think about getting that ottoman recovered, I get…prickly. Defensive.
I’m not proud.
I truly can say that my mom has our best outcomes at heart. She works with my husband on landscaping our yard, something enjoyable for both of them. She brings frozen lasagnas. The woman slips me cash like we’re POWs in a foreign land, secretively and seriously (“Now just TAKE this” and puts a $20 in my hand).
This last time, when she found out we were having a new friend-couple and their baby boy from our ECFE class over later that week, she insisted on buying us steaks and teaching me about parboiled-then-roasted potatoes. We made a pretty big batch in the process and timed things and taste-tested until we were both satisfied with the results (and full). It was really nice. I’d like to call these oven fries (or steak frites to be fancy) but both don’t quite get to the heart of the thing.
The beauty of this recipe is that the ingredients are very humble and the preparation kind of elevates them into something not fancy but special. When you take the time to make potatoes like this who (whom?) ever’s eating them will know you didn’t cut open a bag of frozen product and dump them in the oven. You start with Yukon Golds (I’m still experimenting with how to get sweet potatoes to so the same thing here) and end up with a toothsome…hand fry? The skin has just enough snap and crusty/crunchy baked bits with a soft, steamed inside and studded with the nicest salt you have plus some herbs…I could go on (obviously).
Eaten alongside a salad or small, perfect protein would be more elegant, but we served family-style outside on a late summer night with grilled beef sirloin steaks. A slightly acerbic spring greens salad with goat cheese dressing, small tomatoes from ze garden, and some paper-thin red onion slices was a good counterpoint. We ended with some chocolate wafers from a package and the whole thing was very enjoyable and non-fussy adult.
The SO and our adult guests sampled new beers from Summit and I splurged with an inch of red by Josh. The littles cheers’ed with sippy cups and noshed relatively happily on Cheerios and bits of steak, and then toddled around the patio in the dark underneath our cafe lights. It made me feel like a million dollars to spoil some new friends that have a little one only a few months younger than Fi, and the fact that Mama Kay kind of stepped in and elevated (orchestrated?) the whole thing beforehand isn’t lost on me.
(Commercial aside: I am so glad I finally bought one of these Munchkin snack trappers – usually it’s for Cheerios but I can sneak peas in there and Fiona eats them like magic. Okay, commercial aside over.)
As a mom I know that I will fail my kids at some point, and that is so, so very scary. I can really only hope and pray that it will be in ways that aren’t too serious or damaging for Fiona and our next one.
I think that my own mom probably felt this way too and is now trying to make up for a few years there where neither of us did a great job tending our relationship. The thought of those lost years that overlapped and combined with the years my dad was sick leading up to his semi-recent death make me…emotional. A little panic-y. I want to nurture and yes, spoil but ultimately help to guide my littles grow into who (WHOM?!) ever they already are deep down but sometimes the task just seems so fragile. So fraught.
Time flies not only when you’re having fun but when you try to hold onto it too tightly. Taking the time to practice a recipe my mama taught me, with ingredients we’ll always have (all hail thee, the humble potato), to feed my little family and make them feel special and taken care of themselves only feels…right.
3-4 large Yukon Gold potatoes
2-3 Tbsps EVOO
1-2 Tbsps. fresh herbs or dried – I used dried rosemary but herbes de Provence or fresh thyme would be very nice too
Salt/pepper (Kosher salt is flaky and great, whatever is the best kind you have/you like the most)
Large pot (the one you boil pasta in)
Sheet pan with silicone Silpat or wax paper or aluminum foil
Pam spray (I know, I know, just hold on and stop judging me)
Get about half the pot of water salted and boiling. In the meantime take the potatoes and give them a scrub and get out any big eyes or imperfections. Then slice your potatoes however you want them – my mom does a roughly one-inch chunk, I like the traditional thick steak fry shape cut lengthwise maybe a half-inch at it’s widest with some skin on each slice. I did NOT do it in the following way but my fries were wedge-like like his and this guy is so excited about using an apple coring tool for potatoes, I gotta give it to him:
Okay, water’s boiling and potatoes are cut! Quick preheat your oven to 425F before you forget. Now carefully put those wedgies in (don’t burn yourself with scalding hot water, oh my GAWD) and time for 7 minutes. While timer’s going, set up a cooling rack with a clean dishcloth underneath (you’ll put the ‘taters here from the boiling water). When time’s up, take one slice out and test – a fork should go in with a little resistance. If you’re feeling brave, blow on it and bite through – these shouldn’t be overly soft as in you couldn’t mash them but you could still reasonably eat them if you stopped here. If not there yet, time in 1 minute increments and keep testin’. Once done, take out with a slotted spoon or spider strainer (I love mine) and put them on rack to cool and DRY.
The drying part is key. All the moisture starts evaporating and freeing up the little potato…pores (?) to suck up the delicious olive oil and seasoning you’re about to put on.
While that ish is drying, prepare your full-size baking sheet. Lay the ol’ Silpat in there (again, another kitchen tool I love and use over and over) or your aluminum foil/wax paper. A trick with wax paper: if you’re using it, spray Pam directly on the baking sheet and lay paper over – it will stick and not curl up (if you’re feeling precise/anal like I usually do in these moments). For either tin foil or parchment, put something on top there to help with sticking, either more EVOO spread about, or some butter, or if you’re in a hurry just spray some Pam on there (shhh, Amy Poehler’s character and I wont tell):
Now you can walk away a while longer to really let those potato wedgies dry, maybe up to an hour? Once you can handle them, get a large mixing bowl and pour about half the EVOO in and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, some good grinds of pepper (I used black) and half whatever herbs you’ve decided to use. Then potatoes and in and the last half of your seasoning on top – then gently fold with your biggest wooden spoon to avoid smashing/cutting them, or gently toss. Finally, pour out and spread into single layer on your baking sheet and pop them in.
Now here’s the part we worked hard on – bake for longer than you think. We ended up doing 40 minutes of baking with no flipping or anything and they turned out delish! I would start at 30 and then check. You want a firm skin and even some browned bit without having to resort to the broiler.
Now take ’em out, let cool, and serve family-style because people will want to keep grabbing a few more here and there even when the meal is over. If you leave them on the pan and out to cool just be forewarned that everyone that can reach will start stealing before mealtime. But they’re real good from the pan too and after all, that IS your right as preparer of the potatoes, m’I right?
Let me know how it goes <3