Thursday, December 8, 2011

The philosophy of potatoes

Despite what could be accurately described as a "cautious demeanor," I've learned to accept that there are some risks in this world worth taking. Our kids, for one (or three). Quitting my desk job to start our own business for another. Making hash browns.

Hash browns are one of those things I've never been able to get right because I never bothered to learn how to make them right. I maybe tried twice and, while the results were still tasty (I mean, a fried potato is a fried potato), the resulting mess of starchy mush was in no way a proper "hash brown."

Last night, as I was holding my baby boy and watching some "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I started thinking about future breakfasts in this hypothetical farm on which we've hung both our hopes and dreams. We've taken some mighty strides away from boxed cereals and other processed breakfast fare, with homemade granola being our lazy-morning meal, so the next step in our goal to gain near-complete control over our diet is growing our own food--we're deadly serious about having egg-laying chickens someday, and our limited success in our little gardens superseded the failures and made us want to grow way more (if not all) of our own fruits and vegetables. Homegrown potatoes fed us for a few weeks this summer, so my thoughts turned to a breakfast of eggs and potatoes...hash browns.

My wife and I are learning how to cook--it wasn't a skill passed down to either of us from our parents, so we're finding our own way. That means we burn some meals, some dishes turn out painfully bland, and we sometimes sit down to happy surprises--you want every meal to delight the palette, but learning curves don't tend to work like that. But a recent experience with omelets, of all things, taught us that one little word in an online recipe--"cover," in the case of omelets--can nullify all previous failures and put a new dish into regular rotation.

I mean, it makes sense that you'd have to get the moisture out of potatoes if you want them to stick together and form a patty. Or does it? I don't know, cooking doesn't make that much sense to me, but when I Googled "hash browns" and read that you have to squeeze that water out--well, I can follow a direction. This morning I popped the shredder attachment onto the mixer (my current obsession with slicing and shredding foodstuffs in that thing also played into the decision to make hash browns, and not just a little bit) and, following directions from the Internet, I squeezed the hell out of those potato shreds before tossing them into the pan of oil. And it worked--they surely weren't the best hash browns ever made (and not just because I didn't have any lard on hand), but they were the best hash browns I've ever made.

I'm trying really hard to avoid the metaphor "gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet," but, you do. You have to mess up to appreciate finally getting something right, have to go through lean years to appreciate when times are good, have to know a kid's cry to really cherish his or her laugh. I'm trying to stay really aware of this right now, as we ready ourselves to start a new chapter in our life--turning the page on years of failure and successes, diving into a whole new set of missteps and (hopefully) accomplishments. Broken eggshells, hard-won omelets, and pretty okay hash browns.