It’s been recommended to me that I reveal more of myself. Here is something from this past December that has been hidden from public view.
12 December, 2015
I just met my daughter for the first time this past weekend.
Let me start that again, actually.
I’m about to be married. My husband elect is the long-distance father of an incredible thirteen year old human. Circumstance separated them for about a decade, and we recently arranged for her to come stay with us for a weekend. While she and I are close online, we had never met until this past week.
Things are complicated. It has recently been suggested by my doctors that I am hitting menopause early, and that I likely won’t be able to produce and gestate a fetus in my own womb or with my own ova in a timeframe that would work for our family. I have feelings about that, but mostly accept it with as much grace and aplomb as I can muster in the face of likely infertility. I am aided by the fact that I hit the step-daughter lottery, and allow my love for her to fill my heart to bursting. Things about my body are changing slowly, but not so slow that I don’t notice. I feel like a weird mirror image of daughter’s struggle with puberty. I remember this feeling. Just as people tell my kid, hollowly, that puberty’s discomfort and awkwardness and volatility do not last forever, people begin to tell me that miracles happen all the time; not to worry or heaven-forbid, mourn because surely this thing that is actually happening to my body will relent for their comfort and my convenience, somehow.
Meanwhile, as I wash potatoes in the sink, she reaches out silently and touches the scars on my wrist. They are long-healed, but stand as a reminder that I was once her age, and felt just as helpless. She embraces me wordlessly, this treasure of a human being.
It’s become hard for me to navigate other people’s motherhood. I didn’t expect it. I thought I’d be fine. I recognize that no matter how real my feelings are for this brilliant gem feel for me, I did not give birth to her, nor did I raise her. No matter how close, intimate, or important we feel to each other, there is not a name for me that other people understand. She sometimes calls me “Star-Mum,” and I pretend that doesn’t make me weep with a bittersweet joy I can’t fully explain or articulate. Because it feels like that. Like from outer space, a blue-haired, fair-faced and blue-eyed genius landed, fully formed, tall as me and arms outstretched, offering me something most people simply assume is one milestone in a life among many but that, more than likely, I won’t ever have in the ways they take for granted. In addition, all other children pale in comparison to this one. Sorry ‘bout it. Your child is gorgeous, talented, bright, and shining, rest assured. But this one? This one is sublime.
So last weekend, I met my daughter for the first time. I’m thirty-three. She’s thirteen. She’s also got the appetite of an inquisitive and discerning locust, which pleases me. I want her to swallow the whole world in one delicious complicated bite, and chew for the rest of her life.
We picked her up from the airport at 7 PM, and were back at the house by 8. Friends were joining us in celebration from out of town, and I had about an hour and a half to get some sort of stick-to-your-ribs, warm comfort food together to feed my people and my kid. While the childling and her father caught up at the dining room table and steeped tea for me, I took stock of what we had. We had a ton of fresh herbs in the freezer left from Thanksgiving, and had recently received a potato ricer as a wedding present. A further survey of the fridge and freezer spoke to me. Here’s what happened next:
2 to 2.5 pounds of yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed by your loving housemate
¼ C Heavy Cream
4 T unsalted butter
¾ t to 1 t truffle salt leftover from the holiday (regular salt will do, but I’m not fooling that truffle salt is the best savory addition to your pantry you can make)
1 large or jumbo egg yolk
2 pounds ground lamb (you can also use ground beef or bison or venison or just about any other red meat)
2 T olive oil or fat of your preference, high smoke point is ideal.
1 chopped or sliced onion (my partner likes to pick onions out of things, so I usually do half moons)
2-3 carrots, sliced thin
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
Some collection of pepper, salt of your choice, rosemary, sage, and thyme (whole leaf or chopped is up to you, though I do recommend using fresh herbs if you have them)
1 C broth or stock of choice (I had bone broth on hand from the holidays, though I bet mushroom would also be a treat!)
2 t tomato paste
2 t all-purpose flour (we’re gluten free in our home, so I used stone ground rice flour)
½ C to 1 C+ frozen peas (or fresh if you can find them!)
Optional: a few dashes of really good fish sauce (I use Red Boat) as an umami booster.
A Large Cast Iron Skillet (at least 2 inches deep) or a Dutch Oven.
A Large Bowl
A Good Chef’s Knife
A Cutting Board
A M-L Saucepan
Yield: a generous serving for 6 adults and 1 ravenous teenager.
I start the mashed potatoes first. People will tell you to heat the water with the potatoes already in the pot. These people are firstly wrong, and secondly have no sense of adventure. Ignore them entirely. Bring your enough water to cover your potatoes with an inch to spare to a rolling actual boil. This takes longer than you think, so slice your carrots and onion while it does its thing.
When the water is boiling, gingerly put your potatoes into the water. This will stop the boil, so keep an eye on it while it comes back up. Place your butter in a glass or ceramic dish and let it sit on the stove to soften. Boil your potatoes for 15 minutes, then check them for softness. When they squish freely, they’re ready.
While you’re waiting, put oil in your cast iron over medium-high heat. When it’s nice and hot, saute your onions and carrots for about 3-4 minutes, then add garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add your meat, fish sauce, salt, and pepper. Brown and cook through thoroughly. This takes about 3-4 minutes, which is riiiiiiight around when your potatoes should be checked.
If the potatoes are ready, enlist a helper to drain them, and put them through the ricer into a large bowl. Add the egg yolk, softened butter and heavy cream with some salt, and stir gently until the ingredients are creamy, soft, and fully incorporated. Have this same human start to preheat your oven to 400F, and place a baking sheet with a rim on the bottom rack as it comes up to temperature. (This is to catch any bubbling fluid to prevent an oven fire, which has for sure never ruined dinner at our house ever in the history of time.)
Meanwhile, toss the cooking meat in your flour to thicken for a minute or so. Add tomato paste, broth, and herbs, reduce to low for a simmer, and allow the mixture to incorporate and thicken for about 12 minutes.
Add frozen peas to the top of the mixture, then top with a spread layer of mashed potatoes. A strong seal is nice, but not 100% necessary.
When the oven is preheated, place the whole shebang in the oven, and let it bake for 25-35 minutes. The potatoes should be browning at the edges, and the house should smell amazing. Let it cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.
A true supper, as my Nana would have called it (suhppah, actually, she was from Plymouth), it is best enjoyed late on a cold night over board games with the lights of your life. Bonus points if there’s an evergreen tree in your dining room, lit for whatever winter solstice you celebrate.