Potato Doughnuts

Despite the recent “new trend”, food delivery was quite common in the ‘70s.  We had a milkman who delivered more than just plain milk.  If you were so inclined, he would leave cottage cheese, or butter, or, if you were really lucky, ice cream.  We were never that lucky.

“It will melt all over the doorstep,” my mother said, all practical-like. “Our door faces the east, and since the sun rises in the…” she trailed off, ever the elementary school teacher that she was, waiting for me to supply the correct answer.

I crossed my arms and glared at her.  I wanted ice cream and I didn’t care about the stupid sun.

But despite the dearth of ice cream deliveries at my house, my parents did bend for something even better: Spudnuts.  In case you grew up with parents meaner than mine and never got to have a Spudnut, they were doughnuts made out of potatoes.  And while there were supposedly magical Spudnut doughnut shops around the country, in our neighborhood, the best-thing-ever-made-out-of-a-potato treat was delivered to your door at seven o’clock Saturday mornings just in time for cartoons.

Yes.

So, every Saturday for what felt like years but my mother assures me was only two or three at the most, my brother, Brian, and I would wait patiently (read: running around the den like crazed lunatics) for the teenage neighbor boys who delivered the doughnuts to ring our doorbell. Really, you would think we were never given any sugar if you saw how we would attack Wes and Mike for the waxed paper bag they held out to us like animal trainers offering a slab of meat to wild tigers.  They always seemed a little afraid of us.

After the exchange was safely made, some dollar bills for them, the white bag of treasure for us, we’d slam the door and run to the kitchen.  We may have been little heathens, but we knew better than to eat anywhere but at the kitchen table.  A doughnut and glass of milk apiece later and it was time to get to work.  You see, we were deep sea divers, members of the Sealab 2020 underwater research base.  If you don’t remember this cartoon, you are not alone.  It only aired one season because, apparently, Brian and I were the only two kids watching it.

But even cancellation didn’t stop us from carrying out our missions. All we needed were the cylindrical plaid pillows from our couch (remember, it was the ‘70s), a couple of belts to strap them to our backs, and loads of sugar for fuel.  We were set.  While cartoons played in the background (we needed a soundtrack), we swam and dove to the depths of our ocean floor – gold shag carpeting – while studying the abundant sea life around us – old books, Spanish porcelain ballerinas, fake ferns, and Duraflame logs in the fireplace.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the room we were “diving” in was walled with two huge floor to ceiling plate glass windows overlooking the back yard.  Rather than being brave research divers, we were more like two fish in a giant fish bowl. The irony.

But that is the wonder of the sugar-fueled child; she doesn’t care about where the sun rises or sets because she is not yet locked into a world that demands facts.  Children see oceans in gold shag, scuba tanks in plaid pillows and gourmet wonderment in potato doughnuts while being blissfully unaware that they are actually safely ensconced in a fish bowl until they’re old enough to know the truth. Reality, what a bummer.

During the Christmas holidays one year, many years later when Brian and I were both on the doorstep of middle age, we were eating doughnuts for breakfast at our parents’ kitchen table.

“Remember the Spudnuts?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “And the scuba diving.”

I laughed.  “Did you ever think that WE were the fish in a fish bowl?”

He stared at me for a moment and then burst out laughing.  “Well, no. But it was a blast and those were some damn good doughnuts.”

Yes and yes.

 

 

*** Full disclosure: The photo above is not of a Spudnut. I couldn’t find an actual potato doughnut anywhere, and after going to the grocery store for potatoes twice to make the doughnuts and forgetting potatoes twice, I decided a photo of a doughnut left over from our weekend would have to do. It was still good. Trust me.

 

MARIO BATALI’S POTATO DOUGHNUTS (From ABC’s The Chew)

  • 1/2 pound Russet Potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 3 – 4 cups All-Purpose Flour (or as needed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 4 cups for deep-frying)
  • 2 tablespoons Sweet Red Vermouth
  • grated zest and juice of 1 Orange
  • Granulated Sugar (for dusting)

 

step-by-step directions

  • Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil gently until tender. Drain and pass through a food mill or ricer into a large bowl. Let cool.
  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat just until warm. Remove from the heat, sprinkle the yeast into the milk, and let sit for 15 minutes, or until foamy. 
  • Add the eggs, flour, salt, sugar, the 1/2 cup olive oil, the vermouth, and orange zest and juice to the potatoes and mix well to combine. Add the yeast mixture and knead well, adding a little more flour if necessary if the dough is very sticky. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled.
  • Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each one into a 1 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut each one into 5-inch lengths and form into little doughnuts. Place the doughnuts on a well-oiled baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubled. 
  • In a deep pot, heat the remaining 4 cups olive oil to 340 degrees. Working in batches, fry the doughnuts until golden brown, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar while hot and serve warm. 

 

{ 4 comments }

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

The summer between my Sophomore and Junior years of college I went to school in the south of France to learn, what else, French (because it is such a useful language when you live on the border of Mexico). Like most girls of the era, I was a devout francophile, convinced that someday I would own a petit chateau in the French countryside, possibly married to someone named Jacques, and raising two petit enfants.

But my idyllic summer was not to be. Just as I was about to jet across the Atlantic, I received news that my best friend from childhood, Susan, had died. I did a u-turn and headed back to Texas to be with her family. I was beyond devastated. We had grown up side by side; her mother making me Jell-o when I was sick, her house being the one I spent as much time in as my own, and her friendship being the one I never questioned. For years we dressed in matching outfits so we could pretend (lie to people) that we were twins. She was the other half of me.

And then, like that, she was gone.

I spent the next couple of weeks in Texas just trying to get through the awfulness that comes with watching people you love try to figure out how to go on  – and not being able to help much because I didn’t know how I would go on. Eventually, I got on an Air France jet and headed across the ocean with my heart in pieces and strewn across the Lone Star State. I touched down in Paris determined to “get over” my loss, because that is what naive twenty year olds are convinced they have the power to do. My plan: I simply wouldn’t wallow in my sorrow over Susan’s death. I would power through, and eventually, the pain would subside. This seemed like a good plan except for the small glitch that I couldn’t stop crying. I wept at the Louvre, on the Metro, at Notre Dame while thinking of the hunchback, and while staring blankly into the Seine. I was a mess but wouldn’t admit it.

I trudged through the two weeks of traveling with my classmates, not enjoying or participating much in the experience, before finally settling in at L’Universite de Montpellier. I holed up in cell-like dorm room and comforted myself with Le Petit Ecolier cookies. I spent my days going to class, lying comatose on the beach, drinking gallons of sugary, milky coffee, and drinking my weight in cheap red wine.

One evening, while wandering the town square, La Place de la Comedie, trying to distract myself from myself, I happened down an alley and noticed the doors to an ancient church slightly ajar. I’ve always been drawn to churches, loving their stained glass and candle waxy smell, so I went towards the open door. As I got closer, I could hear the pure sound of angels singing. I was so out of sorts I didn’t question this thought, but quietly opened the door. There at the front of the church stood about three dozen boys, dressed in choir robes, singing. Singing as if they actually were angels, their voices haunting and transcendent in equal measure. I stood in the doorway transfixed. Who were they? How could they sing like that?

I stayed for about an hour, lost in the beauty of what I was hearing, feeling everything in the music that I wasn’t able to face yet in myself. I sat in a pew and wept silently. Wept for my friend who would never grow to be a woman. Wept for her mother who would never see her daughter again. Wept for myself because a part of me had died with Susan.

Only later did I find out it was the Vienna Boys’ Choir, rehearsing for a concert in nearby Nice. I have no idea how I was lucky enough to come upon them, or why no one kicked me out of that church, but I will never forget that hour in the back pew. It didn’t change my summer – it was still a sad, overindulgent and lonely time, but it was a turning point of sorts, reminding me that grace is often found in the least expected moments, sometimes down dark alleys in foreign countries when all you are trying to do is learn some French and heal a grifted soul.

As the weeks unrolled behind me, I slowly made it through the summer. I lay on the beach, the sun baking my skin and numbing my sorrow. I would doze off, only to be awoken every so often by a barker shouting A la glace, a la glace! Beignet! Choux choux! As much as I loved ice cream and pastries, I couldn’t rouse myself from the Mediterranean Sea daze I seemed to fall into every time I unrolled my towel onto the beach. It was like I was drugged – or rather, beached.

And I don’t use that word lightly. To treat my depression, I had decided the best cure was a combination of baguettes, cookies and wine. And at the end of that summer, I went back home with a beautiful French accent, a gorgeous tan – and twenty-five new pounds.

The new school year didn’t change anything. I continued to eat, drink and pretend to be merry. I was a whirling dervish of social activity trying to keep my pain at bay with “fun”. I dated a boy I’d loved since high school who wooed me and then dumped me for one of my sorority sisters while he was in town visiting me. I lowered my sights and dated a boy (we’ll call him Todd) who’d been in love with me since high school, and then, when were home for Christmas, caught him with another high school friend getting reacquainted in his father’s new Mercedes.

It had been a bad year.

I could feel myself falling – something bad had happened, I didn’t know how to cope, and I only added to my own sorrow by making bad choices (Did I really need to eat an entire package of Nestle Toll House cookie dough at midnight? Was going to the tanning salon twice a week really as good as therapy? Were four hours of sleep per night really what college was all about?).

When someone is falling down a mountain, they are (usually) trained to self-arrest with an ice ax. Good climbers have practiced this skill again and again. They know how to keep themselves from tumbling over into the abyss when things have gone awry and they are in a free fall by using their tools to abruptly save themselves from certain death. I thought cookie dough was as good as an ice ax. I was wrong. Cookie dough was the equivalent of someone giving you a blanket to lie on so you will be more comfortable while you slide down the side of Everest.

After the humiliation of finding we’ll-call-him-Todd snogging in the car, some instinct in me grabbed my internal ice ax and rammed it into the side of the mountain. I would not, could not, keep sliding down towards the abyss. Susan was gone, but I could not follow her. I may not have possessed the skills in that moment to know how to climb back up that mountain, but I at least knew enough to stop and hold still until I figured it out.

And I did. I clumsily found my way back to eating stuff that wasn’t going to kill me or make me look like Godzilla. I started sleeping and working out again – two things that I’d let fall by the wayside when I thought it was interfering with all the “fun” I was having. I started praying again, thinking maybe I needed a little more help than what was being offered by other twenty year olds and Phil Donohue. I thought back to those boys singing like angels in the church hidden down an alley in a lesser-known town in France and knew that sometimes we get glimpses of beauty in the middle of our suffering. We get a glimmer of light in the midst of darkness. And we use that thought to keep us company when we are hanging on the side of the mountain waiting to find the strength to climb back up.

I would like to tell you that I’ve never tumbled towards the abyss again, but I would be lying. Bad things have happened, just like they happen to everyone. And sometimes I still eat too much cookie dough and get too little sleep. I still don’t realize immediately I’m sliding, but I’ve gotten better at seeing the signs – the empty cookie dough bowl, the ability to quote lines from 30 Rock because I’m awake too often at two o’clock in the morning watching Netflix.

More than twenty years later, the pain of losing Susan and the awful months afterward still feel fresh. Sometimes I can’t even think about it without feeling like a hole is being torn open in my gut. I will never get over it  – any of it. But I guess that’s the point – you never get over any of the things that happen in your life, but you do get through them. And the hard-truth, the falling-down-the-mountain truth, is that you will need those self-arrest lessons again and again.

But, hopefully, you’ll also figure out just how much cookie dough you can eat before it’s time to pull out the ice ax.

 

Nestle Toll House Cookies (with peanut butter chips)

I have never found a recipe that is better than the original, so there seems no point in changing a classic. I do add peanut butter chips because y’all know how I feel about peanut butter!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

INSTRUCTIONS

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.PAN COOKIE VARIATION: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

SLICE AND BAKE COOKIE VARIATION:
PREPARE
dough as above. Divide in half; wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Shape each half into 15-inch log; wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.* Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

* May be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 8 weeks.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (5,200 feet): Increase flour to 2 1/2 cups. Add 2 teaspoons water with flour and reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookie for 17 to 19 minutes.

 

{ 2 comments }

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