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Let’s Cook: Poems and Potatoes

By Chuck Repnow - | Apr 17, 2021

Duchess Potato Casserole

This year marks the silver anniversary of National Poetry Month. For 25 wonderful years, a celebration of poetry has taken place in the month of April.

This event was introduced in 1996 and was organized by the Academy of American Poets. Their reason for starting this event was to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. Their perseverance is paying off. I have seen numerous schools highlight this event, and recently I noticed a complete bulletin board dedicated to National Poetry Month. I nearly dropped my phone upon seeing it.

My mom enjoyed poetry and often hung some of her very favorite poems on our refrigerator. Scoping out the fridge for leftovers was an educational experience if you took the time to read the poem on the front door. Mrs. Vonderheide, my seventh and eighth grade English teacher, also inspired me to read poetry. I can still recall her reciting “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Half way through her presentation she clasped her pearl necklace as she recited this line from the poem, “A hurry of hoofs in the village street.” Her hands went up in the air as if she were pointing to the village clock that was being mentioned. It was a moving performance and one that still reminds me that when words are presented with such enthusiastic and determination it is captivating.

The summer after seventh grade I made weekly trips to Mrs. Vonderheide’s home. There in her living room she coached me as I memorized Paul Revere’s Ride. Each time that we came to the third verse, which starts “Then he said, Good night! and with a muffled oar silently rowed to the Charleston shore.” She would stop and say “now here we use our imagination because a heavy oar is use to making a big splash and it has been muffled yet still performing its duty of movement.” So muffled was said in a noticeable softer tone.

Upon competition of memorizing “Paul Revere’s Ride,” we celebrated with ice cream and Mrs. Vonderheide reciting “The Song of Hiawatha.” It was most notable and her performance, like many of Longfellow’s students at Harvard, was compelling.

What poems do you recall from school, home or friends? Take time to read them this month and you will discover what a joy it is to revisit a poem or discover a new poem. There are certainly many new poets such as Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, who recited “The Hill We Climb” during the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20.

Just the other day I was reciting “The Little Turtle,” and Lydia responded with “Dad, I remember you teaching me that.” Lydia continues to enjoy poetry and has also taken to writing some original poetry. We never know what will become of a seed that we plant early in a child’ s mind. Seeing her interest in poetry makes me smile.

I have included two poems. “A Friend” by Edgar Albert Guest was given to me by a senior citizen whom I had helped. Guest is often referred to as America’s Poet. The second, “The Little Turtle” by Vachel Lindsay. Do yourself a favor and teach it to someone little, it will make you smile.

Along with continuing to discover new poets comes the adventure of discovering new ways to make mashed potatoes. I recently tried a new recipe that I read about in Cook’s Illustrated in their November and December from 2017. The article “Mashed Potato Makeover” by Lan Lam. A French classic recipe has been revamped for today’s use with ease.

A Friend

By Edgar Albert Guest

A friend is one who stands to share

Your every touch of grief and care.

He comes by chance, by stays by choice;

Your praises he is quick to voice.

No grievous fault or passing whim

Can make an enemy of him.

And though your need be great or small

His strength is yours throughout all.

No matter where your path may turn

Your welfare is his chief concern,

No matter what your dream may be.

He prays your triumph soon to see.

There is no wish your tongue can tell

But what it is your friend’s as well.

The life of him who has a friend

Is double-guarded to the end.

The Little Turtle

By Vachel Lindsay

There was a little turtle.

He lived in a box,

He swam in a puddle.

He climbed on rocks.

He snapped at a mosquito.

He snapped at a flea.

He snapped at a minnow.

And he snapped at me.

He caught the mosquito.

He caught the flea.

He caught the minnow.

But he didn’t catch me.

Duchess Potato Casserole

3 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2- inch thick

2/3 cup half and half

1 large egg separated, plus 2 large yolks

Salt and pepper

Pinch nutmeg

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 13 X 9-inch baking dish. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cook until a paring knife can be slipped in and out of centers of potatoes with ease, 18 to 22 minutes. Drain potatoes.

2. Combine half-and-half, 3 egg yolks, 1 3/4 salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg in bowl. Set aside.

3. Place a sauce pan over low heat. Set ricer over saucepan. Process all potatoes with ricer. Using a rubber spatula, stir in 8 tablespoons melted butter until incorporated. Stir in reserved half-and-half mixture until combined. Transfer potatoes to prepared dish and smooth into even layer.

4.Combine egg white, remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter, and a pinch of salt in bowl and beat with fork until combined. Pour this mixture over potatoes and spreading evenly. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Let cook for 20 minutes before serving.

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