Sometimes, everything is a delicate balance. It isn’t even just the day-in, day-out spinning plates teetering around us, threatening to smash. We all have stuff. We all juggle. We get tricked into thinking we are missing fingers. We find quarters behind ears. We encounter surprises around darkened corners. Sometimes, things pull streamers we hadn’t known out of our own mouths. It’s unfortunate when we forget our red noses for the occasion.
The real balance in my world, though, is a constant state of remembrance. That is to say, I find myself consistently forgetting two things:
1) That whatever snagged me for a moment could have been worse in a variety of ways.
2) That whatever snagged me for a moment totally sucked and I need to cater to whatever it is that would help.
It took me a really long time, for example, to acquire a mandoline. An inexplicably, horrifically, unbearably challenging time. In fact, it took years. And a lot of necessary, unnecessary fluff in-between.
I told someone years ago that I wanted one for Christmas. I never clarified that the kind of mandoline I wanted would enable me to thinly slice fruits and vegetables. We ended up standing in front of a bunch of stringed instruments days later, because it turns out the silent -e added to mandolin makes a massive difference in terms of semantics. I cackled, and we ended up picking out a ukulele. Behold, the story of how I learned I like to sing.
I finally bought myself my own mandoline this past spring, when I moved into my first apartment ever. As in, no roommates. I felt like a grown-up when I stuck my first initial and my last name on my mailbox. I felt like, if certain people were watching, I might have proven something. But they weren’t. It was just me, my ukulele, and my brand new mandoline.
It would be months before I would use it, to be honest. I would sort through some difficult material. I would get the promotion I have wanted. I would meet new people, and reacquaint myself with some I had met before. I would find myself one Sunday evening with an ice cream cone in hand. I would stand before a shelf of used books, staring at the cookbook I have wanted for a very long time (but not for as long as I wanted a mandoline). The book, it turns out, would be half price. Fanning through the pages, I would realize that I am genuinely happy.
At some point, I would purchase about three pounds of wine-skinned baby red potatoes. They would sit in my fridge for about a week before I would stumble upon a recipe that would inspire the one featured below. In which heavy cream cooks shallots and red onion quarters with thyme and cayenne. The mixture is obliterated to smooth consistency and poured over very thinly sliced rounds of potato. The last ten minutes of its transformation occur beneath a broiler, with some Manchego and some more thyme.
Whenever anything gets to be too overwhelming, I remind myself that there are people I love who love me; that there are things like cream-covered, thinly sliced potatoes; that there is a day when people gather and are (hopefully) humbled by the things they are grateful for. And if that doesn’t help, there is always the option of having a second helping of Potato Gratin. Because belts are meant to be loosened, frands! Happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. Below is a list of other recipes you might like to serve your loved ones, should Gratin not be your thing (BUT REALLY WHO ARE YOU IF THAT IS THE CASE):
Best-Ever Dirty Mashed Potatoes; Roasted Shallot and Apple Mashed Potato Pancakes; Honey Buttermilk Biscuits; Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting; Brown Butter, Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuits; Mozzarella, Scallion, and Olive Cornbread; Brown Sugar Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce; Honey Roasted Root Vegetables; Pumpkin Spice Drop Cookies with Marshmallow Icing; Hasselback Potatoes with Dill and Sour Cream; Citrusy Cranberry Chutney with Golden Raisins and Tart Cherries; Roasted Carrots with Honey, Harissa, and Yogurt
One Year: Roasted Shallot and Apple Mashed Potato Pancakes
Two Years: Brown Sugar Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce
Three Years: Spinach with Warm Fig and Honey Vinaigrette
Four Years: Sweet Turkey Chili with Corn, Kidney Beans, and Kale
Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego
Inspired by Bon Appetit
Makes 1 8×8 square dish
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 red onion, quartered
1 shallot, quartered
2 tsp dried thyme, plus more for serving
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne
1-2 tbsp high quality, salted butter
2 1/2 – 3 lb red potatoes, scrubbed and very thinly sliced
3/4 cup Manchego Cheese, finely grated
In a large saucepan, heat cream, onion, shallot, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne on medium heat. Once gentle bubbles form, reduce to a simmer until onions are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, butter an 8×8 square baking dish (preferably ceramic). Line with rows of potatoes, fanning them out and squeezing pieces into each and every possible crevice. Once onions are cooked through, remove cream mixture from heat. Let cool for about five minutes, then use a handheld blender to blend mixture until smooth. Pour over potatoes evenly, then cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, covered, for 60-70 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Sprinkle evenly with Manchego and additional thyme. Broil for 5-10 more minutes, until the cheese is browned and the potato edges are crispy. Let settle about 15 minutes before serving.