Oh, Peppino, you wiley little mouse!
I caught a sudden case of holiday sadness yesterday afternoon; missing my folks and our old Christmas traditions. There is but one cure: meatloaf and mashed sweet potatoes, dished up by a doting husband.
I think one of the reasons for the seasonal sadness is this year’s lack of full-sized Christmas tree. You know, because I didn’t feel like rearranging the living room to bring in a live tree for the dogs to pee on killed Christmas. But the lack of tree also meant a lack of tree-putting-up festivities, creating an unanticipated void in my holiday good cheer.
I don’t know what your holiday traditions are like, or if you even celebrate anything. For me, Christmas growing up meant dragging the fake tree – which inexplicably smelled like spaghetti and meatballs – up from the crawl space. Decorations were a carefully orchestrated affair, from the delicate little painted glass balls near the tippy top to the big honkers down at the bottom.
The whole thing was set to a soundtrack that was the same year in and year out, and which is burned into my brain: Tiny Tim, trilling “White Christmas” in a horrifying falsetto.
We always observed a moment of silence for the final, higher-than-high note.
The album contained many other gems, including, but not limited to:
- Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey,
- Peppino the Italian Mouse,*
- Silent Night,
- Snoopy vs. the Red Baron**, and
- A 15-minute long rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” as performed by an ensemble of cracked-out recorder players.
(Please, Jesus, SOMEONE tell me you also had this Christmas album, and that it’s not all a fever dream I had.)
*Which has NOTHING to do with Christmas and is about drunken, thieving vermin. “You scare my girl, you eat my cheese, you even drink my wine. I try so hard to catch you, but you trick me all the time.”
**Which actually DID have to do with Christmas, as it was about a Christmas truce between Snoopy and the Red Baron.
We would listen to Peppino’s exploits as my father painstakingly put tinsel on the tree ONE STRAND AT A TIME. The man took his tinsel seriously, very seriously. He was like a tinsel artisan, delicately draping one strand, standing back to admire his handiwork, deftly moving in to fill in a hole. His tinsel arrangement was a work of fucking art.
(My mother would usually be in the kitchen making Christmas cookies because she couldn’t give two shits about the tinsel. Also I think she was disgusted by Tiny Tim.)
When the final light was in place, the final note sung and the final piece of tinsel at home, we would order a pizza and sit around and eat while admiring our handiwork.
You can see, then, what I’m missing. Somehow, the four and a half minutes it took to decorate our tabletop tree aren’t quite making up for it.
That’s why tonight is comfort food, with the best mashed sweet potatoes you ever did have. Cooked according to the America’s Test Kitchen method to ensure maximum flavor and minimum waterloggedness and perfumed with orange and cardamom, these sweet potatoes were once described as “soul affirming” and were proclaimed better than beer-braised short ribs. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it.
Maybe that’s what the recorder players were smoking, because they were DEFINITELY smoking something.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.
Best Mashed Sweet Potatoes
2 lbs. sweet potatoes
3 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. milk, half and half or heavy cream
3 tbsp. butter
zest of one orange
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
s+p to taste
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, and then slice them into 1/4 inch thick half-moons.
Put the sweet potatoes, 3 tablespoons of the cream and the 3 tablespoons of butter into a saucepan over medium-low heat and cover. Let cook for 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender – the sweet potatoes will release moisture and steam themselves, so boiling them in a pot of water is unnecessary.
When the potatoes are tender, mash ’em with the zest, cardamom, additional 2 tablespoons of milk and s+p.
just wanted to let you know that i listed you as one of my 4 funniest women on the internet and an inspiration for my new blog. hope it does not sqwick you out!
oh boy, Tiny Tim memories… yeah, can’t beat that with a stick. I can’t believe all of those gems on one album!
I will try this method on the taters, makes so much sense!
At my parents house, in their record cabinet that is still in the living room across from the piece of furniture that holds a turntable and an 8-track (not making this up), is an album from when I was a kid that contains the Snoopy vs the Red Baron song and other Christmas songs. I can’t remember any of the other songs, but I’ll have to check it out next time I’m there.
I know that the record is still there because, obviously, my mother never gets rid of anything!
My mom was a tinsel perfectionist too. She could spend HOURS getting it jusssst right.
We’d pretend to throw handfuls of it at the tree. That always got her worked up!
Sounds like you have great Christmas memories! I’m Jewish and therefore don’t have Christmas memories. Yet, I still feel rather melancholy this holiday season. What gives?
My cousin and I WORE OUT whatever album my grandmother had that contained Snoopy vs the Red Baron. I know it wasn’t the same album from your childhood ’cause it didn’t have either Tiny Tim or the crack-smoking recorder players on it. I feel like I missed out on something special. I will make up for it by preparing the sweet potatoes.
jesi, not at all! i am honored, and good luck with the blog!
cynic, the sweet potato flavor is so much more intense when you cook ’em this way; it’s really good. i mean, of course it is, if america’s test kitchen is telling you to do it.
robin, yes! the combo turntable-8 track player! that’s what we always played this record on. it was majestic and the speakers were covered in velour.
lauri, heh, i think that would have caused my father to storm from the room.
sara, no hanukkah memories? no jewish christmas? whatever, either way, the year end always gets me.
tanis, you really did miss out on something special. you could lay on the floor and listen to those recorder players go, and swear you’d see moving pictures in the wallpaper. trippy!
i loves me some sweet potatoes, michelle, but…better thanb beer-braised short ribs?! can we just proclaim it a tie and have them both at the same time?
i didn’t have that christmas album (our christmas album of choice was johnny mathis), but we had tiny tim’s “god blass tiny tim” and listened to it quite often.
Hey Michelle, just stopping by to say merry Christmas. Hope Santa brings you everything you want!
I know what you mean about the wee fake tree not really doing the job, Christmas-spirit-wise. Ours is now insufficient to hold all the bulky novelty ornaments we have, and we haven’t even brought the thing out this year, and I feel distinctly un-Christmassy. Clearly you have the right idea, though – I’m listening to Christmas music (the Nutcracker, though) and eating sweet potatoes (not mashed – hacked up and thrown in a skillet with chorizo) and this may cure everything.
“Why are you taking our Tree, Santa Claus?” asked Cindy Lou Who.
When I was a kid, the most horrible christmas special was the one where the awful father won’t let the little nerdy cute looking daughter have a christmas tree because his wife who died loved christmas and he can’t forget or forgive.
If I didn’t have a christmas tree I’d have to go out into the woods and not return until I brought back *something*, even if the something was a dead log with dry branches, just so long as I could decorate it.
However, you are welcome to look at the solitary picture of our christmas tree over on foodgardenkitchen (the spouse ixnay’ed me on the “can I put up a gallery of 12-20 photos of it with closeups of ornaments and other interesting perspectives?”).
I miss hearing Clyde the Camel, my favorite novelty holiday song. And I don’t understand why I don’t hear my favorite christmas song of all more often: Christmas Wrapping, by the Waitresses.
Comments are closed.