Total pot(ato) head

Throughout my childhood, my mom was always buying “pot” — by which I mean potatoes, as she abbreviated them on her grocery list, the same way “cot” denoted cottage cheese.


Still, for a self-proclaimed “square” who once, after busting my sister for hosting a party during parents’ weekend at my college, couldn’t understand what happened to all the Jell-O—“you don’t serve Jell-O at a party; you serve chips and dip!”—mom sure bought a lot of “pot.” This joke always made us laugh. Although maybe all the “pot” had something to do with that.

Thanks to my youthful consumption, now, as an adult, I find myself nurturing a pretty nasty “pot” habit — see, it’s still funny (although there’s nothing humorous about actual drug abuse, except maybe early Cheech & Chong and even that’s not for everyone).

Seriously, though, I’m a total pot(ato)-head. I like them whipped, I like them chipped. I like them fried, grilled, boiled, broiled, baked, twice baked and thrice baked (four times is pushing it). I like them gratineed, scalloped, smashed, pancaked, jo-jo’d and totted (or is it “tottified”?). I’ve eaten hash browns for breakfast every day this week; and potato chip nachos for lunch (don’t knock it ‘til you try it). I find gnocchi yummy. I tell time with one of those elementary school science fair potato clocks. I sweat melted butter.

Of course, potatoes are a gateway starch, and take it from me, I’ve done them all: rice, barley, hominy, couscous, polenta. I’ve spent the last year strung-out on quinoa — that’s some serious stuff, man (especially with kale, pine nuts and parmesan).

But while I may find temporary solace in the arms of another carbohydrate, I’ll always come back to my first love. My three favorite foods are French fries, mashed potatoes and a kosher deli item known as a “knish,” which, for the unfamiliar, is essentially a mashed potato stuffed inside a crust that tastes like French fries. Street vendors sell knishes all over New York City, where you can literally buy “pot” on every corner. Hot pretzels and meat-on-a-stick, too. And tube socks, for some reason.

Anyway, I’m not the only one with a “pot” jones. The average human currently eats 73 lbs. of potatoes a year, and that’s a worldwide average, including many countries that don’t have Pringles. Doing the math — even with my “pot”-addled brain — it’s entirely conceivable the median American adult packs away his or her own weight in potatoes. Those family-sized cartons of Hungry Jack make it all too easy.

Odd that a vegetable first domesticated in South America some 10,000 years ago would fare so well in modern day Southeast Alaska, but it does. And so this year, I decided to take that inevitable step and grow my own. Not only did I want to know exactly where my “pot” came from — in this case, a giant box garden right in my front yard for all to see—I aimed to cut out the middlemen (Costco, Fred Meyer) who’ve been profiting so mightily on my daily need to roast some spuds.

Potatoes are members of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes. Perhaps that’s why they taste so good with ketchup (or, in the case of potato chip nachos, salsa — and don’t skimp on the cheese, either; use the good stuff, from the case next to the deli counter).

The point is, like all nightshades, potato plants contain toxins — in their case, isolated to the leaves, flowers and stems, rendering the luscious greenery I admired as it blossomed throughout the summer little use to me. No, my goods lay in the ground, thriving or dying hidden beneath a foot of Turf Builder and steer manure, offering no indication of size, number or quality until we dug them up.

And dig them up we did, as a family activity earlier this week. Let me tell you, the only thing more fun than hanging out and pulling a bunch of tubers is hanging out and pulling a bunch of tubers with your kids. It was great. We had Grateful Dead blasting and everything.

Honestly, I’d call our very first “pot” harvest a success, my son and daughter shrieking with delight at every gnarled purple finger and bulbous pink nugget we unearthed. And while the crop yield doesn’t make us self-sufficient, we definitely scored a few solid kilos. They’re currently curing on the floor of the garage, along with all the other junk I’ve got “curing” there, you know, like empty gas cans, flattened snow tires and a half-constructed home theater unit.

In fact, I texted a photo to the grandparents — nothing grandparents love more than photos of filthy children they bear no responsibility for cleaning — and you know what my mom texted me back?

“Cute kids, nice pot.”

I’ve got to admit, it does look pretty tasty. Man, I can’t wait to sit back and enjoy a huge bowl of homegrowns. It’s going to be a regular “pot” party.

• “Slack Tide” appears every other Sunday in Neighbors. Geoff Kirsch will be leading a free playwriting seminar next Saturday, Sept. 28 1–3 p.m. at the Nugget Mall.


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