Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweet (Potato) Sundaes

In case I forget to mention it later: this perfect and crazy-nutritious dinner is a tremendous hit with everyone in the family.
Have I mentioned before that I’m actually an incredibly gifted fortune teller? I know. You might not have thought. But I do it every year at the school carnival, and even though I usually start out kind of groggy and wishing I didn’t have to get up and get into multiple scarves and hoop earrings and eye shadow, wishing I didn’t have to unscrew our kitchen globe light (hello, crystal ball!) and find the Tarot cards, wishing there were more coffee and fewer kids—well, before you know it, I’m Totally Involved. For one thing, I have a killer accent that is half Yiddish, half Transylvanian, and half Brooklyn, and for another, I can’t help feeling like the kids draw these cards that end up fully revealing their personalities to me. Or maybe it’s just their faces that do all the revealing, I’m not sure. Mostly it’s preschoolers with strange and wonderful questions: “Will I get a hundred horses?” one asks, while her mother shakes her head vehemently in the background, mouthing the word no to me, in case I’m about to make vast equine promises. “I see great kheppiness,” I say, studying wands and cups. “I see many things you vant, you get,” I say. “But not khundred khorses iggzectly.” “Will I be a duck when I grow up?” another tiny girl wonders, and the cards suggest, truly, that she will not. “You still could be,” I say, “but eez unlikely.” What the cards show, in fact, is a great and consistent tendency towards helping other people, and when I tell her this, she says, “But ducks help people!” and I acknowledge that this is true.

Some grown-ups come, and older kids too—Ben and Birdy and their friends—and they usually start off with the protective armor of irony, and they usually give it up by the end of the fortune. But mostly it’s the very small kids, with the parents waiting with a baby in a little front pack. And what I’m getting to is this: that’s so not me anymore. I’m one of the parents of the big kids who are running the face paint booth themselves; I am not one of the parents with a baby and a preschooler falling into the rubber-duck pool and weeping about cotton candy, and I don’t understand how it happened, and sometimes I’m sad about it. But mostly I’m not. Because this is the face of 12:

And, not to brag, but we got to watch both Raising Arizona (“Son, you got a panty on your head.”) and Spinal Tap (“These go to eleven.”) with Ben. And when we watched the newborn videos on his birthday, I thought: everything I love most about him has changed not at all. His incredible sweetness and his smile and his sense of humor—even though back then, what made him laugh was sticking his foot into the poopy diaper. But still. I would sometimes like him to be the size of a football the better to tuck him under my arm and keep him close, sure. I would like to rock in a chair while he napped in my lap, of course. But his head smells like a baby’s head to me, like his own baby head, and his smile still inflates me with gladness, and, um, he makes us dinner.

Sweet (Potato) Sundaes
Serves: however many potatoes you make
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 2 hours

Obviously, this is a use-what-you-like-best or use-what-you-have situation. Any kind of cheese or nuts or herbs would be great. Skip the bacon (if you’re crazy and/or a vegetarian). Other veggies would be nice too: we had roasted cabbage as a side dish, but you could add roasted veggies to your sweet potatoes, or top each one with a small handful of arugula. What if you topped them with black beans and salsa and sour cream and a crumble of tortilla chips? That would be good too, wouldn’t it?

Large, clean sweet potatoes (I like jewel yams or garnet yams best)
Crumbled feta
Diced bacon, cooked until crisp
Sliced onions, sautéed in olive oil until very browned and sweet
Snipped chives
Dried cherries
Toasted pecans

Heat the oven to 425. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, then place them on a baking sheet (I lined mine with foil in case they were going to ooze messily), and bake them until they feel very soft when you press them—1-1 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, place all the toppings in little bowls and put them on the table.

Give each person a split sweet potato for topping. Don’t forget to eat the skin, which is delicious and full of nutrients!
"Do you know why you poke them?" I asked Ben, and he said, "So they don't phhht Farmer-Boy explode right into your eye." Exactly.

Ben, paying close attention.

Ben, paying no attention at all. Um, hello? Hot pan! Stove! Grrr.

The toppings. We had some beautiful bacon ends from a friendly ex-pig, and they were perfect to cut up for this meal.

Like I always say, any meal that involves personalized composition is bound to be a hit around here.

And for Birdy, any meal that involves feta and chives is going to be a good thing.

Michael's potato is what you might call loaded.

Ocular proof of a good dinner.


  1. ladida12:49 PM

    you can eat sweet potato skin?! i guess i live in a cave, but i did not know that!

  2. Oh my. Ben cannot possibly be 12. You are making that part up I am sure of it. Sigh. I still read your book. I'g pg again and am going to read it again. Although this time I am wiser. I am waiting for the morning sickness/aversions to pass before I start your descriptions of what made you queasy. Even though I read it when pg with my first and then we had our own Abigail after that, Ben and Birdy are still little mights in my mind. But if he makes your dinner I can see how you can live with it.

  3. Please share a photo of you dressed up like a fortune teller. I can't wait to see.

    I spent all of a very long Monday giggling over the 100 horses part. Too perfect!

  4. Deirdre2:17 PM

    "I lined mine with foil in case they were going to ooze messily..." Again, one more reason why I love you and REALLY want an "I love Catherine Newman" tee shirt.

  5. Damn, you made me tear up again. They often start out so matter-of-fact, your posts, and then before I know it, I've slipped over into the "yes-that's-exactly-how-I-feel, and it is so poignant, and how did you know?" section of your posts. It's dreary out, too, I'm sure that doesn't help. (-:

  6. Those look really good. But I would skip the bacon since I fall into the crazy vegetarian category.

    Oh - I know - I'm not one of those moms either. But I'm not one of the moms with the kids that are running the face paint...I'm an in-between mom.

    I would totally ask you my fortune. Do you see great happiness and many horses in MY future? Because that would be neat.

  7. I have no affiliation with this site other than immense gratitude for a few home run meals. BUT--if you have miso-the site Dinner A Love Story turned me on to miso sweet potatoes. Bake sweet potatoes; when done, smoosh in butter and miso. Top with chives or scallions. Moan with joy. Seriously. Hits all my taste bud pleasure centers. Yum.

  8. "Friendly ex-pig" I LOVE ex-pigs!

  9. Your recipe for Black Beans and Rice over the campfire made me look like a total rock star at Cub Scout camp this weekend. It was really cold, so the hot food was a good thing. It cooked perfectly, and I threw in two links of hot Italian sausage I'd had the night before. I shared with some friends who were camping too. Two thumbs up!

  10. Oh Catherine. I keep sighing over the fact that I'm not the mom of a baby and a toddler anymore, because my kids are SO old, like 6 and 4. But I guess 12 really is old. But I know there's the undeniable and unfathomable law of growing up, which is: it keeps getting better (for the parents). Until maybe 13? I don't know. But a dinner-making child sounds pretty wonderful.
    ps: my word verification is "lityrazi," which is like paparazzi for literary types, and how I feel about you.

  11. TWELVE??? I know he was eleven last year, but STILL.
    My oldest is Birdy's age and I have taken to telling lots of "When you were a baby" stories lately...
    Love the Farmer Boy reference, and cannot wait for sweet potato bar!

  12. We're having these for dinner tonight, but I don't have bacon, just left over Niman Ranch breakfast sausage, so that is going on the potatoes. Also I never knew you can eat the skin..are non organic sweet potatoes also full of horrible pesticides like conventional potatoes? Not sure...we don't get them in our CSA, just lots and lots of regular potatoes, and organic yams are a fortune at Whole Foods. Hmmmm...need to investigate further! Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. OMG, I am dying, my daughters and I are just reading the Little House series together right now, so I totally got the Farmer Boy reference! Ha! Ben is awesome. And his 12 year old face is still in essence his toddler face, you know? Of course you do.

  14. This post was so perfect! Thank you. We can't wait to try these yummy potatoes! My son is loving helping/doing some stuff himself in the kitchen thanks to his ChopChop subscription. Thanks again!

  15. These look great, what a great simple dinner idea! As for bacon, I am the one who cooks the whole pound of bacon when the recipe says two slices for garnish.

  16. I, too, am the mother of "big kids" (not as big as Ben, though): Carla will be 10 in 2 months, Lydie will be 8 in 6 months. It feels odd at playgrounds, seeing them like giants, wild and free and not needing me at all. But I love it, to be honest. I loved them when they were babies, but I'm really, really not a baby person. I couldn't wait to get out of the baby (even toddler) phase. Things started to look up when Lydie turned 3. No more nappies (diapers!), coherent sentences, more spontaneity in our activities... My girls are currently away at a mini-camp for 4 days and I relish their independence.
    This recipe looks great, but if I try it, it'll have to be with regular potatoes as Lydie is a real Miss Fussypants and won't touch (amongst many, many other things) sweet potato...

  17. heather11:50 AM

    ah hah! yes, my kids are growing up just like yours ...
    I love how perfectly you capture my feeling of sort of capital R Relief that I am not toting a baby in a bjorn, and that I can play wicked games of Set (the best game ever) with the olders. and that the make bake their own sweet snacks to pack in their own school lunch boxes.

  18. Someday, someday, can we get more information on Ben's hair?

    Mother of an 8 year old boy, committed to his own long hair, despite sometimes getting teased about it.

    Oh, and Ben is like a cross between baby/toddler Ben and Michael, is he not?

  19. Those look delicious! I'd have to make a sweet potato for me and a regular potato for my crazy bf who dislikes sweet potato.

  20. Oh my. Ben CAN'T be 12. I have been reading about him since he was so so little.

  21. Just LOVE. Love the post and all the comments. And that in my skimming-ness way of reading I thought you said that you "like yours with foil, in case you are boozing." Close enough!

  22. maxanyamom10:03 PM

    Catherine, dear! I so love the fortune teller stories. It made me go back and search the archives for the snippet of video you posted a few years ago when Birdy asked, "Will I go to college?" I watched it a million times back then, and it is still so good. Loved the accent, loved the way you explained the meaning of 'ambitious'...and I loved the way Birdy got her answer (Yes, she will go to college) and then turned immediately to go, never recognizing her own mother in the fortune teller's tent. Wonderful! They are getting bigger...mine are 8 & 4, and while they spill out all over my lap whenever I can get them to snuggle with me, I wouldn't go back. I love the way they are unfolding into their being right before my eyes. They are teaching me vital lessons and shaping me to be a better person. I am so lucky.

    Welcome to 12, Ben! You are awesome!

  23. I look forward to your blog entries every week. This one is superb! I too, love ex-pigs, and now I'm going to dig up your fortune telling video, too. Thanks, once again, for making my day!

  24. Wow! 12! I remember a blog long ago about a toddler Ben being horrified by tampons floating in the tub, lol! And I'm glad you mentioned Ben's baby head smell. My 10 year old daughter still has her baby smell and I LOVE it! Thought I was the only mom who noticed things like that.

  25. libramom10081:27 PM

    What a wonderful post! I giggled at the fortune teller and teared up at your realization of what you love about Ben is still there--I often look for the babies in my big boys...they are still there too. Aren't we lucky?

  26. Such a fabulous post. Thank you!
    I'm doing these sweet spud sundaes for dinner! Genius!

  27. Andrea B.12:17 PM

    This one made me tear up, because I get it exactly. Just the other day I went to buy pants for my son, in size 8, when it hit me like a ton of bricks. He will be 12 in April.....TWELVE! Somehow I still see him as a little 8-year-old. He doesn't even need me to come in to school to help with his costume on Monday...*tear*.

  28. Anonymous3:49 PM

    I love the sweet potato sundae bar idea, and the idea of Ben cooking htem! He is so grown up, handsome and extraordinary. Birdy looks adorable too in the corner of one of your photos. Blessings to all of you!

  29. mrs.craig11:47 AM

    What I wouldn't give to be at the festival to see your Fortune Teller act! How incredible you are! Happy Fall xoxo

  30. Anonymous9:10 PM

    My kids loved these. We also offered edamame as a "topping".

  31. Yum! I made these last night and while my husband refused on the grounds that he hates sweet potatoes, our 10-year-old daughter was an enthusiastic convert! The upside of his refusal, is that I have another sweet potato sundae for lunch today! :)

  32. I've been out of the blogosphere for a while, but I remembered it was Ben's 12 birthday in October, and I just had to look up the picture I was sure you'd post. He's lovely as always.

    I'm taring up thinking that I've "known" you for so long! My oldest, Julian, just turned 11, and the things I've always loved the most about him haven't changed either.

    Thanks for this post, Catherine!!!!

  33. SO GOOD! I forgot to put them in and had a meeting to go to so cut them in half and put the cut side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet! only took about a half hour to cook! Thank you we will be making this once a week i think!