The Legacy of Potatoes in the Oven

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Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for my sisters and me to have friends over for dinner. My mom isn’t a gourmet chef, but she can cook a meal that is warm, delicious and nourishing. It was nothing too fancy for a weeknight dinner cooked by a working mom, but it was homemade nevertheless and always filled up everyone at the table.

When my oldest sister was in high school, my mom put down her foot about family dinners. We could only miss one a week, but we were welcome to invite friends to our house. Our friends could always eat with us. Right around five o’clock my mom would come around and ask how many potatoes she should put in the oven. Along with a hot vegetable side and a salad, my mom made sure everyone was well fed by baking a potato alongside the main course. We probably had potatoes twice a week. They were warm and comforting and there were always enough to go around.

My sister’s friend, who was more often than not at our house right around five o’clock, would get a big grin on her face when my mom asked if she was staying for dinner. “That depends, are we having POTATOES!?” It became a running gag between the two of them, a joke about how she was always welcome and would always be fed potatoes.

When my other sister was a senior in high school, she started dating the captain of the football team. My mom would ask if he was staying for dinner to see whether or not she should double everything. He never knew that when he ate with us she made an entire extra pan of lasagna. She wanted to make sure he always had a seat at the table.

My sisters and I weren’t the only ones who brought friends home. My dad worked downtown and often befriended homeless people. Sometimes they came for dinner. In the oven another potato would go. Up to the table another seat would be pulled. More noodles would be put in the tuna casserole. There was plenty. They were welcome.

This is the legacy my mother has passed on to me: There is always enough. There is always room at the table. We can always put another potato in the oven. You are always welcome.

I, like my mother, am not a fancy cook. It won’t have a ton of ingredients. It may not be Instagram-able. But you will leave my home well-nourished and full. I had a new friend over this week. It was supposed to be coffee, but got upgraded to breakfast. I made potato hash with leftover pulled pork. It was delicious. While I was finishing up, she naturally reached into my refrigerator to find the cream for her coffee. I smiled. She knew immediately that she was welcome in my home. She knew I wanted her rooting around in my refrigerator. She knew she belonged.

I love the idea of hospitality being nothing fancy. I inherited this idea from my mother. The oven is already on. I am cooking for five people anyway. It really isn’t any big deal to chuck an extra potato in there. And it isn’t a big deal–the potato, the extra noodles, the second pan of lasagna; we are already having dinner. But the welcome is beautiful and the conversation is full, and everyone leaves warm, full, and nourished.

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