Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How to bake a potato from 12/19/14

This post is celebrating its third birthday today and furthermore falls exactly on the day of our staff holiday potluck!


How to bake a potato

I am not averse to singing my own praises occasionally, but when I say my baked potatoes went over well at the staff holiday potluck, I mean it merely as a point of order, a statistical accounting, mere impartial reporting. There was a stick of butter, some salt, sour cream, and many a toasty baked potato. On a snowy December day, amid the festive hubbub of the library staff chowing down on hot casseroles of jumbo pretzels stewed in dried onion mix and Kraft ranch dressing, my potatoes went like hotcakes, I mean, if they were potato hotcakes, albeit potato hotcakes where the potatoes were not made into cakes but rather were left in their original form. And because my potatoes were so delicious many people eagerly pressed me for my recipe.

I told them to check my blog, and I so provide it here now for any and all interested parties. 

 How to bake a potato


Some people, who have no respect for fine cooking, may scoff and think it takes nothing to bake a potato, but the reason my baked potatoes are so good is because they are done right. You can probably pop a potato in the oven for an hour and have it be okay, but for a mind blowing potato you will need to carefully follow my detailed instructions. This will produce a succulent, fluffy, out of this world steaming and lush baked potato. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it!


I only use one of three obscure heritage varieties of potato, the Russian Black Fist, Olde English Russets, or Grandpa's Knuckles. If you can't find one of these varieties with a "waist" circumference of 8.5 to 10 inches all is not lost! Any good, obscure organic variety in use before the Irish potato famine and with the right sugar reading will do just fine. You will need to bring a good quality glucose reader to your local organic farm. Only choose potatoes with a "sweet" reading of four or higher, otherwise the result will be too tart and starchy.

A note on choosing your potatoes:

Besides the obvious size ("waist" circumference of 8.5 to 10 inches only!), variety, and sugar content issues, pay careful attention to picking the best potatoes. They should be free of green tinge, water should bead freely on the surface, and they should be unscarred and unblemished. Test for firmness. They should be quite firm to the touch, but never hard. Test for a rich water content by knocking on the roof of the potato, but it shouldn't be too wet. Don't be afraid to ask your organic grower detailed questions about the past six month's weather.

Preparing your potatoes:

Rinse your potatoes lightly in Evian water (from glass bottles, not plastic!). Do not scrub your potato! You will want to brush it lightly with a sable brush (no synthetic, camel hair in an emergency) while pouring the Evian over it. This can be easier with two people, but a single person will eventually get the hang of it. Just keep the water pouring in a slender stream like you are making mayonnaise. Do not pat dry your potatoes, rather air dry them, handling them as little as possible. When they are fully dry you will be piercing the potatoes with precisely seven holes, using a stitching awl.

Using the stitching awl:

I keep an ancient Roman stitching awl for puncturing or piercing my potatoes. This tool is made of iron. This is the single most important step in the preparation of baking potatoes. Your awl must be iron. The older that iron has been in its current form the better. A good friend of mine makes baked potatoes exactly as I do, but his are slightly tastier. The only difference between us comes down to his beautiful stitching awl, which is a two to three thousand BC Chinese stitching awl.

I would kill for that awl.

But we make do with what we have. Our awl should be clean and completely free of rust. Gently heat the tip of the awl to 130 degrees F over a wood source fire. Puncture each potato in exactly seven evenly placed spots, each to a depth of exactly 7/16 of an inch. I find that I do not need to heat the tip back up after each puncture, and can do two punctures if I work quickly, which saves a lot of time.

Resting your potatoes:

Let the potatoes rest at room temperature for 8 to 10 hours.

Curing your potatoes:

"Bury" your potatoes in a wood crate of rock salt. No potato should be touching anything but salt. Refrigerate like this for two days. Remove your potatoes and very lightly brush them clean with songbird feathers. Discard the salt.

Your potatoes are now ready to cook!

Cooking your potatoes:

Place your potatoes on a slab of Italian marble in a convection oven set at 225 degrees. After 20 minutes remove your potatoes and drizzle a thimbleful of good champagne over the top of each potato. Dig a pit in your yard, reserving the displaced earth, and fill it with unvarnished teak wood. Burn this wood until the flames are nearly gone, and you are left with a pit of glowing coals. Sprinkle a large bottle of Asahi beer over the coals. Coat the potatoes evenly in about a quarter inch of raw, low fire clay. Wait an hour.

Place your clay covered potatoes carefully on the cooling coals. Cover over everything with your reserved earth. Let rest for at least 12 hours. Carefully remove potatoes from the pit and gently peel off the clay coating. Brush the potato with a stiff brush made of organic hay until it is clean. Return the potatoes to the Italian marble slab and cook at 275 degrees in the oven, without any convection setting active, until the center temperature of the potatoes are 140 to 143 degrees.

Serving your potatoes: 

Remove the potatoes from the oven and rest them for five minutes. Discard the marble slab as it cannot be used again. Serve the potatoes immediately with salt and butter, yelling at everyone that they are ready now, and will be worthless in ten minutes so they'd better get to it. They will think you're being a jerk, but they will forget all about it once they taste these potatoes, your potatoes. 

They will never have had better, guaranteed!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ready at desk from 9/14

From September 4, 2014:

Ready at desk

Sometimes lately when I am at the front desk I like to stand there, looking alertly out upon the library, with a pleasant, welcoming smile on my face. When people come to me, as they do, for help, I help them, and then I return to the alert, welcoming posture.

I don't do it much, but when I do it makes me feel very daring.

Perhaps you are wondering why it makes me feel daring. Perhaps you have an inkling that this is the absolute best mien for any clerk at any service desk. Perhaps you suspect that this is exactly how one should be between patrons.

You would be right. 

And yet, almost no one likes it. Almost no one approves when I idly (but alertly) stand facing the library, ready to be of assistance. So few people really like it that I only do it when I'm feeling like a bit of a rascal.

My managers don't like it because I am not getting anything extra done. There's always a lot of extra to get done.

My co-workers don't like it because either I am not getting anything extra done, or, more likely, because I am not entertaining them. The hours get pretty long.

Patrons who don't need help don't like it because it looks like their tax dollars are going to waste. They may be in the library looking for a job, or because they have nowhere to go and there I stand, just smiling and raking in their tax dollars.

And even I don't like it because I get bored. I get bored and restless. I could be entertaining myself with reading, writing, surfing the Internet, chatting with my co-workers, or getting a few library things taken care of. But instead I am all there. It is hard to be all there. If it were easy to be all there, we would all be the Buddha.

The fact is that standing there all pleasant and ready for business doesn't look so good. It looks unmotivated, unbusy, slackerish. If I feverishly look up exotic coffees on the Internet, listen to my co-worker tell me about flea market finds, or look through a book before putting it on a cart in order, I am being completely non productive, but I look a great deal like I might be being very productive. I look like I am super busy and engaged.

Just look at this dynamic library with the workers all flapping around! That is some place! How do they keep up?

So naturally nobody likes it when I just stand there, openhearted, for the next person who needs help. Nobody! Well, nobody but the people who need help, who, I sometimes madly dare to believe, are the people I am standing there for in the first place.