The Suitcase Lady


January 21, 2009, 9:00 am

“There is no such thing as an Idaho potato. But there are potato varieties that are grown in Idaho.”

This was one of the first things my future mother-in-law said to me. She came from one of the largest potato-growing families in the state of Wisconsin and wanted to make sure that any future daughter-in-law of hers wasn’t a potato illiterate.

Fortunately, I was a fast learner. And it didn’t hurt that I’d sell my soul for homemade mashed potatoes.

My husband and a good friend are still laughing about my order at a famous Chicago restaurant. “I’ll have the whitefish, but hold the rice pilaf. Just bring two ala carte orders of mashed potatoes, please.”

One night in Berlin I came as close to potato nirvana as I’ll ever get. We were wandering around looking for a quaint and inexpensive cafe when I spotted a restaurant named “Kartoffel”. My high school German kicked in, and I recalled that this was the word for “potato”. Sure enough, every item on the menu featured potatoes in some glorious form.

However, my love of potatoes will never eclipse my mother-in-law’s devotion to these tubers. Every summer she drove from her home in Tucson to visit us in Wisconsin, and she invariably arrived unannounced. One summer afternoon she walked in our door just before dinner.

“I’ll have to go to the store,” I said, “I don’t have enough potatoes.”

“Don’t bother,” she said and went out to her car. She came right back with a sack of potatoes. I’ve never known any other woman who traveled with emergency potatoes in her trunk.

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