"Mom, what are those things on the stove?" asked my 5-year-old son.
"They're baked sweet potatoes."
"Oh. I thought they were dead mice."
I was starting to think that perhaps I should have volunteered to bring another item to the kindergarten Thanksgiving feast – say, paper plates. But it was my son's first year, and I wanted to make a good impression. Paper goods seem to say, "I can't be bothered." Homemade pies say, "I have too much time on my hands." But a sweet potato casserole says, "I made an effort, and a few vitamins never killed anyone."
Showing I'd made an effort took some serious effort. First, while hefting the grocery bags to my car, I discovered that 10 pounds of sweet potatoes is a lot of sweet potatoes. Then I had to clean, poke, and bake the ton of tubers. The recipe suggested microwaving them, but I wasn't going to stand there all day feeding three or four potatoes into the microwave at a time. I opted to bake them all together in the oven. It took ages. We ordered pizza for dinner.
I left the sweet potatoes on the stove to cool. To be fair, the oblong, grayish forms did resemble rodents. Next, I scooped out the insides, mashed them, and mixed in eggs, brown sugar, and cinnamon. A few of the potatoes seemed a little, well, firm, but I figured the mixer would soften them up. Wrong. Orange chunks ricocheted around the kitchen while I choked on a cloud of cinnamon.
Discouraged but not defeated, I fished out the uncooked bits and microwaved them into submission. Unfortunately, I had already added the other ingredients. Anyone want a side of scrambled eggs with their sweet potatoes? Messy though it was, my method seemed to work. I reintroduced the softened bits into the bowl. Now the splatters from the mixer were scalding hot.
Struggling under the weight of the now-puréed 10 pounds of sweet potatoes, I emptied the bowl into a foil pan and spread them out with a spatula. Not bad. You could barely see the lumps. I was just sprinkling the chopped pecans on top when my son strolled in.
Picking up a wooden spoon and pulverizing the remaining pecans, he said casually, "Luke is allergic to nuts. So's Cameron." Then he swiped a finger into the mixing bowl and went on his way.
That does it. Next year, I'm bringing paper plates. I saw some cute ones at the party store with little mice on them dressed up as Pilgrims.