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A bowl of mashed potatoes is therapy to Joanne Palmer's ears (or mouth).

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A bowl of mashed potatoes is therapy to Joanne Palmer's ears (or mouth).

Joanne Palmer: Mashed Potato Season is upon us

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Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at jpalmer@springsips.com

Find more columns by Palmer here.

Here ye! Here ye! By the powers vested in me, I now proclaim it Mashed Potato Season.

As soon as the snow is on the ground, the winter boots are dug out of the back of the closet and the snow tires are on the car, my brain sends an urgent signal to my stomach: spuds, spuds, spuds. I really don't mind this incessant football-style chanting, because I love mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes are the greatest natural antidepressant ever created. Long regarded as a mere sidekick to steak, mashed potatoes should be recognized for their therapeutic value. They're the most sympathetic vegetable around. They'll gaze back at you like a bassett hound with complete and total understanding no matter what you tell them. Like life, they have peaks and valleys, but they present no challenges because you don't even need teeth to eat them. You can pat them with the back of a fork, create a swimming pool for the gravy, or load 'em up with butter and sour cream.

The secret to spud therapy is - no cheating - getting yourself a real potato masher and mashing your way to happiness. Even if you cry buckets of tears on them, you can't ruin the flavor.

Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. No other food gives so much satisfaction. In the past few years, foodies have gone all-out to transform the tater into a gourmet delight. The possibilities are endless. You can be bold and add ingredients such as garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, French onion dip and even kalamata olives. You can play it safe and add scallions, ham, spinach or carrots. You can be creative and try a recipe I stumbled upon for pumpkin pie mashed potatoes that includes canned pumpkin and fresh cranberries. Or you can be health-conscious and substitute buttermilk for milk and butter. Remember, potatoes aren't fattening - what you put on them is.

And our cheerful little tubers are nutritious. Of course, they supply carbohydrates, but an average 5.3-ounce potato with its skin has lots of vitamin C and potassium.

Potatoes have an interesting history. Because I'm something of a wiki-wonk, I searched Wikipedia for some interesting factoids:

"The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1768-71), originally published in Edinburgh in the 18th century, referred to the potato as a 'demoralizing esculent.'"

Isn't that great? An esculent means, "fit to be eaten."

Wikipedia goes on to offer an inaccurate origin of the word "spud." Even though it's not true, I had to share it because it's so funny:

"Spud has erroneously been attributed to a 19th century activist group dedicated to keeping the potato out of Britain, calling itself: The Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet.

If, like me, you are in the mood for mashed potatoes, here is a great recipe from Barbara Jones you might like to try.

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

- 2 lbs red potatoes (about 6 medium)

- water

- 1 t. salt

- 1/2 c. milk

- 1/3 c. whipping cream

- 3 T. butter

- Paprika

Cut potatoes into 1 1/2" cubes (peeled), place in large pan, cover with water, add salt, cover. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat. Simmer until tender (20-25 minutes). Drain. Put thru ricer, mill, or mash with mixer. Heat milk, whipping cream and butter until butter is melted. Reserve and refrigerate 1/4 cup. Beat remaining milk mixture into potatoes. Spoon into buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole. Smooth top. Cover and refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator, pour on reserved milk mixture. Bring to room temperature (about 2 hours). Bake, uncovered in 350-degree oven until hot (25 minutes). Remove from oven. Stir. Garnish with paprika.

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