No Fancy Potatoes at the Kids' Table

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, and over the last few days I have been recalling big holiday meals with my family over the years. As a young girl, we would travel each year to Fairfax, Virginia where my paternal grandparents lived to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas. For the most part, I enjoyed these trips. My grand parents’ home was a funky, 1960s, A-frame with a dumbwaiter and spiral steps that led to my grand-father’s “inner sanctum” of trophies from his African safari adventures.

My grandmother had a large, open kitchen with a huge fireplace that would be commonplace today, but was a rarity in that decade. I loved that kitchen, not for its style or size, but because it was a temple of good food. Yet, there was always one exception to my adoration of that culinary citadel; the kids’ table. The “grown-up” table would be set with silver and china, and beautiful centerpieces in the dining room, while our table would be a flimsy card table with schlock dishes and lesser versions of the meals prepared for the “big table” in the kitchen.

The only redeeming feature was the frequent presence of Doris Peterson who vastly preferred the company of youngsters and would study issues of Tiger Beat magazine in advance of our visits to be able to chat with us about “current events.” When Doris wasn’t present, we sat in complete silence hanging on every word we could decipher of the adults’ conversation even though we had been told that it was just boring stuff like news about people we didn’t know and their health issues. 

I distinctly remember the first year that I was old enough to help Grams in the kitchen while my mom entertained my little sister. The menu included beef Wellington, asparagus, and fancy little potatoes. I was “allowed” to clean the mushrooms for the duxelles with a damp paper towel and to meticulously peel the petit spuds. Yet when it came time to serve the perfectly executed meal, I was relegated to the kiddie table to babysit two five-year-olds and a three-year-old. Needless to say, I was livid. At the last minute, one of the guests was unable to attend, leaving an unoccupied seat at the grown-up table. With a bit of lobbying (Thanks Mom!), I moved into the vacated spot. I felt like Cinderella! 

That very evening, I vowed that I would never have a child’s table in my own home. I remembered that oath nearly 30 years later when a surprise visit from 3-year-old twins and their mother took the last available inches at an already heaving dining table. I stood nibbling my Easter dinner from a plate in the kitchen, content that the two little girls at the “big” table felt like princesses at the feast.

The moral of the story (a.k.a. the soapbox): lose the kids’ table and make room for everyone at the “big” table. Holidays are a time for the whole family to be together and share a meal. When you sit together as a family, you’re creating better dinner and better memories for years to come. Besides how are children going to learn to behave at a table with adults if they're not allowed the exposure? It is a great opportunity for children to learn to be well-mannered enough that the grown-ups forget not to tell the really good family stories in front of them. There's a great deal of family history I wouldn't know if I never had a chance to sit with the grown-ups. If you just can’t seat everyone at the same time, serve dinner in shifts.

Oh, and about those fancy potatoes… Potatoes Fondantes are a classic French side dish and a traditional accompaniment to beef Wellington. While you can prepare them in a saucepan on the stove, Grams preferred to bake hers.These artfully moist potatoes have a crisp exterior and a creamy center coated in a caramelized glaze.

  • 2 lbs. Yukon Gold or Red Bliss potatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and peel the potatoes making sure to remove eyes or damaged areas of the potatoes. Trim the potatoes into uniform, egg shapes about 2” in length (this allows for even cooking) and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of a baking dish.

Bring broth with thyme, oil, butter and salt to a boil in medium saucepan, and then pour over the potatoes until it comes about halfway up the sides of the potatoes. Place in oven and cook for about 40 minutes, basting frequently with stock in the pan to build up a nice gloss. The potatoes are done when they are golden brown on top and the broth is almost completely reduced.

Let the potatoes rest for 5 minutes before transferring them to a serving platter. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and the chopped chives and serve immediately.