When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade; When Life Gives You Mashed Potatoes, Make Shepherd’s Pie

This post was originally published back in 2011, just a few months after my husband and I relocated our family to NYC. I thought about it earlier this week as I was mapping out my commitments and the annual Thanksgiving Potluck at my sons’ school showed up on my calendar. I share it today because as I sit waiting for this year’s potluck fare to come out of the oven, I can’t help but reflect on how different my life is today, how different my world feels. Our move shook my foundation, and the foundation of my family, in many ways. We were all scared, overwhelmed, lonely, and at times, angry. But God has been wrapping us in his love and grace, coaxing our hearts and minds to open, asking us to trust, and sending us the support we needed to get through each day.  I have learned these past 4 years to trust in the power of prayer and to recognize that the voice of God sounds from every person I come in contact with. Every prayer I cried in desperation was answered by an interaction with another human being. A stranger on the street. A taxi driver. A new friend. An old friend. A beloved family member. A homeless man on the corner. A cashier at the grocery. We ARE the hands and feet of God. May we keep that responsibility be at the forefront of our minds each and every time we interact with one another.

006I spent all last Friday cooking dishes to pass for my oldest son’s Thanksgiving potluck at school: Mashed Potatoes for a Crowd, Mushroom Gravy, and Apple, Sausage and Sage Stuffing. The whole prospect of the
event was stressing me out, simply because I generally dislike socializing in large groups. It’s literally painful for me to figure out how to work my way into a conversation or introduce myself to someone I have never met before. I’d rather sit in the corner and watch the dance than take part in it (unless of course we are really talking about dancing, then you may actually catch me out on the floor).

Those who knew me in a work setting may find this surprising; I was great at networking and business development. But in those instances I wasn’t putting the real me out there, just the façade I had erected to help me take down my next target; plus, those events were always good for supplying a cocktail or two, a little liquid courage if you will, to calm the nerves. In fact, I still remember the first networking event I attended on behalf of my employer. I walked into the ballroom of a swanky local hotel to find a roomful of smartly dressed professionals, all at least 10 years my senior, chatting one another up in intimate groups. So I made a beeline…straight for the ladies room. I spent about 10 minutes locked safely in the bathroom stall, trying to breathe, and mentally developing a tactical plan to get myself into one of those groups.

So I was a little on edge, to say the least, at the prospect of this big schoolwide event. Plus I was simply exhausted, physically and mentally, with the process of shopping for ingredients and preparing the dishes while trying to keep my two year old at least somewhat entertained so he didn’t empty the entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet for the third time that week. Of course, to top it off, there was the constant nagging in the
back of my mind…what if no one likes my food???

When my husband finally arrived home, the food was all packaged, and the boys were both dressed and ready to go, we hit a road bump. My oldest, who, at six years old, had his whole world turned upside down with this move to NY, decided he was not going to wear his coat for the walk over to the school, and he told us so (or rather screamed us so) in no uncertain terms.

“I. AM.NOT.WEARING.A.COAT.”

“YOU.CAN’T.TELL.ME.WHAT.TO.DO.”

Of course, we had to teach him that this was not an appropriate response and that, as his parents, we could indeed tell him what to do.

“Time Out. Please go to your room and cool off for a few minutes”, my husband toldhim.

Some days this is enough to diffuse the situation and get him back on track. But on this day, perhaps because he had a long week at school, and was maybe a little on edge himself about going to a big, noisy, chaotic
event with mostly strangers, or perhaps because he sensed my nervous energy and agitation, we were greeted with a full on meltdown. Our six year old in the body of a nine year old threw himself dramatically on the
floor in front of the exit door from our apartment and proceeded to tell my husband and me (along with all of our neighbors) what terrible parents we were.

“I.HATE.YOU.”

“YOU.ARE.THE.WORST.PARENTS.EVER.”

“THIS.IS.THE.WORST.APARTMENT.EVER.”

And there it was – a solid left hook across the cheek. Or maybe it was a kick in the gut. I can’t be sure. In any event, an hour and a half later, when we finally got him calmed down enough to talk about what had happened and to assure him that no matter what happens we will always love him, the Thanksgiving potluck was no longer an option, and we were left with five pounds of mashed potatoes and enough stuffing to feed a small army. So we spent a quiet evening as a family, eating mashed potatoes and stuffing and watching movies and snuggling, which, all in all, wasn’t a bad thing.

Later in the night, as I carefully packaged the leftovers into dozens of miniature storage containers (you never can find the big ones when you need them), I told my husband we would be eating mashed potatoes and
stuffing for the rest of the week. While he put a smile on his face for me and said “sounds good”, I knew deep down what he really wanted to say was “ugh, I hate leftovers”.

To make the next few days more bearable for him, I knew I needed to come up with a way to repurpose some of the leftovers. I could make a casserole out of the leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes, but then I’ve really just changed the delivery…the flavors would still be the same. Then it hit me. Shepherd’s Pie. Of course a traditional Shepherd’s Pie is typically made with lamb (or sometimes beef), but I figured, with the right seasoning,
meaty Portobello mushrooms could be used to transform this classic dish.
So here you have it, my version of Shepherd’s Pie, perfect for all those Shepherds who may have lost their sheep!

010Shepherd’s Pie

Pinch of coarse sea salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, finely diced
1 large carrot, chopped (approximately 1 cup)
2 portobello mushroom caps, chopped
1/4 cup red wine
4 roma tomatoes, diced
2 TBSP tomato paste
2 TBSP garbanzo flour (you can use regular flour here; I use the garbanzo flour to keep the recipe gluten free)
1 tsp Thyme
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3 cups leftover Mashed Potatoes for a Crowd
1 TBSP Earth’s Balance buttery spread, melted (use soy free version for a soy free recipe)

Directions: Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the pinch of coarse sea salt over the bottom of the pan and heat for 1 minute. Add the olive oil and let it heat for another minute or so. This will help create a nonstick effect on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic cloves and shallots and saute for 12 minutes. Then add the chopped carrots and saute foranother 8-10 minutes until they begin to soften. (They do not have to be completely soft, as they will cook more in the oven. You just want to get the process started.) Next add the portobello mushrooms, red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, and flour. Mix together well and simmer until the mushrooms soften and the tomatoes begin to break down, approximately 5-7 minutes. Stir in the thyme, as well as sea salt and pepper to taste. Add the peas to the mixture just before you are ready to transfer it to your baking dish. You can either transfer the mushroom mixture to a 9 x 13
baking dish or you can divide the mixture into individual ramekins. Cover the mushroom mixture with the leftover mashed potatoes. Brush the mashed potato topping with the melted Earth’s Balance and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

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