We adoptees are lucky people. We get lucky right off the bat when some family chooses to take us in, transforming us instantly into wanted children. Some of us get lucky in a different way when later in life we meet up with those who gave us ours. Such was my good fortune almost 13 years ago when I took the big yellow envelope full of the hand written adoption records my dad passed to me in the last year of his life on to a private investigator. I had taken some stabs finding the people in there but got no further than maybe a maternal uncle, who later per Mom was probably already dead then. The P.I. had more success. Within 2 days I was on the phone with both birth parents. I had in an instant gone from an orphaned only child to one with two living parents and 10 half brothers and sisters. Over the course of the next year I got to meet them all, dragging my dear wife through it. Fortunately they liked her a lot (everybody does) and nobody thought I was too weird. My mother’s kids, kicked up from an occasional rough beginning to lawyer/CPA/pharmacist/surveyor thought my academic wife and I fit in o.k., but Dad’s side didn’t feature any academics, professionals (well, my baby half-sister had gone to Queen’s law school), or even sports fanatics (but baby sister loves her Jays), but we got along o.k. , maybe because we share some appreciations that Dick Spei (who had my original dad’s first name) had instilled deeply. Dad (the second one) was quite the character. Big for his time, he played linebacker for Michigan State, but played only one year, leaving the team after growing tired of being a tackling dummy for Biggie Munn. He sired 5 kids by his first wife, divorced her, and in 1969 split for Canada permanently after becoming ever more wary of how things were going in the U.S. Given the late 60s, especially in Detroit where he lived, who can blame him. Not a draft dodge, though, unlike so many US expats in Canada. He continued to cross the border to vote, proud how he cast his vote in 2008 for our first African-American president. He made a good living as a salesman. He took the family to live a few years in France before he decamped to Canada. All along, he was very much the gourmet. When he married Grace Chen – mother of my baby sister entertainment lawyer Jazz – he expanded his palate to the East. He taught his kids to approach every meal as if it were their last. The Spei diaspora has learned their lesson well. This large busy bunch like to get together at Christmas to feast, of course, but conflicts prevent convening anywhere around December 25th. Instead, well after even the most exotic churches have exhausted their Christmas calendars, as site and date are agreed upon after many email exchanges, the fun begins. The traffic includes queries as to who brings what, declaration of offerings (some highly expected), and concerns about available cooking equipment and paraphernalia at the chosen destination. My nephew Jake has been coordinating all this for the past several years. We’ve moved the place from rental houses near my sister Suzanne in Hudson Ohio to the Cowboy Creek Lodge and Resort in Onstead Michigan. Very empty in Winter, it likely fills with happy families in summer eager to take in the 50s retro Irish Hills experience. It works fine for us, with lots of room and available stoves. And it’s not too far from Ann Arbor. Plus Kathy’s favorite former student, Michigan backup center Austin Davis, hails from there.
Every Spei happily brings something to share and show off at these affairs. The situation is ripe for a competition, but I’ve never detected any of the sort of sidelong glances from one sizing up one’s offerings compared to another. But my offerrings to date have been meager, limited mainly to beer (of the kind I like). I once had a bit of a hit when I brought a full Corney keg, complete with CO2 tank, of beer drawn from our beloved Wolverine tavern. This year will be different. When I saw my brother-in-law Dan’s post that he could bring from rural New York, among several other things, mashed potatoes, I was inspired to step up and say hey I can make mashed potatoes! Jake and Dan said go ahead, so this Saturday after the Michigan State game I will haul to Onstead my big blue pot full of the items listed below. This represents a 6X amplification of the garlic mashed potatoes recipe in The Stinking Rose cookbook Kathy and I like so much. Who knows how it will turn out.
10# Yukon gold potatoes
2 X 32 oz. jars minced garlic
cube potatoes (don’t peel)
peel and cube turnips
place potatoes, turnips and garlic in 32 qt pot
cover with water
bring to boil and cook till potatoes are soft
12 oz butter
3 C coffee cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Mash till just slightly lumpy
I’ve since put this on a convenient 3X5 card
By Saturday evening, my mashed potatoes will be among the many things they’ve consumed at the feast. I hope the thing cooks fast enough that it’s not for midnight snack. Kathy worries. None of the Speis are shy about offering assessments of food. So I’ll know how I did. Even if it turns out to be crap, I’ll doubt they’ll love me any less, at least appreciating the effort I put in. But if it’s good, I’ll get myself a little closer into the inner circle. I’m sure they’ll say it’s just the Spei genes showing, although the Slater ladies (Grandma, Mom and Aunt Dorie) had an awful lot to do about teaching me how to cook. No matter, it’s all family.
Reference: Dal Bazzo J. The Stinking Cookbook. Berkeley CA: Celestial Arts, 1994. ISBN 0-89087-730-0