Thanksgiving: The best sweet potato casserole recipe on the planet

Before you head out this weekend to get what you need for Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted you to see this. It’s from Maura, who used to blog at 36×37.

Maura gave herself 365 days to do 36 things she’d never done, all before my 37th birthday. No. 1 was start a blog. Once she’d accomplished Nos. 35 and 36 — planting a tree and death by chocolate — she retired. I wish she hadn’t, because she’s a good writer, and I miss reading her.

I was honored to serve as a guest blogger for Maura once, and she’s agreed to return the favor by letting me reprint her post about lucking into the best sweet potato casserole recipe on the planet

Seriously, you have to try this.

~*~

For the past four or so years, I’ve served the absolute best sweet potato casserole at holiday gatherings. It’s not an heirloom recipe like all the others in my rotation. And I didn’t cull it from the pages of a glossy gourmet cookbook. Instead, I kind of lucked into it in a way that almost makes me feel guilty (but not guilty enough to stop using it).

GB and I were enjoying our first evening out sans baby. To celebrate the occasion, we made reservations at a famous, rather upscale local restaurant. We’d visited this particular place once before for our annual Christmas dinner with GB’s boss. I wanted to go back because I remembered the potatoes.

Dear God, the potatoes.

Baked, buttery orange goodness topped with a thick pecan crust. Served so hot the server warned me to not touch the plate. As delectable and candy coated as pecan pie itself.

Not to get all Man Vs. Food on you, but oh my goodness, oh my goodness.

Our server was a young guy. He was very serious, and when people are too serious, I get nervous. I really just wanted him to loosen up, so I struck up a conversation.

“These sweet potatoes, I swear. They’re like candy. I would absolutely kill for this recipe.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them,” he said gravely, then added, “I’ll see what I can do.”

As he marched back toward the kitchen, I looked at GB. “Did he just say he’d see what he could do?”

“I wonder what that means,” GB answered.

Five minutes later, the server returned with his grim face and a small slip of paper in his hand.

~*~

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Mixture:

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (well beaten)
1 stick of butter

Crust Mixture:

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 stick of butter, melted

Process:

  1. Combine crust mixture in mixing bowl, then set aside.
  2. Combine sweet potato mixture into a mixing bowl in the order listed. Combine thoroughly.
  3. Pour mixture into buttered baking dish.
  4. Sprinkle the surface of the sweet potato mixture evenly with the crust mixture.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

~*~

“Here you go, Miss,” he said. “The recipe you wanted.”

I stumbled through my shock enough to manage a quick, “Oh! Thanks!” I wanted to add, “Is there a charge for this? This isn’t like the Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe story is it?” But really, I didn’t want to be gauche.

We’ve been back to this restaurant every December since then. And we’re going back next weekend. It makes me wonder what would happen if I publicly doted on the garlic herb cheese-stuffed chicken breast…or the lyonnaise…or the crème brulee…

What the jukebox taught me about writing

Bobby Braddock’s been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. You don’t know the name, but I guarantee you know his songs:

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” by Tammy Wynette. “People Are Crazy,” by Billy Currington.

Here in Nashville, Bobby Braddock is a songwriting god.

Reading about him, I was reminded of something that’s easy to forget:

Songwriting, like any kind of writing, requires some talent, but mostly it takes a lot of work.

Songwriting is Bobby Braddock’s job. He can’t afford to sit around until something inspires him to write. He just has to write.

Listen to this. It’s from an interview Bobby Braddock did a few years ago with a website called larrywayneclark.com:

“Well, the people that think that lightning’s going to strike and that you can’t discipline yourself to do inspired work, I think that’s not true at all. You can make yourself write stuff, and you keep doing it and keep doing it and eventually the good stuff will come….”

That’s a great attitude when it comes to writing anything.

Here’s another example:

Couple years ago, I went to hear Bob McDill at the Hall of Fame. He’s another Nashville songwriter, one of the best: “Amanda,” by Waylon Jennings. “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me,” by Don Williams. “Gone Country,” by Alan Jackson.

Before he retired, he aimed to write a song a week. He had an office, and he went there, and he worked.

He said the song “Amanda” came in about 30 minutes, but “that’s the last gift I got. Afterward, it was blood, sweat and tears.”

He wrote a song with Dan Seals called “Everything That Glitters.” Here’s how it starts:

Saw your picture on a poster, in a cafe out in Phoenix;
Guess you’re still the sweetheart of the rodeo.
As for me and little Casey,  we still make the circuit
In a one-horse trailer and a mobile home.
And she still asks about you all the time;
And I guess we never even cross your mind.

There’s a lot of story in those six lines. McDill said he and Seals worked on that song for “months and months and months” until they figured it out, got everything just right.

Blood, sweat and tears.

Writing, any kind of writing, is work. It’s great if you’re inspired, but usually you’re not, and the only thing you can do is write through it, and if you’re lucky, the good stuff will come.

On his birthday, Elvis is still everywhere

Back in the summer, when I was stuck for something to blog about here, I started a second blog. I hoped that starting a blog from scratch might help me get past my writer’s block, and it did, but after a couple of posts, I abandoned it. It was a lot of working, keeping up with 2 blogs, and I didn’t want to waste a decent idea on a blog I didn’t think anyone would read.

One of the stories I posted over at the other blog (which I’ve since taken down) was a piece on Aug. 16 commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Today is the King’s birthday. He would have been 76. Here’s a slightly edited version of the piece I posted last summer.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. He was 42 then, so that means he would have been 75 today — the same age as the Dalai Lama and Woody Allen. That’s hard to imagine.

Still, I think it’s fair to say that Elvis changed the world.

Yeah, it’s easy to goof on Fat Elvis, with his sequinned jumpsuits and voracious appetite, but I’m not talking about Fat Elvis.

I’m talking about Skinny Elvis, the good-looking kid from Tupelo who walked into Sun Records in Memphis and basically invented rock’n’roll.

Of course, some people say Elvis didn’t invent anything, that he basically took rhythm and blues and made it safe for White America, but that isn’t quite right.

Somewhere in Peter Guralnick’s 2 volume biography of Elvis (if you haven’t, read it), he points out that Elvis was a sponge when it came to music. Elvis listened to everything — R&B, bluegrass, country, gospel — and processed it, synthesized it. He took all these musical strands and wove them into something else, something new.

Sure, odds are someone else would have done that if Elvis hadn’t, but Elvis did, so let’s give him credit.

He was sexy and dangerous, too, and that’s something teenagers hadn’t really seen before, at least not in one package. Girls wanted him, and boys wanted to be him. You wouldn’t have had The Beatles if you hadn’t have had Elvis.

John Lennon (I think) said Elvis died when he went into the Army, and I agree. Elvis’ music was never as raw as before he was drafted.

In the 1960s, he made a string of dumb movies and went Vegas, and in the ’70s, well, we all know about Elvis in the ’70s, but by then, he’d already changed the world by changing the music.

I think those early records — “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — earned him a lifetime pass and more than made up for later songs like “Rock-a-Hula, Baby” and “The Wonder of You.”

“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” after all, was a bluegrass tune — in waltz time, at that — until Elvis got hold of it and turned into a rocker in 4/4 time.

I’d argue that is something close to genius.