1. The new shoes I hated.
2. Sweet potato croquettes.
The First “Shoebox” Trigger
My parents and I didn’t have many wars. But there was one that still turns my face pink.
I had been asked to speak at my 6th-grade graduation. I had the dress; I just needed shoes. It seemed like the moment to ask for slip-on shoes. I know. Hard to believe.
My parents believed in buying shoes that were good for your feet. That meant quality superseded style if there was a debate. Plus my mother had super-skinny feet. She had trouble hanging onto her slip-ons as a kid. I had heard the story about her shoe landing in an aquarium at school too many times.
Well, I lost the battle that shoe-shopping night. I hated the black saddle shoes that had some kind of bristles in the saddle area. They were ugly, and I was humiliated.
My little brother wanted to carry the bag with the shoes. I’m sure Ma thought that would keep his hands occupied as we went to other stores. (“Don’t touch and keep your hands behind your back” was the chorus whenever he went along shopping.)
We got to the car at the end of the night and were loading the bags into the trunk. “Where are Phyllis’ shoes?” Ma asked, alarmed. My little brother shrugged his shoulders. He had apparently let them set somewhere when a display along the way caught his attention.
I knew it was too soon to cheer. Ma walked us back through every store we had hit, hoping to recover the ugly investment she had made in my feet. We never found the shoes. So we bought another pair. Just like the first.
My little brother—he did his best to help! Ma—she meant well.
The Second “Shoebox” Trigger
My Grandma Neff made the creamiest, dreamiest sweet potato croquettes in the world. She coked peeled sweet potatoes until they were soft, mashed them, seasoned them lightly, and mixed in an egg or two. Then she stuck them in the fridge til they stiffened up.
Then came the tricky part. She pulled about 3 Tbsp. of chilled mashed sweet potatoes loose and quickly shaped them into a stubby log before the potatoes softened up in her warm hands. Working like lightning, she rolled the little log in fine dry bread crumbs.
Empty, wax-paper-lined shoeboxes were standing ready—if the croquettes were for another day. She packed them into those boxes, about 3 layers deep, separated by more wax paper. The lid went on, and the boxes disappeared into the freezer—until Christmas or my birthday. I always asked for them whenever Grandma or Ma—whoever was cooking—asked what I wanted.
This is my birthday week, and I just caught a glimpse of a green shoebox. For a moment I was back in that old timey kitchen with my grandma who recycled shoeboxes, my fork lifted. . .
Here’s a mashed sweet potato dish with a jacked-up topping. It’s not croquettes, but it is soooo delicious. Make it in your slow cooker of course!
Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook, page 586
Makes 8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 3-4 hours
Ideal slow cooker size: 3½ quart
2 29-oz. cans sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. butter, melted
1. Combine sweet potatoes and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar.
2. Stir in orange juice, eggs, and milk. Transfer to greased slow cooker.
3. Combine pecans, 1/3 cup brown sugar, flour, and butter. Spread over sweet potatoes.
4. Cover. Cook on High 3-4 hours.