I tasted potato candy for the first time last week at Watoga State Park, located in the mountains of Pocahontas County near Marlington, West Virginia. Before this trip, I never knew that this sweet confection even existed.
My Uncle Mike, Aunt Tawee, sister Mary, her family and I drove from Kansas City to Watoga for the Wagner family reunion. Mike and his siblings hail from Longacre, West Virginia, a small coal-mining town. This year, the reunion was held at a beautiful, peaceful state park where we saw black bear, deer and other wildlife, but that’s another story.
Shortly after we arrived at the park and unloaded, we made our way to a large cabin that served as the central gathering spot. I saw Wagner family members that I hadn’t visited in 20 years. Everyone exchanged greetings, hugs and handshakes. We dined on Al burgers. Again, that’s another story. Eventually, someone revealed that a stash of potato candy was in the refrigerator. I had no idea what this candy looked or tasted like. It sounded weird.
Potato candy is made from four ingredients: potato, peanut butter, confectioners sugar and, if desired, food coloring. I couldn’t find any source for the origin of this sweet, but it is found throughout the South, East Coast and even New England, derived most likely from West European recipes. It’s a handy way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.
Potato candy tastes sweet (not surprisingly) like fudge. Uncle Mike begrudgingly shared a piece with the rest of his immediate and extended family. I enjoyed a bite of one piece but stayed away from the rest of the batch. A few pieces would prompt instant diabetes or a sugar coma. This part of the country was the Land of Sweet Tea. Sugar is a staple ingredient and almost required ingredient in many recipes.
Uncle Mike did share the stash of potato candy throughout the week like a king passing out bags of gold. He hid the box deep in the crowded refrigerator to protect his stash. Of course, pieces went missing from time to time but it wasn’t me gobbling them.
Here’s a recipe for potato candy with vanilla extract added.
Le Fou Frog’s patio – specifically the staff table at the back – is one of my personal magic places in Kansas City. When summer spurs leaves to grow on the tree branches overhead, a verdant canopy forms dotted with a constellation of lights. Indoors, a whirl of black-attired servers attend to guests at tables. Newcomers and regulars populate the bar and banquette tables. The kitchen hums with activity and intensity. I’ve always thought of Le Fou Frog as a place unlike any other in Kansas City that transports you to another realm filled with food, drink, song and entertainment, a gentle warmth and fierce love for the moment where the night runs its course.
Outside on the patio, the pace is different. While it still overflows with the charms of the dining room, the atmosphere is calm and loose and unfettered by a roof and walls. The night air and thrum of traffic colors the night at the edge of shadows. The angular backdrop of Kansas City’s downtown stands like a sentry, watchful and waiting.
The staff table sits at the back end of the patio. Guests have been known to sit there, usually invited, but it is the temporary domain for the owners and staff between service and myriad tasks. As the night winds down, the table is a magnet, a place of solace in the way that hummingbirds pause for a moment to sip sugar water from a feeder before flying off to the dining room. Here, the table is a place for laughter, gossip, commiseration, stories, emotion burning like a torch or smoldering as embers at a campfire. Glasses fill and empty, words exchanged, friendships made and tested, love affirmed, life renewed and endured with bumps, bruises and joy along the way.
Most people know that I have a long relationship with Le Fou Frog as a former cook there back in the late Nineties. Since then, I’ve remained part of the extended family. They are friends that have experienced love and loss, raised babies, survived hardships, and driven themselves to attain goals. They are acquaintances that have walked the same floors, heard the same complaints and praise, broken bread and consumed wine, danced to the beat, bit their tongue and hugged each other at the end of a long shift.
I feel fortunate to walk into Le Fou Frog and see familiar faces, pay respects to those gone and participate in an ongoing story. It is a telenovela, an ensemble drama and comedy that plays out on the stage of our lives, not for the entertainment and amusement of guests that prey on rumor and reputation, but because life is to be lived raw and in the moment.
And the staff table at the back of the patio is a Green Room, that refuge between the theater of service and the backstage of daily preparation and mise en place. Before the magic happens, this particular place is where the shadows gather, cigarette smoke drifts, and hearts beat until the spotlight beckons and the show continues.
I drove southbound on North Oak a couple of weeks ago and came across In-A-Tub (4000 N. Oak Trafficway). I was hungry. I stopped. Nostalgia conquered my willpower.
In-A-Tub is probably the worst restaurant name ever.
The last time I ate at In-A-Tub was back in the Eighties when I was a teenager cruising the shops and hot air balloon court at Metro North Mall. Kids wore Izod shirts with popped collars. Def Leppard ruled unless you were into Madonna, Prince or Duran Duran. I was the geek with my nose buried in books at Waldenbooks when I wasn’t checking out the lip-glossed girls with big hair that I was too shy to ask out.
Once in a while, I’d cruise past the Orange Julius, Spencer’s and other shops to eat at In-A-Tub, a popular place where teens and families gathered for cheap, greasy tacos and fried food. In-A-Tub’s tacos are only notable for their greasiness and powdered cheese dusted on top.
When I ate my trio of deep-fried tacos in an In-A-Tub that occupied a former Burger King location (or some fast food dinosaur), it brought back those Eighties memories. And a totally grody feeling afterward. Omigawd, fer shure. Like, totally.
My friend Craig Jones thinks of In-A-Tub as comfort food. Bless him.