Shepherd’s Pie – sumptuous simplicity

Ranked Choice Voting – the final lap

I’ve written several times in favor of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for Maine, like here, and right now we’re into the finale of a major push to honor the will of Maine voters in spite of what the state legislature has done to deny it. I recently wrote this letter to editors of our local papers and, whether or not they publish it, it deserves some space here. So…

To the Editor:

Many hundreds of volunteers are now attempting to collect some 61,000 voter signatures to veto the state legislature’s “delay and repeal” action against Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), which appeared as Question 5 on the ballot in November, 2016, and passed with a comfortable 52% majority. If successful, the People’s Veto petition, as it is sometimes called, would overrule the legislature’s action of this past fall and allow RCV ballots for the June, 2018 primary elections and further elections down the road.

It’s important for people to know that this veto petition is not simply a replay of the original Question 5, which called for RCV for all statewide and federal elections in the state. Three such elections – general elections for governor, state senator, and state rep – are not currently at issue in this petition because the State Supreme Court advised (in a 7-0 decision) that they are not compliant with the constitution. What remains are primary elections for governor, state senator, and state rep, and primary and general elections for the U.S. Senate and House. All of these elections fall outside the purview of Maine’s constitution.

The citizen’s petition is a sensible, strong, and constitutionally-compliant compromise effort to move Maine away from its “first horse past the pole,” plurality-takes-it-all election system to a much fairer, more just and democratic way of choosing our leaders and representatives. Oddly, RCV has had strong bipartisan support in Maine in the past, but only recently became sharply partisan, with nearly unanimous Republican opposition. Perhaps just as oddly, the people of Maine need to vote, once again, to have their voices heard on a measure they already solidly approved, that became (ever so briefly) state law.

You can learn more about the effort, and how RCV is better for us all, by visiting (with which I have no association). It’s the right way for Maine to go, and to become first in the nation to do so statewide. It’s also a shout out from the voters that their spoken will cannot be denied by government maneuvering and subterfuge.


The key point here is that the language in the petition is compliant with the state’s constitution, which uses the word “plurality” in reference only to general statewide elections – for governor, state senator, and state representative. These three elections are held in abeyance in the petition pending a possible constitutional amendment or a change in the state Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion about ambiguity or flexibility in the term “plurality.”

In my own view, it would be super cool for Maine to be the first in the nation to adopt this much fairer system of voting. Let’s do it!


Shepherd’s pie: three layers of joy for 2-3 people!

Shepherd’s pie is, traditionally, three layers: a ground meat (lamb) mixture on the bottom, a veggie (usually corn) in the middle, and a top “crust” of mashed potatoes.


We’ve had it several times, and it is amazing.  And, incredibly enough, the entire casserole used just one thin pat of butter – about a teaspoon! Here’s how we do it:

Top layer: garlic mashies

It includes:

  • 3-4 medium-sized potatoes (we use yellow/gold potatoes)
  • garlic powder to taste – about 2 tbsps.
  • cayenne papper, to taste
  • milk – not much, about 2 oz.
  • splash of olive oil
  • chicken or beef broth – about 2-3 tbsps.
  • grated parmesan cheese – about 2 tbsps.

Note that there’s no butter in this recipe and only a small amount of milk – it’s more Mediterranean style, using olive oil and chicken broth instead, and just as delicious as the usual mashies, which tend to use a lot of butter.

Peel the potatoes and chop into thirds. Boil in water until they’re mashable. Drain the water, mash them, sprinkle in the garlic powder, cayenne pepper, parmesan, then all the liquids and mix well. The mixture should be a little on the firm side – not liquidy or runny.

Middle layer: corn

It includes:

  • frozen corn

Get out a bag of frozen corn. Just let it sit on the counter and forget about it.

Bottom layer: onions and ground lamb

It includes:

  • 1 lb. ground lamb. (We find the packaged ground lamb at Hannaford to have just the right amount of fat, which is not too much)
  • olive oil
  • 1 pat butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, chopped (optional)
  • splash of chicken or beef broth
  • 1/3 packet of onion soup mix (store brand is best, I think – less salty)

About this time you can start to preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

This is where most of the fun is. Saute the onion in the pat of butter and a splash of olive oil – the butter is there to add some sweetness to the onions as they caramelize. When they’re lightly browned, set aside in a bowl.

In the same skillet, add a touch more olive oil and the ground lamb and cook over medium-low heat, breaking up the lamb into small pieces with your spatula. Add several small pieces of the chopped cherry tomatoes, a splash more of chicken (or beef) broth, and cook until meat is well-browned. Stir in the onions and lower the heat. Note that the lamb will render some fat, which you can pour off if you choose.

Now cheat. Take a packet of onion soup mix, turn it upside down, shake it vigorously so the fine powder mixes well with the dehydrated onions, open the pack and sprinkle about 1/3 of the package into the meat mixture. This is serious cheating but the payoff is worth it! Stir everything together and cook gently until the liquid reduces somewhat.

Build the pie!

In a small to medium casserole, layer in the meat mixture, about 1 to 1 1/4″ of frozen corn over it, and the mashies on top. Add another splash of broth on top of the potatoes. Cover tightly and bake at 325 for about 40 minutes. All the juices in the bottom layer will “work” up through the other two layers. Yum!

The pie should be bubbling lightly around the edges – if not, give it another few minutes.


See you next year!




Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.