Christmas Squash Wreathes

Tara told me a recipe for squash and goat cheese and basil. This was the result and looked great on the Christmas dinner table. It tasted good too. Now you can make your own!
Behold, delicata squash. I happened to have a bigger one and a smaller one and they combined nicely to make thicker wreathes.
Peel using the technique explained here. This picture gets the gist of it, though.
Slice into rounds and pull the gunk out of the center. I had an apple corer that worked great for the small size, but I used a small knife for the bigger rounds.
I was supposed to use goat cheese, but Fred Meyer was out of it. So I substituted cream cheese. I put mine in a pastry bag with a star tip to make those lovely stars, but you could just plop some in the center.
Toss the squash with some oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and then lay your Squash out on a baking sheet. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes, then flip over. Cook for 10 minutes more (or less, if they look like they are getting done.)
I let mine cool to room temperature, then stacked the smaller rings inside of the bigger ones. Then I took basil and chiffinad-ed it which I have no picture of, but this video nicely explains it. Use your star tip to make a few stars per wreath, sprinkle your basil over the top and enjoy.

Note, if your squash is too hot, the cheese will melt and ruin your lovely star effect.

Next time I will get a butternut squash with a very long neck, peel it, cut the neck into slices and then quarters, then cook as above and top with goat cheese and basil. I think it will also be yummy.

The Wishbones. Tom Perrotta.

Engrossing story of a man over the age of 30 who learns to grow up. He loves playing in a wedding band, and has been dating the same girl for 15 years, “off and on” as he likes to say, but when he accidentally proposes to her, and the wedding is suddenly on, he has to come to terms with real life. How he does it isn’t necessarily the textbook way, and I don’t think his marriage will last long, but the story was very real and understandable. I enjoyed this book.

Accidental Happiness: a novel. Jean Reynolds Page

April Harris heard my plea for book recommendations and told me about this one. I read it in one day.

I think that fiction books can go one of two ways. One is to put people in weird situations and see how they react to them. The other is to put people in very normal situations and see how they react to them. I think the former is the plot device of the majority of books written today, and the latter is much less used but equally welcome, as long as the author can write well.

This is one of those people-in-weird-situation books. Gina is a 33 year old widow, too stunned by grief and living on her husband’s boat. Late one night she hears someone board the boat and in a panic, fires her gun. The “intruders” turn out to be Reese, her husband’s ex-wife and Angel, an Reese’s 8 year old daughter. Angel takes a bullet in the shoulder and suddenly the widow’s and the ex-wife’s lives become entwined.

This was a very gripping book, and I didn’t see coming the even weirder situation that develops at the end of the story. It was well written and had sympathetic characters all around.

Peeling a winter squash.

Occasionally, Matthew Card will contribute to the Oregonian’s FoodDay section. I really like his features, because they are about eating economically and produce some yummy food. This week, though, in his feature about winter squash, he said he likes the taste of winter squash but “most varieties have crenelated exteriors that make it nearly impossible to peel them while raw, so they must first be roasted, and then the soft flesh scraped free of the skin and pureed.”

To which I say, “Piffle.” Winter squash can be peeled. Is it an athletic event? Yep. Are you sometimes in danger of slicing your hand open? Sure, if you aren’t careful, but the danger can fulfill your sense of adventure. Is it a bit time consuming? A bit, but roasted cubes of squash sans peel are one of my favorite things, and I’m not going to let a little time get in the way of that. Plus, peeling winter squash is something that leaves me with a feeling of great accomplishment. Before there was a hard round object, now, bite-sized pieces of soon to be delicious food.

Here is your step-by-step illustrated process for peeling winter squash. *Note, the steps for butternut squash are a bit different, but I didn’t have one on hand to take a picture of. I’ll go through those verbally at the bottom. Special thanks to my old roommate Mary Kistinger, who saw me about to massacre my own self while peeling a butternut squash and walked me through her technique.

Start with a squash. This Long Island Cheese that I grew is ideal to peel because of it’s smooth surface. Acorn squash is the biggest pain, especially if it has deep ridges. This is a huge squash so the scale is off, but you will get the idea.
Sharpen your knife. Firmly and carefully plunge the knife into the top of the squash and cut as far down on one side as you can. Rotate the squash around and cut the opposite side the same way. This is one of the steps where you can slice your hand open if you aren’t careful as the skin is a bit thick and sometimes resistant to being cut. Sometimes rocking the knife a bit up and down helps, but keep your other hand out of the way. There aren’t too many times in modern life that you can plunge a knife into something, so enjoy this.
Flip the squash upside down and plunge the knife in again, pulling it as far down as you can, ideally joining up with the cut you made above. Rotate and do the other side.
If your lines join up, you shouldn’t have much trouble separating the two halves. In this case, mine didn’t, as evidenced by the ridge on the right-hand side of the picture. The stem was also particularly difficult to crack open. I ended up flipping the whole thing upside down and using the knife as a sort of pry bar to split the two sides from one another. This is also another hand slicing opportunity, so be careful.
Scoop out the seeds and other gunky part with a big spoon. This always brings back happy memories of carving pumpkins. Interesting side note. Though we carved pumpkins every year I don’t think I had winter squash in an edible form until I went off to college. I wasn’t a pumpkin pie fan and I think that was the squash-i-est my family got.
You are left with the flesh of the squash and, of course, the skin which you now have to remove. This was the first time carving into one of my own squash and I can say that it really does sort of look like cheese.
Set the squash on it’s bottom and carve a wedge off of the half. The size of this squash mandated big slices, but the smaller you cut your slices, the less waste there is.
At this point, you can cut the whole half into wedges, or do the rest of these steps and then cut another wedge and repeat from here.
Set you wedge on its side and use your knife to slice off a bit of the skin. I took this photo from the side, but I do this by standing in front of the wedge and leaning over the slice. I always start in the middle and work outward, but I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t start from a side and work around. Keep slicing until you remove all skin. I flip over the squash and get the tiny bits on the other side the knife missed.
Once the skin is gone, slice the wedge into slices.
Then take your slices and chop them into the appropriate sized chunks for your recipe.
The first time you do this, it might take a long time and you will be very sweaty, but ideally emerge unsliced by a knife. After that, you will become much quicker.

For butternut squash: Cut off the bulbous end. You now have the straight “top”side. Cut off the stem end. Stand this end upright (it will look like Devils Tower) and slice off the skin around the tower. You can then slice this tower of squash into what every you would like. Then cut the bulbous part in half and continue as above.

Easy roasted winter squash recipe gleaned from the FoodDay’s feature on roasting winter vegetables:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Throw 2.5 lbs of squash [this is flexible, don’t stress if you have a bit more or less] cut into two-inch pieces in a bowl. Drizzle in 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper and toss. Put on baking sheet or in 9X13 pan. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme over the top. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring a bit halfway through.

The Year of Living Biblically. A.J. Jacobs.

Based on the author’s own reporting in this book, I would guess that, of all the authors I read A.J. Jacobs would be most likely to Google himself and find this review. If he is reading this, let him rest assured that I enjoyed this book, the story of—as the subtitle informs us—“One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”

Parts of this books are laugh-out-loud funny, as when Jacobs describes boning up for an interview with Rosario Dawson by watching two of her movies rented from CleanFlicks or describing how his refusal to tell a lie by calling an English muffin a bagel results in the temper tantrum of his three-year-old son.

The book was also thought provoking, I especially enjoyed the part about not using the Bible as a self-help book, which is the opposite message I’ve heard over and over again. Other parts are sweet, such as his dealings with his neighbor and newborn twins. Jacobs is obsessive about his subject, devouring not just several versions of the bible, but many, many books about the Bible. Overall, an entertaining read.

One note. It used to be books had footnotes. You would read until you got to the little superscripted number sign and then shift your eyes down to the bottom of the page to read the little footnote. Somewhere along the line, we lost the footnotes. There seems to still be end notes in academia, resulting in a grumbled flip to the back of the book only to see “Ibid.” The nonfiction world seems to have embraced an even more annoying version. They let the author write the notes, and put them at the end of the book, and make no mention of them throughout the book. More than once after I’ve finished a book I’ve come upon several pages of end notes that I had no idea were there. Then I read some disjointed notes that would have been much more interesting if I had been able to read them while I was reading the chapter in question. How is the reader even supposed to know to go to the back of the book at that point? “Bring back the footnote!” Don’t let David Foster Wallace be the only one to indulge. Let our eyes jump around the page again. It would be like a video game. Or a web page. I beg you nonfiction book manufactures, bring back the footnote. Or at the very least the endnote. Footnote! Footnote! Footnote!

The story of General Dann & Mara’s daughter, Griot and the snow dog: a novel. Doris Lessing.

This is the sequel to Maura & Dann which I read in 2001 or so. I liked the book, though it was long and I wandered off in the middle and then returned later to finish it. I didn’t like this one, so much though.

Both books take place in the far future where the ice caps have covered Yerrup and the south of Ifrick is a vast desert. In Maura & Dann, they walk and walk and try to survive for many hundreds of pages. For me, the most memorable thing I remember about their adventure is their clothing. It is some indestructible fabric that they wear for, no foolin’, ten years! They are trying to get to the North, where there is not as much drought.

This book takes place with Maura and Dann grown up. Maura dies (off camera) in the first 10 pages. Dann is General Dann and he lives in the Centre where many refugees come, fleeing wars and drought. Griot, his friend, manages everything while Dann wanders off on a journey. When he wanders back, Griot has a whole army ready for General Dann to command. Does Dann do that? No he mopes about.

Do you ever read a book and it just goes on and on and you wait for the big thing to happen and you realize that there are only about 30 pages left and the big thing isn’t in fact going to happen? This is one of those books. Sadly, it wasn’t that great.

Cooking: Greens and Tofu Goodness

I used to eat this every day for breakfast when I had a schedule that allowed for cooking breakfast in the morning. It’s a great way to get some protein and vegetables early in the day. I like it without rice, but you could have some if that is your pleasure. I developed this while living at 85 Electric Avenue with a bunch of roommates. I’m not sure who thought of this combo first, but this is how it has evolved for me. Follow along as we make Greens and Tofu Goodness.

Your tools. Right now, I only have a microplane grater which is somewhat great, but tends to clog a bit and also include pieces of my knuckles in whatever I’m grating. I’m hopefully getting a box grater for Christmas. The compost bucket is optional.
The supplies you will need. Back row: olive oil, soy sauce (or gluten free, more expensive, tamari in my case) nutritional yeast. Do not skip the nutritional yeast. It is what makes the dish. I find it in our bulk section of the grocery store. I like the large flake as the small flake makes me cough. Front row 1/2 onion, whole or piece of carrot, greens, firm or extra firm tofu (not silken). For the greens: my favorite is kale, but any kind of greens work well here. Today for instance, I had chard and collards.
This is a prep-as-you-cook sort of recipe after the first few times you make it. You can start one step, and then chop for the next. It’s also not an exact science. So you aren’t going to read Tablespoon, or 1/2 cup here. It’s based on how much you want to eat.

First heat your pan and put in some olive oil. Try Medium heat or just above. I read that for best non-sticking on cast iron skillets, heat the pan until the sides feel warm to you, then add the oil, then let the oil coat the bottom and only after it has heated do you add your ingredients. Note–my pan doesn’t usually look this bad. There was a bit of soaking that did not do good.
Chop your onion. I like slices, but you might like it chopped into bits.
Chop your greens. Here, I am attempting to demonstrate the easy way of getting greens off of their stem I learned from America’s Test Kitchen. I ran out of hands though, so you will just have to imagine. Hold the green upside down by its stem. Run a sharp knife along the stem. The greens will fall off and you will be left with the stem. So easy.
I usually pile my greens up and roll them into a cigar shaped tube. I then cut off slices of greens. dinosaur kale doesn’t lend itself to that, so I just piled it up and chopped.

Grate your carrot. Avoid including knuckles.
Crumble your tofu.
Cook your onions. I like them a little bit dark and limp.Add your greens and carrot. Stir them around until the greens are bright green and a little smaller.

Add your tofu. I usually just crumble it in on top. Then it is time for crunch time. Stir the tofu around until it is warm, but not so long it sticks to the pan. Add the soy sauce and stir it around to distribute.
Throw the whole shebang onto your plate and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Do NOT skip the nutritional yeast. It is yummy.
Eat and enjoy. After, cut up your remaining tofu and store it in water in a container. It will keep for awhile this way.
The recipe in short form without the pictures:

olive oil
1/2 onion
whole or piece of carrot
firm or extra firm tofu
soy sauce
nutritional yeast

  1. heat your pan and put in some olive oil
  2. Chop your onion
  3. Chop your greens
  4. Grate your carrot
  5. Crumble your tofu.
  6. Cook your onions.
  7. Add your greens and carrot.
  8. Add your tofu.
  9. Stir the tofu around until it is warm, but not so long it sticks to the pan.
  10. Add the soy sauce and stir it around to distribute.
  11. Throw the whole shebang onto your plate and sprinkle with nutritional yeast.
  12. Eat and enjoy

Hideous Kinky. Esther Freud.

I’m very guilty of judging a book by its cover. I chose this one for several cover-based reasons. 1) The title. Hideous Kinky is perhaps the best non-porn book title ever. 2) It was made into a movie with Kate Winslet who I like and who appears on the cover of the book. I hate it when they do that, but they do and I fell for it. 3) It was written by Esther Freud. I love that name. It is so repressed-sounding. Although the author sounds fairly libertine in her blurb.

Not many adult books are written from a child’s perspective and not many of those books are good. This is. The narrator is a five year old who travels with her seven year old sister and her mother to Marrakesh. It seems to be the 60s because everyone is very free. School? Not necessary. Brushing teeth? Not happening. Dental problems due to not brushing? Oh well. Money to pay the rent? It will get here, eventually.

The narrator chronicles the sister’s journey as their mother drifts around Marrakesh. It is a delightful story full of other drifters, Moroccans, and children. It’s also full of the sights and sounds of the markets and hotels of Marrakesh.

Mrs. Mike. Benedict & Nancy Freedman.

I read about this book in the Oprah magazine and got to it before there were a million holds on it at the library. It was great! A lot of times when I read books written pre-1960, I have to work to keep my attention on the page. It’s amazing how writing styles have changed in 50+ years. But this was a gripping book that kept me reading and reading.

It’s based on the true story of Katherine who, in 1907 at the age of 16 moved from Boston to Alberta to live with her uncle. She moves because the weather in Alberta is supposed to help her pleurisy. Once there, she meets Mike, a Mountie and they marry in short order. They move to the Northwest Territories where Mike is posted.

There, they encounter a lot of winter (my number one reason for not marrying a Mountie.) They also encounter illness, isolation and crime. They meet hearty pioneer stock and see a lot of tragedy as well as suffer some of their own. The transformation of Kate from a young, invalid girl to a mature, world-weary married woman (at the age of 20) is both charming and heartbreaking.

Be prepared for 1940s era descriptions of Indians (read: not very p.c.) Be also prepared for the main character to find her identity through her husband. But most of all, be prepared to like this book. A lot.