Baked winter squash pasta

October 19, 2012 § 28 Comments

A few summers ago, I did an internship at the photography studio at Stonewall Kitchen up in Maine.  I was just starting to really dig into my PhD work, and the pressure I was putting on myself because of it had started giving me panic attacks and making me sick.  Things weren’t going at all as I’d planned, so I decided to take some time off to recover and learn better how to deal with, well, myself really.

At that point I had just barely picked up a camera and started aiming it at foodstuffs.  I hated every photograph I took, but I adored the process of taking the food photos, so when a friend connected me with her friend who was the photographer for Stonewall, and she offered me a summer internship, I jumped at it.  It was like being in college again.  A weird summer internship!  Barely getting paid! Exploring new pursuits, things I enjoy,  rediscovering myself, yippee!

I learned all about f-stops and shutter speed and ISO numbers that summer.  I learned a lot about what I liked and didn’t like in food styling and lighting, and I gained the confidence to start experimenting.  I learned that I totally loved spending the whole day in a photo studio, even if I was holding light bounces and washing dishes most of the time.

I also learned that I did have the mental fortitude to stick with things that are tough, things that I suck at, and improve little by little.  Even though I kind of wanted to stay in the photo studio forever, it helped me feel like I could stand up for the research I wanted to do and ideas that I had, and I would finish my PhD.  (Um, though that part is still technically TBD.  IthinkIcanIthinkIcanIthinkIcan…Give me a few more months.) « Read the rest of this entry »

Israeli couscous with butternut squash and cilantro sauce

January 6, 2012 § 26 Comments

Let’s take a moment to reflect on couscous, shall we?  My family, as I recall, seems to have discovered couscous some time part of the way through my tenure in high school.  I don’t know how my mother stumbled on it or decided to purchase it, all I remember is that she served it for the first time for supper one day (alongside pork tenderloin and acorn squash if my memory serves me correctly, which it tends to when it comes to meals), and it felt like the epitome of novelty.

I was certain we were eating something flashy, exotic, new, the food equivalent of getting the first version of the iphone, right when it came out.  And this fit in lockstep with my budding epicurean ideals – which back in high school, I’ll admit, were more about the appearance of sophistication and taste than anything else.  High school.  Jeez.

Back then we just ate the Middle East brand couscous with the spice packet mixed in.  That was fancy enough for us.  (to extend the iphone metaphor: my phone gets internet!!!  Oh my gosh!  It totally doesn’t matter that it can’t seem to actually make phone calls most of the time…)  But, as couscous has completely mainstreamed, I think most of us have come to expect a little more in the preparation of this tiny noodle. « Read the rest of this entry »

Twice baked butternut squash

October 31, 2011 § 30 Comments

There’s a crack that opens up in the earth today, letting all manner of little demons and naughty spirits out to roam the earth for the night and make mayhem.  I just thought I’d let you know that, in case you hadn’t heard already.

It’s the original reason behind dressing up on All Hallows Eve (Halloween), actually.  If you were disguised as a witch or demon, then it was highly unlikely that the real demons wandering about would notice you and cause you trouble.  They would think you were one of them and leave you alone.  Which, on the whole, makes sense, don’t you agree?

A similar thing happens on the solstices, and at periods of your life when you’re in transition.  Those pesky demons come out and can make a muck of any number of little things, or even make you sick.  Nowadays we blame things like stress, which often increases in times of transition.  But, those of us who are in the know – and now you’re in the know! – know that it’s actually demons.

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Crostini with squash and kale

October 21, 2011 § 7 Comments

Curse the design and marketing team at Crate & Barrel!  Curse them for being good at their jobs!  Here we are, still knee deep in October (arguably the best month of the year), and an idle flip through their latest catalogue has left me jonesing for Christmas (not only Christmas, but all sorts of related decorative elements that I truly do not need).

Christmas is, it must be said, my very favorite holiday and my favorite season (I have a major failing for twinkle lights and Christmas carols.  What can I say?  Character flaw, perhaps.), so it doesn’t take a ton to get me excited about it and chomping at the bit for it to come.  But, to do so to the detriment of appreciating fall, glorious fall, well that would be tragic.

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Wintery panzanella with apples and kale

January 18, 2011 § 19 Comments

It’s another snowy day in Boston. It is not yet a day where school and work has been canceled, but it’s beginning to look as though it could turn into one. We had a true snow day last week. We, and like three-quarters of this country. I heard somewhere that one day last week, every single state in the United States had snow (even Hawaii!) on the ground. Well, except Florida. That troublemaker. Waking up to a snow day, the edges of the world taken off by the softness of the white, the stillness that hangs in the air, the celebratory confetti of fluffy flakes, always fills me with the giddiness of a child who knows instantly – without having to check the television or radio reports – that she does not have to go anywhere today. She can stay home and play in the growing drifts.

Watching the snow falling always makes me think of grace. Grace, cascading down to cover the world, making it look clean and new, reminding us of how marvelously beautiful it is. It’s something we need so very much. Of course, I suppose I would have a hard time selling this notion to the commuters stuck in traffic, or in snowbanks. And isn’t that just so like us, to take grace and instead of just accepting it, letting it be a gift, we want it to be what we want. We try to drive around in it, plow it and salt it to conform to our paths. And then we’re surprised or annoyed when we start fishtailing around or spinning our wheels. Instead of frolicking in it, or sliding on it, or letting it gently stick to our eyelashes and melt on our noses. Or simply watching it while drinking hot chocolate and sharing a warming meal. « Read the rest of this entry »

Cheesy Winter Squash Muffins

October 21, 2010 § 40 Comments

What is it about fall?  Really.  I can’t get over it.  There is something so splendid, so unabashedly glorious about this time of year that I feel almost ready to pop with abundance and contentment each time I put on a sweater, step outside, and feel the soft voluminousness of the clear fall air.  I love the colors – deeper, from brilliant to brooding.  I love the nostalgia.  I love sweater weather.  I love the cold that is just enough to most definitely require snuggling.  I love the expanse of an electric blue fall sky.  I love how spacious fall weekend days feel, even though the evening closes in earlier.  I love the coziness of eating supper when it’s dark out.  I love the smells and sounds of leaves.  I want to bundle fall up in a fuzzy sweater and give it a hug.  It makes me want to sing happy songs and write sonnets to it.  Except that nobody – least of all fall – will be done any favors by my attempting to write sonnets.  So, instead I cook to it.

Fall calls for food that is encased in dough, or splashed with some cream (in case work actually listens to your petition and lets you hibernate this year), or dashed with some nutmeg, or drizzled with some maple syrup.  Food filled with all the deep colors and vibrant yet mellow flavors that echo the way fall feels.  And lots and lots and lots of winter squash.  There is almost nothing more autumnal than a butternut, or acorn, or kabocha, or buttercup squash.  They just keep filing in from my farm share, and with all their different shapes, colors, and sizes, the pile of them in my pantry is starting to look like line up of circus characters.  It’s truly fabulous.

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Spinach ricotta and butternut pie

March 5, 2010 § 7 Comments

This is a really great savory pie, a lovely hearty but not heavy supper or lunch.  But, something else first.  Everyone please take a look at my photos!  Finally, I have produced something akin to a nice photograph of my food!!!  How awesome is that?!  As far as I can tell, food styling and photography is pretty trendy right now – borderline obnoxiously so.  With the proliferation of a kajillion food blogs, it has become evident that there are also close to a kajillion rather good food photographers out there.  I am most definitely not one of them.  And it drives me crazy.  Because, even though I generally have a very negative gut reaction to things that are trendy (kind of an ironic sucker punch because I think I’m actually a sucker for trends) , I am obsessed with food photography.  But this is not new.  I have been obsessed with food photography since as early as I can remember.  Before I could even read, I have vivid memories of staring for long periods of time at pictures of food in my mom’s cookbooks.  Then later I graduated to my children’s cookbooks, and ordered my own subscriptions to cooking magazines before I was even in high school.  But, it never occurred to me to try to photograph my own food.  I never even owned a camera, so I didn’t take pictures of anything at all!

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Pasta with Butternut Squash and (optional) Sausage

February 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

Here’s another one, like that cabbage, that I have been meaning to write about for a while and somehow have kept not getting around to, even though it’s really good.  I don’t know what the deal is with that.  I think it just takes a bit of turning things over in my mind before I can think of anything to say about them, since I do keep trying to be remotely interesting.  I’m kind of like Mr. Collins who delights in spending some of his spare time in devising little compliments to pay the ladies, but tries to give them as unstudied of an air as possible (obscure Pride and Prejudice reference – I’m afraid I’ve read that book more times than I can count; I’m a hopeless romantic/geek).  That is to say, I often think for a while about a food or a subject to try to come up with at least one amusing (well, at least to me) thing to say about it, and then I’ll suddenly sit down and write in a stream of consciousness.

So now, after ample amounts of time to muse on the topic of pasta with butternut squash, what earth shattering insights do I have to offer?  Er, um, well, none, really.  Except that it’s just really, really delicious.  According to Joel, it’s one of the best things he’s ever eaten (unfortunately for my ego, this was in reference to a version that a friend of ours made, oh well).  It’s a great fall-ish dish for when butternut squash has just come into season, but it’s also cozy and warming in winter when you suddenly discover that you still have a box of butternut squash stored very cleverly under piles of aprons, grocery bags, tupperwares, and other miscellany in your pantry (I take a cue from squirrels, hiding things so “cleverly” I forget about them and can’t find them if I’m looking for them).  Sweet, mild butternut squash is so good with a little sharp cheese and olive oil tossed with pasta and salty, rich Italian sausage (sweet or spicy).  I’m sure it would be good with bacon or pancetta bits instead of sausage.   And, if you don’t eat meat, it’s just as good without it too.

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What to bring to a potluck with foodies – rustic butternut squash tart

December 11, 2009 § 9 Comments

No, I don’t consider myself a foodie. Seriously, I don’t.  Sure I like to eat, but come on, that’s just human nature. The species wouldn’t have survived very long if we were anti-eating. I like to eat good, high quality food, but I’m not going to freak if the texture or flavor of something I make doesn’t measure up to an ideal standard in my head. And I like to cook (well, on my good days), but I think I have too utilitarian of an approach to food preparation to be a foodie. Most of my cooking adventures are born out of the desire to make something that will taste good and be nourishing, without having to make an extra trip to the grocery store. And, If I see a recipe that looks inspiring, my first step is usually to figure out how I can do it with fewer steps, less complicated techniques, and fewer dirty bowls.

That said, now and then we all want to be a little bit impressive, whether it’s cooking for a date, a special party, or as was my case yesterday, for a potluck for a bunch of friends who actually are foodies. For these occasions, I have discovered that the best ways of being impressive are: making something actually complicated and unbelievable – probably involving phyllo dough, bringing a really nice big salad because that’s really hard to screw up, or making something that is visually impressive but is quite easy to make like a trifle (ie. layers of whipped cream, cake chunks, and berries) or a rustic tart.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Apples

December 8, 2009 § 1 Comment

The universe seems to have some sort of rule that I am not allowed to be productive for two days in a row.  Yesterday was fabulous!  I was completely focused and plowed through my work, which never happens on a Monday.  Today…oi!  It’s nearing lunch time and I have yet to accomplish anything beyond standing up to stretch every 5 minutes and then sitting down in front of my computer and finding myself checking the weather online for the 976th time (it’s cold and sunny, by the way).  Somehow I think it may not have been in my best interest to decide to work from a café instead of my office today (Beyonce serenading me is somehow not helping with the process of curriculum editing, who’d’ve known?!).  So, in the hope of doing something at least very slightly productive, I have decided to stop trying altogether and instead think about butternut squash.

Why butternut squash?  Well, a) because I’ve been cooking a lot of it and b) because it is such a low maintenance vegetable I feel like I might be able to muster enough concentration to deal with the thought of one right now.  Butternut is one of those great vegetables to stock up on because if you keep them somewhere cool and dry, they’ll keep for a good long time without any extra attention and you can pull one out whenever you’re looking for something to cook.  My friends Griff and Liz bought a bunch of squash in bulk last year in the fall and stashed them all over their apartment – we kept discovering them peeking out from under the couches, behind the doors, on bookshelves (everywhere except the pantry!).  The squash lasted them right through until early summer, not once complaining of neglect. « Read the rest of this entry »

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