At this time of year, there’s a late afternoon sun that streams in during a pretty hour or so before early dusk.The place where we live is pretty shabby around the edges—it’s a very old house. I yearn to fix it up a bit more, but we rent it, so there’s a limit to the amount of work we will put in. It remains with peeling paint, crumbling plaster, and crooked corners. It’s amazing, though: at this particular point of the day, everything gets this bright-clear veneer on it, the disintegrating mortar and the detritus from the wood pile comes into focus, but in a way that looks very right, very appropriate.I guess there’s not much to report on if all I can talk about is some changing light, huh? I’m in one of those weeks where I’ve been reading too much serious stuff about human experience and the limits of our understanding, and I love it but can’t seem to make any sense of what to do with it, even though it feels very urgent.
It was a welcome change to hang out with two of my cousins last weekend, who burst into the house for a day and a night with all of their 6- and 9-year-old energy. Lemme tell you, you want to explore the limits of human understanding? Kids know this best of all. Imagine yourself a princess or in a time-traveling treehouse with someone who truly almost believes it. These are the people who know that there really is something, just behind that next corner, that you may never actually see, but its presence is important. There be dragons, I suppose.
I turn a lot to this essay (list?) by Terry Tempest Williams, but especially this part, because that’s how I feel all the time when I write:
I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first into the
familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete
button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper
and rip it into shreds-and then I realize, it doesn’t matter, words are
always a gamble, words are splinters from cut glass. I write because
it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the
words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable
we are, how transient.
I’m being lengthy for no reason when I should be talking about turkeys and such. So, briefly: I think a big panful of this squash dish wouldn’t be out of place on a Thanksgiving table.
I’m thankful for this space where I can ramble very clumsily about the limits of human understanding and also give you a recipe. Whether you celebrate the day or not, I wish you the same: space to explore, and space to be nourished.
Skillet-caramelized winter squash
This is a gorgeous, unusual recipe adapted from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors that I had never cooked before because it doesn’t make much sense. The dish is billed as a “pancake”, but there’s no egg or anything else to bind the squash. You cook the squash in a way that caramelizes bits to near-burned and evaporates off a bit of the water content of the squash. It gets rich and more savory than I knew squash could be.
- 1 2-3 pound winter squash, roasted and flesh scooped from the skin
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 10 sage leaves
- Kosher or fine grain sea salt
- Black pepper
- 3 ounces aged or smoked mozzarella, grated
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- In a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sage leaves and cook for a minute or two to flavor the oil. Place the roasted squash into the skillet, seasoning it with a good pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Press it into the skillet, smoothing it over so it evenly fills the pan.
- Cook the squash, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, scrape it up from the bottom of the pan and smooth it down again, exposing new parts to the hot metal. Do this as many times as you have time for—the more browned bits, the better.
- Meanwhile, chop the parsley and garlic together finely. When you’ve sufficiently caramelized your squash, smooth it over once more, sprinkle the mozzarella across the top, and cover. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Top with the parsley garlic mixture, and serve from the pan.