Boots and Squash

9 Oct

It’s officially fall.  Well, by the calendar, it has been fall for a few weeks now, but the dark dawn and translucent layer of frost on my windshield revealed evidence of the crisp morning weather.  The leather boots came out today for the first time since the end of spring.  It felt good to put them on, and almost made my pumpkin-spice candle smell even more warming.

But then, like a clichéd after-school-special, my day fell towards the wayside.  The way, way wayside.  So much so, that a small outbreak of hives that started to form at about 2:40 gave a clear visual indication of how my mind, body, and spirit needed sweatpants and a good hug from Sig (since Rob was on duty).

By the time I got home, the Oregon Coast had done what it does best: surprise me.  Opening the sliding glass door, our backyard, with its high, wind-blocking picket fence, greeted me with warm sunlight and the smell of the harvest season.  I took off my boots, and let the sun warm my once tanned legs.  It was like an instant spa-treatment.  If an extravagant spa could put a fall afternoon into a circulation inducing all natural fiber body wrap, you betcha I’d pay the big bucks.

As Sig ran around doing his wild-ass-dog circles (you’d have to see it to understand), I sat, breathing deeply, and thought about my roots.  Who I am, and what I do.  Which inspired me to pull out something I haven’t looked at in a long time.

My recipe book.  Now, if you were to look at our bookcase, you’d see loads of beautiful, well-published, artistically crafted cookbooks, all which have been read, most from cover to cover.  However, not many of them have tomato-sauce splatters on the pages, as I do not generally cook with them.  Being the eternal student, I have always used cookbooks as textbooks of sorts, reading them for education, technique, history, and inspiration.  Then, I create my own.  My recipe book has the creations that I, and my friends and family, have deemed worthy of cooking, eating, and enjoying again, and it’s constantly under construction.  But, sadly, I hardly ever go back to see what inspired me to cook many years ago.

So, as a part de-stressing act, part inquisitive wonder, and part let-the-dog-continue-to-run-his-full-head-off submission, I flipped to the very back of my book.  There, staring me in the face, were the recipes that taught me how to cook.  There were no fancy French sauces, mostly vegetarian ingredients, lots of salads, and whole grain proteins.  There was, what I thought would be a disaster but turned out great, the dandelion greens dish with tarragon and poached eggs.  There was the warm spinach salad that my ex-boyfriend loved.  A clump of pages forward, the wild mushroom and grilled peach ravioli that I served my mother-in-law-to-be.  I learned about flavor through flexitarian cooking, and my fancy French sauces of today should be showing a debt of gratitude; without the cooking sans animal protein days of the past, I doubt I would have learned the depth and flavor simple, from-the-ground ingredients can create in a meal.

Immediately, I was taken back to my 715-square foot apartment in Irvine, CA, with the early autumn Santa Ana winds provoking a dry throat and frizzy hair.  Despite the wifely nagging I often give to Rob about eating leftovers, I abandoned the last-night’s vegetable lasagna with the swanky broccoli pesto, and went back to the cutting board

Going straight to the source (many of our farm ingredients), I roasted a fall-favorite: Delicata squash.  Sweet, soft, and a little bit grassy, the house started to smell like Thanksgiving.  After caramelizing some red onions, a perfumed, tangy, warm salad was created, one that gave me that comforting, fall hug I needed after a long hard day.  It was a simple, easy, and delightful meal, and reminded me of why I started cooking in the first place: to create healthy, tasty, true-to-food meals.

Tomorrow will be better, this, I already know.  It will be a new day, new frost, have new challenges, and a fantastic leftover salad waiting for me at lunchtime.  I might even, once again, wear my boots.

Warm Delicata Squash and Swiss Chard Salad
(serves 2)

  • 1 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (or a small butternut squash would work well, too)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, main vein removed, and roughly chopped
  • ½ granny smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Gorgonzola blue cheese
  • 1 large tsp chopped basil
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare the squash on a baking sheet by drizzling 1 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle a generous amount of s&p.  Mix so that all the squash is coated with seasoning and place in oven.  Roast for 13 minutes on one side, and shake pan so other side also browns, about another 7 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat.  Add s&p to help soften the onions.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions start to caramelize.  Once all the onions start to brown, deglaze the pan with the white balsamic vinegar, and turn heat down to med-low.  Simmer until all liquid has reduced. 

To make the dressing: mix the honey and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl with s&p.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, while whisking – the mixture should thicken and become glossy.  

To assemble the salad, mix the chard, onions, squash, apples, and dressing until just dressed.  Top the salad with the chopped basil and blue cheese, and mix again if desired.

Serve with a crisp, half-oaked chardonnay. 

Enjoy! 

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