butternut squash pasta

I’m starting to wonder if I should take vitamin D supplements. The past few days have been unusually sunny for Central New York, and I just can’t get enough. Unfortunately most of my day yesterday was spent indoors in front of glowing screens. At least someone was smart enough to invent windows.

Today was much better: A perfect latte, writing about food for my assignment at the paper, riding a sunny bus and listening to my latest podcasts from RadioLab and the Splendid Table. I just started riding buses again, and let me tell you, podcasts are my new best friend.

After a few hours at the paper, I put 6.6 fresh miles on my new Saucony’s. They’re a size bigger than my last two pairs, and wider too — all in hopes that I can keep my second toenail.

February is such a tease. Snow. Rain. Temperatures tempting my skirts out of hiding, then slamming me with another get-me-a-hot-chocolate-and-a-bath-now kind of evening. But it’s a short month, really. It must be hard to establish an identity for yourself with only 28 days (and sometimes 29). Even if you’re just a month, and don’t really have much of an identity to begin with.

After running there was coffee and baked things that I will soon post about. There was breathing and stretching and the shelving of worries. Days are getting ever-so-slightly longer, inching toward six p.m. It was one of those serene evenings where busyness seems like just another mental state and a downward dog can cure anything.

I returned to an apartment warm with the fragrance of nutmeg. The day couldn’t have gotten much better as it was, and there on my stove was a steaming skillet of fusili mortared together with pureed roasted squash. There were brussels sprouts our favorite way: dry-roasted in a sweet veneer of balsamic. There was a small glass of crimson wine winking back at the rich colors of the steaming food on my plate.

In that moment I was fine with the light having faded from the day. Because the good things of night—companionship, catching up, staying put—have their place too.

And so does peanut-butter chocolate ice cream at 10 p.m. That’s when the running really comes in handy.

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curried pear and butternut soup

Before you quickly click away from this post muttering squash, AGAIN?? please humor me. If there’s any time of the year I’m allowed to indulge my love of all things gourd, it’s fall.

On Halloween evening I biked to the grocery store to procure a baguette. We were going to have it with Mark’s delicious Punkin Ale rendition of this Beer Baked Beans recipe. I rode home with my baguette sticking out from behind me, feeling like I was headed to a dinner party in Montmarte.

The best thing about that little jaunt though were the pumpkins. Dotting front stoops like jolly orange goblins, glowing as if they had invaded the streets of Syracuse, the rotund globes guided me all the way home. There’s something about a carved pumpkin that makes me smile every time.

Leaves crackled under my bike tires as I passed people in lawn chairs doling out candy. My twilight ride wove through neighborhood streets that grew more festive as the sun sank.

But my recipe today doesn’t have to do with beans, baguettes, or pumpkins, but another type of squash. I’ve posted about the silky, meaty butternut once before, but today it’s back, pureed into a low fat soup with pears and curry powder. Here it is pictured with a swirl of sour cream.

Some friends and I made this soup a few weeks ago as part of our newly founded “Estro-cook” nights. The semi-weekly Sunday evening cook-a-thon was named after a Winnipeg Folk Festival workshop called “Estro-Jam,” where women from different bands teamed up to play a daytime stage.

I just love how this picture shows off the sunny October afternoon I enjoyed it on. Having soup in the freezer is one life’s easiest pleasures.

This soup can even be dressed up with cubes of tofu and green lentils, as this cafe on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast did. I took this picture while I was solo cycle-touring around Vancouver island, and this picture reminds me of those days, spent largely alone, when a bowl of soup and a Moleskine journal could very well be a vagabond’s best friend.

And years later, though I am holed up in Syracuse as the fall wilts to shades of ochre, the dear gourd does it again.

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squash this

Besides having been christened with the most appealing name among squashkind, the butternut, in my mind, reigns supreme in flavour and versatility. I have trouble holding myself back from any recipe with butternut in the title. It’s like those purple monsters from Sesame Street get into my subconscious and start murmuring butter; nut, over and over again until I just melt like a pat of butter on a hot nut. Ok, that was awful, but what were you expecting?

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When my explorations led me to Orangette’s recipe for Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini, it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to make for a special dinner companion on Saturday. Salad is a staple around these parts; I like to have one available with every meal I serve. But it’s winter, and the fresh crispy coolness of the salad just doesn’t cut it like it does in the summer. So all I had to read were the words warm and salad in the same sentence and I was hooked. Not to mention the butternut thing.

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In spite of the rest of the meal’s merit (augmented by the fact that it was the first time I’ve ever cooked a pork tenderloin and it turned out simply mah-velous), today I chose to highlight the little guy — the side dish. I’m a big advocate of vegetables and I think they deserve just as much of the spotlight as the big meaty mains. So move over porky.

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