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Posts Tagged ‘cheese pumpkin’

I’m one of those irritating tree-huggers who loves every season (at least at the beginning), but Fall and I go way back. Birthday and all. Piles of apples and squash at the farm. There will be cooking, my friends. Lots of it. This is how I get ready.

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On the wall rack:

Saigon cinnamon (there is no other), allspice, nutmeg (the whole little guys), cloves, ground ginger, hot red pepper flakes, cardamom, almond extract.

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I posted this last year on Facebook with a caption: ‘My pumpkin is going under the knife today. Please keep it in your prayers at this difficult time.’ For all of you who did, thank you. It was delicious.

In the fridge:

Local apples, grains, all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flours, Grade B pure maple syrup, almonds, walnuts, crab apple schnapps, bottle of vodka containing vanilla beans at mid-steep (in a couple of months it will be a killer, and far less expensive, extract than the teeny Foodtown bottles).

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Long-cooking tomato sauce from local, organic plum tomatoes. You can see it has cooked down by an inch—getting richer than Scrooge McDuck.

In the freezer:

Bread, whatever I baked for breakfast this week, preserves (right now mulberry, on the horizon crab apple), chicken stock, butter, tomato sauce, quince syrup, yeast, bread crumb bag (all of the crusts I don’t eat, blitzed for toppings), Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Red quinoa, drying at the farm.

On top of the fridge:

Sugars (granulated, confectioner’s, dark brown).

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Quinces from a super-secret tree I found last year.

In the bottom of the armoire that I keep in my kitchen because doesn’t everyone:

Onions, garlic, potatoes. I keep them in a three-divided wooden unit that I found at the antiques shop downtown.

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Garlic.

In the closet I call ‘the garage’:

This is the coolest spot in my place. It houses winter squash. All kinds. Cheese, Luna, butternut, Cinderella. I line them up on the floor.

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Cinderella and cheese pumpkins, fantastic for pie.

Equinox, I’m ready.

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No preliminaries from Little Miss Chatterbox this time. Let’s go:

1) Be skeptical of any dessert served with an amorphous heap on top—whipped cream, raspberry sauce, spark plugs, whatever. It usually means the kitchen is trying to distract you. Remember: if the dessert could stand on its own, it would.

2) Smile at your restaurant server even if he or she doesn’t smile back.

3) If you loved your meal, send your thanks to the kitchen. It’s not pretentious or old-fashioned; expressing appreciation will never be thus.

4) If your Filipino friend invites you to an authentic Filipino meal made by her mom, say yes.

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Lumpiang shanghai—homemade spring rolls filled with ground pork, carrots, and onions. Piping hot and crisp. I couldn’t stop eating them, which was rude because my hosts and friends kept trying to engage me in conversation, but I got a little delirious with these.

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This is is monggo, and lovely comfort food. Beans, broth, shrimp, and vegetables. Again, I needed to exercise better portion control and likely didn’t.

5) If a friend who grew up in Wisconsin tells you that a local ice cream place is fantastic, go.

6) Never refuse a cookie made from scratch.

7) When in a burger joint or chain restaurant, don’t order the pasta. Doesn’t matter if the place has an Italian-sounding name.

8) It’s okay to hate marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs. Get in line with me. We’ll hang out.

9) Always pull over to buy lemonade from kids selling it in front of their houses.

10) When trying an exotic dish for the first time, make sure the people preparing it know it like they know how to inhale and exhale.

11) Own a copy of The Joy of Cooking. Every single standard dish is in there, and it’s plainly written.

12) Eat fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and you’ll find out how they’re really supposed to taste. Watermelon delivered to New Jersey in March is, for example, a disgrace. In August, purchased locally, it’s celestial.

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Organic Sugar Baby.

13) Shop at farmers’ markets. Ask questions. The guy behind the fold-out table most likely grew those sweet grilling peppers himself and loves talking about them.

14) Recognize that your tastes can change. Something you used to hate might taste very differently to you today—or you simply might learn that you hate broccoli when roasted, but love it when steamed.

15) Put your hands in soft bread dough at least once. Making bread is easy. Really really.

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Babka dough…on the rise.

16) Just because a recipe looks difficult to make doesn’t mean it is, or that you won’t enjoy every second of making it.

17) When traveling, eat where the locals eat for the best value and flavor. If you want fancy, ask a local butcher where to eat; he or she will know which restaurants buy the best cuts. If you want simple and hearty, ask a policeman where to eat.

18) Along the same lines, try foods that the place is known for. Taste an artichoke in Rome, heather honey in Scotland, flying fish on Barbados, sharp white cheddar in Vermont.

19) Go strawberry picking. Go anything picking. Wear decent shoes. Flip flops aren’t.

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20) Own a proper set of knives. They should be weighted evenly, with the metal running straight through the handle. I firmly maintain that if you own cooking equipment that you don’t have to fight, you’ll enjoy cooking far more.

21) On the other hand, don’t spend much for ordinary things. An aluminum muffin tin has a design that’s hard to foul up. I bought a few sets for something like $7 at an ex-boyfriend’s sister’s garage sale in 2006. I also bought a hand mixer for five bucks. Both were at least 10 years old when I got them and they’re still chugging along fine.

22) Try different ingredients together, different textures together. If you don’t like it, so what? You can always chuck it if it doesn’t work out. Or you might come up with something wildly groovy.

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This was a weirdo idea I had for a breakfast sandwich: roasted local peaches with my fresh ricotta, basil leaves, and a drizzle of honey. It was too sweet. Next time I’m going to try balsamic vinegar instead of the honey.

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My honeysuckle syrup. One to one with plain vodka over ice was OUT of this world.

23) Eat with your hands. Not at a posh spot with your district manager, but as often as you can. It will taste differently. It’s grounding.

24) Find out what’s growing wild in your backyard, research it, and be clear on it. I’d bet there’s something edible there you can throw into your salad.

25) Eat good-quality chocolate, pure maple syrup (Grade B!), fresh garlic. Spread Irish butter on your English muffin. (Sure, they’ll be fighting in spirit, but in your mouth it’ll be divine.)

26) Try making pumpkin muffins with fresh-baked pumpkin at least once.

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Above: Cinderella pumpkins; below, cheese pumpkins. Highly recommended.

27) When at a Jewish deli, order the hot pastrami sandwich.

28) If you ever come across a cold bottle of sarsaparilla, try it.

29) Ditto for homemade hot chocolate. Ix-nay on the blue packets.

30) Adding a little sprinkle of sea salt to the top of homemade brownies, truffles, chocolate-dipped figs, and peanut butter fudge gives them a happy little punch.

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My black bottom pumpkin pie.

It’s happened twice in the past couple of weeks and I’m grinning like Christmas morning just thinking about it. The first time: a pair of college-aged girls was standing rapt at the display of pumpkins in my local health food store. The pumpkins were pinkish and large and squat like cheese pumpkins, so I knew they’d make great pies.

Girl 1: ‘Oh, LOOK at them! We have to get one!’

Girl 2: ‘But…what do we do with it?’

This is when I swooped in like a miniature superhero in Simple brand sneakers. ‘They’re baking pumpkins. You slice them in half, put them cut side down on a cookie sheet, put them in the oven at 375 or 400 for a half hour or 45 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. Then you take them out, let them cool, scoop out the goo, puree it and drain it in a sieve over a bowl, and then you bake with it. Makes AWESOME pies.’

They squealed. College girls do this.

Girl 1: ‘Omigod we HAVE to make one!’

Girl 2: ‘Thank you so much for your advice!’

This made my day…not even kidding. Then it happened again today at an apple orchard.

20-something-or close-enough guy reading the sign: ‘Whaaaaaaat the hell is a CHEESE pumpkin?’

I swooped in again, this time rocking Eastern Mountain Sports hiking boots.* ‘It’s named that because it looks like a cheese wheel. Have you ever seen a big wheel of cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano? Someone thought these looked like a whole cheese.’ ‘Wow…!’

Then I gave him the same instructions, ending with the requisite, ‘…And they’re AWESOME for pie.’ He grinned and said thanks. I saw him a few minutes later with a cheese pumpkin teetering on one shoulder, heading for the checkout.

All of which got me thinking about the chronology of cooking.

Here in the U.S., from the mid-century back, people (usually women) were in the kitchen every day making three squares for their families. Some enjoyed it and some didn’t, but it had be done either way. Prepared foods and restaurants weren’t commonplace, so if you wanted to eat, you cooked.

War-time brought many women out of the kitchen and into the workforce; someone had to take over the jobs the boys serving overseas had left behind. Convenience foods saved working women time, and was a boon to those who’d never liked cooking. I think of a friend’s grandmother who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, which translates to limited or no plumbing or electricity, a gaggle of animals to take care of, a similar gaggle of siblings to take care of, and oh right, cooking 100% from scratch every single day, all year.** She became a mother in the early 1940s, moved to the suburbs, and worked as a beautician while her husband served in World War II. I looked through her recipe file and let me tell you—once convenience foods became available, she jumped on them and never looked back.

Then the women’s movement happened in the ’60s and ’70s. And for all its virtues and heaps of blessings, it had a bastard child: some mothers who associated cooking with being chained to the stove deliberately didn’t teach their daughters how to cook. They didn’t want their daughters to suffer the same lot they had, and instead told them to go to work and never again to give a glance back into the kitchen.

I am not blaming those mothers; they thought they were protecting their children. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, because many, many girls in that generation don’t know a peach from a nectarine. So while those girls may have been spared one fate, they suffered another. For what is more basic than real food, and what is more grievous than being distanced from it, and thus crippled? We’re talking about what we live on here.

Things are changing in the food industry; we read about new developments every day in the world of organics, GMOs, farm to fork and more. But the most rewarding, for my money, is what’s changing in kitchens. People are beginning to occupy them again, and not just to twirl a bowl of Spaghetti-Os in the nuker. They are becoming curious again. In some families, daughters are teaching their mothers how to cook, those same women who were chased out of the kitchen and told to go to work. Usually the learning goes one way, forward. But lovely, isn’t it, the learning going the other way?

I’d fallen for the young ‘un stereotype, that they subsist entirely on Ramen noodles and Taco Bell. I’m wrong. They want to learn. They want to farm—I’m reading and seeing more of this every day. They want to cook. Maybe they’ll be the generation that can find balance between work and proper cooking. They were fascinated, and I was fascinated right back.

(I’d also like a 30% kickback from the health food store and apple orchard. After all, it was my sweet talking that sold two pumpkins for them.)

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*I vary the shoes during my superhero workday. Kind of a calling-card thing. Crap, now I’m giving away all my secrets.

**And remember that in those days and in that time, if you wanted chicken for supper, you started on it at noon. With a hatchet.

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