Sunday, November 7, 2010

November Melancholia

November chicken coop at Mighty Food Farm

What pensive beauty autumn shows,
Before she hears the sound
Of winter rushing in, to close
The emblematic round!
--William Wordsworth

October is so filled with harvest, and an abundance that culminates in the frivolity of Halloween, with all its myriad of candy colors.  But immediately after, the very next morning, November arrives.  It's like an instant downer.  Is it the candy hangover, the change in temperature, the loss of the glorious autumn leaves?  It's like my spirits are instantly dampened. The rush of the beginning of the school year is winding down also, we're settling into our routines.  My parents, like the flocks of geese, head south to Florida. There's a sense of loss, yet, as Wordsworth said, November has its own pensive beauty.  My heart is filled with melancholia when I look at the shot above, taken when I picked up the first winter CSA order.  Those sad, beautiful chickens.  The starkness of the environs. The red of the coop.  It just embodies November to me!

Actually, there are lots of great poems about November.  My all time favorite, "Spring and Fall," by Gerard Manly Hopkins, is dense with words.  Boy, just that embodies November to me!  The poet is speaking to Margaret, a young child, who is sad about Fall:
Margaret, are you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
He is writing about the archetypal seasons--spring is youth and vitality, Fall is older age, Winter, alas, death.  It ends:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
It's so damn beautiful and sad!

Indulge me a moment, and check out a few others:  
  • Walter de la Mere,  "November" (oh, the heartbreak! Cold wind where your voice was/ Tears, tears where my heart was)
  • Adrienne Rich, "November 1968" (this one's really dark and intense: You’re what the autumn knew would happen/after the last collapse/of primary color)
  • Cindy Gregg, "Monday," featured on The Writer's Almanac on Nov. 1st!  This one is a perfect segueway to the cooking blog, since she's writing about making a soup!
She writes: 
Knife against carrot
again and again
sends a plop of pennies
into the pan.
These cents,
when held to the gray light,
hold no noble president,
only stills
of some kaleidoscope
caught being pensive...
and beautiful,
in the eye of this beholder

She even uses the word pensive! This is why I'm an English teacher. I love words as much as I love food.

Okay, so on to my Roasted Butternut Squash Soup recipe!!  Soups are definitely my favorite, and my specialty, and Autumn is just MADE for soups.  When we first joined the CSA, I used to make stock with a lot of the veggies, but my brother, a trained chef  told me that saving all the scraps from veggies was a better way to go about it.  I keep a huge supply of Pacific Vegetable Broth in my pantry because I certainly don't have time to do this for all the soups I make!

Over the last few months, I've saved up this bag of scraps in the freezer, till I was ready to boil them down into a home made stock.  This one had lots of leek tops, carrot ends, onion skins, celery ends.  I added a few parsnips that never made it into anything, some smashed cloves of garlic, and a big bunch of peppercorns.  I probably added a few too many because it had a pretty big zing of spiciness to it, which I love, but if you try it and don't like pepper, you may want to use fewer peppercorns!  You just bring it to a boil, then simmer it for about an hour.  Your house will smell divine!  (Here's a recipe for a stock that looks pretty good.)  Once it's cooked down, I pour it into a wire mesh strainer, and press down the veggies with a potato masher.You don't get as clear a stock, but I don't care since it tastes too amazing!

The CSA had a bounty of squashes, so I snagged about 3 lbs and cooked all but a small one in the oven at a high temperature--425?  I drizzle the bottom of the pan with olive oil so they don't stick.  Once they get all sunken in, like you can pierce them easily with a fork, they're done.  Let them cool, and then just scoop the flesh out of the skin.  I puree them in the blender, with a little of the stock to make it smooth.
Here's the best part.  For the soup, all you do is add the puree to the stock, reheat, and add salt! Use the immersion blender if you want it to be a little smoother, and add in about a cup or so of half and half (Organic Valley, of course!).  It adds really very little fat to the soup, and pulls all the flavors together.  You do need lots of kosher or sea salt too.  Many people think they shouldn't add salt to their cooking, but when you make it all from whole ingredients, you can!  Processed and prepared foods have way more salt in them then you'd be putting into your dish!

I did not take a picture of the finished product to post, and actually, I should have taken a picture of all the empty bowls and the bottom of the soup pot!  The kids didn't like it of course, but I think it's because of too much pepper.  My sister commented that it had such a lovely squash taste that wasn't sweet, and I think that's because many people combine the squash with apple or cider.  That's a nice soup too, but it masks the roasted goodness!

For some good looking Butternut Squash soup recipes, check these out.
And dare you think I cook like this during the week, I'm ending this blog with a few pics of all the casual, quick, weeknight meals we pull together at my house!
Make your own burritos: store bought rice mix, black beans w/some seasonings, avocado, olives, sour cream, cheese, sauteed onions and peppers with cumin & chili powder, tortillas, and a good beer!

SmartLinks Chili Cheese Veggie Dogs (Amy's canned chili!), homemade potato chip fries
Grilled cheese on good, locally baked bread, Pacific Organic Creamy Tomato Soup!

For a final, final note, even Guns N' Roses contemplated November!

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