Look, I’m not going to lie — I’ve been pretty bad this year. Not only did I fail to fully record my mileage for tax purposes, despite JM’s helpful wheedling, but I also phoned it in pretty hard with some of my grading. I’ve gone from 60 to 0 with my yoga practice, maybe getting in a studio once a month these days, and have only used my juicer a handful of times. I flirted and complained needlessly, swore like an action film hero, and only drew one or two pictures. And, perhaps worst of all, I’ve gone from updating my blog every few days to updating it every few weeks.
Sure, I could give you excuses. I’ve had something like 4 or 5 part-time jobs, usually several of them at once, and I’ve been using every spare, clutter-free minute to add a sentence or ten to my dissertation, which is now almost complete. I’ve also put a lot of effort into my relationship with JM, which is pretty much the most important thing in my life right now. I don’t regret it one bit. This year we drove around the desert together taking pictures and rummaging through the remnants of other people’s lives; we read magazines by the pool in Palm Springs and swung in creaky hammocks by moonlight; we walked along the beach in Long Island and played music with lawyers and professors emeriti in Santa Cruz; we ate lobster in Cape Cod and too much bread in New York. Best of all, we spent long evenings lounging on the living room couch and bright mornings on folding chairs in the backyard, drinking coffee and wine and fresh-squeezed juice from the grapefruit tree’s bounty, occasionally spiked with gin.
So Santa, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been sorely lacking in the goodness department, but when it comes to hard work and romance I’m not half bad. I hope that this letter in some way responds to some of the doubts you scribbled on your annual list with respect to yours truly.
Please find enclosed a recipe for butternut squash soup as a sign of good will.
the secret menu
Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
-1 small butternut squash
-1/4-1/2 cup water
-1 tsp curry powder (I used vadouvan, but any mild curry will work)
-1-2 tsp salt
-a few cracks of pepper
-4 tbs olive oil
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-2-3 cups broth (I used vegetable, but chicken stock also works)
-1 apple, peeled and diced
-1/4 cup half and half
Crank up the oven to 400 °F. Cut the squash in half (in retrospect, you might want to peel it, too — though it’s not totally necessary), scoop out the seeds and put them aside. In a shallow baking dish, put the squash cut side up and add about 1/4 cup water to the dish to keep the oven moist while the squash bakes. Sprinkle the squash with a little curry powder and salt, and put in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until a fork slides easily into the flesh.
While the squash bakes, rinse the seeds and pat them dry with a paper towel. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and pour 2 tablespoons of the oil over them, along with a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper. Set the cookie sheet aside. Now sauté the onion and garlic with the rest of the oil in a large pan until translucent — don’t overdo it, since the magic here is that the onion and apple flavors complement each other.
Transfer the onions and garlic to a large-ish pot, and add your broth. Turn the heat on to a low simmer, stirring the liquid frequently. When the squash is done, put it aside to cool a bit. If you’ve already peeled the squash, slice it into manageable pieces and toss them into the soup pot. If not, you’ll need to wait a little longer for the squash to cool before scooping it out of its skin. In any case, you should have a simmering pot of onions, garlic, broth, and squash in front of you before too long.
Put the cookie sheet with the seeds on it in the oven — they’ll be in there for about 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, add the rest of the curry powder, salt, and a little more pepper to the soup. Stir. Pour into a large bowl, and add the apple chunks. Use your hand mixer to puree that stuff into a smooth orange pool of deliciousness. Taste it, and add salt if necessary. Stir in the half and half.
Garnish the soup with the roasted seeds and insist that only one, maybe two pictures may be taken before it is gulped down. Be sure to loosen that belt you wear over your red coat — this soup might not look like much, but it’s super filling. So much so that all you’ll need the rest of the night is some popcorn and the conviction that, yes, you will definitely put this one on the blog in the morning.