Acceptance of Life

Afternoon in the aspens, Snow Bowl, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff, Arizona

The tale of Elizabeth the washerwoman and the blue Hubbard squash

Blue Hubbard Squash–the size of a young turkey!

This past growing season I’ve had the rewarding opportunity to be part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) run by Deb Lentz and her husband Richard Andres called Tantre Farm. This Michigan farm has been totally organic since 1993 and produces the most amazing food!

As part of our last share of the extended season, Deb set out some blue Hubbard squash for us to try.

These boogers can run up to 40 pounds, but the one I selected ran about eight. Still a challenge. Because the outer shell is hard and brittle, Deb suggested I roast it first at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes to soften it so that it could be broken into manageable pieces and de-seeded.

This I did, but even after the baking, other than making a small nick in the neck of the squash with my big knife, nothing was happening. That squash wasn’t budging!

So I took it outside, raised it above my head, and smashed it on the cement driveway:

Squashed squash, after landing on cement driveway

Voila! A broken squash. Very satisfying. Not hard to break into pieces at all, at this point.

Then I had to take out the innards. The size of the squash is misleading, because unlike a butternut squash, it has a big inner cavity filled with fibers and pumpkin-sized seeds. Kinda of gross, actually, now that I think of it.

Innards of a Hubbard squash

But after all the parts I wasn’t going to use were scraped away, I was left with the shell and the real meat of the squash, ready to go back into the oven. The squash has grown in surface area at this point, and I’ve graduated from a cake pan to a cookie sheet to bake it:

Deseeded blue Hubbard squash, ready for the second oven run

Oops! Not quite ready. According to the Joy of Cooking, my absolute reference for the kitchen, the squash should be cut side down, with a quarter-inch of water and foil covered. Pretend the foil cover is in place:

blue Hubbard squash, cut side down, water added

At this point it goes back in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. The house should start to feel cozy-warm by now, with the great smell of roasting squash wafting through.

Ding! And out it comes. Let it cool a bit, and the meat is easy to scrape off the shell pieces with a spoon. I dumped it all in the mixer, added some butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a little maple syrup:

Add butter, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg and maple syrup…

The end result, a generous quart of squash, filled with fiber, iron, potassium, vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, and niacin. Plus it tastes good, with a rich, complex flaor! What’s not to like?

Mushed squash puree

I scooped some of it into containers for freezing and ate the rest, right from the bowl. Yum!

blue Hubbard squash, ready for the freezer

Kudos, Deb, for a great recommendation of a new vegetable to try.

And Elizabeth, the washerwoman? That story goes back a ways. According to the legend, a sea captain found a new variety of squash in South America in the late 1800s and gave the seeds to his sister Sarah Martin. She was a shy sort of woman and gave the seeds to her friend Elizabeth Hubbard to try.

Elizabeth in turn passed them on to a man she washed clothes for, a seedsman named James Gregory. They made his fortune. Because of the popularity of the squash, he went on to become the largest seed grower in America by the early 1900s and named the squash in Elizabeth’s honor.

If her friend Sarah had been a litte braver, perhaps we would be celebrating the Martin squash instead of the Hubbard.

If you don’t dare, you may never have a squash named after you!

What about you.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve cooked?
What is your favorite, cook-all-the-time comfort meal?

 

The added dimension of cat-ness

Foxy enjoying fall

Foxy’s favorite fall pastime

I’ve lived with cats all of my life.

When I was little girl in South Dakota, I would coming running home after school to see the kittens.

My mother forbade us to touch them until their eyes opened, about ten days after birth. That ten days seemed to last forever! Finally eyelids would open to eyes of the deepest blue, and tiny kittens would sprawl about the birthing box. I was entranced.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom, always looking for ways to gather in more income to supplement my father’s modest salary. One year she determined that the best way to do this was to breed Siamese cats. The two kittens she picked were elegant, but before we could see what the resulting litters might bring, my father was transferred overseas, where my pets were not cats, but rather three partridges that we kept in the back yard in Tehran, Iran. And that’s the subject of another story.

But when I was first married, my young husband and I actually did breed Siamese cats. We were starving college students at the time with no extra money. To feed our cats, we made trips to the local meat packing plant for “offal,” specifically kidneys that we ground and cooked with corn meal. This concoction we fed to our rapidly burgeoning family of felines.

At one point we had four simultaneous litters of kittens, their respective moms and one magnificent stud cat wandering about our small two-bedroom house. And then the landlady we were renting from discovered our small business venture and told us we had to leave–immediately! We sold the kittens, gave away most of the moms, and kept one or two when we packed the U-Haul and moved to different digs.

Leaf retreats to his coffee table bunker when he feels insecure

At this stage in my life, I am down to two cats.

One, Foxy (above), is a diminutive brown tabby who has been my inseparable companion for the past nine years. She is, in fact, sleeping next to me as I write this post.

The other, Leaf, is a dark gray-and-white mega-male, some three times larger than Foxy, and seven years younger. I acquired him about a year ago, when a good friend became ill and could no longer care for him.

They are ill-matched in terms of size and age. And both are used to being only cats. I was concerned when Leaf entered the family, but they have developed an elaborate system of cat etiquette.

Leaf gets to eat first, and Foxy watches. Foxy sleeps with me at night, close by my ear, while Leaf sleeps at the foot of the bed. When I lay down for an afternoon nap, the prime position of nap companion goes to Leaf. He watches in fact, and jumps up on the couch before I do. But if Foxy should happen to wander by, he immediately gets down and relinquishes his spot to the brown fur ball who cuddles close. Each has their own nest basket on my writing desk, and neither invades the other’s.

They don’t like each other, but they seem to tolerate each other’s company. I think one would be lonely without the other, like an old married couple that fights all the time but would be desolate living alone.

How did they figure out this arrangement? I wish I knew. But it seems to work for them.

What about you? Are you a cat person or a dog person?
What richness enters your life because they are there? 

Finding Water: The Fine Art of Persistance

Finding Water Art of Persistence Julia Cameron

 

My sister’s book club is reading one of Julia Cameron’s books, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I promised her I’d take a look at it. I did, and it is delightful. I recommend it highly!

In the process, though, I came across another book by Ms. Cameron, entitled Finding Water: The Art of PerseveranceI was delighted, because I’d read the first two of this trilogy when I was in art school: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the Artist’s Way. Also highly recommended, by the way.

Julia is no novice to the challenging world of being creative. She’s been at it for 30 years and during that time has written–and had published–over 30 books! Would that I were that successful.

In many of this author’s books, she recommends a practice of three simple acts: 1) morning pages, a type of handwritten journaling, undertaken first thing in the morning; 2) making an “artist’s date” with yourself to explore some new facet of your environment; and 3) a long walk, at least once a week, to connect with nature. I’ve found all three to be richly rewarding.

In Finding Water, Julia encounters writer’s block, rejection, and discouragement as she readies a play for the New York stage. She speaks of the paralyzing effects of perfection. I can relate.

Julia’s inner critic is named Nigel, and Nigel has rules. “A critic such as Nigel has doubts, second thoughts, third thoughts. The critic analyzes everything to the point of extinction. Everything must always be groomed and manicured. Everything must measure up.”

“…an original thought may be disturbing, even dangerous. It wants to see what it has seen before. It has seen a cow, but it has never seen a zebra. Don’t try to tell it that a zebra might be interesting. Those stripes don’t look like such a good idea. Get those zebras out of here!”

I gave Julia a high five for that one. My critic and Nigel are old war buddies. Brothers-in-arms, soldiering on, unappreciated, firmly declaring that black is black, white is white, and forget about all those colors in between.

Right now I am struggling through the simultaneous editing of two works. In my writing critique group we are examining, for the umpteenth time, the first chapter of my next book in the Pegasus Quincy Mystery Series, Fire in Broken Water. 

I’ve read the last chapter of this same book so many times it is almost memorized, and yet my critic–let’s call him Clarkson–is still finding egregious errors any sixth-grader could correct in their sleep.

And when we take a break from that one, the two of us, Clarkson and I, are weaving together a new, very rough draft of the fourth novel in the series called Peril in Silver Nightshade.

Clarkson is having a field day. “You wrote what?” “Don’t you know you can never mix first and third person narratives?” “Info dump. Info dump. Info dump,” he chants.

I want to shout Shut up! in his overly large, cauliflower-shaped ears (the better to hear you with, my dear) and consign him to the upstairs, unheated garret. It is near winter here in Michigan, and that would be a fitting place for him. Although he has this loud screeching voice that would undoubtedly echo through the register.

But to be honest, I need his help. The fairy child has created these lovely works of art, and now it is time for her evil cousin to have his way. And perhaps he isn’t so evil, after all. He is persistent and perfectionistic. I must learn to accept that he is also a part of me, and appreciate what he brings to the table.

I am not sure if I believe in the left brain/right brain dichotomy. It seems much too simple an explanation of the complex workings of our mind. Yet there is a push/pull, an internal dialogue always at work. And that, too, is part of the creative process. I need both the fairy child and Clarkson, just not at the same time, in the same room, talking over each other.

What about you? What do you call your inner critic?
How does it muck about in your creative life?