This week was hot here. Like, HOT. Hotter than it was, ever, all summer long. Hot like our windows are open and it is dark outside but instead of a sweet cool fall night tumbling in the door, we have this heat that is … ugh. It prickles my neck in an especially annoying way because, despite this stifling shimmering suffocating air, it is October. OCTOBER! Monday afternoon the guys stripped down to basically nothing (whether I joined them is nobody’s business) and then Jacob lay down on the floor in the kitchen and closed his eyes and said “I just want to feel this – this coldness on my back.”
Wednesday at nursery school pick up, waiting in the hallway for Circle Time to end, one of the other moms started giggling – “I love Jacob’s Superman undies!”
What’s this? Jacob’s undies?
At almost four, Jacob possesses a middle schooler’s sharp sense of modesty; while it is de rigeur to see kiddos in undies running through the play yard at our nursery school, he has never, ever been one of them. “He wanted to go swimming,” she continued, “and he was so proud of those underpants!” It seems even modesty is not a ballast against the air’s relentless hot stillness. When Jacob saw the wading pools out in the shady grass, he couldn’t resist. Luckily, he was wearing his most beloved underthings: electric blue, trimmed with flashy red elastic, worn soft with wear. They are emblazoned with the universal symbol of the Man of Steel, right on the fly. (He recently spotted some similar ones in mens sizes – I couldn’t convince Kyle on the matter.)
When I asked him about his sudden comfort with disrobing, he raised his hands up, touchdown style. “I played construction with other Jacob and Rinji and Andrew, and we got WET!” he crowed. His laughter spilled out from his whole body. Buttressed by the strength of his underpants, he had made his way into the water.
We have a big month ahead of us, a month with a lot of happening and a lot of hoping, and my mind has been wandering relentlessly as I wade through these last hot sticky days. Distraction might explain my impulsive purchase of butternut squash at the market this week: oven-roasting all these beautiful harbingers of fall was not a well-considered choice when the temperatures were reaching into the nineties.
But I think there may have been something else at play, something more than distraction. For consider: is there anything more comforting to a worried mind than a squash? They sit proudly on the counter, their very presence imparting the security of a bountiful harvest, their rounded bellies promising something substantial to eat. And then there’s this: roasted with a fairy dusting of cinnamon, their smell swirls through the house, whispering of cozy fall weather, crackling fires, soup in mugs. And once it is roasted, no matter what you decide to do with that fragrant orange goodness, there is the singular rich heartiness that a summer squash, for all their wonder, cannot imbue. A butternut can fortify, it can conjure, it can delight.
This week, head spinning, I wasn’t paying attention at the market. Mind entirely elsewhere, I filled my bag with whatever was abundant as I walked the stalls. But it turns out that I chose well: when I have a butternut squash on hand, I can cook through my preoccupations.
And here’s the thing. Sometimes, with the courage of a creature compelled by instinct, we grab on to the very thing that we need to get us through whatever we are facing. We can create a talisman, an amulet of strength, and then we can hold onto it. We roast, we mix, we cushion it in dough. We wade into the pool with it clutched to our bodies, and we raise it triumphantly when we have splashed out the other side.
These next couple weeks, Jacob will be wearing his Superman undies a lot. He is a man of steel, there is not a doubt, but if he needs an occasional reminder then I hope the softly worn elastic under his jeans will be just the thing. Meanwhile, I will keep a pile of butternut squash on the counter, and when I don’t know what else to do, I will roast one.
Let’s just hope that the weather turns, and we get the fall we have all been dreaming of. (And on that note – Go Orioles!)
These were wonderful – even better than we had expected them to be, when you could tell just from the ingredients that they would taste good. I’m not sure I need to wax poetic about empanadas (isn’t it obvious why we would love all sorts of luscious savory goodness baked in pastry?) but I will say that this sweet-spicy curried mixture was an exceptionally fine filling, and super easy to make.
I used a 50% whole wheat food-processor pastry dough, figuring that I was making these for dinner not dessert … but the dough turned out tender and lovely, so I shared that recipe down below too (I suspect it is better for you than “3 sheets frozen store-bought pie dough” but that would certainly work too). We pulled the currants out of the empanadas and put them in to the spicy plum chutney we served along side, which was a terrific combination. I added apples to the filling instead to add interset and give a little bit of tart zing alongside the rich and creamy squash. I also added some very finely chopped almonds, for protein more than texture since I was passing these off as dinner.
Pureed squash can quickly give me a baby-food vibe, so I like the fork-mashing here. I do think that roasting it whole and then peeling is the easiest route to follow. One final note: make sure that the onion and apple are diced small. You will be using little tablespoons of them to fill the empanadas, and if they are in large chunks it will be more difficult to fill-and-fold.
1 butternut squash
1-2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tart green apple, diced
1/2 teaspoon each of: ground ginger, cloves, allspice
1 teaspoon each of: cumin, cinnamon, turmeric
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup very finely chopped almonds
1 recipe whole wheat pastry dough (see below)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
To serve: 1/4 cup currants, softened 10 minutes in hot water to cover, drained and mixed with 1/2 cup spicy plum chutney (Sunset recommends serving them with Cilantro Mint Dipping Sauce, which also sounds good).
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line baking sheet with parchment. Slice squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and lay on parchment. Bake for 45 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork.
Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add spices, sugar, apple, and almonds and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes more. Turn off heat.
Remove squash from oven, and use a spoon to scoop squash flesh into skillet. Mash with fork until smooth but not perfectly smooth. Mix mashed peeled squash with onion mixture.
Use one dough-disc at a time, and roll out until 1/8 inch thick. Cut using a 4-inch ring cutter (I used my largest biscuit cutter, which is about 3 3/4 inches). I got 24 circles total, with enough dough left over to make about 15 “pie buttons” *.
Line two baking sheets with parchment. Arrange circles on sheets (you will need to work in batches). Put a tablespoon of filling in the center of each dough circle, then fold each circle in half. Use a fork to crimp and poke steam holes on each empanada. Brush the top of each empanada with egg wash.
Bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. [Note: Sunset says that you can also make the empanadas and then freeze them BEFORE baking – they can then be baked off straight from the freezer, with an additional 5-10 minutes baking time at 375 F).
50% Whole-Wheat Food-Processor Pastry Dough
Adapted from Sunset Magazine, October 2012. This makes enough for ~24 empanadas, or two 9-inch pie crusts.
Cut 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter into small cubes, and put them in a bowl in the freezer. Put 2/3 cup very cold water in the freezer. Mix 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (3 cups total flour) with 1 tablespoon white sugar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt in a food processor for about ten seconds. Add the butter, and pulse for about a minute, until you have sandy crumbs and the largest pieces are raspberry sized. Drizzle the water over the crumbs and pulse until just moistened and starting to clump. Put dough onto a clean dry work surface and gather into a ball. Turn and squeeze to combine any dry crumbs. Divide dough in half, flatten each half into a disc, wrap in clingwrap and chill for 45 minutes or longer, up to three days (if longer than 45 minutes, allow dough a minute or two to warm up on counter before rolling it).
* To make Pie Buttons: flatten small balls of dough, sprinkle with brown sugar, and bake on sheets with the empanadas.