Iterations

more squash

At my dad’s house, Dan and I shared a bedroom until I was nine. We had bunk beds,  windows with rainbow-striped curtains, and a big round table with a bright red top where I created a cadre of inexpert paper dolls. I don’t remember learning to make them, but someone must have taught me; I started with a piece of paper folded in half, and then cut on the lines of half a human silhouette so that the cut-out piece unfolded into a person. Scraps became hair and clothes and shoes. Occasionally I would cut two sheets of paper that I had stacked together, to make “twins.” My dad must have worked overtime to keep me in glue sticks – Elmer’s was too gloppy, and anyway it took too long to dry. I had a purple folder where I kept papers that listed the dolls’ names, their favorite colors, their hobbies. I drew charts, too; each doll had a complex family tree, an intricate web of relationships with all the other dolls.

As a kid I loved reading above all, and with Dan I did much imagining of soap-worthy sagas for his GI Joes and Legos (I was partial to the castle sets). I spent long, blissful hours staging my dollhouse (set design was the game – actually playing with the weird Victorian inhabitants of the house was not really the point). Lord knows I did more than my fair share of concocting “potions” in the yard. But when Jacob asked me today what I liked to play with when I was little, the thing that first came to mind was those endless stacks of paper cut into perfectly symmetrical figures, each one with a favorite color, each one with its own story to tell.

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Lucas

Lucas’s brow knits as he gets down at eye level with his community of tiny yellow people.

“I don’t want this one,” he says, tossing the little head into Jacob’s Lego box. “He has mad face.” Lucas searches carefully through his own box, his little fingers fast and sure. “Here,” as he finally pulls another tiny round piece out. “This one has happy face!”

He works intensely, fitting each little figure with an air tank, a fire fighter’s helmet, a face shield. (He calls the face shields windows, and I can’t bring myself to call them anything else.) Five feet away I am chopping onions, salting meat, measuring spices. I can hear him whispering to the tiny people as he moves them across the kitchen table. “I have fire stin-guisher,” one says. “No, I have it!” He sighs. “I build more,” he grumbles.

After he is asleep, I move the people off the table, trying not to disturb their uniforms. They look up at me as I place them gently into his Lego box. Their miniature faces smile at me from behind their windows; in each tiny hand, there is a bright yellow fire extinguisher.

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Jake

“J, what are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m just working on a list.”

“No, I mean what are you doing laying on the counter?”

“I’m figuring out what I need to build a tin-can robot.”

I never throw anything away anymore without first checking to see if there are words on it somewhere, his scrawl uneven but sure, unwanted letters simply doodled over. In his room he has a wooden box, packed with these lists. “Jacob’s List” many of them say at the top, but some just start with what is critical: I find “Fisheeng pole, bugs werms” on the back of Kyle’s dry cleaning pick-up slip, and on a page in my own notebook I discover “Hamer, nales, wood, birds” under the heading “Jacob’s hous”.

“What do you need to build a tin-can robot?”

“Well. My list says, tin can. And robot.”

Tonight, I found the list on the counter. Under tin can and robot, he had added one last thing: “soler panl”.  I tucked it into his wooden box, for him to mull over and add to. I don’t know that I can get him a fishing pole or build him his very own house, but surely there is room in the world for a robot that runs on solar power and daydreams.

Pumpkin Waffles
Adapted from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen.
(Coincidentally, Deb made these waffles as part of her attempt at NaBloPoMo … back in 2007. Party+Late = Me. But what a fun party.) 

Alright, deal: you promise to try that soup from yesterday, and I promise to try and stop posting only recipes that use winter squash. But these waffles, these waffles are really good. Deb’s version, which I suggest you use if it is weekend brunch and company is coming, comes together in multiple bowls and uses stiffly whipped egg whites. This version comes together in two bowls, and does not require you to whip and fold the egg whites. I love Deb’s version, but this makes a very fine weekday substitute. These waffles go for a classic fall-and-pumpkin spice combo, but in a way that isn’t too big or overbearing. They smell wonderful cooking, and my very favorite way to eat them is actually out of the freezer, toasted to within an inch of their life, with salty butter. My kids prefer them warm and syrup-drenched, but this is true of a great many things they eat these days, like noodles and apples and oatmeal and roasted potatoes. (What do you mean, you don’t put syrup on your roasted potatoes? Lucas is shocked by you.) The browned butter is not critical (critical was with the soup) but it is nice – and come on, it takes like three extra minutes. So go for it. It makes this waffle something extra special, even while it’s just one more way with winter squash.

4 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin (or … winter squash puree)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned

(If your waffle iron requires it, you will also need vegetable oil or cooking spray for brushing.) 

Preheat the oven to 250°F (for keeping waffles crisp and warm) and preheat your waffle iron. While they are heating, brown the butter. (Because as Rivka astutely notes, once you start, it is hard to stop.)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the four eggs together with the pumpkin/squash and the milk until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, sugars, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices.

Whisk in the dry ingredients just until combined, then add the brown butter and mix until incorporated. NOTE: depending on your squash puree and its relative wateriness, you may want to thicken the batter slightly at this point. I added 1/4 cup additional all purpose flour to my batter the first time through, so that the waffles would crisp on both sides. (Otherwise it was too thin to make really good batches in our Belgian style waffle maker.)

Cook according to manufacturer’s instructions in your waffle iron, and transfer the cooked waffles to rack in oven to keep them warm and crisp.

4 thoughts on “Iterations

  1. Oh, I just love it when they plan and build stuff! My son, at age 11, is still a devoted Lego enthusiast. He likes the sets well enough when he first gets them, but what he really loves is tearing them all apart again to use the pieces to build his own creations, most which look like they they must have an accompanying set of step by step directions. I don’t know how he does it. My daughter still loves trains and builds the most intricate tracks, sometimes calling me in for last minute help when the ends won’t match up with the pieces she has left. I hope they all, yours and mine, keep pondering and puzzling and solving problems of their own creation forever. Save those lists in a box somewhere. You’ll love looking at them later.

    • “pondering and puzzling and solving problems” – yes. I can hardly stand to think about a “later” when those lists might not be part of my every day, but you are absolutely right Tara, I should be saving them for someday when I don’t tumble over them at every turn.

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