The Autumn Squash Challenge Round #1

Stripey Sweet Potato (Delicata) Squash

When I set the book down, closed its back cover (after desperately checking the index pages for more), and resigned myself to its finish, I had to pause a moment to bask in the glow of a good read. I felt girlish and giddy, pink-cheeked and wanting to squeal to my empty apartment, "How romantic!" in tones usually reserved for fluffy animals and babies. I was thrilled and inspired, ready to jump up and start cooking, or grab GF and swing her around in those iconic ways Disney heroes do their princesses. (Unfortunately for me, she was at school.) Shauna James Ahern had written - in a way, I felt, for me, even though I have no food allergies - an entertaining, mouth-watering, touch-your-heart-like-no-chick-flick-could novel entitled Gluten-Free Girl, after her blog. In poetic iterations of her five senses, the author made carrot sound exotic and mushrooms as rich and delightful as candy. I felt warm and comforted while she described her friends at dinner, and I salivated at the mention of tastes that made her moan. I craved meals that made me writhe in delight as so many of hers did. 

Every once in a while I'll decide my life's purpose is to cook. I'll head to the kitchen and start whipping out pasta and vegetables, dousing pans in oil and spices and licking my lips in anticipation for my masterpiece. Folks using everything from artisan stone pits to Easy Bake Ovens for their bread can (and do) laugh at my dismal baking skills, but the cooks of the world will soon realize they're outmatched. I'll be the Iron Chef! I'll throw anything in a pan and make it a meal! GF will start asking me to make supper!

Oh, dreams. How quickly they crumble. Especially the unrealistic ones. I understand the ideas behind cooking, sure: take food, make it yummy. But the process of getting Jimmy the broccoli stalk from point A to point B eludes every neuron of my brain (population 500*), and poor Jimmy ends up in a severe identity crisis somewhere at point A-and-three-quarters. ("Am I a floret or a stem? Sauteéd or fried? Green or black?") GF's palate is too refined for my culinary mistakes, but my meals are okay enough for me to eat. They're just not... good.

Enter the Seaport Farmer's Market. It's a brand new building a couple blocks from here with windmills on the roof and extra large windows to give visitors a panoramic view of our mutilating harbour water and island full of snakes. Stalls filled with artists selling crafts and farmers with food crowd the walls, wares elevated on wooden stands. Endless lines of tourists stand right in the way of where everyone's trying to walk. There're usually fiddlers. It's very Nova Scotian. On the Saturday after payday I'd made my way down, hauling a little red wheelie cart, to get myself some groceries. I'd made a list and had more success than usual; scored inexpensive free-range eggs, a giant head of kale (which I've only just finished, two weeks later), local coloured peppers, and my favourite rainbow carrots. Much to my delight, most of the stalls had some form of pumpkin or gourd lining their shelves, too.

Being as I've got a cold constitution, I can't say I'm not partial to summer weather. I can broil myself in the hot sun for hours, then cool down in five minutes and suffer nothing more than a tan. But there's something about autumn weather that everybody and their mother adores. Be it the Pumpkin Spice Lattés at their favourite coffee shop, the colours of the dying leaves, or the thick-knit sweaters, there's something about this season that calls everyone together for cuddles and complaints about cold mornings. I love everything about the fall season. The air is wet and smells of rotting leaves. The ground is prime real estate for people who love crunching things underfoot. Every bite of food you're offered tastes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

As may be obvious by now, I love food. I especially love heavy, warm, squishy food. If it tastes like a walk in the woods, a pot on a fire, and a dollop of maple syrup, I am there. Before I'd realized what I was doing this Saturday at the market, my little red cart was heavy with squash. I'd grabbed two armfuls of the strange globes, admiring their colours and textures and reading their cooking directions curiously. I forked over six or so dollars for four medium-sized gourds, and decided in that moment that I would become a Squash Iron Chef. Food in general may not be my forté, but I am determined learn how to make delicious, squishy, autumn meals if it kills me. There are so many bajillions of variations of fall veggies, and more of the squash family. There is no reason why I shouldn't be able to learn to make cheap, filling food out of at least one of these buggers. It helps that GF doesn't generally bother with pumpkins and their cousins, so she can't backseat cook.

I come home with a pumpkin and one each of a sweet potato, spaghetti, and butternut squash. Since I'd tried recipes before of the other three, the sweet potato squash was my go-to for trial #1. 

The instructions said just to bake the little stripey guy, so that's what I did. Forty minutes in a casserole dish at three-hundred and something degrees. The only problem was, after it was cooked, I had no idea what to do with it. Such is the conundrum of being a... well, I wouldn't say gourmet, but a food-collector. I cannot resist buying spices on sale or discount vegetables. I've got lots of tastes to work with, but no idea how to use them. So I mixed the squash with lentils and put curry maple pepper (from Sugar Moon Farm) on top. That sounds decent, right?

...ta daa? I'd give round one a 2/10. It was edible, for sure, and I guess not bad, but... not good, either. Clearly this is a squash I'll have to revisit a couple of times to really get a good recipe out of. As I understand, delicata squash come in many different sizes and are generally used as ornaments; this guy just fit in the palm of my hand, so I had no leftover meat to work with.

Host Mom and Dad roasting seeds.
Also, I'd tried roasting the seeds. During the Halloween of 2010 my Orillia host family made the most delicious fresh-roasted pumpkin seeds from the Jack o' Lanterns I and their two girls had carved. I really wish I'd paid attention when Host Dad was cooking them, because I can't for the life of me remember the heat setting or amount of time he'd had them in there. We'd nibbled on those throughout the night, and then after Trick or Treating ate tea, fruit, and hot homemade soup while the girls gagged at the ingredient lists of their chocolate bars and chip bags - a far cry from the way my sister and I used to finish our night of costuming.

My attempt at roasting the squash seeds went much the same way as the squash itself. Maybe it's because I had less that a quarter cup of seeds, or had the oven too high, but in any case, four minutes was too long, and although they looked and smelled nice, the seeds were just too far gone to be pleasant to eat. Very chewy and hard to swallow.

Lessons learned:

1) Find a recipe to follow besides what's printed on the squash itself.

2) Cook more seeds at a lower temperature.

Ding, ding!
- Leah

(P.S: I'm sorry this post is a couple days late. I was ill and working on school project over the weekend.)

*This is a joke. The human brain has an estimated 100 million neurons or more.

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