Returning To The Subject of Pumpkins

My post last week confused things – written quickly early Tuesday morning, in the euphoria that immediately followed unscheduled but successful surgery – I didn’t make it clear that my good-natured husband was the patient!

During this recovery week (he’s really recalled to life now), we’ve watched the season shift. One day the north wind blew, the temperature dropped, and it hailed! The autumn signals sound – mice move indoors, colds and flu shots happen. Trees blaze gold and red against blue skies, alongside the flashy colors of late season flowers like cosmos, zinnia, and lantana. Suddenly the puffer jacket and watch cap dress code applies, and what the Seattle paper calls “The Big Dark” – rain and wind and glowering skies – settles in.

The seeds Sweet Baby and her dad planted in our little patch on Mother’s Day produced 25 pumpkins and a dozen delicata squash. I harvested the pumpkins, pulled their shriveled leaves and stems, and uncovered a cascade of orange and yellow nasturtium blossoms from the seeds they also planted.

Already I’ve given away a lot of pumpkins, stored some in the garage, and made several pies, including one to pack up for Lady B and her brother – carried back to Alaska by their dad who came down to help and cheer the hospital stay and the patient’s return home.

Winter begins – with hopes for health – and pies aplenty!

 

George and Martha and Split Pea Soup

Not the presidential couple, George and Martha, but James Marshall’s expressive hippos from his 1970s book about friendship, “Five Stories About Two Great Friends.” The stories are about privacy, disappointment, vanity, and “what friends are for.” George says, friends “always look on the bright side, and they always know how to cheer you up.” Martha responds with a smile, “But they also tell you the truth.”

“Story Number One: Split Pea Soup,” has always been my favorite. It’s about how to tell a really good friend (or relative) that you don’t like something they cook and continually offer to you.

Martha loves to make split pea soup; George can’t stand it. One day, grown desperate but not wanting to hurt Martha’s feelings, George pours a bowlful of soup into his loafers under the table. From the kitchen Martha spies his maneuver, and says, “Why didn’t you tell me that you hate my split pea soup?” Turns out she doesn’t really like it either, just likes to make it. Now that she knows the truth, she’ll make chocolate chip cookies instead.

Such a situation has always been a “George and Martha” moment at our house. And when our younger son recently admitted he didn’t really like pie, as he was eating a piece of pumpkin pie I had made, I thought of George and Martha – and also of split pea soup, which I love. (I don’t know about our son, I think he’d like chocolate chip cookies to replace all the above.)

In this wintry weather Deborah Madison’s split pea soup is easy and so welcome. Deborah covers one and a half cups of split peas with water and sets aside. She sautés a large diced onion and two diced carrots in two tablespoons of olive oil, until the onion gets some color. Then she adds two cloves of chopped garlic and a quarter cup of chopped parsley, along with herbs (a teaspoon of dried marjoram, a teaspoon of chopped fresh or dried rosemary, a teaspoon of paprika) and fresh pepper.

Next she adds the aromatics: two bay leaves, eight parsley branches, six thyme sprigs together with a teaspoon and a half of salt, the drained peas, and two quarts of stock or water (water works just fine). Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for a long time, until the peas are a comforting, mushy, flavorful, warming bowlful. Remove the aromatics, and add more water if needed.

I’ve made this soup a lot lately, not “pots and pots” “all day long” like Martha, but I sent the book to Sweet Baby so she’ll know about a George and Martha moment. Lady Baby already knows.

Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl

During my recent visit at Downtown Abbey, Mrs. Hughes proposed for dinner this recipe from Deb Perelman’s blog, “The Smitten Kitchen,” – it’s delicious! The complete recipe is here, but you could make a fine variation using Perelman’s ingredients list in the bowl below.

I followed Perelman’s suggestions for preparing the vegetables – first coating the baking tray with “a thin slick of olive oil” and roasting one-inch chunks of sweet potatoes for 20 minutes. Then I flipped the sweet potatoes and piled on the broccoli florets to cook.

The dressing makes this dish, and Mrs. Hughes whipped it together (while I played a “helicopter rescue and take patient to the hospital” game). She layered our bowls with a mix of wild and brown rice, lots of the vegetables, and topped with the sauce.

Something comforts about warm food in a bowl – each bite different. Maybe not so comforting as a helicopter airlift – but good!

Sweet Potato and Broc

 

 

The Pie

Lady Baby asked her mother some time ago if we could have a “baked apple pie” after Thanksgiving dinner. We aren’t sure where that request came from – but it has the ring of literature.

Before she came I bought a frozen piecrust with two shells in case a baking opportunity arose. And when it did, Googling vegan apple pie led to a one-crust recipe. We changed the recipe a little and discovered a happy way to make a pie with a three and a half-year old – like playing mud pies – only tastier!

Slice the apples (the recipe says four cups, I cut enough to be a big pile so our pie would be overfull). Combine a third cup of coconut oil with a third cup of brown sugar – mush them together with a tablespoon of cinnamon and teaspoon of grated nutmeg (that seems a lot of cinnamon, but it contributed to the pie’s success I think).

Lady Baby helped transfer the frozen, but softened and slightly shattered piecrust to a real pie pan. She dumped handfuls of apples in rough layers, and then concentrated on patting and crumbling the sweet brown mixture around the apples.

We flipped the second piecrust onto the top of our heaped apples – never minding the fissures (though Lady Baby tried diligently to pinch the crust fractures together).

Then the best part – we smeared the rest of the coconut and sugar and spice mixture onto the top crust. We made up this adaptation on the spot and loved the process. We cut some slots in the top. (Probably unnecessary, but book illustrations always show those steaming portals – they do eat much pie and cake in storybooks.) The pie baked for about an hour in a 350° oven.

I love to bake – and maybe Lady Baby will also – such magic to see the transformation from cold and questionable to hot and fragrant.

We are ready for a repeat this Thanksgiving!

apple pie postcard 1

 

 

Moments of Joy

On the day we made an apple pie during Lady Baby’s visit over Labor Day, I saw pure happiness. Not stated, not “Oh I loved making this pie,” (as we might say) but a glow of pride and triumph.

Her parents came home just as we took the pie bubbling with brown sugar, apples, and cinnamon out of the oven, and sitting in the garden in the sunshine we all ate pie. Both parents and her Poppa Jim said, “I’m pretty sure this is best apple pie I’ve ever eaten!” Still, Lady Baby didn’t say much. She ate her own slice with relish, then headed to the Buffalo for a nap.

With the whole family here, we had a busy few days. Lady Baby delighted in Sweet Baby, played games with Uncle Tutu, and spent much time with both her parents (including a backpacking adventure that ended in an overnight deluge of all the rain we missed for months).

But earlier on the day of the apple pie, we walked up the driveway in our aimless, purposeless way doing what we do best, just being together without any particular agenda. Lady Baby wheeled her little red wheelbarrow and picked up fir cones and rocks (“keepers” she said).

While I sliced apples (picked by Lady Baby and her dad from our columnar tree), she played the ever-popular “farm” game with her Poppa Jim. Our younger son had assembled a dollhouse (inherited from my young friend complete with people and furniture), and I could hear some discussion about whether animals belonged in the barn or the house.

But not until later did I realize the importance of the pie. After her nap, she still seemed so pleased. She insisted on sitting next to Granna Katy, and I received unsolicited hugs (the best kind to get from a grandchild, though it’s hard not to request them). I loved these moments of gladness – for her, for me.

Not minding the sudden wind and rainstorm that welcomed them and changed our summer weather abruptly to autumn, the L.A. contingent stayed a record 10 days. They walked often with Sweet Baby in the front carrier – she’d stare up at trees and sky till her eyes closed and she slept against her dad.

Completely wordless in expression, Sweet Baby provided moments of pure joy. When Lady Baby would focus on her (which she did a lot), getting down to Sweet Baby’s level face-to-face close with toys to encourage her movements on the rug, Sweet Baby would beam. We all think that Sweet Baby smiles specially at us – but we get nothing like the long-lasting, eye-crinkling grins Sweet Baby gave her cousin. A blissful look, her dad said.

On departure day, Lady Baby came over in the morning from the Buffalo, crossing the garden by herself to open the door and declare: “I love you Granna Katy!” I said “oh and I love you!” tears popping. She asked if I would miss her when she left, I said “more than you know!” She replied calmly with that agreeable head nod she gives when wanting you to go along with what she’s saying: “But you have Frances, right?”

And that’s true.

Opal apples 1

Dinner with the Sweet Baby

At Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson suggested he make Jamie Oliver’s “Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes, and I said, “Oh I love sloppy Joes.” I admit the ground beef version is not my usual fare, but deep-seated fond memories stir. Our younger son replied the same way when I proposed them at his house. They are deliciously sloppy and nurturing.

By my second visit (after a week away) Sweet Baby had gained 10 ounces and grown an inch! She begins to fill out – with a hint of the double chin and chub to come.

Most days, after my treasured early mornings with her, I’d walk in the California hot sun up the nearby hill in Eagle Rock – a well-worn knob above Occidental College. From the top it provides a 360° view of Los Angeles: downtown, the Hollywood hills and Griffith Observatory, the San Gabriel Mountains behind Pasadena, freeways – and Sweet Baby’s house a speck in the distance.

She is so tiny to live in such a huge city! But her small world comforts and protects her. She spends time on her parents in a Solly Baby wrap – pale pink with polka dots. She peeks up at their faces, and you can see the outline of her little form within the wrap. During “tummy time,” she turns her head from side to side, staring at the black and white and red books favored by the very young.

In a very happy event, the Sweet Bride’s mom and a cousin are coming for a month from Thailand to meet the Sweet Baby. Perhaps they will try this all-American fare:

Sauté a small, diced onion, diced red or yellow pepper, and two sticks of celery (also diced) in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of ground cumin and one of chili powder.

Add a cup of French lentils, three cups of water, a 28-ounce can of tomatoes (sauce or crushed), three tablespoons of tomato paste, and one of Sriracha sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils are soft (a while – at least half an hour). When tender, add a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.

Serve the lentils in sloppy Joe fashion, over or in a buttered and toasted whole-wheat bun. Add toppings – big scoops of avocado for sure. (Oliver suggests homemade zucchini relish, but that’s for another time.)

What used to be happy hour in Eagle Rock with chips and beer on the veranda now coincides with the ill-famed “witching hour,” when babies need most to move and be comforted by contact. I loved watching the Sweet Baby in the front wrap on her dad, as he paced his garden and shushed her gently.

Sloppy Joes can wait, ready when you are.

pepper