Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Giant Squash

In late September, Mark came home from Sunbow Farm one day with two funky gourds—one overgrown white pattypan and one deep gold pumpkin crook-neck cross—and a mottled greeny blue squash. Eight pounds, the small masking tape tag said. “Harry says that they’re real good—sweet—and they keep for months,” Mark announced. “He wants us to save him the seeds, though—said we should keep some for ourselves, too.” Harry McCormick, owner of Sunbow Farm and one of the founders of Oregon Tilth, taste in foodstuffs is not always reliable; he likes yacon, which goes squishy overnight on me. I took the mammoth squash and put it with the other, more couple-sized, fruits in the basement. Every time I walked downstairs to find Mark in his office, there it was. Eight pounds of squash—four pounds per person, minus a few seeds. Over the winter, it slowly turned pale gold. We ate the delicatas, the acorns, the buttercups…Two weeks ago, early February, Harry told Mark that they don’t keep forever.

I hauled the squash upstairs into the kitchen and wacked it open. The seeds were huge, thick white shells with significant ridges, clinging lightly to the strands inside. It was a very small seed cavity for the size of the squash. I cut it in half, turned on the oven to 350, and popped it in. An hour and a half later, it was done, caving in from the skins. I put it in the garage to cool overnight and peeled the skin off the next day. Eight pounds of cooked squash.

We ate in the first night with toasted walnuts and butter. It is a very nice squash, we agreed. We ate it the next night as risotto, with parmesan cheese and onions. A beautiful golden color we said, especially with sautéed bitter red mustards on the side. On Saturday, I made two loaves of “pumpkin” bread with whole wheat flour and some plump raisins thrown in for texture, using up another two cups of the meat—very tasty. When I made my bread dough, rather than adding potatoes, I added squash. White bread with cornmeal and squash for the week. Another cup gone. We’ll eat it in soup later this week, with cream and nutmeg—and one more night as a side, which SHOULD polish it off.

It was a very nice squash and it would have kept, probably, for another month in the basement. I saved the seeds for Harry and set a few aside for us…and Mark forgot to take them to the farm this week. Anyone want some squash seed?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Semester Break

I write about various cycles in my life—Hallowe’en and Candlemas, planting and reaping, seasons shifting—but there is one that dominates all others. The school year. And, I am pleased to say, we passed a huge milestone this week. The school year is half over. This means two new classes of students arrive in my room on Monday, while American Lit. sticks around for the year. It means that the kids that I’ve seen a little too much of this semester have moved onto other teachers, and we go back to greeting one another in the halls. It means, for about one week, there is very little grading, NO weird papers slipped into the basket under the extra credit three weeks late (hoping I won’t notice), no one with a test to make up because they were out with the Swine Flu, no one wondering if reading the poem will put their grade over into the desired category…nothing weird. The basket is empty. All of the grades are entered. The filing is done. I even washed Lamb Chop, the bathroom pass. It is a lovely moment—a brief shining pause in the daily paper shuffle that is, in so many ways, my life. It never lasts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


It’s Candlemas today—or Groundhog’s day, or Imbolc—the second of February, six weeks from the Winter Solstice, or, as Mark has started calling it, “pre-spring.” Traditionally, it is the day to take the year’s candles to the church to be blessed, to celebrate the slow return of the light, to turn towards spring and Life, and away from winter and the Dark. It balances out Hallowe’en, entering the underworld, and Lammastide, which celebrates the early harvest.
On Sunday, we took our Candlemas walk at the wildlife refuge—Woodpecker to Mill Hill loop and back, a figure eight of a trail, about five miles. Moss was FAT and green, dripping off the alder trees, coating the old oaks, catching the light to glow green with life. Underfoot, moss, lichens and branches litter the ground from winter storms. I nudge larger branches aside as I walk. Mark leaves them be. In the woods, the only thing that is blooming is the Indian Plum, just beginning to leaf out in anew spring green. It’s a pretty unobtrusive shrub most of the year, but, right now, it’s the only thing growing, so it jumps out at you. Robins, steller's jays, juncos, geese all forage at the refuge in winter—you can hear the geese no matter where you are. We ate lunch staring out into a field that has hummed with bees in mid-summer, silent now.

When we came home, we worked in the yard, cutting up old wood, cleaning out the beehive—the bees did not make it through the cold snap in December. I put Lola out in her pen and Lucy chased her around; the chickens were thrilled to dig through the compost and garden beds with company and followed me around, as the big chicken with tools (pitchfork). Snowdrops bloomed in the front yard—and even a few small, yellow crocus. Around five, as it grew dark, we moved inside.

Candlemas is the night we plant tomato, broccoli, cabbage, and flower seeds for the summer. I’ve planted at least 12 of every variety of tomato I want to grow, even though we do not begin to have room for all of the plants. It’s hard to just plant two seeds…and we have a huge tomato plant give-away in early April (Mark refers to it as the Great Tomato Drug deal, as I escort people into the back room to make a deal). Green Grape….Sungold… Black Prince…the names evoke summer sun for us, plants basking outside the south facing living room windows, digging through the vines for dinner. Slowly, we fill the little planters, place seeds, cover, and water. The air smells of damp soil.

After planting, we eat dinner by the fire—cherry pie from filling canned last July, potato and cabbage soup, salad, new bread. It is still clearly winter in our food, but the corner has been turned. The light is coming back.

Tonight, I’ll light the new beeswax candles on the table. Tomorrow, I’ll carry the tomato flats into school, where I have already set up the plant light balanced on some ancient textbooks and two bricks. Spring is coming, even in the middle of Winter.