I’m starting to wonder if I should take vitamin D supplements. The past few days have been unusually sunny for Central New York, and I just can’t get enough. Unfortunately most of my day yesterday was spent indoors in front of glowing screens. At least someone was smart enough to invent windows.
Today was much better: A perfect latte, writing about food for my assignment at the paper, riding a sunny bus and listening to my latest podcasts from RadioLab and the Splendid Table. I just started riding buses again, and let me tell you, podcasts are my new best friend.
After a few hours at the paper, I put 6.6 fresh miles on my new Saucony’s. They’re a size bigger than my last two pairs, and wider too — all in hopes that I can keep my second toenail.
February is such a tease. Snow. Rain. Temperatures tempting my skirts out of hiding, then slamming me with another get-me-a-hot-chocolate-and-a-bath-now kind of evening. But it’s a short month, really. It must be hard to establish an identity for yourself with only 28 days (and sometimes 29). Even if you’re just a month, and don’t really have much of an identity to begin with.
After running there was coffee and baked things that I will soon post about. There was breathing and stretching and the shelving of worries. Days are getting ever-so-slightly longer, inching toward 6 p.m. It was one of those serene evenings where busyness seems like just another mental state and a downward dog can cure anything.
I returned to an apartment warm with the fragrance of nutmeg. The day couldn’t have gotten much better as it was, and there on my stove was a steaming skillet of fusili mortared together with pureed roasted squash. There were brussels sprouts our favorite way: dry-roasted in a sweet veneer of balsamic. There was a small glass of crimson wine winking back at the rich colors of the steaming food on my plate.
In that moment I was fine with the light having faded from the day. Because the good things of night—companionship, catching up, staying put—have their place too. And so does peanut-butter chocolate ice cream at 10 p.m. That’s when the running really comes in handy.
Butternut Squash Pasta
adapted slightly from Mark Bittman’s recipe
Bittman says: Some butternut squashes are sweeter than others, and there’s no way to predict this by appearance. Since this sauce relies on sweetness for its character, if the squash seems a little bland, add about a teaspoon of sugar. It will brighten the flavor considerably.
1 pound peeled and seeded butternut squash (start with a whole squash weighing about 1 1/2 pounds
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound cut pasta, like ziti (me: or fusilli)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan (me: or other hard cheese like asiago)
fresh sage, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise, lightly oil, and place cut side up on a baking sheet. Bake until soft and starting to brown. Cool, remove skin, and cut into chunks. (I find this the easiest way to deal with this very hard member of the vegetable family.)
2. Place cubes in food processor. Pulse machine on and off until squash is mashed. Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
3. Place a large skillet over medium heat, and add the butter or oil. A minute later, add the squash, salt, pepper and about¼ cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add water, about ¼ cup at a time as the mixture dries out, being careful not to make it soupy. Begin cooking the pasta. While it cooks, season the squash with the nutmeg, sugar if necessary, and additional salt and pepper if needed.
4. When the pasta is tender, scoop out about ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain. Toss the pasta in the skillet with the squash, adding the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Taste, and adjust the salt, pepper or nutmeg as you like; then, toss with the cheese and serve, topped with chopped sage or parsley.
Fire-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Trim stems of brussel sprouts, peal any outside leaves that are wilting and cut large sprouts in half.
Wash, dry, and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic and let sit for a few minutes. Spread on baking sheet and cook in pre-heated oven for 15-25 minutes, or until edges have started to caramelize into a crispy and nutty little morsel.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with lemon juice and parmesan cheese, and serve.