Thursday, September 29, 2011

Squash Stew with Cornbread Dumplings

At the dentist's office yesterday, I was looking at some Better Homes and Garden 30-minute recipes. The one that really got me was for butternut squash. The recipes promised to go from fridge to table in 30 minutes or less. The first instruction was: peel, seed and cube the butternut squash. Uh, 30 minutes are up!

It might not take that long, but at least 20 for a good-sized squash. I'll admit my squash came in at about 4 lbs each, but they're no more difficult to peel and dice than any other. Luckily, I thought ahead on this recipe, knowing I wanted to make it mid-week, and cut the squash up while watching the Minnesota Vikings collapse in the second half for a third straight week on Sunday. So I had a big bowl of cubed squash ready to go.

The recipe is from the book Sacred Food for Soulful Living compiled by the Reverend Ward Bauman. He's my new boss, the director of the Episcopal House of Prayer. If you order the book on the website, I'm the one who will process your order and send it to you!

Ward learned to cook from his mother in California, but he honed his skills and developed his culinary art while living in Iran for 4 1/2 years. He then got a job as the cook at a retreat center in California, where he got very good at cooking for large groups. Now he cooks for many of the retreats at our facility, tasty, vegetarian dishes that are complex and use a lot of cumin and cinnamon.

I have been looking for butternut squash recipes, and decided to try this one because it used so many ingredients I still have from the garden, including the last of the zucchini and poblano peppers. The only thing I didn't have was the basil, so I left it out. I love how the dumplings turned out, baking on top as the zucchini stews. I set the timer for 20 minutes and they were baked perfectly. I do think I should have let it cool a bit more before serving to avoid burning my tongue!

This could use a bit more heat, red pepper maybe, or just more of the spices it calls for. I did put extra cumin in it. It blends wonderfully with the cinnamon. The corn is great in the dumplings, and I might even add some to the stew as well next time. This one is good enough for company, but takes about an hour even with the squash already diced. Also, I didn't realize until just now it should have baked the last 20 minutes. I just left it on the stove with the lid on. However, it did burn a bit on the bottom, not really sticking or giving a bad taste. That wouldn't have happened if I'd baked it like I was supposed to! Also, we ate it with sour cream, which was excellent.

Squash Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

2 Tbs vegetable oil
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 large poblano peppers, seeded and diced
2 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, chopped (I used one quart jar of canned tomatoes)
3 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbs ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 lbs zucchini and summer squash, thickly sliced
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
3 Tbs butter, melted
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)

Saute the onion and garlic in oil until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the chiles, tomatoes, butternut squash, cumin, cinnamon, oregano and stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until squash is tender, about 30 minutes. (Cut up the summer squash and make the dumplings while waiting.) Add the zucchini and summer squash, basil and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer again.

Spoon the dumplings over the hot vegetables in 8 mounds. Cover tightly, tenting if using foil, avoid touching the dumplings, and bake at 400 degrees until dumplings are firm and dry, about 20 minutes. Do not over-bake or the dumplings will be dry.

Dumplings: Mix together the dry ingredients. Mix together the egg, milk and butter. Mix the two mixtures together well. Stir in the corn kernels. Let stand until the batter is thick enough to hold its shape, about 5 minutes. Drop onto stew as directed.

Serves 12 (I'd make this for 6-8 as a good one-dish meal. As you can see above, we polished off about 1/3 of it easily.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


We're in the midst of some amazing migratory activity here. Yesterday, I swear, a giant flock of seagulls was circling over the prairie for hours, completely silent, swooping up insects but never landing.

Saturday I was reading on the porch to an utter cacophany of chatter from a large flock of starlings that had taken up temporary residence in our cottonwood trees. I think they first staked out the fir trees at the edge of the property, where they sounded like some giant, creaking machinery. Then they moved in closer, filling the cottonwoods and really making a racket.

I finally roused myself and went to take a look. It was camera-worthy, so I went for the flip. I have a feeling starlings are what caused all the trouble for Alfred Hitchcock, as they really do travel in enormous groups. There are reports of them blackening the sky as they lift from a field. My starlings were not that numerous, but the sound and their black bodies filling the trees was ominous.

I took this video, which almost captures the sound. Turn your speakers all the way up and watch/listen for the spot, about 30 seconds in, when they fall into a sudden hush and swoop from a cottonwood at back to the ones along the driveway. The sudden silence and rush of wings took my breath away.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Watermelon and Paul's Letters

I've spent the last ten days, and really the ten before it, being mostly overwhelmed. Starting a new job, making food, finishing up a large volunteer project -- but most of my energy has gone into working through the New Testament letters as part of the Art of The Saint John's Bible, volume 3 project. Coming face to face with passages in Paul's letters has thrown me for a real loop, and I can't even really explain it now, though every day I understand it a bit more.

My evangelical history with these passages, my graduate work on Paul where I was encouraged to radically re-envision Paul's role and words, and my ongoing attempts to really embrace and incorporate Catholic theology, all collided and have left me feeling somewhat disoriented. I've always found Paul daunting but a bit thrilling, too. However, I've felt free to think and reflect on Paul myself, with no real consequences. Writing for a general audience about the letters is something else again. My daily task is to go page by page, letter by letter, and write something that gives context to the highlighted passages. But I also need to consider the whole of what has been emphasized in the text treatments and, in some ways, try to figure out the intention, not so much of Paul as of the Committee on Illumination and Text that put together the plan for The Saint John's Bible.

I'm almost there, and after more erasing and restarting than in any other part of this project, I will have a draft of Letters today and can move on to, gulp, Revelation! In many ways, however, Revelation is easier. There are several full-page illuminations with lots to discuss, and the overall message is fairly simple and clear!

I have been wanting to share one more garden delight. When harvesting before the early frost, I came across this one, perfect, beautiful watermelon! I planted just as many watermelon plants as pumpkins, but after early vining, I couldn't find them in the mass of squash plants. So I was thrilled to pull this guy out of the field.

Last week when Steve and I were both home for lunch, I cut it open. Watermelon! Pink-fleshed and incredibly juicy, it was slightly sweet but not too sweet, and had seeds just like in the old days before genetic modification bred them out. The knife slicing through flesh and rind is always so satisfying in watermelon.

It made me very happy to eat the little guy.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Early Frost

squash patch as far as the eye can see

It is tempting soemtimes in the garden to pretend that I'm on the PBS reality show Frontier House. On the show, two families and a young couple build their log cabins and spend the rest of the time chopping wood and storing up food in the hopes of living through the winter.

Oh, and fighting amongst themselves (it is a reality show) operating their still, selling baked goods to people in the 20th century, etc. It's really great. In the end, it is determined that only the young couple would have had enough food and wood to last the winter. (The kids are not much help and require food and warmth.)

Steve and I would not make it through the first snowstorm, of course (and not just because we don't have a fireplace). Still, when one is out picking cartloads of heavy squash, it is fun to imagine that one is actually providing all the food necessary. This winter, I do believe, we could live on pumpkin alone. It wouldn't be tasty or fun and might cause other digestive issues, but we might live to see the first greens of spring.

Yesterday I lugged these six mammoth pumpkins from the squash patch. I could not even pull the cart until I'd unloaded the butternut and spaghetti squash into a wheelbarrow and taken them down separately. What is more extraordinary is that, from three plants, there are another 13(!) large, green pumpkins out there still. Unfortunately, tonight they're predicting a frost/freeze, and though I am up for covering up the basil in the beds, I don't have enough blankets or even tarps to cover up the rangy pumpkins and other squash. Which is good. Because even if I give away three of these, I'll have more pumpkin than I can manage (though my friend Deb has a great recipe for pumpkin cookies). In fact, I'm a little sad that they're SO huge, because I was hoping to make the soup from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she cooks the pumpkin in the oven and scrapes down the sides and adds cream to make soup. But none of these suckers will fit in my oven.

I'm planning on putting the new machete we bought at Wal-Mart to good use cutting them open, however!

Because of the frost, I'll be out picking as many cherry tomatoes as I can, and trying to identify a few more ripe squash. The frost is three weeks early, but I will only lose the tomato plants, zucchini and struggling beans. (I will be sad if I lose the large ancho pepper plants.) I'm ready to bid the summer plants farewell, as they have all been good to us this season.

Enjoy this day of fall-- not the last, as after the freeze it should go back to normal for some time. I'm ready to turn to the root vegetables and fall greens.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

tomato sauce

Last night it was comforter weather, with the temperature dropping down to the low 40s. I'm hoping a frost won't come for a few more weeks, but I'm ready if it comes early. Today was one of those gorgeous days in the 70s with fluffy white clouds sailing through the sky.

I was quite anxious last week about my ongoing writing project for The Saint John's Bible. I received the files of the images a few weeks ago and was pulled from volume two, Historical Books, into the final volume, Letters and Revelation. All I had to see was a list of the illumination names: "The Woman and the Dragon" and "The Cosmic Battle," to realize that this would be a challenge. The Book of Revelation.  Hmmm.

Additionally, there are a lot of text treatments in the "Letters" portion of the volume. What I saw on the pages were phrases like "the wages of sin are death," and "Therefore since we are justified by faith." Oh, wow. I was definitely getting out of the territory of King David and Ruth and Solomon and wouldn't have stories to tell so much as, well, theology! Much of which is at the heart of the Reformation!

It stressed me out a bit. Especially since I was feeling so distracted by all this produce. But after spending a few hours Saturday with the texts and Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, writing an introduction to the Letters portion and getting my pages of files in order, I feel much better. In fact, as I should have known it would, it falls into place quite nicely. And the illuminations in "Letters," namely "Fulfillment of Creation," "At the Last Trumpet"  and the "Harrowing of Hell," well, I can see how these lead up to Revelation. So bring on the eschaton, I'm ready!!

It also freed me up to really focus on cleaning up the garden and working with produce if that's what I wanted to do. Today I dried peppers and with the last big bucket of tomatoes, I made "the gravy," putting them through my food mill and then boiling down the sauce and canning four pints. The kitchen smells fantastic! I've put aside some fresh and some canned produce to take with me to Chicago (squeezing in a visit before the new job starts on the 12th). Also made a great pizza last night with all sorts of veggies piled onto it. Saturday I made a giant Greek pasta salad, and there were enough ingredients to make a simpler version again yesterday. It does feel like the frenzy has past and now, like those clouds, I can float along a little while and settle into life.

zucchini, swiss chard, tomato, onion, feta, garlic, peppers

And for a few weeks, I'll be thinking mostly about the apostles Paul and John and the fulfillment of the vision of God's kingdom. I'll let you know how it goes! 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Zucchini Rice Mexican Style

I get weary of eating zucchini just about the time it starts getting desperate to leave offspring and putting out tons of fruit. But last week I figured out something great to do with it that is easy, delicious and also makes use of the season's peppers and tomatoes. I made it the first time because I had an avocado and leftover green rice, but I've since made it with regular rice.

Zucchini and Rice, Mexican Style

1-2 zucchini grated
1-2 cups cooked rice (Green rice is best, but any rice will do.)
sunflower oil
1 Tbs cilantro or cilantro chutney
1 small hot pepper, seeded and diced (jalapeno or serrano)
1 sliced avocado
2 tomatoes cut into chunks
sour cream

In a skillet, sautee the zucchini in sunflower oil or other vegetable oil (you could also add onion and garlic, of course) until soft and some liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add rice and diced pepper and heat through. Stir in cilantro chutney. Serve in a bowl topped with avocado, tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can Do!

I've been off the blog for a week, but I haven't been slacking! In that time I finished up my job at the monastery and have had two days of training and some other work for the book on The Saint John's Bible. But most of all, I've been trying to preserve as much of the harvest as possible!

A friend said she remembered rushes on canning jars in Decatur, Illinois, when she was younger. I thought in this age of big box shopping that wouldn't be possible-- Fleet Farm has jars stacked a mile high and a mile wide. But last night I went to exchange the jelly jars my husband brought home for pint jars I actually needed, and lo and behold, the only ones left had wide-mouth lids. I then passed a woman in the store guarding her cart. It was not a shopping cart but a hand cart they use in Home Depot for heavy supplies. She had it loaded up with more than 12 dozen pint jars. She's cleaned them out and then some!I thought of begging her to trade me one dozen for the wide-mouth jars, but recovered my dignity and moved on. I had already gone out in my rush to get there before the store closed in my Bret Favre Vikings t-shirt I wear when gardening and was feeling vulnerable.

The photo above was taken on Tuesday of the canning I did over the weekend. It includes tomatoes, red salsa, yellow salsa, tomatillo sauce (an experiment), frozen corn (thanks Deb for the sealing system), peach preserves and sweet relish. I'm especially excited about the sweet relish, although it was the most labor intensive.  Since this shot was taken, I've done more salsa, trying to keep up with the cherry tomatoes. I have a whole counter of tomatoes that (Inshallah) will get canned tomorrow, and way too many cucumbers that will hopefully make for a simpler relish and maybe some hamburger/sliced dills (they're too big for straight up dills). For relish, I'm thinking of making sweet pickles and then when it's time just pulsing them in the food processor to make relish. We do eat much more relish (in egg salad, tuna salad, etc) than pickles.
Only got about 4 purple cherokee tomatoes, but look at 'em!

Colorado peaches being prepared for peach preserves

peach preserves in the steam canner-- LOVE the steam canner