On choosing a pumpkin if you are six.

If you are six, the pumpkin you choose for your jack-o-lantern is extremely important. You must not choose the wrong pumpkin, but you are lucky, because there is a perfect pumpkin out there for you, and if you are patient you will find it.

You are not of the unfortunate age yet where you have to buy your own pumpkin, so rest assured that when you find your perfect pumpkin, it will be yours. Also, at six you may depend on your charm if your arms are too small to carry your perfect pumpkin and you need help. At 26, your toothless grin will be significantly less adorable. This is perhaps the only wisdom I can offer confidently to anyone.

There will be some very good pumpkins. There will be more bad ones, and some that look good from far away on one side but when you get close they will turn out to be rotten and squished. You will think a particular pumpkin is perfect, but it won’t be quite right when you think about it, once you start imagining the face you’ll carve into its flatter side.

Someone might suggest something boring and practical to you, like picking a pumpkin you can carry yourself. She might even suggest that a green pumpkin is good enough, and maybe even sort of nice if you think about it. But you know better. That green pumpkin isn’t nice. It’s green. And who wants to settle for the convenient pumpkin, if you could even call it that, because is there anything convenient about an unsuitable pumpkin? That is not what jack-o-lanterns are about.

So you will wander off, on your own, with the hope that your perfect pumpkin is in another place.

And then you’ll think that you’ve found it.

You will be surprised to discover that pumpkin rolling isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, and that just out of your line of sight there is a ditch and once you get there, you will be dismayed to discover that you cannot cross with your pumpkin. It wasn’t the right pumpkin, though. You just thought it was, but don’t worry.

There are a lot of other pumpkins. Better pumpkins, even.

The most important thing, though, is that you are six.

When you are six, someone will look after you, and when you find your perfect pumpkin, your enthusiasm will be infectious. You will talk about the jack-o-lantern you will carve, and you and everyone else will know that you made the exact right decision. Because ultimately, you did. That is the thing about six-year-olds and pumpkins.

There are some things they just know.

Pumpkin and red lentil dahl.

This morning blew in with ferocity, and I discovered too late that today was not a day for stockings.

And as I walked to the bus, everything from the knees down caught the spray on the wind and was freezing. But I was smug, because I knew this was coming and planned accordingly. Maybe not my outfits, but I planned our meal and it was perfect. Take that, nature – I had plans to warm my bones before you even thought to try and chill them.

So, here we are again! Another Meatless Monday, another blog carnival, and another delicious meat-free dish. For bonus points, it’s also vegan!

Pumpkin and red lentil dahl

(Serves four to six, generously)

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. (heaping) minced fresh ginger
  • 2 jalapeño or other hot peppers, minced
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 lbs. pumpkin (or other winter squash), peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • Water
  • 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger, and peppers, and sauté until onions are translucent. Stir in cumin, chili powder, mustard powder, turmeric, coriander, and cinnamon.

Add pumpkin and lentils, and stir to coat in spices. Pour in coconut milk, then enough water to just cover pumpkin and lentils (three to four cups). Add salt. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until lentils have swelled and broken, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed.

Let rest, uncovered, five minutes before serving.

Serve with rice, garnished with sliced lime, cilantro, dried chilies, and yogurt. Sop up the warm, slightly sweet and spicy stew with warm, naan bread, either store-bought or homemade, and if you’re going to make homemade, this recipe is pretty excellent.

Feel smug. And enjoy, preferably with a cup of tea or a glass of chilled off-dry white wine. Fail to miss summer, perhaps for the first time this season.

Broccoli with tofu and peanuts.

To be honest, I only started eating broccoli recently. There are only a few things I have decided there’s no getting over, and I really thought broccoli would be one of them. But when you compare it to actually gross things like green peppers (why not just choose red?), raw bananas (potassium mush phallus), or even – ick! – raisins (most of which are probably dead flies, and there’s no arguing with me on this one), it’s not so bad. It’s actually kind of okay. And you don’t even have to drown it in cheese sauce, though if you did it certainly wouldn’t ruin anything.

So how did broccoli, with its tendency to taste like damp socks that’ve been festering inside rubber boots all day, manage to make the cut?

Well. Let me tell you: It doesn’t have to taste like damp socks festering in rubber galoshes. The secret is to not cook it to death. It must not lose its texture or brilliant green colour; it must not turn to putrid swamp mush. Kept tender-crisp and bright, it’s actually (and I never thought I’d say this) DELICIOUS. And with peanuts? Well, well. It’s (and I never thought I’d say this) DINNER.

And so we have another Meatless Monday recipe. Check out the blog carnival over at Midnight Maniac for other meatless recipes!

Broccoli with tofu and peanuts

(Serves four.)

  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1 1/2 lbs. broccoli
  • 2 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 350 g/12 oz. package firm tofu, cubed
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha (or your favourite hot sauce, to taste)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar (if you’re using conventional peanut butter, you may not need this; taste before adding the second tablespoon)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • Fresh ground pepper

First, toast your peanuts in a pan over medium heat. Watch them. Diligently. When they start to smell like roasted peanuts, turn golden, and sweat, remove them from heat and set them aside. Divide into two piles, and chop one pile.

Blanch chopped broccoli by plunging it into boiling water, boiling for two minutes, and removing immediately to ice water, where it should sit for a minute. Save 1/2 cup of the blanching water. Set aside.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until just golden.

Meanwhile, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, one tablespoon of sugar, and lime juice. Taste. If it needs more sugar, add more. Add pepper. Taste again. If it needs to be spicier, add more sriracha.

Add red peppers to the pan, and tofu. Stir one third of the peanut sauce into the pan, and add a quarter cup of the blanching water to thin. Cook until peppers have softened, about two minutes. Add broccoli, and then remaining peanut sauce. Stir to coat, then toss in whole peanuts.

Serve over rice, sprinkled with remaining peanuts. Taste. See? It’s good. Broccoli is good. Amazing.

 

Persimmon oatmeal cookies.

I have had a headache for three days. THREE DAYS. I think it’s the combination of too much to eat this past weekend and too little sleep, and whenever I can’t sleep my arthritis gets uppity and my mind races and all of a sudden I’m imagining worst-case scenarios like the student loan people beating down the door and shooting my cat because they want Nick and I to pay a combined total of $998 per month in loan payments so we’re always coming up short because that is too many dollars and they would shoot the cat, I just know. So, to counter that, I have been taking melatonin by the handful to get sleep, and Nick says that you really can take too much of that.

So, sleeplessness, oversleep, chemicals, joint pain, and never enough caffeine, and my head hurts. Also, logic has gone right out the window. With it, focus and discipline. Also, I’m a complainosaurus.

But because of all this, and because I had nothing to do tonight, I made cookies, and now I am happy and the universe promises to right itself. Tonight I will get a good sleep. Or I will smother the cat in a valiant attempt at saving her from my bad dreams. Either way, the apartment will smell like cookies!
These are made with persimmons, because we get a lot of those around here when they’re in season. Peel them first with a paring knife, and mince them fine. Their mindblowing sweetness is tempered here, balanced with salt and spice, and they make the cookies chewy and delicious. They’re crisp outside, and soft in the centre – all good stuff here.

Persimmon oatmeal cookies

(Adapted from Fannie Farmer. Makes about three dozen.)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. fancy molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup finely chopped persimmon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups uncooked oatmeal (not the instant kind)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream together butter, sugar, and molasses. Add egg, and beat until thoroughly combined. Add persimmon.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Pour gradually into wet ingredients, beating all the while. Add oatmeal slowly, and beat until well mixed.

Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden. Cool on racks. Eat almost immediately.

The autumnal spiciness of these will make any kitchen smell just wonderful, curing headaches and cookie cravings. I’m taking a plate of these to bed, where I’ve got a cold glass of milk waiting with a book by MFK Fisher, and by tomorrow I expect I’ll be a superhero. You too?

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Thanksgiving here in Canada, and we’re all over the place, feasting as if we’ve never feasted before, and wearing pants with elastic waistbands.

I met friends for dim sum in the morning, and then headed home to goad Nick into getting up and dressed and signing a card.

For some reason, the cat bathes Nick rather frequently. She either thinks he’s her kitten, or is absolutely disgusted by him and feels compelled to clean him every chance she gets.

At my parents’, we were greeted with the smell of turkey and a table full of Lego, which would ultimately become somethingorother with Darth Vader or something. Apparently it’s a boy thing.

Dad’s getting pretty good about not stabbing me when I reach in to tear pieces of meat while he’s carving the thing. He sets the crackly skin at the edge so I can reach it without putting my hand at the pointy end of the knife.

I think he’s mimicking behaviour he sees from his aunt and uncle. That’s a soft cider, by the way.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope yours is full of cats and turkeys and Lego, and that you get to bed at a reasonable hour, before indigestion sets in. If you’re in America and aren’t going to be having one of these for another six weeks, then Happy Thanksgiving in advance!

Celeriac and apple soup.

My awkward phase lasted longer than almost anyone’s. In many ways I’m still in it, but for a good long while there, I was truly, pathetically fourteen. I was in the twelfth grade before my skin cleared and the gap in my front teeth finally closed up and I stopped being so sweaty. I compensated by embracing my weirdness, by painting butterflies on my face and covering myself in glitter, by learning to be funny, and by winning all the nerd contests. Speech meets and writing contests are what you do when you aren’t good at sports and sweat more than is socially acceptable anyway.

I believe that if you’re going to be weird, not that you can help it anyway, then you shouldn’t hold back. Enjoy it. Wow them with your weirdness. Make them uncomfortable with it. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself comfortable with it, even if it means that you won’t be homecoming queen and the popular girls will sneer at you and say mean things about your sparkles when you pass them in the hall.

It might be a stretch, but there’s a point in here somewhere. I promise.

Celeriac always wows me with its weirdness. At first glance, it’s an abomination. It’s dirty and rooty and nobbly, and it doesn’t make any sense – what do you do with celeriac? How do you eat it? To see it is to be puzzled, I think, at least the first time. It isn’t obvious what you’d do with it. It’s the most awkward vegetable, and easily ignored and abandoned in favour of potatoes or carrots or even beets – easy vegetables whose purposes are obvious. And at the risk of saying something hideously trite or drawing some after-school-special conclusion you’ll suspect somehow relates to me (it does not ), many people never think about what’s inside that grotesque exterior.

Inside, celeriac is actually one of the best vegetables. With a pronounced celery taste and silky texture, it’s a vegetable that suits purées, gratins, and soups. That is to say, it’s one of fall’s most delightful treats, and I think you should make soup of it, sooner rather than later. To peel it, cut the ugly parts off with a large knife. It might be in its awkward phase, but it may still surprise you.

Celeriac and apple soup

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lb. celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. apples, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (if needed)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté onions in olive oil until just browned.

Add celeriac, apples, and garlic, and stir until celeriac has begun to sweat. Pour in stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium, and simmer for ten to 15 minutes, until celeriac is tender.

Remove from heat, and purée using a blender or hand blender until smooth. Return to heat.

If it is too thick for your liking at this point, you can thin it a bit with additional chicken stock or water. Add pepper, nutmeg, and then taste. If you have used very sweet apples, you may find that the soup is a touch off-balance – if you need to, add the vinegar. Taste again, and add salt as necessary.

Before serving, finish the soup with the cream, stirring until combined. Drizzle with cream or good olive oil and serve hot, with bread.