About that time

So what do you guys think about when November hits? Thanksgiving isn’t the answer I’m looking for here.

Christmas shopping isn’t either. I mean for realz – who shops in November?! I totally wait until December. The middle of December, if I’m lucky. Well, if you’re lucky, if you’re on my list ….

What I think about, is that it’s gettin’ ready to be time to hibernate. It’s almost time to put the bike away (although this is my first Fall/Winter biking to work, so I don’t know how long I’ll make it, really), and time to walk from the train to work so fast that my butt shakes (which really, it doesn’t take much).

Speaking of butts, and of hibernating, it’s about time for a few months of comfort food. To me, that means squash, sweet potatoes, and pasta. Soup never hurt anyone either.

Yes, it’s about that time. And thanks be to the CSA (& Costco), I happened to have all of that lying around this weekend, which was the exact same time I located a recipe from a couple of years back, one I’d absolutely forgotten about.

I’ve been eating this all. week. long. And I haven’t complained a bit.

A vegetarian treat, the squash & potatoes have that perfect amount of sweetness, and a gooey enough consistency to seem saucy. When the dish comes together, you hear that squishy sound – that of the pasta and the rest of the mixture blending together, sauce nuzzling itself into the twists and turns and holes of the pasta – hibernating. It tastes like the week before Thanksgiving, no matter when you eat it, and the cheese and walnuts are a perfect contrast in terms of both taste and texture.

Yes, it’s about that time. Time to eat that last plate of this almost-empty casserole dish. Time to cozy up on the couch, preparing for that everlasting, but somehow not so horrible, season of hibernation. Time to indulge, and to put off that Christmas shopping for a few more weeks. Oh, November – you are too good to hate. It’s about time I give in, I think.

Baked Pasta w/ Squash & Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Weight Watchers online, 2 years ago; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes; 45 minutes active time

yes, Weight Watchers! it totally doesn’t taste as healthy as it is. You can probably use any squash/sweet potato combo here (last time I made this, two years ago, I used butternut only).

printable version

1 lb delicata squash, peeled and cubed (1″ pieces)
3/4 lb sweet potato, peeled and cubed (1″ pieces)
12 oz uncooked whole wheat penne/rotini
1 1/4 c skim milk
2 T ap flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 T fresh thyme, divided
1/2 c part skim ricotto cheese
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 c chopped walnuts

preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. place squash and sweet potato cubes on prepared baking sheet; roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. After squash has been roasting for about 10 minutes, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

in the pot where the pasta was cooked, whisk together milk, flour, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in squash and 2 1/2 teaspoons of thyme; mash until squash is incorporated with the sauce. Add pasta to the sauce; toss to mix and coat.

transfer pasta mixture to baking dish; dot with spoonfuls of ricotta and then sprinkle with Parmesan and walnuts. Bake until top is lightly browned in a few spots, about 15 to 20 minutes; remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme.

Blast from the past

Changing is part of growing up, part of becoming who we really are, a constant process. We make mistakes along the way, some of us more than others, and those mistakes shape us just as much as our successes. I’ve had a fair helping of both, and I hope you all have too.

I don’t claim to know everything, I don’t claim to be flawless, and I know I’ve been wrong about things many times in my short 30 years (don’t tell the Hubs though, because I don’t admit this to him!). But what I hope is that at the end of every day, I can rest my head knowing I’ve been the best person I can be, most of the time.

This past year is almost over, and it’s been an interesting one. A couple of scary telephone calls is about all it takes to make you realize that your friends and family members, even your parents, are mortals. A couple of arguments, falling-outs with friends, is about all it takes to make you realize that your relationships will change, and that even your closest friends may one day seem like strangers you pass in the cereal aisle. A couple of new friends, and new traditions, is about all it takes to make you realize that it doesn’t matter when you meet, or how you meet, but that you’ve met. Change is good, for better or for worse.

And as strange as it might seem, a recipe about pimento cheese is completely and totally appropriate here, today, this year. On the surface, the reason is more apparent – I used to hate pimento cheese (pimento cheese sandwiches were more common than PB&J during my childhood), and this recipe was gobbled up as if it were bread pudding itself. Kris and I were both watching Food Network one night, and in moments we were texting about pimento cheese, and the perfection that was an appetizer at a restaurant in my hometown.

But even below the surface, this recipe is appropriate. A little less of this, a little more of that, this recipe was tweaked and adjusted along the way, based on how I remember it to be, a couple of years ago. It’s an interpretation of what used to be, but an adjustment too - spicier, warmer, and robust, but also a little bit rustic, craggy along the edges. It’s not exactly what I remember, but it’s close. Like so many things, pimento cheese may have its rough patches in our minds, but we try to forget those, if we can, and we try, as hard as we can, to move on.

Baked Pimento Cheese Spread
chiknpastry recipe, inspired by Chef & the Farmer; makes ~3 cups

time commitment: less than 1 hour

this ain’t no store-bought tub of pimento cheese spread, that’s for sure. you could make the pimento cheese without the sausage and eat it cold, like i was forced to during my childhood (although now, i’d probably like it), or you can add the sausage, which is what the folks at Chef & the Farmer do – hence the recipe.

printable version

2 T onion, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz hot sausage (Jimmy Dean)
1 8oz package Neufchâtel cheese
1 c extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 c gruyere cheese
1 4 oz jar diced pimentos, rinsed & drained
2 T mayo
1/4 t kosher salt
pinch of fresh ground pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper

for serving: thinly sliced and toasted baguette, veggie sticks, crackers, etc.

heat skillet over medium-hi heat. add garlic and onion, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until soft. add sausage and cook until browned completely. let cool, and use paper towels to remove as much fat/drippings as possible from the sausage.

meanwhile, make the pimento cheese. in a large bowl, combine Neufchâtel cheese through cayenne pepper, and using a mixer on medium speed, blend thoroughly. add salt and pepper to taste.

preheat oven to 350 F. add sausage mixture to pimento cheese and mix together. bake in an ovenproof dish for 15-20 minutes, until browned on top and bubbly.