Tuesday, October 26, 2010

what i've been wanting to tell you

It's been too long. Way too long; I've missed you. And I'm not lying when I say I think about you all the time. Usually while lying on the couch watching television. I've watched a lot of television recently. It's actually been a little bit Valley of the Dolls around here lately, but instead of popping pills I've been consuming episodes of Modern Family as if they were valium. Which, in a way, they are.

But even while lying on my couch strung out on sitcoms, I've been thinking about you. Numerous bl*g posts have been composed. All in my head, and usually comprising episode recaps of Modern Family. But I've also been planning to tell you that after taking nearly two months to finish this book, I read this one in a single day. ON MY iPHONE. (Which I believe means I've graduated from total Luddite to totally desperate yet lazy reader who will not go to the bookstore in the rain.)

I've wanted to describe for you how Chester and I stalked a gang of crows one late afternoon, walking around town at dusk following the birds' baleful chorus until they were suddenly overheadhundreds of them, flapping and bawling above us, their bodies barely visible against the darkening sky.

But mostly I've wanted to tell you about my uncle: How much he adored his wife and family, how funny and generous and kind he was, and how beloved. I've wanted to tell you about how sick he became, and how he died: at home, surrounded by people who loved him so much that if love alone could have kept him, he would be here now.

Because my uncle loved to cook, and because this bl*g is allegedly about food, I've wanted to write to you about how well my uncle fed his family and friends; how he was like a chef at America's Test Kitchen, working and reworking a recipe until he'd perfected it; how a simple roasted potato or grilled pizza became a delicacy at his table.

I've wanted to tell you about how even during the last week of his life, my uncle's home brimmed with food and love. How his hospital bed replaced the table in the dining room, and we gathered around him there as we'd so often joined him in that room to eat the meals he'd made to celebrate birthdays and holidays and nothing-in-particular days. How during that week his family continued to be nourished, now by the many people who loved my unclethere were crumble-topped muffins dotted with chunks of apple; quiches made from a family recipe, baked in half-century-old pie pans;

Photo by the yachtman and his iPhone

trays of spanakopita and platters of grilled meat and pots of soup; a turkey and a ham and creamy scalloped potatoes.

There were also Edible Arrangements. Do you know about this phenomenon? At least once a day when we answered the door, we found a delivery person whose face was obscured by an abundance of skewered fruit, arranged to resemble a bouquet of flowers. Which leads me to this piece of advice I've been meaning to pass along: When someone you know is sick and you're wondering how to help, do not pick up the phone and dial 1-877-DoFruit. It will be tempting, almost irresistibleIt's fruit! That looks like a bouquet!but you mustn't give in. If not because Edible Arrangements are ludicrously expensive and, in fact, barely edible, than because EVERYONE ELSE IS SENDING ONE. You can count on the fact that at a minimum at least four other people are buying an $80 arrangement of unripe strawberries and melon that tastes like newspaper. Edible Arrangements are a racket. So I recommend that you spend $10-15 to make a pot of soup.

Soup is the ultimate comfort food, whether it's the can of Campbell's chicken noodle your mother heated up when you had a cold as a kid, or the hearty pot of lentil that sustains you on a cold day in February. A bowl of soup is a meal, a cup can serve as a snack, it's easy to reheat, and leftover soup doesn't feel like "leftovers."

The recipe I'm including here is my attempt to re-create a squash soup my Greek stepmother sent over to my uncle's house when he first began hospice. It's warm and nourishing but not too heavy, and it tastes to me like fall: the cider lends a nice tang, which is complemented by the sweetness of the maple syrup, and the pimenton's smokiness reminds me of the scent of burning leaves. It's no Edible Arrangement, but it will do.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
[If my uncle were giving you this soup recipe, he would have made it five times and could tell you exactly how much of everything to add to produce the perfect result. But instead you're dealing with, um, me. The measurements here are all based on the 3½-pound butternut squash I bought; your squash may be bigger or smaller and you might like your soup sweeter or smokier or creamier or ciderier than I do, so plan to play around with the flavors at the end. Also, this recipe doubles easily, and could be made with a combination of butternut and acorn squashes.]

~3½ pound butternut squash

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
3 cups broth
½ cup whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
¼–½ teaspoon pimenton (I used picante, or hot, but I think the agridulce would be just as good)
6–8 tablespoons of cider, or more to taste
1 tablespoon of maple syrup, or more to taste

1. To roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise

and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Place the two halves cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cook in the oven until the squash if tender, ~45 minutes. When it's done and cool enough to handle, scoop the cooked squash from its skin and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, while the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a Dutch over or other soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are golden yellow, ~25 minutes. Add the broth, milk, ¼ teaspoon pimenton, ½ teaspoon salt, and bring barely to a boil, stirring frequently.

3. This next part can be messy, so if you're not already wearing them already, it's time to don your frilly apron and do-rag.

4. Blend the squash and soup base together: either in batches in a blender (add the squash first, then the liquid, to avoid splashing, and don't fill it too full), or using your immersion blender on the stove (this method doesn't require hauling out the big blender, but depending on how things go you might find yourself cleaning soup from the walls).

5. Return the pureed soup to the pot and add cider in tablespoons to taste, and 1 tablespoon (or more) of maple syrup, also to taste.

6. Adjust the seasonings (I added more pimenton and more salt). Add more broth if it's too thick or milk if you'd like it creamier; you could finish it with a dash of cream if you'd like, though it tasted plenty rich to me.


  1. Oh gfd, I'm so happy you're back.

    Thank you for being such a lovely writer. You make me laugh and cry at the same time!

    The crows come every year in the fall. A few years ago, they landed in the trees around an attic apartment where I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. Their cries and flapping wings made the whole house shake. We were convinced that they could smell the turkey and were angry and ready to break through the windows. I ended up drinking an undisclosed amount of wine to quell my fear of getting pecked to death. Now when I see the crows, I think of extreme red wine post-Thanksgiving hangovers.

  2. So sorry to hear about your uncle -- he sounds like a wonderful man. Glad to have you back!

  3. Oh crying, crying and crying. That was a really sweet post about Crawf, he would have loved being featured in a blog post!

    Maybe I'll try making that soup, it was delicious when I had it in it's original incarnation, but more likely I'll just eat some when I go to your house today to "walk your dog", which is really just code for eating your food.

  4. What a lovely post. The crow pictures were wonderfully eerie and evocative - Halloween VT hipster meets Van Gogh's last painting! And thank you, thank you for having the courage to voice the truth about Edible Arrangements. They are truly awful and need to be stopped.

  5. dear and good auntie kate,

    lulu and i are reading you, because 4 months is not too early to start learning important, funny, and poignant things. (incidentally, it is the second time today i have wept. the first was when i read lulu that cursed 'love you forever' book by robert munsch that always gets me in the end, when the mom is too old to say the refrain, so her son picks her up and rocks her back and forth, back and forth...if you don't know what i'm talking about, i dare you to read it and not cry. it's fine to weep with the baby, but it gets embarassing when i weep every time i read it to the older kids. it makes me a sap in their eyes, which they see as a weakness, which likely means i can't convincingly ground them.)

    we love you and have missed you and are thinking of making fall-ish soup to honor your uncle's life. (it's likely i won't go to the grocery store, which means i'll have to substitute a lot of ingredients.)

  6. I've missed you, too, gfd. Thank you for rising from the couch, much like Lazareth, to write this beautiful, beautiful post.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful post Kate. I read it on my lunch break at work and it brought a few tears to my eyes. I miss my Dad very much. However it wasn't him being gone that brought tears to my eyes rather the wonderful memories you conjured up of that day he left us and the amount of love that was felt that entire week we were there. I'm not lying when I say that I don't think I've EVER felt that much love from and towards anyone in my life. I never really had a super tight close relationship with my father however that changed and in odd ways I feel ever closer to him now. I feel as if now I have the relationship with my Dad that I always wished I could have. It's so so unfortunate that he's not physically with us but I do feel his presences always in all ways. I can now talk to him about anything and I know he's listening to me and guiding me. I do know he's doing this not only for me but all the people he loved dearly. So thank you again for this lovely and wonderful post with the kind words about my father. He would be overwhelmed with the amount of love towards him. You are wonderful.

  8. A wonderful description of Crawf and who he was to us all.

  9. Butternut soups are perfect Autumn, comfort, and anytime food. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Mike -
    I think I can speak for both GFD and myself when I say that we are so thankful to have been able to share in your Dad's life in so many ways. He and Tonto have been and continue to be very important to us and I know I (and I'm sure GFD) is thankful that you, Michelle and Lyndi shared your Dad with us.
    Being with him in his last weeks, days and minutes was such a gift to me, something I will always cherish.
    I'm glad he is with you still and I know he will be in my heart forever.


  11. love the Edible Fruit advice. hope your back, we've missed you. The crow photographs are very Halloweenish; very mysteriously dark. Has "The Birds" kind of feel. well done.

  12. Your post about your uncle was very moving. He must have been a very special person who loved and was loved by very special people. Even though I didn't know him, I wanted to do something to memorialize him. So I made the soup. It was out of this world. I like to think that, wherever his spirit lies, he had a hand in making it so good.

  13. Thanks, everyone, for your sweet thoughts about my uncle. We all miss him terribly, and always will.

    lmc, I'm sorry to hear you had a traumatic crow incident; maybe this year should those birds whose boss and actually serve one for Thanksgiving.

    Mojie, I hope you liked the re-creation as much as the original, and you know you're always welcome to eat my soup. Or walk my dog, for that matter.

    Seriously, Amy, they must be stopped. We cannot let the Edible Arrangements win.

    Lissa and Lu, I miss you! And you're right, that book really is a tearjerker. Thank god you won't need to worry about crying in front of Lu and then not being able to ground her, because she'll never, ever be naughty and in need of grounding, right?

    Mike, I'm so happy you liked the post; it was an honor to write it, and to have been there with him and all of you.

    Thanks for making the soup, WW; I'm glad you enjoyed it, and think my uncle would be very pleased to know people were cooking good food in his name.

  14. Oh GFD. What a beautiful post. My dad died this summer and we were all around him, as you were with your uncle (although sadly, in a hospital with terrible food). We sang to him instead. It's such a gift and an honor to be able to be with someone you love as they die - and so sad and bittersweet. I'll make this soup and think of them both.