Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Squashed Hopes

     I made squash for the first time today. It didn’t go as I’d hoped. Now I will pause while you compose yourself from the eruption of laughter that ensued upon connecting the title of this post with the content. 

     The kitchen is not my natural habitat. My natural habitat is a trendy downtown loft apartment, lounging on a blue velvet sofa drinking sparkling wine bought off an eye level shelf in the grocery store. If I’d remained childless my diet would probably still consist of the two major food groups: thai take out and styrofoam cupped pasta with powdered food-alternative flavoring. I was totally cool with not being very domestic, it was an important piece in my arsenal of adorable idiosyncrasies, along with watching boring old Audrey Hepburn movies and talking about how repulsive I found any activity where heels weren’t appropriate. You know, cool, modern, downtown girl stuff. Very Carrie Bradshaw. 

     When I met my winemaker/foodie/cooking husband and charmed him with my quirky downtown bad girl ways I was satisfied to have scored a lifelong live-in chef. And he was satisfied believing that without him I'd starve to death. I hadn’t ever spent a minute dreaming about the kind of wife, or mother, or homemaker I would be. I spent more time imagining myself hiring and firing, giving inspirational speeches, and delegating closet layout plans to an interior decorator. But then I had kids, fell madly in love with them, and wanted nothing but to make them the center of my universe and be around them all the time, and my dream came true! What I didn’t consider when chasing my dream was that as a full-time homemaker I would have to bite the likely under-seasoned bullet and learn to prepare food in a way conducive to my family’s survival. It hasn’t gone well.

     After preparing like 3 recipes with relative success (i.e. no poisoning)  I was so intoxicated by what I thought was a newly discovered talent (I know there’s untapped genius in there somewhere) that I threw an impromptu dinner party. I planned to make spinach risotto and like 5 other courses and impress upon my guests my new identity as a small town wife bringing big city flavor to a dinner table near you. 10 minutes before the beginning of said dinner party I realized I used orzo instead of arborio rice, which, translated for all of my kindred spirits who don’t know what the fuck the difference is, means I made a nasty soggy mess instead of the intended light and fluffy risotto. Naturally I ran to the stairwell to sit and cry for a few minutes, during which I set a pan of $31/lb pine nuts on fire, activating the smoke detector and filling the house up like Cheech and Chong in a low rider just AS THE GUESTS ARRIVED. 

     Last week I tried to make mashed potatoes. Again, I had become overly confident. The risotto incident was behind me and I'd inflated my ego by figuring out how to put meat in the slow cooker (prior to 2014 I NEVER ONCE cooked meat, not so much as a slice of bacon). I had some potatoes handy and figured I could make some mashers without following a recipe, since I'd blossomed into this gifted culinary meat-preparing goddess. “Get stuff hot, then add butter or whatever. I get it, cooking isn’t that hard after all!” I thought arrogantly. I washed and boiled the potatoes, then drained the water, threw in the greater part of a stick of butter, got my beaters and went to work. Before long I wondered why my arm was cramping up from holding an electric beater and noticed the spuds were quite rock-like once you got past the first centimeter. Apparently that's an indicator of rawness (not the Sunday night WWE kind). I couldn’t continue to boil them because they were 20% mashed, so I just turned the stove back on, added an obscene amount of butter, splashed in some milk, shook my arm out, and went back to digging forcefully into the hard center of each potato with the electric mixer. Soon the baby’s crying ushered in a welcome reprieve from the boring potato ordeal, and this wench left the galley to administer a baby nap. Upon my return 20 minutes later the 65% mashed potatoes were on fire. 

     Forget Sex and the City, I’m living one long I Love Lucy episode. It’s not all bad. I have to admit it feels good to make a meal that’s satisfying to your family, especially when it requires so much effort on my part. There’s a part of me, quietly living in a basement apartment deep down below many levels of laziness, that appreciates a challenge. 

     Now every week I’m challenged to try new things. Hooray! We had the great fortune of inheriting a friend’s farm box subscription after he moved. Until November, every Tuesday, we get to pick up a big wooden crate of fresh, organic, horse-farmed local vegetables. Every week I’m faced with a new ingredient challenge, which I usually embark on timidly, never certain that my google search of the vegetable’s features has led me to correctly identify it.

     For 3 weeks I’ve been collecting and avoiding squash from my farm box. At least my best guess was that it was squash. Each week brought a different shape and color, but the stems were my clue that it was all likely from the squash/pumpkin realm of veggies, which I was familiar with thanks to seasonal Pottery Barn table centerpieces. I hit up Pinterest for squash recipes and was quickly overwhelmed. Summer, winter, acorn, spaghetti, butternut? What does it all mean? 

     After a week of research I determined I did not have summer squash. I read a website that says mostly all squash is interchangeable so I threw my squash inhibitions to the wind and decided on a recipe that didn't require me to go to the grocery store. The straightforward recipe suggested I peel and cube the squash, roast it with some garlic, then serve it with quinoa. That sounded like it was in my card house. 

     Monday I woke up early and decided that the only thing I wanted to accomplish with my day was converting the menacing squash into edible form. I didn’t even shower because that didn’t serve my one purpose: squash prep. I waited out a very grumpy baby who threatened to nap for hours before actually napping, then I set to work. 

     Long story short, I repeatedly stabbed the squash with multiple knives, sometimes 2 at a time, vigilantly terrified of the limb severing that could occur any minute by my unwieldy knife handling. No less than five times I matter-of-factly screamed at my son “DON’T COME IN THE KITCHEN WHILE MOMMY HAS A KNIFE.” (He was in the midst of his own personal emergency where he needed to pull on my pant leg and ask if I was sure all birds have wings over and over and over and over.) After 45 minutes, 6 new profane word combos, and the fortunate retention of all body parts I achieved peeled squash cubes. 

Squash cubes garnished with blood, sweat and tears.
     What was really frustrating for me was the powerlessness I felt when it was just me against the squash. I had so many questions, and no answers. How has no one spoken out against the evil torment that is squash preparation? Is it common knowledge that squash is best prepared with a chainsaw? How did the Native Americans do this and still feel up for having Thanksgiving with a bunch of oppressive pilgrim dicks? Do Native Americans still laugh today about pulling off the ultimate covert revenge through introducing the pain in the ass that is squash? Why do I think Native Americans introduced squash, is that a totally unfounded ignorant assumption? If you were starving to death and given a squash would you eat it or would you throw it away, knowing the exertion required to prepare it would negate the eventual caloric intake? Why is life so hard? What am I missing? 
Picture above: disappointment.

     After seeking out advice I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to sharpen my knives, and never again follow a recipe that doesn’t begin with baking the squash. In the end, the squash/quinoa combo was as boring as you'd think. Hopefully this post isn’t as boring as you’d think an essay about a failed squash recipe would be. And please, don’t worry about me… I won’t let one dish of adversity squash my hopes of obtaining a basic level of competency in the kitchen.

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