Updated: Oct 20
It's that time of year again: packing early morning lunches (if your child's school is holding in-person classes), watching football (albeit from a fan-less stadium), feeling the brisk air brush your cheek and wake you up as you take your socially-distant walk.
Nothing in life is ever certain, but now we have more to consider, like how we show affection.
As a properly-trained Italian, it's customary that I greet you with a hug. I will squeeze you and kiss you on both cheeks. I will leave you the same way. Elbow bumps and waves won't do. Elbow bumps and waves feel more like giving someone the hip, a slight of sorts, like your mama didn't raise you right.
This feels especially wrong when seeing my mom. She's older now and takes every precaution. Sometimes my mom stops over and we eat on the porch. She's anxious and twitchy, normal for her, but more so now, and so she doesn't come in. She wears a mask as we talk outside and, when it's time to go, she bumps us goodbye.
If you're a socially-anxious teenager, Covid-life can be comforting. I tell my daughter that life cannot exist inside four walls, but she insists it can.
"I can do everything from inside my room and I don't have to wear pants," she says and she's not wrong.
She sleeps up there, reads up there, eats her food up there (even though she's not supposed to). She's taught herself to paint and has tacked up artwork on every inch of the wall. She has her guitars and her amplifier and her books up there, too. Even though my daughter is happy in her room, she says she wants to know the world around her is okay and not forever doomed.
My more-social son seems less content and I can tell, as he wanders around the house, that he feels aimless and not sure what to do with himself.
"Mama, I'm sad and I don't know why," he'll sometimes say.
Sometimes, I feel like that too.
Life is weirder than normal, but fall is here again, like normal, and thank God. We can rely on autumn, on brightly-colored leaves, on the scent of dry leaves and smoking chimneys, and the smell of crisp, clean air. We can reap the harvest and abundance of fall foods and they can help soothe us.
As we search for normalcy, pantless and aimless, I'm reminded of the passage from the Song of Solomon and the title of Ruth Reichl's food memoir, Comfort Me with Apples.
So I ask you this, until I am able to hug you again and put on my pants, comfort me with apples, restore me with raisins, and sustain me with soups and stews.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
with pancetta and goat cheese
I made this creamy, velvety soup the other day. It's pretty fantastic if I do say so myself.
The addition of potatoes gives the soup a little more body and the carrots adds some sweetness. Crispy bacon adds a nice salty crunch and the goat cheese...a little creamy tang. Double up buttercup. It freezes well.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
1 medium butternut squash, quartered and roasted (about 2 ½ - 3 cups)
1 TBSP olive oil for roasting squash
¼ cup olive oil for sautėing
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup peeled, diced carrots
2 cups peeled, diced russet potatoes
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup cubed pancetta
4 ounces goat cheese
Candied butternut seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut butternut squash in half and then lengthwise so you have four pieces.
Scoop out the middle preserving the seeds.
Place squash on a baking sheet lined with foil.
Drizzle squash with 1 TBSP olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast squash for 1 hour or until tender.
Dice onion, peeled carrots, and peeled potatoes.
Add ¼ olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot and turn the heat on medium.
Once the oil is hot, add onions, carrots, and potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, place diced pancetta in a cast-iron skillet (or other oven-proof pans).
Render in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes or until crispy.
Once squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh (discarding the skin) and add to the pot.
Add 8 cups chicken stock to the pot and raise heat to high.
Once the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
Using a soup wand or a blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Pour the soup back into the pot, add 1 cup of heavy cream and bring to boil.
As soon as it boils, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed.
Garnish each bowl of soup with one tablespoon goat cheese, a teaspoon crispy pancetta, and a few candied seeds.
Candied Seeds (optional):
Seeds saved from squash (about ¼ cup)
1 TBSP butter
2 TBSP granulated sugar
A pinch of each nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt (about 1/16th of a teaspoon each)
Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray and lay out seeds in a single layer
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until seeds seem dry
In a small, non-stick skillet melt 1 Tablespoon butter
Mix in sugar until dissolved
Add seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt.
Stir until all seeds are evenly coated.
Pour out onto a piece of foil and let cool (will look like brittle)
Break apart and add to soup.
When adding garnishes, keep in mind that adding too much pancetta could make the soul salty, and adding more than a few candied seeds could make the soup too sweet.