Butternut Squash Soup

The storage area that is usually cool and dry is, well, neither. Thanks to an unseasonably warm October and a streak of rainy days, the back hallway is not a good place to store my vegetables. I disposed of two potatoes, a large red onion, and half of a butternut squash this morning.

Then I cleaned the containers and added the little “dryers” that come in packages. Does this do any good? It can’t hurt.

And then I made soup with the remaining half of the butternut squash. I used my standard recipe and cut it down to match the amount of squash I had left. Here it is, folks, without adaptation. This is a lot of soup; use a BIG crock pot if you make the whole thing.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash (about 4 lb), peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces(estimated amount: 10 cups)

1 large apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces1 medium white onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled, diced

2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 1/2 cups chicken broth or chicken stock

1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions: Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. In cooker, toss squash, apple, onion, carrot, curry powder, salt, and white pepper. Pour broth over vegetable mixture. Cover; cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Use immersion blender or remove small amounts of soup (3 cups at a time) into blender to blend until smooth. Add brown sugar (and milk or cream, optional) while blending. Turn heat setting to high. Cover; cook for another 30 minutes. Serve. Enjoy.

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Shortages and Pantry Raids

The latest shortage: certain ink cartridges. Or so we thought – and then we discovered Chuck had “remembered” the wrong number for our printer. We’ll return the wrong one and hope that maybe the office supply store has the right one in black and in color.

I keep seeing blank shelves in the grocery store. Fortunately, we’re fairly well stocked. Chuck teases me a little (more than a little) about my prepper tendencies, but stocking up makes it easy to keep on cooking.

Pantry Raids are easy ways to create a side dish or an entire meal – and tonight it was a side dish. I chopped up two apples leftover from cidering and simmered them on the stove with cinnamon sticks (a bonus included in an auction lot of canning supplies). Simple, delicious: a perfect pantry raid.

I predict more pantry raids, of course, as shortages go on. The unseasonably warm October weather is keeping my tomato and tomatillo plants giving, so we may have more tomato soups or salsa.

And so it goes, readers. I hope your pantries are full and your families are healthy.

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The Black Walnut Project

I have been attempting various foraging projects and no-waste cooking projects. Roasted maple seeds: success! I’ll plan to collect and roast maple seeds every spring from here on out. Saving corn husks to make tamales: nope. I read up on it, browsed recipes and tutorials, and realized it wasn’t going to work in this busy home – mainly because of the time involved. Now for the latest: harvesting black walnuts from the trees in La Petite’s backyard.

Short version: fail. Not going to happen.

Slightly longer version: There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of nuts on the ground after a recent wind storm, so I decided to collect a bucket full and see what I could do. Like I did with the corn husks, I read up on harvesting walnuts, I watched video tutorials, and browsed recipes, too. The first fail: it’s too early. Black walnuts ripen in September and October, and the solid green nuts on the ground were nowhere near ripe. It should have been a clue that not even the squirrels were picking them up.

The next obstacle: time. Most of what I read suggested setting the nuts on a screen to dry for several weeks. After that, I could cut or tear off the outer shell. Then they’d need to dry – again! – for a few weeks.

Details of the process aren’t necessary here. It’s enough to say that despite the vast quantity of black walnuts in La Petite’s backyard, the nuts will never become a food source for her family. The wait time and the work time investment are just too much.

La Petite does, however, have two awesome raised beds and several container plants. She might not get walnuts from her yard, but she grows tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and more.

What should my next foraging experiment entail? Anyone have a suggestion for me?

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One Year Later

All the major news outlets are going into retrospective mode, so I don’t need to share the details. You know how to find the details you need, readers.

What I can do is make it personal. One year ago, we were hearing about the coronavirus, the novel, or new, coronavirus that was trickling into the U.S. I remember reassuring my students (fifth grade) that the virus hadn’t reached Wisconsin yet. We were not at risk. Yet.

Within weeks that shrunk to days, my workplace had closed up and sent us all home. We kept teaching, and teaching online is what we do, but we moved out of our office. I left my big desktop with two monitors behind on its stand-up option desk and set up a Chromebook on a small vintage desk in the corner of my living room. A box of my teacher manuals and a stack of intervention reading books were tucked into a corner nearby, and my notebook and clipboard sat on the file cabinet beside a coaster for my coffee cup.

From the hints of the virus to the major shutdown seemed to come incredibly fast. I exchanged texts with La Petite, learning that none of her colleagues had been in China recently to visit the knitting plants because they didn’t usually travel during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I messaged a cousin in Utah who had posted pictures of huge trucks loaded with bottled water and toilet paper. Little did I know that the TP shelves would empty in my neck of the woods, too! It became a joke, sort of – March Madness cancelled? They must have run out of toilet paper. Spring training came to a screeching halt? Toilet paper shortage! Our nervousness showed in our attempts at humor.

I remember the mood – the feeling of what’s next, what else can shut down, are we ready, are we ready, are we ready? Well, we didn’t know and certainly couldn’t predict how serious the pandemic would be in the U.S., in Wisconsin, and even in our own city. Tension, stress, and the feeling of simply living each day not knowing what was next on the list.

Now, one year later, we’re getting our vaccines. Chuck and Amigo and La Petite have all had their first shot and scheduled their second. I will get the one-dose vaccine on Saturday. We’re cautiously optimistic – quietly hopeful.

But I still might maintain my stockpile of toilet paper.

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New Year, New Post

Once upon a time, a rather long time ago, I used to blog regularly. I haven’t abandoned Compost Happens, but I haven’t blogged regularly lately, either. Sometimes I posted a retrospective, complete with links, to the first posts of each month in the previous year. Sometimes I posted a brief look back. This year?

Well, I’m relieved that 2020 is over, and I want the Covid19 pandemic to wither away, too. Looking back on the year has a lot of Fortunately, Unfortunately feeling about it.

Unfortunately: the governor shut down schools, offices, and non-essential businesses. Fortunately: Chuck and I are both employed by essential businesses. Also fortunately: my work went on with a few changes, including moving from an office setting to the corner of my living room. Fortunately, I have a vintage writing desk that is just the right size for a laptop.

Unfortunately: Any gatherings of more than 50 people (eventually 10) were cancelled. Amigo’s barbershop chorus lost big on this one. Their main spring show was cancelled (theater that holds around 700 in its audience) and the fall fundraising festival, Octoberfest, was also cut. And worse: rehearsals were cancelled. Singing turned out to be a dangerous activity, a super-spreader of this nasty airborne virus.

Fortunately, the chorus resumed rehearsals by way of Zoom. The director offered voice lessons free, and Amigo enthusiastically joined up.

Many events that mean a lot to our family were cancelled. Much of our entertainment dropped from view, too, including March Madness college basketball and Major League Baseball. When the National Football League resumed play, games had few fans, if any, in the stands. Lambeau Field with no fans? It still looks spooky on TV.

Holidays that usually involve family get togethers — well, didn’t.

Fortunately: we have kept close to family members by text message, email, Facetime, Zoom, Google Meet – thank goodness we are geeky enough to make this work! Petunia (my mother) and Robin (Chuck’s mom) remain isolated, but not fully quarantined. We help them by running errands and we stop by, suitably masked, for visits.

2021? I hope it looks better. And no, I’m not saying any of the dangerous phrases. You won’t hear me say “What else could go wrong?” or “It can’t get worse, can it?” or anything else like that. Oh, oops, I just did. I didn’t mean it! Really!

Readers, here’s wishing you a peaceful and healthy 2021. It can’t…never mind.

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Writer’s Block?

Amigo keeps asking me if I’ve blogged recently. It’s not that there’s nothing going on; it’s more like there’s too much going on. Focusing in on one topic seems overwhelming.

George Floyd. The protests he inspired; the riots and vandals that tagged along.

Buttercup. Our sweet bunny, about 14 years old (ancient!), passed on last week. I still expect her to meet me at the bottom of the stairs every morning when I get up.

Covid19. Again. Still. Pandemic hasn’t let up, despite its being relegated to smaller status in the evening news stories.

School. Work from home. How it’s different, both better and not so good.

The ever present garden! Some of the peas haven’t come up; there are blank spots in the lettuce patch. I blame the chipmunk who has taken up residence under one of the boards in the raised bed. Dang pest.

Sports. Amigo and I really, really miss sports. Baseball now, football in the fall – we’re left at loose ends.

Local protests vs. nearby cities vs. larger cities – compare, contrast, consider.

Barbershop chorus! They keep rehearsing in Zoom, but their two biggest fundraisers for the year have been cancelled. What does the future hold?

Meanwhile, I’m watching the world spinning around me and wondering when it will slow down and maybe even stop.

Where to go next? Too many directions, too many important topics in our lives, here at the O.K. Chorale.

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More Cancellations

The ax fell two nights ago; Amigo’s barbershop chorus fully cancelled their Spring Show. Initially they had hoped to postpone it to a date in June, and eventually they realized that wasn’t realistic. The board met, and they made the hard decision to cancel.

Amigo could have been beside himself. He didn’t fall to pieces, though. He could have, and we would have understood. In fact, I kept waking up at night, wondering if I should check on him, but…well, other mothers of young adults will understand.

In other current events, gas was $1.01 today. As usual, I glanced at the fuel gauge to see it reading firmly FULL. Amigo helped me fill up the tank a few weeks ago, and, well, I haven’t been going anywhere. Chuck goes to work, I work from home, and I’m not driving Amigo to rehearsals anymore, either. We’re hardly leaving the driveway, much less using up a tank of gas.

In the rare occurrence that I do get out of the neighborhood, I’ve noticed people taking precautions pretty seriously. Maybe it’s the fact that Wisconsin just crossed the threshold of its 100th death from the Coronavirus. Whatever the reason, the staff at Lowe’s kept their distance and wore gloves and masks as they looked for what we needed.

Walgreen’s, however, looked mobbed. I stayed in the car; Chuck went inside to pick up medication. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up Amigo’s.

Meanwhile, we’re expecting a snowstorm Sunday night. Never a dull moment, here in the time of Covid19. Never a dull moment.

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Corona Cooking – at home, of course

Our menus are looking more and more like midwinter comfort food or even dorm cafeteria food. Tonight it was baked macaroni and cheese – from scratch, of course. I have a sizable stockpile of various pastas, and we always have cheese. Throw in a cup of frozen peas, reach for the closest Italian season, and there it is. Comfort food, Wisconsin style.

Like a good pantry prepper, we have canned tuna. I’ve made tuna casserole recently (pasta, tuna, yada, yada, yada), and tuna salad would only work for Chuck and me. Amigo doesn’t go for cold. I got creative with the English muffins in the refrigerator, topped them with tuna and (or course) cheese, and ta-da! Tuna melts.

Last night I pulled together paninis. Sandwich ingredients, grilled with my cast iron press, and then – soup, of course. An ultimate comfort food, but instead of made from scratch, I’d picked it up at a local restaurant. Soup and sandwiches! Simple, but satisfying.

Then there was the shredded pork on a bun – with my own homemade rhubarb barbecue sauce. It makes a big batch; I put half away in the freezer for another day.

It’s not restaurant quality. It’s not even Master Chef style. But comfort is in short supply these days, and I can cook up darn good comfort in the form of lunch and supper.

Readers, what are you cooking these days?

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Shelter in Place continues

It was a dark and stormy morning. Rain, lots of rain. I did a rare out-of-home experience and brought Petunia her newspaper and her groceries. We unfortunately picked out the wrong kind of oranges, so I may (or Chuck) look for a time when few will be out and get the Clementines she needs from the grocery store. It’s not a hardship; it’s just a little less likely to happen right away.

I bought myself a treat for breakfast when I picked up the paper – a breakfast sandwich from the convenience store. They no longer have their coffee bar or roller grill, but still have a few hot sandwiches, individually wrapped. I gave myself a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant.

I was settled in on the couch for a Harry Potter movie marathon, with my breakfast sandwich and coffee (made at home), when the landline phone rang. It was Chuck’s mom. He’d replaced the batteries in her smoke detectors yesterday, and now one was beeping repeatedly. She couldn’t get it off the wall or get the battery out. What else could I do? I woke Chuck.

Eventually, all was well. We took care of our mothers and then ourselves. Life goes on. It’s not normal, but it’s life. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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And the Lockdown Continues

Yesterday we took chances. It was definitely in the category of Essential Activities, but it was still chancy.

We brought groceries to Petunia. Twice. I was bending the rules at her senior living apartment complex because all deliveries were supposed to be picked up in the lobby rather than having people walking in and out of the hallways. Petunia is still quite weak from a tough pain stretch last week, and I’m not going to make her walk the long walk to the lobby to meet me. I brought her a newspaper and picked up her credit card, and then I headed home.

Home, where the boys, Chuck and Amigo, were still asleep. Since I’m still on a schoolteacher’s timetable, I am awake in the mornings when they are, well, not. It gives me a quiet house in which to work, with few if any interruptions. Yesterday being Saturday, I didn’t even open up the school Chromebook. Mainly, I took care of Buttercup the bunny, cleaned up the kitchen, and then stretched out on the couch with a little HGTV and my own newspaper – and coffee.

Coffee. Coffee brewed in my own coffeemaker, on my own kitchen counter. When I picked up Petunia’s paper, I confirmed the news: Kwik Trip has closed their coffee bars. It makes sense, I guess. Pouring our own coffee, flipping through the lids that always seem to be stuck, touching one handle after another – and sharing space with others doing the same thing – all of those are risky in these Pandemic days. Good thing my Prepper Self always stocks up when coffee is on special!

Ah, my Prepper Self. Chuck is starting to bend my way in stocking up on necessities. With a few special trips to the pet store and the meat market, this trip to the store was short and still productive. We stocked up mainly on items that we couldn’t make or improvise on our own, like sodas. Mixers, to be honest. I have gin, I want my tonic. We have rum, now let’s make sure we have Coke. You get the picture.

Sunday, today, we stayed home. I ventured outside the house to empty kitchen compost and a bunny litter box, but other than that, I’ve stayed within the house. As the virus spreads in my community, I predict more days of staying in. We’ll see how that goes.

Readers, what kind of necessity makes you leave the house during the quarantine days? Leave a comment to share.

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