*Or, All You Need Is Squash
I vividly remember the evening I first learned about the Beatles. I was barely into grade school; it was Sunday night and, like every other weekend, my parents were watching The Ed Sullivan Show.
The only TV in our house was in my parents’ bedroom, perched on the wide dresser that sat opposite their bed. The small pathway between the foot of the bed and the dresser provided the seating area for us children.
With so little room between the two pieces of furniture that your calves would press up against the bedding when you pulled one of drawers fully open, watching TV meant that we kids had to sit cross-legged, necks craned up at a dentist-chair angle so we could watch the small screen while my parents stretched out on the bed above our heads. I was so accustomed to that seating arrangement that even when alone in the house, I’d sit on the floor to gaze up at the TV.
On the night in question I must have been playing in another room when the Fab Four hit the airwaves because I recall my dad calling to me from the bedroom.
“Ric, get in here, I have to ask you something,” he bellowed, and I trotted into the room. He was reclining with his head against the pillow, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles, his corduroy slippers dangling from his toes.
“Look at this,” he said, motioning to the television. “Tell me, are those boys, or are those girls?”
I looked at the screen, the four black-and white moptops strumming guitars and tapping their feet to deafening shrieks from the audience. Even at the tender age of five, I knew better than to contradict my father. Little white lie: “Um. . . girls?” I ventured.
“You see?!” he cried, nudging my mother beside him on the bed. “Who has hair like that? They look like a bunch of thugs!”
Unlike The Nurse, who loved John Lennon at first sight, it took me a while to fall for the Beatles. In fact, it wasn’t until my late teens that I finally bought my first Beatles album,** Hey Jude, which contained the songs “Lady Madonna” and “Paperback Writer,” both of which I loved (okay: lifelong dream of being a writer–“Paperback Writer” makes sense. But “Lady Madonna”? What the–??).
I was just as devastated as everyone else when John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman outside the Dakota. By then, I’d come to appreciate Lennon more for his stance as a peacenik than his music (because while Double Fantasy may have been genius in theory, there are definitely fewer of Yoko’s tracks worth listening to. . . okay, that was a second white lie: I mean, is there actually anyone on the planet who would ever listen to any of her so-called “songs”?). When John philosophized, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” the statement resonated with me, big time.
As a teen, I knew that I’d never want to live like my dad, toiling 6 days a week with no vacation for the first 25 years of his working life–that seemed far too heavy on the “making other plans” aspect and far too light on the “life is what happens” one (and how ironic, isn’t it, that I am now someone who generally works every day of the week. The universe has such a warped sense of humor, doesn’t it?).
Sometimes–say, after an entire weekend marking essays, or when the HH walks through the door at the end of the workday and I realize I’ve barely moved from the computer since he left at 8:30 in the morning, or when I spend 3 hours in the car just so I can drive to my doctor’s office for her to hand me a little slip of paper so I can go see a different, more specialized doctor on a different day four months later (and you think you want our healthcare system, Americans? Are you insane, people?!)–well, on those days, I totally know what Lennon meant by that lyric.
Other days, though, the “making other plans” part, in itself, bestows us with the full richness of life, right while it’s happening.
Like when I spend time musing with The Nurse about where it would be fun to retire (she’s almost there already) and exchange stories about our vacation in the Maritimes and the cozy, scenic little B&Bs at which we stayed.
Like sharing a chat with Gemini II about which play we should see when we get together next week, leading to a protracted reminiscence about the stage shows we used to put on as kids or the fun we had at our high school reunion a couple of summers ago.
Like planning out my next blog post or mentally sampling new recipe combinations while I stomp around with The Girls on the trail, inhaling the scent of pine cones and musty autumn leaves as our feet crunch over them on the path. All while being fully engaged, sharing life with loved ones, relishing the moments.
I love dishes that can be prepped and then popped in the oven, or set on the stove and forgotten for a time. This casserole does exactly that: it’s a snap to whip up the sauce, which is subsequently mixed with uncooked pasta, left in the oven, and baked.
Combining my favorite squash, kabocha (sometimes known in these parts as Buttercup) with seasonal sage, this is a perfect dish to offset the suddenly chilly weather (all right, third white lie: it can’t improve the weather, but it sure does elevate your mood).
To me, the texture resembles that of mac and cheese, with the additional sweetness of kabocha; cashews provide luxurious creaminess and sage supplies its own unique shot of umami. The dish can be served alongside the most elegant dinner as a side dish (especially if you opt for the lima bean option), or scooped out on a big plate as an entrée on its own.
Next time you find yourself with some time on your hands, prep this pasta first; then go off and make your other plans. Pasta will happen; and life is bound to happen, too. So why not enjoy something rich and silky as you navigate your way through?
Creamy Kabocha-Sage Pasta (or Bean) Bake
Suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond
While baking is the easiest option for this dish and results in a very thick, rich casserole, you can also make the sauce separately on the stovetop (see variation below), then pour over already-cooked pasta for a more traditional pasta dish. I found the casserole a bit more satisfying with its thicker, clingy coating, but the stovetop version is perfect when you’re in a rush and need something in 20 minutes.
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) unsweetened soy, almond or hemp milk
2/3 cup (160 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 cup (240 ml) packed cooked kabocha squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato purée
1/2 heaping cup (75 g) raw cashews
2 Tbsp (30 ml) potato starch (or use organic corn starch or tapioca starch)
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4-5 large fresh sage leaves (you can sub 1/2 tsp or 2.5 ml dried sage, but it won’t have the same intensity–probably necessary for this dish)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt, or to taste (use less if your stock is salty)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) allspice or 1/8 tsp (0.5 ml) cloves
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) elbow macaroni, penne or spirals (use gluten free or not, your choice) OR 2 cups cooked lima beans
About 1/2 cup (120 ml) bread crumbs (optional)
Chopped tomato and/or green onion (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Spray a large covered casserole dish with nonstick spray or grease with coconut oil. Set aside.
Place the milk, broth, squash, cashews, potato starch, garlic, sage, nutmeg, salt and allspice in the container of a powerful blender and blend until silky smooth and no lumps whatsoever are apparent (if using a regular blender, you will need to blend in smaller batches, then stir together in a large bowl). Pour into a large bowl.
Add the pasta or beans to the bowl and stir gently to coat. Pour the mixture into the casserole dish and smooth the top. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cover and stir. If using the bread crumbs, sprinkle them evenly over the top of the casserole at this point.
Bake for another 10-20 minutes, until the sauce is thick and the pasta is soft. If desired, scatter some chopped tomato and/or green onion over each serving. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
For Stovetop Version: Cook up 6-8 servings of your desired pasta and keep warm, then make the sauce: Blend sauce ingredients as described above, except add 1 full cup (240 ml) vegetable broth. Pour the sauce into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches a boiling point (it will heave and puff and spit; you really do have to stir constantly to avoid getting burned!), then continue to stir constantly (to avoid scorching and to avoid getting splattered) until the sauce thickens and turns a shade darker and less opaque. Pour over prepared pasta, toss and serve.
**Kids, that’s a big, DVD-like black vinyl disc on which we used to play music. On something that looked like a big hat box with a floating metal arm, called a “record player.”
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