November 13, 2014
Today is the day that a robot landed on a comet because a team of human beings did intense work calculating how to get it there, and then a million things went right, and then it did.
This is why I am not going to write a whole post about why I haven’t posted here in over a month. I got sick, I was busy, whatever—it’s not interesting and it profoundly does not matter in the scheme of things.
Here’s something that matters—last Friday, Jill and Shiv and I were dancing around in the back yard after dinner. It’s so dark so early these days, so Jill made a fire and the three of us were being loopy and goofy in that end-of-the-week sort of way. Somehow, we started to sing in faux opera style, which Shiv thought was great. He started interpretive dancing and asking for “more ooo-ooo music!” so we came inside and broke the Sabbath so that I could pull up a video of Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” with the New York Philharmonic circa 1980.
Our kid sat, enraptured, watching one of the greatest opera singers of all time sing one of the most beautiful arias of all time. When the video was over, without any prompting from us, he pushed the “play” button to watch it again. And again. And again. He sat in my lap, perfectly still (a rareity) and watched that video half-a-dozen times. I swear I could feel his soul grow.
It’s just so insane to me, the grace that brought this being into my life and that has entrusted me with his care. It’s crazy humbling and so much fun, watching him figure out who he is and what he wants from the world.
I am teaching Whitman right now, among other things, and I love him so much it makes me delirious. I’m sure my students think I am a madwoman, raving and pacing around the classroom about the brilliance of this old bearded dead dude. But he is one of the pole stars by which I have guided myself all these years, and to whom I hope my son will someday refer. His work is, for me, like a sacred text, words I can return to over and over again throughout my life, drawing more meaning with each reading.
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
We read these lines now and they feel so conventional to us, so expected and cliché that it’s difficult to convey fully the truly radical nature of Whitman’s thought within his time. When Leaves of Grass was first published, reviewers called it “vile” and suggested that the author of such work ought to be flogged in the streets; that is how offensive his notions of equality, of egalitarianism, of the importance of the body in all of its functions, of the beauty of the ordinary day, moment, experience.
A new and unexpected friendship, a student who takes the poetry-writing assignment seriously when you totally thought he wouldn’t, the generosity and graciousness of strangers, a little boy who calls you “Mama” when it still sometimes catches your breath that anyone does.
No shortage of things to be thankful for here.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH CARBONARA
barely adapted from Bon Appetit
I made this a few weeks ago and only have the one iPhone picture to show for it, but man it was good. Much as I love pasta with tomato sauce, it’s nice to take a break from that and do something different. Shiv is pretty well obsessed with “noo noos” (noodles), so every other week or so, I try to give the people what they want.
There are a handful of steps here, but none of them are hard. I was able to pull this together on a weeknight whil Jill was teaching a class and it was just me & Shiv home, so that speaks well for its doability. Also, if you want to plan ahead, you can make the butternut squash puree ahead of time—it should keep in the fridge for a few days.
Because we had about a half a container of baby greens wilting in the fridge, I folded them in at the end of the cooking process (right after taking the picture above) and they added both a nice color contrast as well as a note of bitter to play against the sweetness of the squash. I’d do it again.
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
small handful fresh sage leaves, whole
3 cups peeled, seeded, & cubed butternut squash (half inch cubes or somewhere thereabouts)*
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. pasta of your choice—I used pappardelle; original recipe calls for fettucine or linguine
salt & pepper
to serve: Pecorino or Parmesan or the hard, salty cheese of your choice
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pancetta until it is crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a small bowl. Add more oil to the skillet if needed and quick-fry the sage leaves for just a minute or two until they are crisp, then transfer to the same bowl as the pancetta.
In the same skillet that you just cooked the pancetta & sage in (delicious flavor in there!), cook the squash, onion, and garlic over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the onion is translucent, then add the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the squash is soft and the liquid has reduced considerably, about 15-20 minutes.
Allow the squash to cool a bit, then use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. (Alternately, you can transfer to a conventional blender, but if you do this, you will need to let the squash cool a bit longer first.) Taste and season the mixture with salt & pepper.
Cook your pasta until al dente—you will be cooking it a bit more in the next step, so don’t over-cook it now! Drain the pasta and reserve about a half cup of cooking liquid. In the same old big skillet, combine the pasta, squash puree, and ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and cook over medium heat, tossing everything around until the sauce coats the pasta. (Add more cooking liquid as needed to thin the sauce.) This step should only take a few minutes.
Remove from heat and crumbled the pancetta and sage over the skillet, plus a generous amount of cheese!
*I usually advocate saving money & prepping your own vegetables, but butternut squash is the exception; those things are a damn pain to peel & break down. I am a big fan of the Costco pack of prepped squash!
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