There’s a crack that opens up in the earth today, letting all manner of little demons and naughty spirits out to roam the earth for the night and make mayhem. I just thought I’d let you know that, in case you hadn’t heard already.
It’s the original reason behind dressing up on All Hallows Eve (Halloween), actually. If you were disguised as a witch or demon, then it was highly unlikely that the real demons wandering about would notice you and cause you trouble. They would think you were one of them and leave you alone. Which, on the whole, makes sense, don’t you agree?
A similar thing happens on the solstices, and at periods of your life when you’re in transition. Those pesky demons come out and can make a muck of any number of little things, or even make you sick. Nowadays we blame things like stress, which often increases in times of transition. But, those of us who are in the know – and now you’re in the know! – know that it’s actually demons.
It’s something you grow up being aware of when your mother is a professional storyteller and something of a folklorist. You also know that massive gnarled tree roots are trolls that died of old age, rocky outcroppings are likely pieces of a troll who burst when exposed to sun, the creaks in the attic are just house gnomes, and fairies and elves are everywhere.
The places where I grew up were beautiful enough, and wild enough, and mysterious enough that all of this made absolute, perfect sense. Living in a city, it’s a little more challenging to notice the fairies and elves, but they’re still there in the nodding of flowers and the fluttering of leaves. And, I think it’s worth the effort, to see the world as a place that still has some webs of magic weaving through the air, a place where there is more than meets the eye and where some mystery is allowed to linger.
I reflect on this every year when halloween comes around, and again at the winter solstice. And, I feel thankful that my mother not only explained to us about the hidden creatures, ghouls and goblins, and cracks in the shell of the earth, but also told us about how to ward off the evil spirits. (Beyond dressing up like one of them because, let’s be practical here, you can’t dress up like a goblin every time you’re going through a transition.)
Wear silver. That’s supposed to help. And you can light your house with candles or burn herbs. But, most importantly, gather with friends, sing songs, and share meals. Now that’s some folk lore I can get behind. (Oh wait, I get behind most folk lore…but this is some of my favorite.) And, whether you’re being bothered by stress, a sense of uncertainty and tenuousness, or being plagued by goblins, this does seem like it would be a good remedy.
Now, I don’t really have a neat transition to talking about these squash, except that I did in fact serve them to friends, and Joel called them, “kind of magical.” But, they do seem fairly perfect for a time like Halloween. And, I think they will continue to be a perfect sort of meal all throughout the winter season.
I had the idea that I wanted to try making twice baked squash, and did a little recipe searching to see what was out there. I discovered a Martha Stewart recipe for them. But, the reviews for Martha’s version were anything but glowing, so I decided to take mine my own way. I did, however, copy her lovely presentation of the squash melange scooped back into the squash shells.
After roasting the squash until tender, you scoop out the flesh, leaving just a modest layer in half of the skins, to help them keep their shape. Then, you mix up the squash with some flavorings, restore it to the empty shells that you reserved and then return them to the oven for the “twice” portion of the baking. If you wanted to, however, you could do the second baking in a nice little casserole dish.
I wanted to take the naturally sweet squash over to the savory side, so after blending it into a smooth orange mash with some Greek yogurt, I stirred in sauteed red onions and some pungent aged Gouda (which, I’ll admit was largely my choice because it was the only cheese we had around. But, it tasted so delicious, I wouldn’t change a thing.). After toying with all sorts of other ideas for mix ins, I decided, in the end, to keep things simple, and just finished the squash boats off with a sprinkling of pecans and toasty breadcrumbs.
This is another meal that could either be a vegetarian main dish, or could serve as a side dish for a nice fall-ish roast or braise. In either guise, I think you’ll find you have no problems with goblins at your table.
Twice Baked Butternut Squash (Serves 6 as a side dish)
- 3 medium butternut squash (other types of orange winter squash will work as well)
- Olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup Greek-style yogurt (thick yogurt) or crème fraiche
- ½ cup (loosely packed) shredded aged Gouda or Parmesan
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- 2 Tbs. lightly toasted breadcrumbs
- Preheat your oven to 425F. Cut each of the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and rub the cut side lightly with olive oil. Place the squash halves, cut sides facing up, in a large baking pan. Cover them with tin foil and put them in the oven. Roast them until their flesh is soft and easily pierced with a fork (around 45-50 minutes). Then, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool briefly.
- In the meantime, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a frying pan, over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Add the chopped onion and sautee it until it has softened and begun to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Once the squash is cool enough to touch, scoop the flesh out of the peels, but keep ¼ inch of the flesh lining three of the halves so that they keep their shape. (Alternatively, you can just scoop all of the flesh out of all of them and do the second bake in a baking dish rather than in the butternut squash shells.)
- In a big bowl, mash together the cooked butternut squash with the yogurt (or crème fraiche), cooked onion, shredded cheese, and ½ tsp. of salt. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Scoop this mixture back into the three squash halves that you didn’t scoop out quite completely (you can discard the other three), and place the filled squash halves in a clean baking dish. Sprinkle them with the chopped pecans and breadcrumbs.
- With the oven back at 425F, put the stuffed squash into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until they are golden and hot. Serve with a spoon to scoop out the filling and the flesh of the squash.