Friday, November 20, 2009

Butternut Everything

I love butternut squash. I love the taste, the texture, the color, the shape. I love that now that I have a big-girl knife set, I'm no longer afraid of cutting them in half. I love that I now know that you can peel them with a vegetable peeler. With these problems solved, butternut squash is probably the vegetable I am most comfortable experimenting with in the kitchen.

So when I stumbled upon this recipe on the site of Puritan & Genesta, a health food store in Mystic, CT, I knew I would make it. And that I did, after a long day of work, some sample sale and grocery shopping, and a long, local train ride. (I only exhibit this kind of commitment to cooking on a weeknight for things involving winter squash.) 

I substituted spinach for chard, because I had a lot of it lying around (with a spoon in the bag to keep the greens fresh, a Heloise tip via Aunt D). I would advise you to be free with the lemon juice. I used more than the recipe called for initally, and every time I reheat the dish in the microwave, I add some more, with pepper, for more life and zing. 

The recipe yields a lot of food -- so far we've eaten it three days in a row, and we're not even sick of it, which is a testament to the variety of flavors and textures going on here.


1 (13/4-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice (4 cups cubed)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 cups chopped onion
8 ounces mixed-grain bow ties or penne
1 pound chard, trimmed and shredded (about 12 cups shredded)
2 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium white beans, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and cumin. Place in single, uncrowded layer on baking sheet and roast until squash is fork-tender, 20 to 24 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large, nonstick skillet over medium high. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and browned, 15 to 17 minutes.
4. Cook pasta in plenty of lightly salted boiling water according to package directions. Three to 4 minutes before it is finished cooking, add the chard to the pot. Just before draining, add the beans.
5. Toss pasta with the lemon juice, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss with the squash, caramelized onions and Parmesan. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional analysis for each serving: 446 calories, 19 g protein, 68 g carbohydrate, 15 g fiber, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 859 mg sodium, 242 mg calcium

Friday, November 13, 2009

Inspired By Rene Gruau

A few years ago my sister-in-law gave me a wall calendar featuring the artwork of Italian illustrator Rene Gruau. At the time I had never heard of him. But twelve months later, when it was time to take down the calendar, I had become wildly attached to the brightness, ease, simplicity, and sophistication of his work. My heart grows ever fonder to this day. My favorite image from the calendar, above, hangs over my dresser. I think it was probably the subconscious inspiration for my yellow chairs. Who wouldn't want to be that woman? Or any of the women in his images, for that matter.

Particularly her.

His posters and prints sell for several thousand dollars, and I can't find any new calendars or other low-price point items in the marketplace right now. Thank god I saved my calendar. And thanks to my sister-in-law for having such discriminating taste in the first place!

Gruau, who died in 2004, said, "I'm self-taught. I never had any formal instruction, I simply taught myself by studying other artists. I never took myself seriously but I took my work very seriously." Amen to that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sharing A Poem: Melancholy Autumn, Autumn Ablaze

I love this poem by W. S. Merwin. It's so solid, clear, to the point, and yet, transcendent. Love him.

A Single Autumn
by W. S. Merwin

The year my parents died
one that summer one that fall
three months and three days apart
I moved into the house
where they had lived their last years
it had never been theirs
and was still theirs in that way
for a while

echoes in every room
without a sound
all the things that we
had never been able to say
I could not remember

doll collection
in a china cabinet
plates stacked on shelves
lace on drop-leaf tables
a dried branch of bittersweet
before a hall mirror
were all planning to wait

the glass doors of the house
remained closed
the days had turned cold
and out in the tall hickories
the blaze of autumn had begun
on its own

I could do anything

Monday, November 9, 2009

Speaking Of First Ladies...

Friday night I went to the Two River Theater and saw Tea for Three, a new one woman show co-written by and starring Emmy award-winning actress Elaine Bromka. The play captured three First Ladies -- Ladybird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford -- at the end of their terms in the White House. Over tea with the audience, they tell how they met and fell in love with their husbands. They reveal their varied understandings of the duties of a political wife. And they can't help but tell their sides of the biggest moments of their political and personal worlds. For Ladybird and LBJ, his unexpected presidency after the assassination of JFK, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the escalation of the Vietman War, and his decision not to seek another term. For Pat and Richard Nixon, Watergate, Vietman, and his ultimate resignation. For Betty and Gerald Ford, his pardoning of Nixon, Roe v. Wade, and his loss to Jimmy Carter. 

You might think that a play about tea with the First Ladies would be dull, but Bromka squeezes a lot of history and humanity into her performance. Humanity is the key. I may be a history buff, but I was humbled by just how little I knew about these women. In fact, as someone in my late twenties, I couldn't summon up a picture of them or hear their accents in my head. It may not just be my age. First-Lady-dom institutionalizes these women and denies the humanity behind the role. 

As Bromka told more of their families, upbringings, and personal history, it lifted the institutional veil. The First Ladies morphed from historical figures to relatable women. Hearing their improbable paths to the White House, I realize what a bizarre course it is from love affair to First Lady, especially in an earlier time when wives didn't necessarily have an equal say in their husband's career choices. Michelle Obama giving Barack the third degree about why he wanted to run, how he thought he could win, and what he would accomplish once in office is a testament not only to Mrs. Obama but to these millennial times. 

For more on the current first marriage, read this profile of the Obamas in the New York Times Magazine. For more on the lives and times of Ladybird, Pat, and Betty, see Tea for Three. Two thumbs up!

I had the opportunity to speak with Elaine Bromka after the show. She was fantastic -- passionate about her research, writing, and performance. A real triple threat in my book!

Breaking News

I have the same cardigan as Michelle Obama. (It was on sale at J. Crew!)

Also, how does this woman manage to be simultaneously cute and gorgeous in a Halloween costume? 


Friday, November 6, 2009

2010 Is Closer Than You Think

Being in the stationery industry, I have already come to terms with the end of 2009. I sent the 2011 calendar to press last month. In fact, I've even caught myself dating things 2010. I'm ready, and I'm here to get you ready. 

I didn't have a calendar in my office at home in 2009. I can't say I really missed it, since I keep everything in my date book, but my wall looked a little sad and empty. And since I don't want to end up with some Ansel Adams calendar from Borders, this year I am hunting down the coolest wall calendars for sale on the internet and reporting them here. (I'm limiting my list to wall calendars because I think those tiny card-sized calendars are pretty but ultimately useless.)

First there's the Dolphin Studio Calendar, which is pretty special but very pricey. But once you read about the FFrench ffamily, you may decide they have earned their $50 through sheer adorability.

Next up there's Nikki McClure, who you've already met. Her calendar is reliably thoughtful and easy on the eyes.

Now this calendar from illustrator Nicole J. Georges defies description, but I will say that I thought it was the coolest calendar on all of Etsy (and yes I searched all forty pages of calendars.) Please don't be offended by the seller's description of it. I'm not sure what it means, I just like the illustrations, like this one...

This one by Red Prairie Press is pretty cool, but I also find it a little disturbing. To each their own.  

This Circus Train calendar is not actually what I mean by wall calendar, but I'm making an exception because I have a real thing for circus trains dating back to a single digit birthday party.  Way to be on the same wavelength Lisa Rupp Designs.

Lastly I have mixed emotions about including this calendar by Kate Spade. I find that I like Kate Spade's marketing materials better than their actual products, but that's okay. What really bothers me is that I like this calendar because it reminds me of Maira Kalman. But it's not Maira Kalman. But she doesn't make a wall calendar, even though I suggested it to her on her Facebook page. Maybe you'll be able to decide whether it's a blatant rip-off of my favorite living artist.

Not sure which one I'll order... I think it's between Dolphin Studio and the Queer Animal Odyssey. What do you think? Do you have any other recommendations, or are you just trying to get through the holidays?

Postcards For No Reason

I just went on a postcard sending spree and I'd like to officially recommend it to everyone. It made me feel so good inside, picturing my friends opening up their mailboxes and finding my messages amidst a pile of bills and unwanted solicitations. And I really love the collection of postcards I sent -- Nikki McClure's "Take Care" collection for Chronicle Books. 

Nikki makes the coolest stuff by cutting elaborate designs out of a single piece of paper. Talk about "exacting." (Those of you with a self-healing cutting board will get that one.) And because her work is such a labor of love, each piece has a message and  a lot of soul. I had a good time matching up the folks in my life to each image.

Nikki's work appears on a few other products -- children's books, wall calendars, and notepads to name a few. You can see all of her stuff, including her original prints (!) here. My favorite image from the postcards -- a black cat with bird in mouth -- was too inappropriate to send to anyone and so I gladly kept for myself. It's also available on a notepad for $3. You can't beat it. 

If I can find more exciting postcard sets I'd like to keep this mass mailing up. One day I'll even the score with all my very thoughtful friends who manage to have both stamps and addresses with them when they vacation. 

And to those recipients out there, scattered across the country, check your mailboxes!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

POTUSes with the Motuses

Friends look at me differently after they see my collection of miniature presidential figurines for the first time. They call my name from the other room and ask, is this a civil war re-enactment? Are these action figures? What exactly is going on here? They knew I was a little nerdy, but this, this changes something. It's my dirty little secret. 

But I can explain. I'm history major with a love of American history and the presidents, which was handed down to me by my mother  -- she founded our town's historical museum for crying out loud. I also inherited her love of antique stores and quirky historical commemorative items. (My mom is using my upholsterer, and upon visiting her house he said, "It's very evident that you two are related. And you look alike too.")

So a couple of birthdays ago I became the proud owner of a set of The Presidents of the United States by Marx. The set wasn't in it's original packaging or anything, just piled into a ziplock baggy. Jefferson may have a broken arm and I think I may be missing Kennedy, but that never bothered me. Then this morning a friend sent me a link to, a company that picks up where Marx left off (Nixon.) They've also branched out to include presidential candidates, Supreme Court justices, VPs, and other notable Americans. Please, please, contain your excitement, you're going to break my blog. 

I immediately called my mom to tell her the good news, and something tells me there will be some tiny statesmen under the tree this year. But the real question is, am I ready to welcome W. into my home? I'm not sure enough time has passed.