I’ve always liked living in town. Walking to the coffee shop, bookstore, farmer’s market, playground, bar, etc. is really appealing. Strap the kids in the stroller or a carrier, slide into good walking shoes, and go. You’re out, in the sun, meeting the people in your neighborhood, smiling at friendly shopkeepers, popping into galleries just for a look, picking up snacks along the way, running for cover if a sudden rainstorm finds us too far from home without warning. There’s a certain social spontaneity to it that makes me happy. Let’s walk to get ice cream, to the antique store, to the strand of beach, and see who else is around, feeling a similar need to be out, to see and be seen, as it were. But we’re being called away again, as we often are, lured by the siren song of a different possibility.
There’s a farmhouse out in Cushing, deep into the peninsula, where there are eagles, foxes, deer, and turkeys in the wild, not to mention eccentric neighbors of all shapes and models. The natural beauty is incomparable. There is quiet. There is stillness. There are very old cedars and climbing rose bushes, apple trees, wisteria and lilacs. There’s a basement and a barn with a woodstove and a cupola. There are literally bats in the belfry. It has a wrap around porch with rocking chairs and a pond across the road. The kind of setting that makes you want to take up whittling or pipe smoking and they almost wouldn’t be affectations. Where children can dig in the dirt and find treasures and use their imagination to whip up mud pies. We can plant a garden. And have a small splash tub. We can hang the laundry out to dry in privacy and it will get scented with salt water and pine. We’re moving to the country.
It isn’t so far from where we are now. We won’t change jobs or schools. Our new, old life is still moving forward. But it is completely unexpected two months after returning from the west and deciding to be settled right here where we are. This is an essay that can’t say everything. We didn’t do anything wrong and yet, we have to vacate this snug, in-town home. Our rental agreement has been terminated. The last book placed on the last shelf, and then, a 30 day notice in keeping with the lease agreement. We have no choice and we are making the best of our circumstances. Because isn’t that all you can ever do?
So much of life is beyond our control and understanding. But I don’t want to. But it’s not fair. But this sucks. BUT. BUT. BUT. The internal monologue of a functioning adult is a lot like a teenager’s incessant, solipsistic soliloquy. ME. ME. ME. WHYYYYYYYYYY GOD? There is still stomping and grumping and throwing yourself down prostrate on your bed. But the only person to ground you is you. You are the parent. You have to pick yourself up and figure out what’s next. You’re lucky when you have a partner to do it with. Someone to sit in the dark with you at the end of the day with a candle burning, to watch episodes of The Hills, and drink wine and eat popcorn, and curse the ones who wronged you and plot the best parts of the next micro-adventure.
We’re in the middle of things again. Like everybody is. Maybe that’s why all epic stories start there. We want to catch the action before we know the origin and resolution of the tale. It’s so human and relatable to be at the learning stage, the frisson and frustration of transition. Life doesn’t stop for you to move, so you have to keep flowing with it. You have to keep feeding kids and giving them baths and making dinner for yourself and answering emails and going back the mechanic. This is a dinner that fits into the rest of your life. And it’s a good one.
I made it as an entree, but it could very easily be adapted as a side dish, paired with a Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, Easter lamb, or President’s Day pork roast. (What, are you unpatriotic?) You can put it all together the night before. You can use a different kind of cheese if you think Gruyere is weird. But Gruyere adds a nuttiness that makes sense with the other ingredients. You could omit the sausage. It is balanced. It has a melty component. It is satisfying. And the presentation kills me.
Long, long ago I imagined having a food shop called Good where everything would be served inside other food. Ice cream in coconuts, soup in bread bowls, you get the idea. So this twice-baked acorn squash makes me happy. In the midst of hard times, I am trying to be happy. When things remind me of old times from other places I thought were gone forever, when the babies are just like I imagined happy children would behave, naked and giggling, when spring is finally arriving. What else can we do, but enjoy.
- 2 acorn squash, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¾ lb. loose hot Italian sausage
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup stock
- ¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups baby kale
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1½ cups Gruyere, grated
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil over squash. Place cut side down in a baking pan and cook, 45-50 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet, season sausage with salt and bay leaf, brown over medium-high heat. Remove to a large bowl.
- Turn down heat to medium-low and add stock, stirring up sausage bits from the bottom of the pan. Add onion and cook, 2-3 minutes. Add kale, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, wilt. Combine with sausage.
- Remove squash from the oven and carefully scoop out ¾ of the flesh. Incorporate into sausage and kale. Taste and season with salt, if necessary.
- Return mixture to the hollowed-out squash halves.
- Top with grated Gruyere cheese.
- Change the oven setting to broil and put the baking pan with the squash in, 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and brown.