pumpkin millet pudding

One of the things I’m most thankful for each Fall is that it’s time to eat orange food. And one of my favorite orange foods since I was a little kid has always been winter squash. If I’m going to eat it for dinner, either stuffed or right out of the skin, two of my favorite choices are spaghetti squash or delicata squash.

delicata squash chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Delicata is one of my favorite winter squash varieties

If I’m going to make a soup, a regular pumpkin is nice, and it’s even more festive to scoop small pumpkins out, bake them (but not too much) and make them the soup “bowls” for the actual soup. You may remember my family did this one year with Susan’s delicious Ethiopian Spiced Pumpkin Bisque.

Oddly, though, if I’m going to make a pie, I usually don’t bake a pumpkin for that. Instead I like to use a thicker, sweeter squash like  kabocha or bitter root buttercup or the one I just called “a great pumpkin” last year–because it looked like a pumpkin, but wasn’t really a pumpkin. . .

I know it’s easy to use canned pumpkin, but after tasting the sweet baked bright orange flesh of nearly any winter squash, I gladly take the time to warm my kitchen with baking one whole. As I’ve written about before, nothing could be easier. I sit it on a cookie sheet lined with a baking mat or parchment, stab it a few times with a knife and bake it at 400 for an hour. Each year at Thanksgiving I do this to make my Pumpkin Pie in the Free World or my Coconut Kissed Pumpkin Persimmon Pie. When I use winter squash I’ve baked myself as the pumpkin in pumpkin pie, I go the extra step of pureeing it in the food processor first so its texture is uniform when blended with the other pie ingredients.

I will do all that again this year so I can bring a version of Pumpkin Pie in the Free World over to Mike and Kelly’s. But some nights I just want to have something as comforting as a piece of that pie, but without all the work. So I bake myself some squash, and I make this easy pudding with some of it. It takes no utensils but a small pyrex bowl and a fork. I don’t measure anything either. I just mix it all in the bowl with the fork, bake it, and eat it. For purposes of helping you to the same treat, I will approximate amounts in the “recipe” below. This is a great  treat to make yourself and also something you can make ahead and bring if you need a vegan and gluten free dessert option alongside pie that is full of dairy and eggs and refined sugar you’d rather not eat. I have taste tested it on Mike after he assembled a new table for me, and I got a thumbs up.

Apparently Denmark has been named the happiest country on earth. They have a word to describe a cultural concept known as “hygge” that has no direct analogue in English. Apparently words like “coziness” and “togetherness” only scratch the surface of its meaning. I’m not Danish, but on a cold November evening after a brisk walk in the twilight and a full day, I think snuggling in on the couch with Romeo and a bowl of this pudding-bake comes close enough for me. Simple healthy food gives comfort and a sense of belonging to the rhythm of the seasons that just doesn’t translate into words.

My heart is full of thankfulness for these opportunities to share with you, my generous readers–I wish you all a healthy and happy Thanksgiving Day.

Maria (moonwatcher)


chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Last Sunday my next door neighbor came over to go down into the basement with me to get some extra newspapers to help protect the floor when her new kittens arrive. She also offered to help me put the insulated cover of my patio spigot. It was raining pretty steadily and Romeo and I had already gotten pretty wet trying to put some flyers up, and so I whipped out one of my new umbrellas from IKEA, thinking she would want to get under it too. First I got it stuck on the top of the patio gate because I was busy talking, then in the big tree overhanging the narrow passageway to the basement stairs. I laughed and when she saw I was laughing at myself, she laughed, too. She has lived in Portland all her life and she told me native Portlanders don’t bother with umbrellas. I told her I was glad I could make her laugh. But despite getting it caught–and then, skillfully, I might add–uncaught– from the branches of the nearly empty tree, I was still happy to use it.

There’s something irresistibly romantic and fanciful about umbrellas. They remind me of the love theme from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”And of course classic Gene Kelly and Singin’ in the Rain.  Or more recently, a lovely video I saw of President Obama, sharing his umbrella with his female staff members coming off the plane in a downpour. So gentlemanly and presidential. And when I was a little girl I loved it when my mother would read me this Carl Sandburg poem:

The rain is raining all around,

it falls on field and tree;

It rains on the umbrellas here,

and on the ships at sea.

As a child with mild spasticity, I was always a little startled by the sudden opening of a real umbrella, but very proud of myself when I figured out how to open and close one myself.

I used to love walking down the street on a rainy day with an umbrella. But once I had to use a walking stick, holding both the umbrella and the stick proved to be too much a challenge for my eye-hand-brain connection, and so I went for big hoods and rain pants instead and hoped, as my mother used to say, to “go between the raindrops.” When I got Romeo we outfitted ourselves with rain gear for both of us, in case we got caught in a storm. But maneuvering with the dog leash still pushed the efficient use of an umbrella out of reach. If I couldn’t hold it upright consistently, it became a potential weapon, the kind parents used to say things about like, “Be careful, you’ll put your eye out with that!!”

When I moved to Portland, one of my wonderful readers was going to be in town and we met at a place near my new condo for a Brazilian treat called an acai bowl. She had with her a very pretty umbrella someone had given her, or that she had purchased while on a walking tour in a downpour, and she wanted to give it to me. I told her, gee, thank you very much, but I can’t handle an umbrella and a dog leash very well at the same time, and since Romeo helps me walk, he’s first choice. I said I would be sure to wear my big hoods.

But then fall came and it really started to rain. And rain. Hard. On Halloween Portland got more rain in one day than it has seen in the last four years. I saw that my hoods might not do the job. I had an appointment with a new primary care physician and though Mike was dropping me off, he would be gone to Seattle for the rest of the day, so Romeo and I would be walking back home or waiting for a bus and walking back home. Mike fished out an umbrella from his office and said I should keep it with me, just in case.

I was dubious I would be able to handle it, literally, but I took it, just in case. As it turned out, the sun broke through that afternoon and Romeo and I walked home with hood off and jacket unzipped. I kept the umbrella, a sober, practical black one, near the back door in my kitchen, “just in case.” But I still was really doubtful it would be much use to me.

The weather changes in a flash here.  As the days get shorter, Romeo and I move our evening walk to later afternoon, and once we were all zipped into our various coverings to head out through the patio, it became apparent we were going to get rained on pretty hard. I made a quick decision to grab the umbrella and see if I could even open it without getting it tangled in the dog leash, and wondering if I even remembered how.

When I was successful, I felt the same delight I once felt in grade school. And off we went, through the gate (which I was also able to unlatch and latch while holding the umbrella AND the dog leash) and out into the rainy late afternoon we went.

I could hardly believe it. I was strolling along under an umbrella, holding it without pain or involuntary jerks of my hand that sent it reeling toward the ground or my face. I felt like I was in a movie myself. And then a curious thing happened.

The umbrella turned red. Or at least in my imagination it did. The deepest most true shade of fire engine red, with a lovely sheen of water droplets all over it. The world in November may be a palette of gray, black and white, but this umbrella was like a rose blooming out of season in the midst of it.

I had to laugh. My heart and mind’s eye were full of this beautiful red umbrella. And I knew when I got home, that evening I’d be drawing one.

Later on I wondered where this fanciful vision might have come from and why red. And then I remembered. I’m reading the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-time. The narrator is an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog and his favorite color is red. When he sees red cars on the way to school, it means it is a very good day. So I must have taken that cue from the book and created myself a red umbrella. The fact that I could hold the black one made it a very good day indeed, good enough for my imagination to turn it a beautiful shade of satin red.

My hands did get a little tired, so I would switch from time to time, but I did fine negotiating both the leash and the umbrella handle. I thought it might be harder with a backpack of groceries, or a different handle (this one was thick and straight) but I told myself at least I know if we need to get a walk in before dark and the rain is not going to let up, we can go under our umbrella. Since then, I have used it successfully with a backpack of groceries, and when it gave up the ghost and wouldn’t stay open all the way, I found I could use the new ones I got to replace it, too.

Back when I was an MFA student teaching beginning poetry writing workshops, the example of a cliche often given to students who were trying their hand at using metaphor was “my love is a red red rose.” It’s so commonplace that we don’t see it as vividly as we might see something else. Nevertheless I like that the umbrella is a kind of rose opening backwards and that my delight in being able to hold it up can make a simple walk in the rain feel as spectacular as the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the screen goes from black and white to color. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but it sure is fun to walk in the rain with my dog and my umbrella. Even if I give myself away as a transplant, or though Gene Kelly closes his and even takes his hat off during his famous drenching,  I’m just so happy I can be out there–rain pants, hood, umbrella, groceries, service dog and all–next time I might just break into song. Or at least the giggles.

Maria (moonwatcher)



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