Traditions & Stories plus Roasted & Mashed Butternut Squash

THANKS_03It is the season of thanks and giving. The timing could not be more apropos. Smart people tell us that if you’re feeling blue or out of sorts, both giving and gratitude are wonderful cures. On the other hand, if life is good for you right now, embrace those feelings with gratitude and give back graciously.

I am a big believer in the power of small things. That’s why I’m grateful for kind words. Give one or receive one; it doesn’t matter. Let the kind words fly in all directions. They make the world an infinitely better place. Don’t be shy; blurt out that compliment to the stranger in the supermarket. After all, it is a fabulous haircut. Don’t just say hello to that friend you haven’t seen in weeks. Greet him with, “I’m so happy to see you.”

I also believe in the power of big things. While a cynic might brush them off as inconsequential, family traditions are big, powerful things. Thanksgiving, in particular, is filled with traditions. It doesn’t matter that many have changed a bit; some have grown and others have disappeared. Family traditions are the threads that bind us together across distance, time and generations.

From the first post-election debate in 1796 to the green bean casserole that debuted in the mid-fifties, Thanksgiving follows a familiar if sometimes uncomfortable routine. But make no mistake, even the most awkward moment can bring comfort. Once again, at some point during the feast, we will take a deep breath and resist the almost uncontrollable urge to strangle that knuckleheaded cousin. However, while his obstinacy may frustrate us, the inevitability of his knuckleheaded-ness also grounds us. In a way, I guess we love him in spite of his stubbornness and because of it.

The predictable menu we serve may not actually be the best we have to offer but continuity brings us peace. And so, even if tempted, I will not stir up Butternut Squash Risotto, grill burgers or simmer black beans for Thanksgiving dinner. Okay, I confess I’ll roast the squash instead of boil it like my mother did. Traditions bend with each new generation and blend with new additions to the family.

Along with the discussion and debate, the drama and pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving is filled with family stories. Throughout the day, we create them; relive them and share them. Few families have heroic tales to tell. Not many can reminisce about the year Uncle Pete missed the party because of a moon landing or cousin Wilt was busy at a record-breaking basketball game.

Our family stories may be rather ordinary, even mundane, but they are ours. We recount the time Mom didn’t realize the turkey was double wrapped and popped it in oven, cellophane and all. We remember Thanksgiving blizzards, even power outages, as well as the time our eighty-some year old aunt had two too many Manhattans. As for you and your family, perhaps you tell of the time the dog stole the turkey or your uncle nodded off and did a faceplant in the mashed potatoes.

While the events may be ordinary, the stories are not. Each story gives a glimpse into one or more of the unique characters that somehow came together and formed a family. These tales share love and loss, laughter and tears. Family stories remind us of the people and personalities who came before us. Part comedy, part tragedy, part legend, our family stories connect us to the past and give us strength and courage for the future. They are very powerful indeed.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with tradition, stories and love. Bon appétit!

Roasted & Mashed Butternut Squash
My mother always boiled, drained and mashed her squash with butter and a little brown Butternut_Squashsugar or maple syrup. I’ve ramped up the flavor by roasting it. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3-4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
1-2 pinches cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Apple cider vinegar
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
About 1 cup cream or chicken or vegetable broth
2-3 tablespoons butter plus more for the pan
About 2 ounces each Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
About 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Put the squash in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets. Sprinkle with cayenne, salt and pepper, drizzle with enough equal parts vinegar and oil to lightly coat and toss to combine. Roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. Add the onions and more oil and vinegar if necessary and toss to combine. Roast for 15 minutes more or until lightly browned and tender. Remove from the oven, add the herbs and toss to combine. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Generously butter a large baking dish.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the vegetables to a food processor, add the cream, butter and cheeses and pulse to combine and puree. If the mixture seems dry, add a little more cream or broth. Transfer the squash to the prepared baking dish.

Can be prepared ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake the butternut squash uncovered at 350 degrees until piping hot. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve.

Print-friendly version of this post.

One Year Ago – Pumpkin-Ginger Mousse
Two Years Ago – Radicchio, Fennel, and Arugula Salad
Three Years Ago – Roasted Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots & Pearl Onions
Four Years Ago – Turkey Noodle Soup with Spinach
Five Years Ago – Curried Thai Soup with Turkey, Vegetables & Noodles
Six Years Ago – Roast Turkey with Mom’s Stuffing & Giblet Gravy
Seven Years Ago – Penne Gratin with Leftover Turkey
Eight Years Ago – Leftover Turkey Stir-fry

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving traditions and stories? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

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