August 25, 2008

Slow Food, with Peggy Markel: a cup of tea; a recipe for Roasted Winter Squash Puree.

ele:SLOW FOOD, from elephant journal’s Autumn 2005 issue.

Nothing is ever as it seems. Everything is always in a state of breaking down: impermanence. Quantum physics, Buddhism, relationships…they all tell us that nothing is solid. So I wonder: why do we resist change? Why not make the best of it? A change of season is quite like the Tibetan’s notion of the bardo. Bar means in between, do means suspended. A gap between the one situation and the onset of another. transition. Within that context, how relative it is when we use words like everything and always! Philosophy aside, how do we deal with the quicksand that is our reality mindfully and emotionally on an everyday basis? Often, we feel ‘bent out of shape’ when something falls apart or things don’t go the way we want them to. We can’t control our world, the weather or our government (not to mention our hair). And how we react is interesting.

We might remember to breathe. But more often we stomp off in a rage, or grab a chocolate bar and bury our sorrows in something sweet. Basically, we want to escape, look for comfort, find solid ground. And often we think we can find that ground in food or drink. We’re looking for refuge, for a place where we can feel secure, far from the unknown.

For the past 13 years, my life has been one of constant transition. I not only change seasons, I change countries twice a year. I leave Colorado for Italy every March before the snow melts, and return in July, just as the hills are turning golden. I leave at the end of August, missing the aspens turning yellow. On the road, I explore the food cultures of Italy and Morocco with my curious fellow travelers. And I return just before Thanksgiving. Throughout, food is the thread that keeps me sane and joyful. I look forward to sitting down three times a day. A moment of gratitude.

In my travels I often feel like a whirlwind, touching the ground only infrequently. I’m constantly moving, like the Cat in the Hat balancing on a ball while spinning plates in the air. Don’t worry—I have a smile on my face. I love my life. But when I stop I want to sit down and enjoy the moment and everything I touch to be worth my while.

I start with a cup of tea, perhaps some good toast. I sit in my kitchen. I look outside to the long flat plains, west, and the rolling mountains, west… and once again I begin to rule the world of myself. The only true comfort. Only I can do it. It’s the same thing that happens when I practice meditation, only easier. It’s waking up.

Working with groundlessness has become an advanced practice. I have a long-standing, personal and professional relationship with it. I have come to know it as a way of life. Living as I do, traveling constantly, has helped me to see that rather than groundlessness being an painful, uncertain thing, it can teach me how to find the calm within the storm and go with the flow. Comfort can come not from trying to control your world, but knowing that you will attend to it in a nourishing way.

As the air begins to chill, my senses start to contract. I open myself to it. I pull out my favorite sweater and head to the market dreaming of something warming. I want bitter flavors, root vegetables, a stew, a roast, sautéed dark greens, or my favorite winter squash. I love the feeling of warmth that rushes to my toes and my fingertips after drinking something hot.

Hot cocoa anyone?


Roasted Winter Squash Puree, a nice alternative to mashed potatoes.

One 2 1/2 lb winter squash (Kabocha, Hokkaido, Turban or Butternut)
Spice mixture: 1 t each ground cumin, cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
1/4 c of extra-virgin olive oil
2 t of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut a 2 1/2 pound winter squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Using a dampened brush, brush lightly with olive oil and place it cut side down on a heavy baking dish. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon water onto the pan. Bake 30 min. Then turn the squash over and bake for 15 minutes or the flesh is tender. With a spoon, scoop the flesh into a bowl or food processor. Process to a smooth purée. Add half of the spice mixture, taste and add more spices if desired. Add olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

ele:COLUMNIST Peggy Markel leads Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures in Italy, Morocco and the United
States, bringing friends to the table in pursuit of pleasure, culture and community. She has dedicated the past 13 years to offering groups an authentic experience of the first quality materials that make for deep nourishment.

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