Your family will not let you change. They know you too well, or they think they know you too well — deeply, through the muscle, to the bone. In their eyes, you lost your chance to turn out differently once your fontanelle fused.
For instance, during one brutal round of Trouble — a board game in which players gang up on other players, sending their pieces back to the start again and again — I threw the playing pieces against the wall, stomped on the board, smashed the bubble that held the dice and was thereafter labeled a “sore loser.” Never mind that the fateful game of Trouble happened 38 years ago, when I was 5, and since then I’ve gone on to fail and lose at many other (more important) things with a minimum of ungracious behavior and private stewing, to my family I will forever be a “sore loser.”
Shortly into our marriage, my husband added “cheater.” It wasn’t infidelity he accused me of, it was the kind of cheating related to being a “sore loser,” which my family had, of course, already warned him about.
We were playing Battleship and I was seated where I could easily see his fleet. You’d think the math genius would catch on immediately when every letter-number I called out was a direct hit, but toward the end of the game he was still shaking his head in amazement at my prescient guesses, and I had to confess. I assumed he would be amused. He was not (because he’s “judgmental” and a “buzzkill”). Oh, and he’s also a “picky eater.” That’s the label he’s carried forth from childhood, the one he’s long since outgrown and which makes him furious when it’s flung out like a courtroom accusation. I think he’d rather be called a “murderer.”
Clearly, given my fondness for roots and leaves, he’s not a picky eater. The only food he genuinely dislikes is squash. The word itself elicits a lip curl and an involuntary shudder. As a “cheater,” I used to sneak it into our meals at every opportunity. If he ate it happily, I’d smugly inform him that he just ate squash, and wasn’t it delicious!? If he took a bite and paused to ask — “Is there squash in here?” — I’d get huffy and remind him he could always cook his own damn meal, and, anyway, I couldn’t be expected to cater to his limited palate. Sometimes “picky eater” and “sore loser” were thrown.
In the years since, I’ve stopped being sneaky about it. He has a right to food preferences. If I prepare a dish that contains squash, I tell him and he decides whether it’s something he can stomach. On his part, he always takes a taste and has learned to love, or tolerate, squash in some preparations. Which is evidence that people do change — if you let them.
It’s not hard to love slightly sweet, butternut squash “butter” spread on cheddar pecan scones. Serve with a big green salad, a crisp chardonnay and a board game of your choice.
Butternut squash butter
Butternut squash is easier to work with than a standard pumpkin and cheaper than smaller pie pumpkins. You can call it “pumpkin butter,” if you like, though the butternut squash might be resentful at being wrongly labeled, and rightfully so.
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 2.5 pounds)
- 2 cups unsweetened apple cider
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- pinch of salt
- Peel the butternut squash, making sure to peel until you reach the orange flesh. Scoop out the seeds, and chop the flesh into 1-inch pieces.
- In a saucepan with a lid, simmer the squash, covered, in 2 cups of apple cider over medium low heat until it’s very, very tender, about 45 minutes, stirring more frequently as the squash breaks down and gets sticky.
- Purée with an immersion blender or in a standard blender until smooth. If the mixture is very loose or liquid (as happens sometimes if you get less flesh from the squash than you expect), return it to the saucepan and reduce it over medium heat, stirring continuously until it’s thickened, and then remove from the heat. It will thicken slightly as it cools. Similarly, you can thin with more apple cider or water if it’s thicker than you’d like.
- Add the other ingredients and adjust the seasonings. You may need more sweetener depending on the sweetness of the squash and cider you started with. You may also prefer more cinnamon. (I like the cinnamon to be very subtle.) Spoon into a glass jar or bowl and let it cool thoroughly before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for about three weeks.
Cheddar pecan scones
I make these in many different varieties — dried cherry and lemon zest; Irish soda bread with caraway seeds and golden raisins; and cannoli-style with mini chocolate chips and candied orange peel, filled with sweetened ricotta cheese — but this version is the one I make most often.
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground red pepper, or a pinch of cayenne pepper
- 5 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
- 1½ cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup heavy cream (plus a little more to brush on the top of the scones)
- Preheat your oven to 425°. In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, garlic powder and red pepper. Pulse a few times.
- Dot the butter across the top of the flour mixture and pulse 15 times.
- Add the cheese and pecans. Pulse a few more times to mix them in.
- Pour the cream over the top and pulse briefly, until the mixture begins to come together. Dump the mixture (there will be some dry, floury bits still unmixed) onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until you can form it into a craggly ball.
- Pat into a circle that is about 8 inches across, and cut into eight wedges. Place a couple of inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or use parchment or silpat). Brush the top of each scone with a bit of cream.
- Bake for about 15 minutes. If the bottoms are brown before the tops are browned, broil the tops until they are nice and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Split in half and spread with butter and butternut squash butter.