I can’t believe it’s only the first week of October and I’m already thinking about turning on the heat (I am writing this wearing a flannel shirt, sitting under a blanket). I heard that Cypress Mountain has already gotten its first dusting of snow this week, which helps explain why I was so chilly sitting in the park in my jean jacket talking with friends after Knit City last weekend. I only spent about $100 buying yarn, because Square happened to go down on the afternoon I was there so my debit card wouldn’t work at several of the vendor booths. A blessing in disguise. I had the somewhat unique experience of learning to knit during the pandemic and thus buying 95% of my yarns online, so it was cool to be able to see the true colours of things and actually feel what they’re like while shopping. I also heard from my friends who’ve attended in years past how nice it was to have scheduled time slots so it wasn’t extremely crowded and busy. I kind of hope some aspects of public life pre-pandemic never come back.
I’m getting started on my holiday knitting, even though I’m sure I’ll only actually finish a fraction of what I intend to make by Christmas. But it’s a nice excuse to sit in front of the tv and relax for a few hours. I’ve watched the first two Fear Street movies this week and am looking forward to watching the final chapter of the trilogy tonight. It’s also Thanksgiving this weekend, and we’re having my sisters over for a small dinner, because while no one’s ready for an 8-10 person dinner party, I don’t think we could go another year without making some food for someone. Canadians, I wish you a lovely long weekend full of delicious fall treats, and Americans, enjoy your long weekend as well, but you should really consider having your Thanksgiving around harvest time instead of on a weird colonialism Thursday a month before Christmas.
On Sunday we held what will presumably be our last cookoff until springtime, on a lovely warm October day (at least until the sun started to go down). It’s funny to think that years ago we used to take breaks from hosting cookoffs in the summer because we were all too busy and broke; now we’re having them in the summer and taking a break in the winter because we’re still in a weird place in terms of hanging out indoors. This month’s was harvest-themed, and the broadness of the category led to a wonderful variety of dishes: from corn soup to chestnut rice to mushroom ragout to poached pears. It was a slightly smaller number of attendees so we were all able to sit at the same patio table, sharing a bottle of wine and enjoying the conversation until it got too cold to sit out there any longer.
For my entry, I had a massive butternut squash, and roasted it for panzanella (using the croutons I made out of last week’s leftover sourdough). I used puy lentils, lacinato kale from our garden, and pickled red onion, with chopped roasted almonds for garnish. The dressing was a red wine vinaigrette with tarragon mustard— I highly recommend this mustard for dressings and marinades. The dressing and pickled onion created a nice acidic and bitey contrast to the sweet squash. I know I’ve written about how much I love panzanella for having all the vegetable qualities of a salad, but enough texture variation and filling elements so that you might actually be full before you simply get tired of chewing leaves. Maybe something to consider for your Thanksgiving leftovers.
Since the squash I roasted was over three pounds, I barely used half of it in the salad, so I tried a version of this pasta to use up the rest as well as the bacon I opened for last week’s chowder. The comments seemed to agree that it needed a bit of lightness, so I added lemon zest and juice as well as a dash of white wine vinegar. A lot of people also seemed to enjoy the bitter addition of arugula. It’s a straightforward recipe since the squash, onion, and bacon are all cooked in the oven and then mixed up in the pasta pot, but I do think 375° is too low to get both crispy bacon and caramelized vegetables. I increased to 400° for the latter part of the cooking time and it worked out nicely.
The flavours here are similar to a sweet carbonara, and I definitely think you could mix up the pasta water and parmesan in a bowl with an egg for a creamier sauce if you wanted. A larger, twisty noodle is nice to pick up the sauce, and so all the cubes of squash don’t end up on the bottom (I used casarecce). I think the recipe as is might have been a bit one-note, but with a couple modifications, was really tasty and satisfying.
I also had a couple small summer squash to use, and shredded them for another pasta, inspired by this Smitten Kitchen fave and a Half Baked Harvest orzo. But the main thing I needed to do was use up some freezer pesto, because I somehow didn’t realise that the basil in my produce bin this week was half a pound’s worth, which, if you don’t know, is a LOT of basil. So I made a new batch to put in the freezer, and used up the last little bits of nettle and garlic scape pestos to make room for it.
I didn’t use either of the above recipes while I was cooking, but I was thinking of them when I decided what to make, so this has a lot of the comfort and flavour of those two dishes but with less of the work, plus the bonus of pesto. I used shallot and garlic as a base before wilting the squash in the pan, and then stirred in some pasta water, leftover cashew cream, lemon juice, and the two pestos. Once the pasta shells were ready, I put them in with a little grated parmesan and mozza, and sprinkled a bit more cheese on top before baking at 400 for about 20 minutes. It’s rare that I go back for seconds at dinner, but I definitely had a couple more forkfuls of this out of the pan while cleaning up.
Impossible to overstate how much having a sourdough starter has improved my life, and this week my good friend King Arthur helped me out again with this sourdough focaccia recipe (I made a half batch). A misread of one step in the beginning of the recipe resulted in me staying up until almost midnight getting the dough finished the night before, but the next day’s baking was quite easy: just remove the pan of dough from the fridge and let it sit in the kitchen for 30-60 minutes while your oven preheats, then drizzle with oil and bake. I used chopped rosemary and Maldon salt on top, but one day I hope to indulge in some of the fun vegetable artworks people like to do with focaccia. This was by far the best texture and flavour I’ve gotten with focaccia, narrowly beating out Samin Nosrat’s Ligurian focaccia which I made last fall (and which is still well worth it if you don’t have a sourdough starter). To go with it, I made a vegan potato leek soup with thyme, because eating carbs with a side of carbs is my brand.
I loved reading this for Food & Wine by Jing Gao, the founder of the condiment company Fly By Jing, about her experience in starting the company, and more broadly, what we still get wrong about Chinese food.
“Chinese food sits at curious intersections in the West. It is both completely ubiquitous and exotified beyond recognition. It's expected to fit into everyone's individual ideals of "authenticity," formed by vastly differing experiences from person to person. Invariably, it has to be cheap.”
The author provides some interesting insight into what made Chinese food cheap and widespread in the first place, but ultimately, the reason white people continue to think of it as being cheap and unfancy just boils down to racism once again. As Krishnendu Ray’s theory about the hierarchy of taste proposes:
“the value we place on a cuisine is informed by our perception of the socio-economic status of emigrants from those countries.”
I really recommend reading this article for her rebuttals against some of the common mindsets of both marketers/investors and consumers. And if you wouldn’t balk at dropping over $100 on dinner at places like Bodega or Fable, places like Bao Bei deserve that same respect.
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, so donations I can use towards cookbooks or future treats are much appreciated. Since it’s Thanksgiving this weekend, why not check out some of these extremely fancy pies? (Do not try to tell me this one isn’t the CBC logo.)