On Giving Thanks + Roasted Delicata Squash with Feta and Honey

Friendsgiving 2014

"If we bring two casseroles to your place tomorrow, could you bake them? We only have room in our oven for the turkey!"

This was Emily's text the Friday before Friendsgiving, and it made me smile because it seemed very much like a thing friends and neighbors would do. Now that we both live within a mile of each other, it was an easy yes. 

Our Supper Club had decided to throw a Thanksgiving-themed dinner in late October, because with all the holidays coming up, we knew it might be our last chance to get together before the end of the year, at least in an official Supper Club capacity. So on Saturday morning I went to yoga, and when I came home, Emily's husband Chris was sitting in our living room catching up with Andrew, and the trays of stuffing and potatoes were on our counter with handwritten notes for how long to bake them.

Delicata Squash
Delicata Squash
Delicata Squash with Thyme, Feta and Honey

True to the group's guidelines, we all did our part. Chris and Emily made the turkey and stuffing, Matt and Sarah brought mashed potatoes, rolls, and dessert, and I covered vegetables and gravy. Entertaining this way has been a true lesson in what really matters. For many of us Type A personalities, we like to do it all. We host, we make things from scratch, we insist on matching glasses. But the truth is, no one cares if one wine glass is smaller than another, or if we buy crackers instead of make them. When everyone brings something, we're all more relaxed and end up having a better time. I know this to be absolutely true. 

I've heard people say that once they started practicing gratitude, they went through the day looking for it, because gratitude changes your brain chemistry, makes you happier, and helps you realize what's really important. And although the official Thanksgiving holiday was a month away, it got me thinking about all things I'm grateful for this year, and I hope you're moving into that space as well. Cheers to a wonderful holiday, wherever you are in the world! 

I have never interviewed a single person who talks about the capacity to really experience and soften into joy who does not actively practice gratitude.
— Brene Brown


For one of my vegetable sides, I took a non-recipe approach. Don't feel intimidated in any way here, because that's the beauty of fall's squash family. A little roasting, a little drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of herbs or cheese is really all you need. 

I sliced the squash lengthwise, scooped out the seeds, then made 1/2-inch slices cross wise. Onto a baking dish they went, followed by a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Once you mix it all together, spread them in an even layer. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown in spots and the edges start to curl. Drizzle with warm honey and scatter with feta. 

Preludes and Pasta

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Our sense of smell can be transporting.

Years unfold.

We tumble back to childhood. 

On the second day of fall, I was making soup. It was still a pot of ingredientscelery, onion, crushed tomatoeswhen I walked outside with Emma where the air had started to feel different. September is often our warmest month in Los Angeles, and even though the temperatures hadn't dropped significantly, the sun was shifting. 

By dusk or just before, a crispness emerged. Not cold or brisk, just a whisper of the cooler days to come, when the sun lets us down gently that soon it will set at the unfortunate hour of 5 pm. 

Out of the blue that afternoon I'd suddenly craved spaghetti and meatballs. It's a quintessential fall dish, and for this Italian, something of a comfort food. Who am I kidding. It's the comfort food. But I had no spaghetti and no pork and no beef. I wasn't prepared for this fierce a craving, so I went on making another Italian comfort food, the minestrone I've been making for the past couple of years with chard and plump white beans. Sometimes squash or sweet potato. 

There I was outside, letting my dog sniff the grass and search for pinecones, sorting through the long week, hungry for pasta. When she pulled me back inside (and she has this habit of pulling down the hall only on the way back, like she can't wait to get home) I started smelling something familiar, perfumes of the Italian restaurant I grew up eating at, and very specifically of their minestrone. It was composed of a thin broth with translucent onions and soft carrots gathering at the bottom of the bowl that I used to dip saltine crackers into and tentatively take small sips of from a silver spoon. 

When we arrived at our door, I realized I had been smelling my soup the entire time. Not a neighbor's dinner as I had assumed, but the one I'd put on the stove and poured homemade beef stock over and slipped a Parmesan rind into before slipping outside. I somehow managed to comfort myself that night, in the simplest yet profound way. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs #italian #eatthispoem

But I still needed the meatballs and two days later, the kitchen filled once again with the scent of tomatoes and garlic and parsley and meat simmering away in a sauce laced with butter and onion. 

And it happened that I read T.S. Eliot's preludes that morning, as delivered from The Poetry Foundation to my inbox. I couldn't deny the timing, and the fierce connection I felt to the poem with its "smell of stems in passageways" and "burnt-out ends of smoky days." If there were ever a perfect meal (and poem) to usher in the new season, I believe I have found it.


The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

-T.S. Eliot, from Preludes

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe. (Serves 6)

A few notes.

  • Definitely chill the meatballs. They'll be slightly damp beforehand and will need the chilly air to firm up before forming.
  • I doubled the recipe, making approximately 22 golfball-sized meatballs, offering plenty to freeze for later.
  • I followed her sauce recipe, too, a version I make often, but added a Parmesan rind to the sauce as well. If you have one on hand, slip it in for added depth of flavor.

For the sauce
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
4 ounces unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 onion, peeled and halved through root end
3/4 teaspoon salt
Parmesan rind (optional) 

For the meatballs
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup whole milk
8 ounces grass fed ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
1 cup finely ground Parmesan (plus more for serving)
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 plump garlic cloves, grated
2 eggs
1 pound spaghetti

To make the sauce, combine the tomatoes, butter, onion, salt, Parmesan rind (if using), and 1 cup water in a heavy stockpot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with more salt and freshly ground pepper if needed. 

While the sauce bubbles away, start on the meatballs. Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl; stir until well combined. Let stand 10 minutes.

Dump the beef and pork into a large bowl. Add the Parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic. Whisk the eggs, then pour into the bowl. Use your hands to squeeze milk from the breadcrumbs, then add them to the bowl. This is when the real work starts. Dig your hands into the bowl and quickly and gently mix until all ingredients are evenly combined. Chill for at least 15 minutes. 

Turn the sauce onto low heat. While it warms up, roll clumps of meat into golf ball-sized balls and arrange them in a single layer in the pot. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl. 

Cook spaghetti in a large pot of salted water until al dente, about 7-8 minutes. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid. Add spaghetti to the sauce, along with a bit of the reserved water, and stir to coat. Divide pasta among plates and top each serving with meatballs and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. 

Living With Poetry | The Heat of Winter


When you rinse beans in a colander and rustle them with you hand, they sound like pebbles collected from a rocky beach. 

That's one reason why I love cooking with beans, the gentle sound they make. Some other more practical- and nutritionally-based reasons are that they're good for you, creamy on the inside, and are easy to make and freeze for later. If I have cooked beans in the house, I know a decent meal is always achievable. So I've been making a lot of beans this month, from garbanzo beans for hummus to black and pinto beans for chili. All beans have been welcome.

Sunshine, also, has been welcome, although its abundance is an embarrassment of riches given the circumstances in other parts of the country.  I'm not one to complain about the heat of winter. In California, it's a constant reminder of how good we have it, but with all the 75-degree weather we've been having (sorry, East Coast folks!), I've been craving cold. Not too much, of course, but a weekend of good, consistent rain would make me very happy. (I prefer rain on Saturdays when I can stay at home and enjoy it, not when I have to get on the freeway and drive to work.)


I always watch Hello, Dolly when it rains. And I make soup. But so far, there hasn't been a good day for this, so all the parasols and parades and musical numbers will have to wait until the mood strikes. Aside from failing to watch a favorite movie, the constant warm weather is also causing drought and fire, two things we're far too familiar with in California and that a good dose of rain could help quell. But I can't avoid soup for too long, even when it's warm, so I've been making a series of stews with meat or grains or beans that lend a bit of heft and offer up profound satisfaction. 


That's January so far. Sunshine, beans, stews, and re-reading Jane Hirshfield's After. Reading a poetry collection by Jane Hirshfield is like standing on the edge of a mountain and letting your face absorb the wind. Her poems just resonate. They always make you feel something, usually more than one thing, and make you think and question long after the book has been placed back on the shelf. That's been my experience, anyway. This poem, in particular, seemed well suited for a discussion of beans in the new year.

Two Washings

by Jane Hirshfield

One morning in a strange bathroom
a woman tries again and again to wash the sleep
from her eyelids' corners,
until she understands.  Ah, she thinks, it begins.
Then goes to put on the soup,
first rerinsing the beans, then lifting the cast-iron pot
back onto the stove with two steadying hands.

From After, Harper Perennial, 2006

It's remarkable how much we can learn of this woman in seven lines. The fact that she's in a strange bathroom is telling, and points to an upheaval of some kind. But she's not in a hotel or on vacation escaping, because unless she's rented a little flat with a kitchen and gone to the market, she wouldn't be rinsing beans before the sun comes up. She must be staying with someone. A friend, more than a friend, a family member. Wherever she is, she is trying to steady her hands again. Two washings for the beans, two for the spirit. 


Barley, Bean and Mustard Greens Stew

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

A photo of this soup occupied a full page in the January issue of Bon Appetit, and I dog-eared it immediately. The original recipe uses spelt, but since I had a mason jar full of barley in the pantry, I made a simple substitution. Farro would also do nicely here. I reduced the red pepper flakes from 3/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon and felt that the soup had plenty of spice, so modify this to your liking.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 cup barley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
12 cups vegetable stock
1/2 head escarole, leaves torn into pieces
2 cups cooked cannellini or navy beans
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Dump the onion, fennel, carrot and celery into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the barley and cook, stirring often, until the grains are slightly browned and smell fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add the vegetables and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes, and cook until the paste is well-incorporated, about 1 minute.

Pour the broth into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the barley is tender, about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the grain. Stir in escarole and beans and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the escarole is wilted and the beans have warmed through. Serve drizzled with additional oil and topped with Parmesan shavings.