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On Appreciation: Mary Oliver and Roasted Butternut Squash with Spicy Black Beans

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I am a Northern girl, through and through. I hate heat, I love cool, misty dampness. Not surprisingly, I’ve always wanted to live in Boston. I’ve dreamed of it without ever expecting it. I—like most people—have lots of tightly-held dreams that I never actually set about realizing. Or at least I hope this is common, it’s certainly common for me.  Imagine my elation, then, when this past summer the dust settled and I ended up here. Like most things in life, I’m sure I had a great deal to do with it, I just couldn’t tell you how or what.

Instead it seems like one big blur, with the great changes felt in small, sometimes deceptive ways. Summer was spent catching up to where my life now happened to be—hundreds of miles away from the successful and safe corporate job I’d left behind, full of exactly what I wanted, but couldn’t always recognize or appreciate: time with M and Ernie, time to create and read and write, to cook and eat and walk and drink.ernie!

Thankfully, autumn came along and pulled my head out of my ass, hollowed me out properly with spicy wind and slanting light. Reminded me, as it always does, that time is short, that life is fleeting, that each day deserves precise attention and the determination to wring from it whatever particular offer it brings.

It is during similar times of comprehension that I get even more thematic, even more seasonal than usual. In fall that means harvest food, hot cider, music in minor chords, apple brandy and lots of chunky knits.ingredients 1

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A meal that M and I return to this time of year is one of his devising. A halved butternut squash, covered in good maple syrup, seasoned and roasted, then filled with spiced black beans. It’s a simple, beautiful meal that allows this harvest fruit to shine without demanding a great deal of attention.squash1

It’s a meal better served when it’s cold outside, late in fall, and the leaves are underfoot rather than dazzling you from above. This is my favorite time of the year, better even than the riotous color, when the ice in the air and the sudden plunge into darkness at an unexpected 5 o’clock stirs something instinctive – to find shelter, to find warmth and friends. If there was ever a writer that understood this Northern pressure it was Mary Oliver, who, while raised in Ohio, moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts in the 1960’s and has remained there ever since. In her poetry, she reaches elbow deep into the loam of New England, outlines for her readers what goes on below. Here, I leave you with her incredible “Fall Song” from the Pulitzer Prize winning book, American Primitive.

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Fall Song
by Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this Now, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Spicy Black Beans
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the squash

2 small to medium sized butternut squashes
Maple syrup (extra points if it’s from New England!)
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch of Nutmeg

For the beans

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 15.5-ounce cans of black beans, drained
4 scallions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400° F

Carefully halve each squash and hollow out the cavities—gloves can be helpful here, the squash will turn your fingers orange.

Fill each cavity ¾ full with your fine, New England maple syrup, then dust the flesh of the squash with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the squash halves cavity side up on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your squash size. You’ll know they’re done when the skin caramelizes and the flesh is soft.

Meanwhile – add your olive oil to a large sauté pan and set over medium heat. Add the scallions and garlic, and sauté about 3 minutes or until the scallions have softened and the garlic starts to turn gold. Add the beans, cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and maple syrup and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and cover, cooking gently for 15 minutes or until beans are soft. Check every few minutes to ensure the maple syrup isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once roasted, remove your squash from the oven, score the length of it with a fork to create a shallow culvert and pour the spiced beans into the cavity and along the length of the squash. Eat at once.

Drink – a minerally New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Listen to – this beauty:

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