By way of explanation as to where in the sam hill I have been, I could offer this compelling photograph and say no more:
“Is that,” you may be wondering to yourself, “a timely reminder to back up all my files, in the form of a person with a stethoscope trying to detect any faint sign of life within the innards of the Porpoiseful laptop?” Why, yes it is. You can’t quite tell from the picture, but he is about to inform me that there are, in fact, absolutely no detectable signs of life whatsoever. He is about to say, in effect, “Go forth, oh ye who cannot set a good example, and serve YET AGAIN as the horrible warning that will scare everyone straight.”
So that had a lot to do with keeping mum. Numerous other factors contrived to keep me occupied, but that was the real immovable object. Now I write you from my precarious perch on the slippery uphill part of the learning curve of a new computer.
Another complication had to do with having only enough energy for quite some time to eke out minimally serviceable food, some of which I had written about already and the rest of which did not really merit purple prose.
But tonight I got invited to a very nice party, so I had to muster up some verve. What can I possibly make that I am willing to serve to such impressive company? Again and again I posed the question listlessly to my dreary self, and then I remembered describing Thai Nut Relish as a food that should be everyone’s go-to for the occasions when they feel verve-less yet circumstances demand that they get their groove back and be quick about it.
So I made that very stuff, and was feeling pretty vervacious until I recalled that (a) our lovely hostess cannot bear the smell or taste of cilantro, and (b) I was supposed to bring REGIONAL FOOD. Of my present region. Thai Nut Relish is regional to the Western corner of Massachusetts only inasmuch as those of us who live here sometimes have to use Yankee resourcefulness to get our hands on what we want to eat.
When I was looking for the recipe for the nut stuff, I found a poem I used in a food-writing class I taught last year tucked into my recipe file, no doubt during a mad tidying episode by a person tricked by the word “coconut” in the title. It was stuck by some ossified particle to the next loose piece of paper in there, which was a collection of recipes I’ve made over the years for our sometimes annual Pumpkin Party, including a baked rice item which seemed like the way to go, regionally speaking. The poem is a very apt poem for this evening of mine, with its threads of coconut and weariness and the hunt for lost joy and the sweet little faces of kiddos who would like to go home. I commend it to you.
And the rice–the regional rice. That was good too. I use red rice, from Bhutan, which is regional to whomever is looking to get inside that coconut. Brown rice would do, but might impact the feast-for-the-eyes element. It isn’t New England Boiled Dinner, (naturally gluten-free!–I think that may be the nicest thing that can be said about NEBD) but it had a little fall squash, a little maple syrup–it was as close as I was going to get.
red rice with squash and smokey cheese
- 2 c red or short-grain brown rice
- 1 medium red onion
- about 1.5# butternut squash
- 1 t cumin seed (whole)
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- olive oil
- about 5 ozs smoked cheddar or gouda, cubed
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, finely minced (see note below)
Cook the rice until tender, fluff it up and set aside to cool enough that it won’t melt the cheese when you combine everything.
Line a baking sheet with parchment, and heat the oven to 425.
Peel the onion, and chop it into a half-inch dice. In a medium bowl, toss it with about a T of olive oil and the cumin seed until evenly coated. Spread on one side of the prepared sheet. Peel and seed the squash, and dice it into 1/2″ cubes. In the same bowl, toss the squash with another little glug of olive oil, the maple syrup, a fat pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Spread it in a single layer on the other side of the baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring gently from time to time, about 15-20 minutes. Keeping the two segregated allows you pull one or the other if their cooking rates are out of sync. You want them both to be tender and browned in places. Let them cool a few minutes.
Turn the oven down to 350. Lightly oil a 9×13 baking dish.
Toss the cooked vegetables with the cooked rice and the minced chipotle pepper. Adjust seasoning and add a little more olive oil if needed so that every grain has a nice light sheen. Taste and adjust to your liking for salt. Toss the cubed cheese with the rice and vegetables, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Bake about 25 minutes, until the cheese cubes visible on top are golden, and serve hot or at warm room temperature. A little chutney wouldn’t hurt, alongside at serving time.
Here is the promised Note on chipotle peppers: about once a year, I buy a can or jar of chipotle in adobo at Ye Olde Average Grocery Store. I dump the contents into a small ziploc bag, and pull one or two at a time out as needed. They don’t freeze rock-hard, making it easy to extract just what you need, and while frozen they are very much easier to chop.