Saturday, October 3, 2009

We make our own.

We have an inside joke, my husband Paul and I, based on a real event that took place between us in a grocery store about a year ago. It's one of those stories that gets bigger and more exaggerated with every telling, taking on new proportions, details getting added to build up the suspense. Paul always tells the story, because he is the story teller in our house, but also because he gets a particular wicked enjoyment out of watching me squirm when he gets to the part where I am described as a crazy person.

That's right. The way Paul tells the events of that day, I am made to look like a complete and utter food psycho.

But Paul doesn't write this blog. I do. So you're gonna hear my side of things.

This is how the story goes...

Paul and I were doing what people do on a weekend, strolling the aisles of a grocery store, trying to remember the things we'd written down on a list and left on the counter at home. But we freestyle a lot when we shop, getting ideas for what to eat as we go. And I had a sudden hankering for guacamole, and said as much to Paul.

We should totally have guacamole!

Oh yes, he said, Sounds good.

And then he did something that I'd never seen before.

He reached for a container of pre-made, pale green, thinned-out refrigerated guacamole.

I admit, I was in a state of shock. I was, after all, raised in the Avocado Capital of the World, an hour north of Mexico, with hundreds of avocado trees in my backyard. Guacamole is a way of life there. So maybe what I said next came out a little harsher than I'd meant it to. But here is where our versions of the story change.

In my recollection, I turned to him, sweetly, and gently, in a Snow White voice said, "Oh, that's okay. We don't need that. We make our own! I'll just grab some avocados and salsa makings."

The way Paul tells it, my head spun around, Exorcist-style, and in a demon-controlled voice, I growled at him, "WE MAKE OUR OWN!"

Either way, I think I was justified.

And it still comes up, this anecdote, a little too often. Paul will start to reach for something in the market, and, hesitating, will look at me with dread and sigh, "Do we make our own?"

It came up just recently, when we noticed signs of autumn everywhere around us.

Paul mused aloud that it was the time of year for pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash soup, referencing his favorite local pasta maker for the pasta, and declaring Wolfgang Puck's soup as the seasonal best.

I, of course, suggested we make our own.

(I should tell you, Paul makes excellent pasta from scratch. The only difference between us on this matter is that in his fantasy world, the food magically appears before him to be eaten, while I fantasize about having flour up to my elbows, and smelling spiced pumpkin roasting in the oven.)

So, what this story is really about is a true lesson in marriage. A compromise. Because somewhere between Paul's fantasy of having Wolfgang Puck's squash soup appear in front of him, and my fantasy of stirring away the hours over a savory and sweet pot of soup is where our happiest marriage lives.

So I surprised Paul, and made him Wolfgang Puck's butternut squash soup. He gets to eat, I get to cook. And we will live -- over this silky, rich, deep, perfectly autumnal bowl of steaming hot soup -- happily ever after.

Until he reaches for a tub of packaged guacamole again.

I will say, Paul does have excellent taste, because this soup IS the best I've ever had. I adapted it a bit, made it a little simpler, cut the cream in half, because I don't like to dilute that deep flavor of roasted squash too much. I also let it sit for hours before adding the cream and serving, because these kinds of soup always taste better after all the ingredients have settled in together, gotten to know each other's quirks, and figured out how to make the marriage between them work at its best.

Savory Squash Soup

Adapted from Wolfgang Puck

3 3/4 pounds butternut squash (about 2 small to medium squashes)
1 acorn squash (about 1 3/4 pounds)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 medium white onion (about 4 ounces), peeled, trimmed, and finely diced
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 cups low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut each squash in half and discard the seeds. Brush cut sides with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Season with salt, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Arrange the squash cut side down on a rack placed in a baking tray and bake until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool, scoop out the insides of the squash, and puree the flesh in a food processor. Reserve. (You should have about 4 cups of pureed squash).

In a medium stockpot, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Over low heat, sweat the onion until soft. Do not allow it to brown. Add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until you can smell the spices are no longer raw, about one minute. Add the pureed squash and cook over very low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to bubble up.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, still over low heat, stirring often. Cook about 25 minutes.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the rosemary sprig until you can smell the rosemary, but do not let cream come to a boil. Remove the rosemary and pour the cream into the soup. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process, in batches, for 2 or 3 minutes. (Or you can use an immersion blender if you have one.) Adjust the seasoning, to taste -- I needed more salt.

To serve, ladle the soup into heated bowls. I served this with grilled gruyere and whole grain sandwiches,


  1. It's not that you sounded like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. It was the smoke coming out of your ears that startled me. And the rest of the supermarket. And the rest of Los Angeles County.

    One thing that you neglected to mention in this completely biased anecdote. I am from Massachusetts, a child of the 70s, and avocados were completely foreign to me, much like Fluffernutters, Johnnycakes and American Chop Suey are to you. This is why I still confuse avocados and artichokes. They are alien foods in New England.

    Still, I accept you for all that you are, and all that you cook. I love you anyway. And congrats on your Foodbuzz nomination!

  2. This is sweet - and the soup, perfect for fall. Can't wait to try it out.

  3. isn't it always the exaggerating. my husband is the story teller and major exaggerator in our house too...i will have to try this recipe. i love me some squash soup

  4. This anecdote is lovely and amusing. Oh, the pains the husbands/partners of food bloggers must endure... ;)
    Congratulations on your foodbuzz nomination! I wish you lots of luck!

  5. I can't wait to try this soup. I have been wanting to make butternut squash soup forever!

  6. yum! the wind is howling outside our windows. this soup sounds perfect. and congrats on the nomination! so much good going on for you.

  7. I love this story, and what it says about relationships (more than food).

    *Happy to have found your blog*


  8. YUM. Loved the story and could just picture the whole thing unfolding (both versions) - hilarious!

  9. haha, great story! I think most couples can relate to something being "no big deal" to one and "completely ridiculous" to the other. Love it.

  10. how sweet. your last line is fabulous. I will take your word on this soup, Ive been looking for a full proof recipe!

  11. Aren't there always two sides to a story? You made me laugh, and even better, appreciate my own adorable husband and his similar quirks. Nice post, Sara, and HUGE congrats on the food buzz nomination. I hope you win, as it might keep you writing, observing and sharing.

  12. of course you were justified, you are the girl. we wives always are, no? nice blog and congrats.

  13. Great story. And sorry to Paul, but I completely agree with you on the whole guacamole thing. I can't STAND those readymade containers that "claim" to be guacamole. And really, why would you even want to buy that when it's so easy to make the real deal?

  14. Ew, container guac. I'm totally with you there, even sketchy Kansas avocados are superior to the watery, tubbed crap.

    With a slew of harvested squash taking up counter space, I'd be delighted to sample Wolfgang's recipe. Good story.

  15. Found your blog through Gluten-Free Girl's blog....

    You are a gifted writer and story-teller, and you inspire me with your recipes. Thanks!

  16. I just found your blog through the Foodbuzz nominees. Congrats on that, and I really enjoy your writing! I was inspired by this post to go out and make my own guacamole. My guacamole experiences have only ever been in restaurants where they whip it up tableside. I look forward to following your lead on my own butternut squash soup also.

  17. have such a way with words...the two of you make such an amazing literary combo...I can only imagine what an amazing couple you make in real life!!! Oh...also...we Fallbrookians DO NOT buy premade guac!!

  18. As a fellow CA native I didn't even know you could buy premade guacamole - I suppose at some level I must've known, but where would you even look for it? I know exactly where to find the heaping mound of gorgeous avocados though. Odd east coasters. Just found your blog through the FoodBuzz noms. Congrats on the nomination and good luck on your move.