Friday, October 30, 2009

Smashing Pumpkins

Here, in all its splendor, is this year’s Halloween jack o’lantern, a tradition my father and I have practiced, oh, for decades (and yet our skill set has scarcely improved). I’m so happy I took the picture because as solid as it was when we carved it and as formidable as it looked Halloween night, blazing away on front porch step, the next morning it was black.

It is possible in northern climes to keep a pumpkin for weeks if not months. South Florida is different. The light in autumn is golden, the skies a cloudless blue. But call it global warming, call it what you will, it has been unseasonably warm. In a matter of hours, my jack o’lantern morphed into a real Halloween horror, with fuzz blooming from its eyes and mouth, as though afflicted with leprosy. It was, shall we say, pungent. I returned it to the soil, or at least the compost bin. It fell apart with one good clout from the spade.

As if I need further proof of how fleeting time is, we also returned to standard time over the weekend. Though the clock said afternoon, the sky said night. By 6:00 p.m., it was black, as though the sun had decided to call it quits forever and it was the end of the universe as we know it.

Darkness, decay, it’s a spooky time of year, with Halloween, then All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2), also known as Day of the Dead. This is a time for the dead and the living to reach across the great divide and say hey to each other. It could make a girl kind of broody. It made me remember Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” Yes, I know, it’s autumn (although it still feels like summer here). But the poem ends:

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

What indeed? I worry a lot about our world. I want to save it -- a tall order and serious character flaw. For ages, I wanted to run off and join Doctors Without Borders and help a third world nation. For a time -- and sometimes still -- the enormity of need paralyzes me. I have concluded there’s ample headache and heartache right here, where I can be of service without needing a visa or a battery of shots.

I do hands-on stuff, I join boards, I give money, I community serve. One small, doable way I can help is by cooking and eating vegan. It lets me make and share food aligned with what I believe in -- more compassion, less carbon. It lets me be the change I want to see in the world, to quote Gandhi (a vegetarian). It lets others, by eating what I cook, be that way, too.

I still want to change the world. But I can’t do it alone. So I do what I can. As Voltaire said, we must tend our own gardens. And mine, my husband points out, is a happy ecostystem, home to birds and butterflies, lizards, bees, frogs, one aged dog and a new pumpkin in the compost bin.

Smashing Pumpkin

This is a simple recipe, elemental, even. Also earthy, fabulous and one of my favorite ways to gourd. This is lovely even grapeless. Try with a sprinkle of turmeric, curry powder or ginger. Autumnal as hell.

As much pumpkin or winter squash as you’ve got on hand -- okay, a 2-1/4 pound pumpkin, or about 6 cups, cubed

1/4 cup walnuts

1-1/2 cups seedless red grapes

2 tablespoons walnut oil

1 sprig of fresh sage (do not attempt with dried sage. You will only be wasting your time).

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Chop pumpkin into cubes, about an inch or so. Dump cubed pumpkin into a large bowl. Add grapes, walnut oil and toss to coat.

Spread pumpkin and grapes on rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and roast for half an hour.

Chop walnuts and sage coarsely. Add to pumpkin, giving everything a stir to prevent sticking, and continue roasting for another 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4 to 6.

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