I shamelessly can’t wait to start cooking everything with squash in the fall. Every picture of decorative gourds gets me feeling in season. My husband is very patient with this. Recently, I made these easy enchiladas and was excited to find another delicious use for butternut squash- the flavors of the cheese, sauce, meat, and squash all melted together. These enchiladas are a satisfying dinner and I’m looking forward to making them again!
Butternut Squash and Sausage Enchiladas – adapted from Better Homes and Gardens makes 6
Ingredients Easy Enchilada Sauce 2 Tbsp olive oil 2 Tbsp all purpose flour 2 Tbsp chili powder 1/2 tsp ground cumin 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/4 tsp cocoa powder dash of cayenne 15 oz can tomato puree or sauce 14.5 oz can chicken broth Enchiladas 12 oz peeled, seeded butternut squash cut into 1/2 inch cubes (approximately 2.5 cups) 12 oz bulk pork sausage (I used ground pork and added a couple spoonfuls of chili seasoning, or you could use seasoned sausage such as chorizo) 2 cloves garlic, minced 6 (8 inch) tortillas 6 oz shredded cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese (approx 1.5 cups) chopped fresh cilantro (optional, for topping)
Prepare Enchilada Sauce In a medium saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add in the spices, cook and stir for another 30 seconds. Add the tomato sauce and chicken broth and whisk until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until boiling. Then reduce heat and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Steam the Squash Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, add water to just below bottom of basket. Bring water to boiling. Add squash to basket. Cover and steam 5 minutes (or longer if you are like me and always end up chopping your vegetables too large) Remove from heat. Cook the Sausage In a large skillet, cook sausage and garlic over medium heat until browned. Stir in steamed squash. Prepare the Enchiladas Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 3qt rectangular baking dish. Spread 1 cup of the sauce in prepared dish. Fill each tortilla with 2 Tbsp cheese, 1/2 cup sausage/squash mixture, and 2 Tbsp sauce. Fold in the ends and then roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling. Place seam side down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. You will have some leftover filling – spoon the extras around the tortillas in the dish, then pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas. Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and bake for 5 additional minutes. If desired, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Casseroles are the epitome of Midwestern comfort food. When sick, or too busy to prep a large meal, a casserole provides every food group needed for complete nutrition in an easy to eat form. When I was in college, a similar casserole was one of my favorite things to eat. That one was made with condensed soup, but this is made from scratch, so it’s healthier and tastier too! This is easily modified with your preferred vegetables. I made this casserole for a friend a couple months ago when she came home from the hospital with her baby and also dropped one off to our friends doing a 25-hour extra life marathon! Recently, I decided to make it for our family also to use up some extra chicken and we kept taking seconds… and thirds.
Cheesy Chicken Vegetable and Rice Casserole
1/2 lb frozen broccoli florets, thawed and cut into bite sized pieces 2/3 lb boneless, skinless chicken 1 Tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper 1 yellow onion, finely diced 2 carrots, peeled and sliced 2 celery ribs, chopped 4 cups cooked long grain rice (day old leftover rice is best) 3 Tablespoon butter 3 Tablespoon flour 1 cup chicken broth 1 cup whole milk 1 tsp ground mustard 1/2 tsp paprika 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/2 tsp oregano pinch of cayenne additional salt and pepper, to taste 8 oz cheddar, shredded
cut chicken breast into 1/2 inch cubes and season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a large pan over medium heat, then cook the chicken until browned on the outside.
Remove chicken to a large bowl and add onion, carrots, and celery – saute until onions are softened.
Add all vegetables and rice to the chicken in the bowl, stir, add half of the cheddar, and stir again.
Preheat oven to 350ºF and coat inside of 2 quart casserole dish with nonstick spray, oil, or a small amount of butter.
Heat butter and flour on stove over medium heat until foamy, then cook and stir for one more minute.
Whisk in chicken broth and milk and bring to a simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Melt in half of the remaining cheddar, then add the seasoning.
Pour cheese sauce over rice mix, stir, then transfer to the casserole dish and top with cheese.
Bake uncovered 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.
I’ve read more short stories over the last year than any other year of my life so far. I am really enjoying the many ways to engage with reading. Some of the short stories were picked nearly randomly from edited collections, other times I link-hopped from one story to another on Apex Magazine’s website and found some wonderful tales along the way. I also read two short story collections from single authors. My sister gave me Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler as a gift, and I picked up Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker while I was at WorldCon.
Bloodchild contains the titular novelette, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the year it was published. I found myself wondering whether the story portrayed love… or coercion? What would it take to allow an alien parasite to “impregnate” you? Could it be seen as beautiful, or only ever as oppression? I really liked all but one of the stories in this book, but a couple other highlights include: – The Evening and the Morning and the Night which reminded me of the sense of obligation I felt to go into healthcare. – Speech Sounds – when the narrator describes what it felt like to lose her literacy, I thought it was exactly how I would react… Characters carry around items to represent their names. I wonder what I would use for my name symbol – a picture of Marie Antoinette or Marie Curie? Probably just a picture of Saint Mary, actually. Throughout this story, I felt so much relief with any successful human interaction and communication. – Positive Obsession – 14 moments in the author’s life that shaped her relationship with books and writing. This was enjoyable as a book lover. Also highly worthwhile reading from Butler is “The Lost Races of Science Fiction” and, as an interesting accompaniment, the story of how it was first published.
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea had a few more misses for me, but also some really good hits. It opens with a story called A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide which I found evocative and weirdly heart breaking. I didn’t think you could write an effective story about someone who feels what a road is feeling, but Sarah Pinsker can. Some of the other stories that stood out to me are: – And We Were Left Darkling – I don’t think I would have identified with this story before I had a baby, but I felt it pushing hard on the “mom” part of my imaginary soul – Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea – The title story felt like another drowned-worlds story which shared a lot of characteristics with “The Past is Red”, but I felt the voice wasn’t as good and it left me feeling dry. – The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced – interesting enough that I wanted more, but I expect the concept would fall apart if it was longer than it is… – The Low Hum of Her – dark and sweet – Wind Will Rove – is knowing and loving where we come from important, or is it dangerous? I feel like this story wants to say yes, but leaves the conclusion undetermined for the reader to ponder. – And Then There Were (N-One) – I would have been highly suspicious of attending a conference of “me”, even before reading this one!
Occasionally on a day off when I want a quick and easy meal, I will make a quesadilla. Usually, this means shredding some cheese on a tortilla with a little salsa, cooking it on the stove, and done. I found this recipe in an old Taste of Home magazine at the same time that I had the last zucchini from my sister’s garden sitting on my counter and decided to make this more delicious, more nutritious version of a quesadilla. As a bonus, the filling can stay in the fridge and and now a quick lunchtime quesadilla is even quicker and better than before.
Corn, Black Bean, and Zucchini Quesadillas makes 10
Ingredients 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained 1 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed 1 cup shredded zucchini 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (if you like the heat, but not the seeds, use the blade of your knife to scrape them off and keep the pale membrane that was around them) salt and pepper, to taste 1 tsp chili powder 1 Tbsp olive oil 10 tortillas (8 inch) optional toppings, such as salsa or guacamole
1.) In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients. 2.) Spread 1/2 cup of the cheese mixture over a tortilla and fold in half. 3.) Lightly brush the oil over the outside of the tortilla and cook for a few minutes on each side, or until cheese is melted and outside is crispy. 4.) Cut into wedges and repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.
Let’s get into the spooky season! I found this book tag from Jess at Comfort Reads and felt inspired to join in. I’d love to hear your answers as well!
1. What book would you consider to be a sweet tooth, meaning a book you can’t get enough of?
The Lord of the Rings – not only do I enjoy re-reading LotR, but I have read The Hobbit and The Silmarillion multiple times, as well as Tolkien’s letters, The Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales 1 &2, and The Lays of Beleriand. At various points in time, I have gone a bit off the deep end in discussing minutiae of the Legendarium.
2. Name a series or single book that has magic, vampires, and werewolves
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – I am probably cheating a bit here, because I have only watched the tv show and have not read any of the books or graphic novels, but it has all of the above and more.
3. Name a series or single book that has two sisters and they are magical
The first book that popped into my head was The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I loved Gail Carson Levine’s books when I was younger!
4. What is your favorite fictional character to dress up as for Halloween?
My most recent Halloween costume was Starbuck from the Battlestar Galactica reboot.
5. Have you watched Hocus Pocus? What were your thoughts?
I did not watch Hocus Pocus until I was an adult. Apparently my husband’s family loved watching it every year when they were growing up, so his mom bought a copy for me. However, I was not as captivated. I did not like the focus on virginity in the movie. I haven’t ever re-watched it, probably because I don’t have the same nostalgia around it that many other people I know do.
6. If you could have any famous cat, which one would you choose?
Macavity: The Mystery Cat from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot,
7. Who is your favorite fictional warlock of all time?
Ged. 1000x Ged.
8. Which author would you go trick or treating with?
This one was tricky… I think it would probably be a lot of fun to go trick or treating with Neil Gaiman.
Although there are limitations on keeping chickens in the city where I live, I have friends and family members who raise poultry in their country yards. I also have memories of caring for chickens growing up; although I didn’t like the fowl things much, my niece really has taken to them and is considered a bit of a chicken-whisperer, now. Sometimes, this means I am handed a dozen eggs to use up and often this scenario leads to making a quiche! Spinach quiches are my favorite. I usually make one with cheddar, but recently decided to get a little fancy and made this one with shallots and Gruyere.
Ingredients 9-inch pie crust (below) butter for sauteing ½ cup thinly sliced shallots 6 large eggs 1 cups heavy cream Pinch ground nutmeg ½ teaspoon salt ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper 4 oz finely shredded Gruyère 10 ounces fresh spinach OR 10oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung free of water Pie Crust 1 cup flour 1/3 cup butter ½ tsp salt 3 Tablespoons ice water
Make the pie crust: Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each addition. (You can add more water a teaspoon at a time if needed.) Bring the dough into a ball with your fingertips. Par Bake the Pie Crust: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the pie crust and place in the pie pan. Prick the bottom and sides all over with a fork, about an inch apart. Bake until fully cooked and lightly golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and turn oven down to 325°F. Pie crust problems: If it starts to puff up while par baking, prick it with a fork so it deflates. If your crust cracks, make a smooth paste by mixing 1 tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of water. Use your fingers to patch up and fill any cracks, then place the crust back in the oven for a minute or so to set. Prepare the spinach: Steam the spinach until wilted, place in a colander to drain, and squeeze out all the water. Chop the spinach on a cutting board and set aside for later. Sauté the shallots: Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the shallots until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Do not brown. Set aside to cool. Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, heavy cream, nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper. Fill the pie: Spread the shallots over the bottom of the cooked crust, then sprinkle the shredded Gruyere over top. Scatter the spinach evenly over cheese, breaking up the clumps as best you can. Bake the pie: Bake at 325°F degrees for 50 to 55 minutes until the custard is set and top is lightly golden. Serve hot or warm.
Make ahead: This quiche can be made up to a day ahead of time and refrigerated. To reheat: Cover the quiche with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until hot in the center.
Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cooked quiche can be frozen for up to 3 months. Remove the quiche from the freezer about 24 hours prior to eating and reheat it, covered with foil, in a 300°F oven until hot in the center.
I recently wrote about how I had been struggling with knowing what to feed my baby, now that she is old enough to start trying food. Despite having some problems with Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapkey and Tracey Murkett, I checked out The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook from the same authors from the library because I needed ideas. I actually really liked this book! The theory and guidelines for feeding were presented in a much better way than their other book, and the recipe section gave me a lot of ideas. One recipe I have made a couple time is “Saag Paneer or Tofu”. Saag paneer or chicken is a delicious take out option from Joe and my favorite Indian restaurant. This recipe I make with tofu. It also tastes good wrapped up along with some crumbled chickpea patties in a tortilla the next day!
Simple Spiced Spinach and Tofu adapted from The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook Serves 2-3
Ingredients 10 ounces spinach oil or butter (unsalted) for frying 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 medium onion, sliced 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped 2 teaspoons garam masala 1/4 mild fresh chili pepper (such as jalapeno) deseeded and pith removed, finely chopped OR a pinch of dried chili flakes 8 ounces firm tofu, cut to bite-sized pieces 2 tablespoons heavy cream a dash of lime juice
Lightly steam the spinach and blend it into a paste with a blender, food processor, or fork.
Heat the oil or butter in a large frying pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for about 2 minutes until they start to become fragrant and make a popping sound. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili, and stir. Add the spinach paste with a little water to make a runny sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat.
Add tofu and cream and simmer for about 3 minutes.
Several months ago I walked into the kitchen to find my husband chopping a bunch of fresh herbs and juicing a lemon into a bowl of bulgar. “I found this recipe online and I wanted to try it out,” he told me. The internet rumour was that Jennifer Aniston ate this salad every day for lunch when she was on the set for “Friends”. Now, I don’t know much about the truth of that statement (…or about Jennifer Aniston …or “Friends”) but I quickly realized that I could probably also eat this salad every day and not get tired of it. It has a perfect balance of flavors from the brightness of lemon and herbs, to the salty pistachios and feta, to the more nutty flavors of the bulgar and chickpeas. In each spoonful, there is also a mixture of textures that keeps each bite satisfying. For a while, I made this salad once a week, just so I could always have some in the house. I also took a large container of it with me to the convention so I could have something good to eat in my hotel room every day.
Every Day Bulgar Salad Adapted from Jordana Hart on Instagram Serves 3-4
Ingredients 3.5 cups cooked bulgar wheat (from 1 cup uncooked) 1 large cucumber, chopped 1/2 cup chopped parsley 1/2 cup chopped mint 1/3 cup chopped red onion 1/2 cup pistachios, chopped 2 cups chickpeas (or one 15oz can, drained and rinsed) Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 cup good olive oil Salt and pepper 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Now back from my first WorldCon, my sleep (somewhat) restored, I am finally able to sit down and reflect on the weekend and the Hugo winners. I did not get to do as many things as I usually get to during a convention, because I brought my 8 month old daughter to Chicago with me. (Am I crazy? Maybe.) A fair amount of time was spent in the hotel room so she could nap, but she did get a taste of the con as well. I was excited to get to go to the Hugo Awards Ceremony. Being a part of an award that I have followed for a number of years felt special.
Saturday morning, my friends and I all wanted to get to a panel titled “Midwest Gothic.” For the first part of the panel, Baby was quietly entertained, but then found that talking about local cryptids was very exciting and decided to screech her approval loudly. So she and I went into the empty hallway and danced together, instead.
Saturday afternoon, we spent a little time walking around the vendors’ room, I bought a book of Sarah Pinsker’s short stories and some themed chocolates and trinkets and got to see a display of former Hugo award statues with a model of this year’s award, which was actually very exciting for me.
Saturday night was the Masquerade! Cosplayers of all levels crossed the stage or performed to music, followed by a performance by Raks Geek – a nerd-themed belly dancing group. Yep, you read that right. I had a lot of fun cheering for a belly-dancing Chewbacca. My favorite cosplay of the night – Post-Apocalyptic Plague Shaman (complete with 6-foot staff of social distancing!) received an award for workmanship and more awards went to other cosplays for workmanship, performance, and best in show at each of the levels.
Sunday morning I got to meet Joe Haldeman! He signed my copies of The Fovever War and Forever Peace. Gay (his wife) told me they were having a good time at the con and that they liked meeting people. After this I wandered around the Art Show for a while, then got in line to meet Catherynne M. Valente. At first I thought that I would rather check out another panel than stand in a line for an autograph, but I felt that I really wanted the chance to tell the author how much her book meant to me. I felt a little jittery in line (possibly a result of a sugary breakfast at The Doughnut Vault) and when I reached the table where she was sitting, the words came out in a rush: “I just wanted to tell you what this book means to me: I had a daughter recently, she’s 8 months old, and over the last year I have been scared about the future, and actually depressed at times wondering what kind of world she is going to grow up into. This book is the first time I’ve felt okay about the future – that I’ve realized there can still be beauty and love and hope even in a world that is falling apart.” She told me that she wrote the book when her son was a year old and she had been feeling much the same way. I started to tear up, which surprised me, and she came around the table to give me a hug while her assistant handed me a tissue. I asked her to sign my book to my daughter instead of to me, and she very sweetly did. I also asked her about how she felt about being nominated for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction – she told me about finding out that she was nominated and how it was amazing just to see her name on the same page as Le Guin’s! I was extremely happy with getting to meet Valente and continue to feel inspired by her.
Sunday afternoon my friends and I went to a panel called “One Hero to Save Them All” which broke down the tendency for our beloved main characters to do everything on their own, their friends reduced to sidekicks which doesn’t reflect the importance of collective action in defeating the evil that we encounter in our everyday lives. This may even have a negative effect on how people expect they should be facing problems in real life – via disappointment for “preppers” when a stockpile of guns is no use against a virus; or via the tendency of some people to feel they “showed up” that one time to a protest and now their job is done. The panel also noted how often evil is portrayed as a single monolithic entity that is easily defeated simply by taking out the Big Bad Guy or the Deathstar but again, the evil we actually face is often more cancerous than that. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could punch global warming and defeat it once and for all?” someone joked. It was good food for thought.
Sunday evening was the big event! We went down to the ballroom for the Hugo Awards Ceremony. There are plenty of awards for best editor, best podcast, best graphic story, best dramatic presentation, etc, but I had only voted in the prose fiction categories. Some of the winners I predicted while others surprised me.
Short Story – “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker Story I wanted to win: “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker Story I thought would win: “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker Thoughts on the winner: This story was just so well done, so interesting, captivating, creepy, creative, I had a hard time picturing any other story winning, even though there were some very good stories in the mix. It also won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story this year.
Novelette – “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer Story I wanted to win: this was actually tough for me, I went back and forth so many times and I honestly don’t even remember what my final ballot looked like. Story I thought would win: “That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell Thoughts on the winner: I’m actually a little surprised the Bot story won; although it was fun, it was also a bit light and fluffy. That being said, it also probably had the least for other voters to find objectionable since some of the stories were a bit heavy which can sometimes be polarizing.
Novella – A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers Book I wanted to win:The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente Book I thought would win: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers Thoughts on the winner: In her acceptance speech (which was written ahead of time since she was unable to be present due to lasting fatigue while recovering from illness) Chambers acknowledged that over the last couple years we have all been seeking permission to care for ourselves, permission to relax, permission to love ourselves – and the fact that Hugo voters chose this particular book is a sign of how much we all need that. She also said, firmly, you don’t need permission!
Novel – A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine Book I wanted to win: This was also hard for me – many of the books had things I really liked about them, but each also were balanced by flaws such that they all were more or less tied in my mind. I ended up voting for The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, but to be honest this was more based on the fact that I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in the same series even more. Book I thought would win: I did not have a good prediction for this for the same reasons as above. Thoughts on the winner: Well, it’s a space opera. Hugo voters love a good space opera. (And, apparently, Hugo voters love lesbians. Nine of twelve nominees in the novel and novella categories featured lesbian and/or nonbinary main characters. I don’t want to speculate on why, but I’m here for it.)
Overall, this was a great experience. I’m not sure I will want to read all the nominees for an award in one year again – I felt like my reading choices were too limited by needing to get through all of the books and stories. But we will see, maybe the temptation to be a part of the Hugo Awards will sway me…
There are two ways of approaching eating at a convention: 1) enjoying food trucks parked outside the convention center, restaurants in a new city, and pizza delivered to your hotel room, or 2) packing lots of cheap and easy to eat meals. Five years ago, packing food for a convention weekend for me meant “yeah, I brought the snacks and beer!” This year, it means: “OK, breakfasts are hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, and oatmeal bars. Lunches are sandwiches and bulgar salad. Do you think the hotel fridge will have room for me to pack some meal-prepped dinners?” (It does not. I guess pizza to the hotel room is still on the menu!) The night before heading out for Worldcon saw me in the kitchen preparing a bunch of food. Luckily, these oatmeal bars are very easy to make, and highly customizable! I made them with almond butter, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chunks. So far, my friends are enjoying eating them too!
Ingredients 1 ¾ cups old-fashioned oats or quick-cooking oats 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon coarse salt (or less if using fine salt) 2 cups mix-ins (nuts, seeds, chocolate, shredded coconut or dried fruit) 1 cup creamy peanut butter or almond butter ½ cup honey or maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1) Line a 9-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. 2) Place the oats in a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and salt, and whisk to combine. 3) Chop your mix-ins into small pieces – about a centimeter. Then add the mix-ins to the oats. 4) In 2 cup liquid measuring cup, measure the nut butter and on top of this add ½ cup honey/maple syrup and vanilla. Whisk until well blended. 5) Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Using a big spoon, mix them together until the two are evenly combined and no dry oats remain. (I did the last bit of mixing with my hands, the same way you would for a meatloaf!) 6) Transfer the mixture to the lined baking dish. Using a spoon, or the bottom of a glass cup, or your hands again, arrange your mixture evenly then pack it down as firmly and evenly as possible. 7) Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least one hour, or preferably overnight. (The oats need time to soak up some of the moisture so they aren’t sticky.) When you’re ready to slice, lift the bars out of the baker by grabbing the parchment paper. Use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 4 even columns and 4 even rows. 8) Wrap the bars in or parchment paper (if you store them all together, they will stick to one another). Bars keep well for several days at room temperature, a couple of weeks in the fridge, or several months in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for best flavor.