It is the time of butter. Lots and lots of butter. It starts with Thanksgiving dinner, the rubbed turkey lovingly rubbed with butter, pie crusts, the mashed potatoes, baked squash, and accompanying green vegetables, all heavily laced with butter. I wake up now in this space before the holidays thinking about all the baking I want to do, the cookies to be made, the butter that needs to be lovingly bought and used to produce these things I love to make.
I didn’t reveal to my parents the other night that the impromptu meal I had prepared, including the homemade apple tarts, actually contained two full sticks, a half pound, of butter. My father and I chatted about the pros and cons of salted vs. unsalted butter as I loped off generous pats of salted butter to add to the squash baking in the oven, to the onion potato chicken filling sautéing with some spices in a pan on the stove, and again to the spinach sherry sauce that would get poured on top at the end.**
I told him that I only used unsalted butter to bake with, but in all honesty, it’s habit, and I’ve always been told unsalted butter is the ‘sweet butter’. Dad pulled a box of the salted out of the fridge and showed me how it is labeled ‘sweet cream butter’ and then how the box of unsalted doesn’t do the same. He was genuinely curious. It is genuinely confusing. My Albanian grandmother (dad’s mother) used only unsalted butter for everything. Makes sense you can always add your own salt to temper the taste. It is the spirit of the butter with or without salt, that coats and binds and makes everything taste better. After a little research this morning, I learned that salted butter has a longer shelf life. Unsalted butter might just be fresher, and that’s good enough reason for me to make the choice. And it doesn’t mean that salted butter won’t ever make it into my meals. I just feels good to have a baseline, a clear voice for how something will taste.
I have come to appreciate the baseline of dawn beginning to fill the sky each morning, the infinite and endless variations of light, dark and color that can signal the start of a new day. Dawn is always awe-inspiring. It is particularly beautiful at my parent’s east facing home, looking out over one of the magnificent finger lakes of western New York State.
When I gave the ‘trunk show’ presentation on Sunday, I found myself talking about voice in relation to my quilt-making. Seeing so many of my pieces all up on the wall together in such a generous accommodating space was a thrill. Standing back and taking it all in at once, even I could see, finally, objectively, that there indeed might be a unifying voice informing the work.
I shared about inspiration and context from which each of these quilts came, and in each case I could point to where the spirit of the quilt was able to emerge from spaces in between pieces of fabric, between blocks of assembled pieces of fabric, and even in spaces between quilted lines. And like the butter that binds flavors together, that spirit has its distinct individual flavor but becomes completely subservient to the context it has become part of.
It was a fun hour, and I was rewarded at the end when one woman looked right into me and said, “I can feel your joy.” End of story!
**Harvest Squash Bake
2 small acorn squashes, cut in half, seeds removed
2 medium potatoes, skinned and diced (small, pinky nail size)
1 medium/large onion, finely minced 1/2-3/4 lb. chicken breast, small dice like potatoes
Handful fresh parsley, minced
10-12 oz. fresh spinach
Tarragon, salt & pepper
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Find baking dish to just fit squash with a little room left over, oil the pan, arrange squash so they are snug up next to each other. Put a pat of butter in bottom of each. Bake for 15 minutes while preparing stuffing.
Sauté onion in two tablespoons butter in a pan large enough to hold both onions and potatoes comfortably. When onions are translucent, add potatoes, chicken, and a splash of sherry, a few shakes of tarragon, parsley, some salt & pepper. Sauté for a few minutes until potatoes begin to sweat and cook and are coated with sauce. Turn off fire and cover.
Turn oven temp. down to 400 and bring out squash. Fill each half with filling. If there is leftover, mound on top and let extra bits fall over if necessary. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until vegetables are all fork tender. Turn off oven. In the same saute pan, add remaining butter over medium heat. When just melted, add spinach in bunches and stir until all wilted. Add sherry, salt & pepper to taste. Evenly distribute mixture over baked vegetables and and place pan in warm oven until ready to serve.
Makes 4 servings.