The fall took us to a little New England town this year and to the sister of my best beloved, the inimitable Shari Ann.
Shari Ann and I share many things, among them a love of rich-warm Mexican colors, ceramics, cookery, homes filled with beautiful little things, each one a story, a memory, and a pause on a journey unto itself. We share the experience of having our names contorted, such that the Indian “goddess who gives refuge” becomes the Anglicized “Shari Ann.” It’s easy to use such things to lodge complaints about racism in the United States, of course, and I once did register mild annoyance by maintaining a running list of misspellings of my name on my office door—but we’ve learned also to look beyond the stubbornness of the American tongue to the generosity and kindnesses of those who speak it.
"For some recipes, as for some friendships, there simply are no acceptable substitutes."
Next, we share the love of our three children, my two and Shari Ann’s one, so much so that G referred to his aunt as his “Odder Modder” in the lingering days of his infant enunciation. I followed Shari Ann’s leads into a love of mosaicking, an obsession with Ann Taylor clothes, and an intense consciousness of our leaching seeping chemical-saturated lived environments. This trip, she shook me out of the complacencies of post-feminism with stories of the hardships of women scientists in still largely male domains, and inspired me yet again with her green thumb and fighting spirit.
There are many things I do not miss about our lonely, embattled two-career lives in the United States, but I do miss the many little breaks Shari Ann and I would take to call each other, vent, laugh, or share notes about the kids, the husbands, or whatever else in between. They say the planet is shrinking, and in many ways it is. When one has to reach across so many time-zones into the yesterday of New England from the today of Pondicherry, however, it’s not closeness one feels, but the binding intimacy of unsurpassable distance.
On this visit, I realized—oddly, for the first time—that Shari Ann doesn’t bake much. So I donned a baker’s apron and left her to produce the sorts of one-dish wonders that lives-with-kids-and-careers will demand. Twice in this process she reminded us of the wonders of butternut squash, whose mild orange sweet nuttiness calls up the sensations of Fall like few other vegetables can (well, the squash is technically a fruit, but still), and for which there’s really no perfect proxy. Were there a Fall to speak of in Pondicherry, there might have been marrows like the butternut to harden for the impending winter. But we have neither; only an endless summer that turns cool with the rains and the softer squash varieties that make for entirely different culinary experiences.
So, though I’m back in Pondicherry now, and back to searching out ways to bring Stateside tastes back home to La Côte d’Azur de l’Est, in this one I can’t do much more than relive a memory and express a longing—for the precious time with family who became lifelong friends, for the fire green cool of a New England Fall, for the weekend when solitary lights lit in each window of each home signal the coming of Christmas, for the warmth of a roasted winter squash spiked with Shari Ann’s favorite habanero cheddars, or mellowed in the company of crisp tender cauliflower and silky tofu. For some recipes, as for some relationships, there simply are no acceptable substitutes.
I confess, I was and I was not thinking of the next blog post while at Shari Ann’s. I’m still learning how to be a blogger, and we were cooking for ourselves, not exactly worrying about props or photographic exposure. So it happens that I have more words than images to document the production of the two butternut squash recipes featured here. But perhaps that’s as it should be. Ours was after all a moveable feast in the sense Hemmingway took it–something captured only in the splendid memory of experience and with us eternally for that, though the moment itself is long past.
In the hope that Pâticheri's readers, too, should find themselves amidst such moveable feasts this holiday season: my very best wishes to you all.
[with special thanks to Iryna + her assistant Pixie for the gorgeous squash photos featured]
Curried Butternut Squash Soup + Tofu Butternut Casserole. Grab the graphic recipies from the thumbs below, or scroll down further for written instructions.