Saturday, October 16, 2010

Simplicity; or, Roasted & Squashed.

This blog post can be considered an addendum of sorts to last week's entry, addressing the same autumnal themes and also involving seasonal vegetables. Autumnal. It is a beautiful adjective, and one that this blogger intends to work into his everyday vocabulary.

Last weekend, three Stillwater mathematicians decided to attend jazz saxophone player Joshua Redman's first performance in Oklahoma in the OSU concert hall. (You see, we do have interests outside of math. We really do.) Along with another faculty member, our blogging math nerd was invited to a colleague's house, just outside of town, for a pre-concert dinner. Very nice! This colleague turned out to be not only an expert in the field of representation theory, a great cook, and an excellent host-he is also the owner of a beautiful garden filled with all kinds of interesting trees. (One of the trees was originally a sapling found in the gutter in Cambridge, MA, another sprouted from a seed imported from China.)

In his garden, our host the professor grows all kinds of vegetables and herbs. What immediately attracted everybody's attention were the very attractively colored butternut squashes. They were clearly in a perfect state of ripeness, and just looked so wholesome and healthy, growing on their vines and absorbing all the best stuff there is in the Oklahoma soil. Eating such a squash must surely be good for you! Now, being a very friendly guy indeed, the host presented each of his two guests with a  squash as we were leaving. Ooo, yum!

Cooking butternut squash is really simple-just roast it! But the end result is a very interesting experience, rich in texture and taste.


1 butternut squash
salt & pepper

Admire the magnificent squash!  Let its prettiness and autumnal qualities sink in.

Then, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Put the squash halves in a glass oven pan. Turn on the oven; make it pretty hot.

Put a teaspoon of butter where the seeds used to be, and place small pieces of butter along the length of the squash. Sprinkle salt and pepper on it, and into the oven it goes.

Wait for about 25-30 for the squash to be roasted. Read your favorite book, and listen to some relaxing music. (I reread David K. O'Hara's article about the British autumnal folk movement, featuring acts such as Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan, and Heron.) Check the squash with a fork. When it starts feeling soft, take it out and turn off the oven. Done!

Serving suggestions: "Singles" by New Order and a cup of tea.

Oh, and the Joshua Redman show was great! Make sure to check him out if he plays in your town.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

This Way to Fall; or, Let's Make Use of the Oven.

It must be said that fall is beautiful in this part of the country. After a few cooler days, the temperature in Stillwater, OK, is back in the 85F range and the sun is shining out of a clear blue sky. Our postdoctorally employed blogger experienced a moment of pure contentment and happiness today as he was biking back from the grocery store. His backpack was full of goodies soon to be part of this blog entry, he was full of Pumpkin Spice Latte purchased at the in-store Starbucks, and the sun shone in his face as he made his way up McElroy Road. Perfection!

As the attentive reader will have noticed, our Swedish blogger continues to ride his bike to Food Pyramid.  Indeed, he rides it most everywhere, and no, he still does not own a car. As a matter of fact, he came close to buy one at the beginning of this week, but the fact that the vehicle in question seemed to have received a little "plastic surgery" following what must have been an accident made our automobileophobic blogger reconsider the purchase, especially in view reliability concerns voiced by a reliable mechanic.

His failure to acquire a car does have the positive side effect of leaving funds available for travel. (And the exercise he gets from biking also seems to be inhibiting the weight gain commonly associated with turning 30.) The coming two months will be a migratory period of sorts for our blogger. He will be visiting New York, Chicago, Ann Arbor, and San Francisco, in that order. To some of these cities he has been invited, to others, he has invited himself; some of the trips are work-related, some are mainly social calls.

Anyone who has followed our Polish-Swedish mathematicians past travels closely (eh, hello, mom and dad) will note that he he has been to all these places before. This is true; and in the meantime he has still not been to the Pacific Northwest, up in New England, or down in Mississippi and Louisiana-places he has wanted to visit for years! Reading Mason & Dixon has also made him want to go to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. But this will all be remedied during spring, hopefully.

In any case, a perfect day in OK such as this cannot be considered complete without some good food and drink. Here is a dish this Swede has been making for years during fall, back in Sweden.

5-6 potatoes
3-4 carrots
1 rutabaga, a.k.a. swede (yes, it is a little funny)
fresh haricots verts

feta cheese (chunk)

olive oil
salt and pepper
1 dried Ancho chili pepper

Peel the carrots if necessary, then cut them into reasonably sized pieces (carrot sticks used for dipping are a good guideline). Wash the potatoes (but do not peel them!), cut them into wedges. Peel the rutabaga, and then chop it up. Turn up your oven to mid temperature. Then, in a glass cooking pan, mix the potato wedges, carrot sticks, and rutabaga pieces with a generous quantity of olive oil. Season with lots of salt and pepper, and thyme. Add pieces of the dried chili pod. And then, into to oven the pan goes!

It will take a while for these roots & bulbs to be cooked. Sit back and relax, pour yourself a glass of nice wine or beer, and read a magazine. (In my case, the October issue of The Believer. Sewer bears, hah!)
Periodically, check the oven to see if the potatoes are turning golden brown and crispy.

When this does happen, remove the glass pan. Wash and add the haricots, and a little more salt, pepper, and thyme, and give the vegetables a good mixing. Put the pan back in the oven, and wait a little. When the haricots are look like they've been cooked, remove the pot once more. Cut the feta cheese into little cubes and sprinkle them on top of everything.

Put the pan back in the oven again, and watch it closely. You want the feta to melt just a little, or get a little crispy (what happens at this point really depends on the quality of the feta). As soon as this happens, turn off the oven, remove the pan, and serve steaming hot. Done!

Serving suggestions: "Turns into Stone" by Stone Roses on the side, a bottle of Southampton Publick House Pumpkin Ale from Latrobe, PA.