So, my grandmother passed away on June 7. I didn’t mention it earlier because I was trying to think of a good food-related tribute to her. The problem is, although she liked to cook when I was younger and I always looked forward to special treats like roast beef when we visited (yes, I liked meat when I was little; I liked everything), it’s been really hot here and I just haven’t been in the mood to make some spectacular seitan roast.
But then I realized that seitan roast wasn’t really the right thing anyway. The one food that always makes me think of Grandmother is butternut squash. I lived with Grandmother for my first two years of college because her house was much closer to campus than the parental homestead. Honestly, it wasn’t a great arrangement: I was too wild for her and she was too restrictive for me. I think everyone was a lot happier when I moved into an apartment with a friend. But there were some high points in there. For example, although she’d never really had to cook regularly for a vegetarian before that time, she never once hassled me about my diet and instead went out of her way to buy me fresh vegetables and when she found things she hadn’t used before, she learned how to cook them, just for me. In particular I recall that the first time I ever had butternut squash was when she cut one in half, roasted it, and topped it with butter and a little brown sugar. I loved it! I remember, for some reason – it’s a weird thing to remember, once looking at my fingernails and noticing they looked really good and thinking to myself, “wow, I look and feel so healthy; it must be all the fresh food Grandmother is making me.” I don’t know how true that is, considering I just as often stuffed my face with pizza, french fries, and beer like any other college student, but now that I think back on it, the time I spent living with her was probably the first time I started thinking about vegetarianism from a health standpoint, and the first time I felt healthy effects from it. I never buy a butternut squash without thinking of Grandmother, and I almost always make it the same way she made it for me.
Unfortunately, butternut squash is not in season and there are none to be had. But I made something for dinner the other night that I thought was in the same spirit of things and probably similar to a dish Grandmother made for me when I lived with her. It might not be a recipe I got from her (and once she discovered the internet, she did email me tons of vegan recipes she found online), but I think it’s something she’d be happy enough to be remembered by.
Stuffed Globe Zucchini
Globe zucchini are a farmers market favorite and are ideal for stuffing with stuff.
2 globe zucchini
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup vegan sausage, crumbled
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
spaghetti sauce (or use tomato sauce and add some seasonings of your choice)
Another reason this meal had a grandmotherly feel to it was it was very frugal, and having lived through the Depression, Grandmother was a fairly frugal person. It took me no time at all to assemble because the rice and sausage were left over from the night before and the spaghetti sauce was part of a small bit I found in my freezer, which I removed to make room for a large May Wah shipment I ordered on a whim when they sent me an email about a sale. So to make the filling all I did was mix everything together with the chopped insides of the zucchini. But I’ll describe the steps as if I were making it from scratch.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a small bit of oil in a skillet and brown the sausage and onion. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two, then stir in the rice and cook another minute or so. Finally, stir in the spaghetti sauce. Set aside.
Slice the top off each zucchini, then use a knife or a serrated grapefruit spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a medium-thick wall all around. Chop up the “guts” you removed and add about half of it to the rice mixture. (You can save the other half for another use.) Spoon some of the rice mixture into each zucchini, trying to compact it a little bit. You can mound it up a bit as well.
Bake for about 45 minutes, then remove and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. I baked mine in the toaster oven, which was a perfect fit and didn’t heat up the kitchen. Since the tops of the zucchinis were so close to the top of the toaster oven, though, I covered them lightly with aluminum foil to prevent scorching.
I served it with a couple of vegan “drumsticks”, just because the May Wah shipment had arrived and I figured I’d better get started on eating it.
I asked my mother to send me some pictures of me and Grandmother together. She sent me a bunch but I liked this one because Grandmother has a cat on her lap. My love of cats was directly inherited from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. That side of the family has always grown up with cats, and in particular, Siamese cats. (Which I think Jes will like.) The handsome man is my grandfather, whom I called Bobby in imitation of my Grandmother (toddler Renae liked the sound of the word “Bobby”), and who died way too young.
I was struck that almost half of the pictures Mom sent were pictures of Grandmother reading to a little Renae.
I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a totally awesome kitten shirt in this picture.
No wonder I’m a bookworm!
Another thing that stands out about my grandmother is she was always on the forefront of new technology. She was the first person I knew to get cable television and we’d all crowd around her set and watch MTV when it was in its infancy. I’m not old enough that electric typewriters were a “new technology”, but I had a weird typing obsession as a kid so she taught me how to touch type and bought me an electric typewriter. Because I was the type of child who asked for a typewriter. While we had a standard Atari game console, Grandmother had an Atari computer. I was online before just about everyone I knew, but my grandmother’s was probably the second or third email address I ever sent email to. One thing she didn’t seem to believe in was a paperless society, because she has binders full of printouts of every single web page I’ve ever had, most of which are just embarrassing. I was flipping through one such binder one of the last times I was at her house and she had printed out a review I wrote of Aleister Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend. It was a very negative review – more of a rant, really – but still I was wondering why in the world she’d want to read, let alone print out and preserve for posterity, such a thing. The reason is, her granddaughter wrote it; that’s the only reason she needed. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is she was a very progressive lady in her way. Definitely not a technophobe like some members of generations older than mine (I’m looking at you, Dad!).
Rest in peace, Grandmother. Thanks for reading to me, teaching me to type, letting me play your video games, watching MTV with me, taking me on trips to look at tiny ponies, tolerating (to some extent) me living with you, feeding me, introducing me to butternut squash and a myriad of fresh vegetables, reading my websites, sending me email, and the very Grandmother-like binder I have full of vegan recipes you found online and emailed me after I told you I’d gone vegan and what that meant. Many of those recipes were the very first vegan dishes I ever cooked, in fact, the first real cooking I did. So there’s a little of you in I Eat Food.
In other news, Mark and I were unluckily caught in the derecho Friday night. I was driving on I95 South, coming home from Baltimore and watching what we thought was just heat lightning constantly light up the sky, when without a shred of warning, a sudden hurricane-force wind pushed our Jeep over into another lane. Fortunately no one else was there, but it was scary. So I pulled off into a parking lot away from trees and we sat it out and watched it. I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures. News radio warned us of complete and utter mayhem, with millions of power outages, thousands of downed trees, accidents, and other travel nightmares, but although it was very, very, very dark, once we got back on the highway, our drive was relatively easy. Luck wasn’t with those on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway, but for us on the outer loop there were only a couple minor disturbances. And although it looked very much like we would be coming home to a dark house with no A/C during this record-breaking heatwave, we were again extremely lucky to have power once we finally made it home. So we are feeling very fortunate. Most of our neighbors are not as lucky. In fact, there is no power or water at the raccoon sanctuary, so let me tell you: today was fun. I’m actually heading back there now to take the raccoons more bottled water from our house, as well as some laundry I did for them. These are some wild raccoons that were restless in the heat around high noon today:
Raccoons usually come out at night, but they will make appearances during the day: it does NOT mean they are rabid. (That’s today’s Raccoon Fun Fact!)