[I wrote this post a little over a month ago. But Valentine's Day effectively got me back into a holiday gloom, so I'm going with it, outdated or not. I'll try to write something more current as soon as possible. All of my college roommates are descending on February 25 for a reunion, and you can bet I'll have a lot to say about that. So, until then....]
"Every year I just try to get from the day before Thanksgiving to the day after New Year's...." – Harry Burns
I've watched When Harry Met Sally dozens of times, and, until recently, I never understood what Billy Crystal's character was talking about. Now I totally get it. Today is January 3, and I couldn't be happier. No more pressure to have fun and spend money. My holidays were festive enough, but I'm so glad they're over. Maybe because they ended badly – in an Olympic-sized pool of regurgitated red wine risotto mixed with my first Dom Pérignon and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape gone south. Maybe the pressure for happiness was just too much.
What are you doing for the holidays? This is a constant refrain in everyone's fall. What if you don't have a fun response? I start panicking around August to make sure I have my answers all lined up. Christmas has gotten a little tricky since my divorce, but Thanksgiving is easy. It's my family's best holiday. We’re descendants of Henry Sampson who came over on the Mayflower, so Thanksgiving is in our blood. Anyone in our family who’s the least bit fun shows up and we cook, eat, drink, slurp oysters, and laugh. A lot. The daylight hours are filled with walks in the woods, sitting by the ocean, shopping trips to Rockland, and getting started on dinner. But cocktail hour is my favorite part of the day. We usually try to hold out until at least 4:00 when it’s definitely 5 p.m. somewhere on the continent – maybe in Nova Scotia – and then it lasts for hours.
This year we accompanied our oysters, cheese, lobster salad, drinks, etc... with a stuffed pumpkin. As I write it's still cold enough (and the need for a decent beach body seems far enough away) for this decadent treat. Basically you take a pumpkin, hollow it out, and stuff it with everything good. Meaning cheese, and garlic, and bacon, and wine. We may have thrown some kale in their as well, but I honestly can't remember. But you could. If a touch of healthiness is important to you.
The pumpkin needed a good hour and a half to bake so we filled it,
popped it into the oven, and headed out for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner stomach-emptying walk. (We don't usually all wear baggy orange clothes, but it was deer season, and fashion isn't nearly as important as making it home to dinner safe and sound!)
Problem was, as you can see, it was overcast but still a glorious day with glorious views. So we walked a long time and we forgot about the pumpkin.
When we returned, several hours later, this is what we found:
I whined for a while, "We ruuuuiiinnneedd the pumpkin! We ruuuiiinnneeedd the pumpkin!" But, as it turns out, it's really hard to ruin pumpkin, cheese, bacon, and wine, especially when cocktails are on hand to accompany the melted, delicious mess.
So, if winter or the holidays have you down, this is what I recommend:
Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table
1 small sugar pumpkin, about 3 pounds
1/4 lb stale bread, sliced and cut into half-inch chunks
1/4 lb cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, or a combination, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2-4 garlic cloves chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, chopped
1/4 c chopped chives or scallions
1/3 c heavy cream
1/4 c dry white wine
pinch of nutmeg
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment (or we actually cooked ours in a Pyrex pie plate, which made it easy to serve).
Carefully cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin like you do on Halloween. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper and put on the baking sheet or in the pie pan.
Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and put the mix into the pumpkin. It should be filled nearly to the top. Stir the cream with the nutmeg, wine, and salt and pepper, and pour it over the filling in the pumpkin. You don't want it to overflow, but everything should be moist.
Put the cap in place and bake for about 2 hours – check after 90 minutes – or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh is tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork or the tip of a knife.
When the pumpkin is ready, carefully serve with crackers and/or spoons for scooping!