A couple Sundays ago, I went to a big family get-together at my aunt and uncle’s house – an annual tradition to celebrate Eastern Orthodox Easter. Also part of the tradition is everyone who attends brings a dish for the potluck buffet.
“So what are you going to bring?” Barb, my cousin, called to ask me a few days before the event. “I’m making deviled eggs and baked potatoes.”
“I don’t know. I think maybe a vegetable and a dessert.”
“Like butternut squash?” Barb asked. “That’s my favorite.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll bring some of that! See you Sunday.”
The next day, I headed to the supermarket to buy some squash. As I stood in the produce department and checked one squash after another, it occurred to me that maybe trying to find a good winter squash in the spring was not going to be an easy task. One squash was so mushy when I touched it, I nearly put my finger through it. Another was so shriveled up and wrinkly on its neck, it made me think of my own neck...and that I needed to buy some moisturizing cream.
Three supermarkets later, I finally managed to find nearly enough decent-looking squash to fill the disposable aluminum-foil container I’d bought especially to bring to the party. Then I searched for something I could make for dessert. A cake mix called “Fun da-Middles” caught my eye. The box showed a picture of a cream-filled chocolate cupcake that looked exactly like a Drake’s Yankee Doodle, one of my husband’s favorites. I bought the mix, figuring if I goofed up any of the cupcakes, at least my husband could eat the rejects.
The family gathering was scheduled to begin just after noon, so on the morning of the big event, I crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn (9:30 a.m.) and started to peel the squash. The skin on it was like elephant hide. I mean, I was pretty sure even armor-piercing bullets couldn’t get through it. After only five minutes into the peeling process, the blade on my vegetable peeler snapped off the plastic handle and did a swan dive onto the floor.
“Nooo!” I cried to no one in particular, mainly because my husband was still in bed, snoring. “I’m doomed!”
I rummaged through the junk drawer and found another peeler – which already was broken. Muttering, I tossed it into the trash. Then, out of sheer desperation, I did something so dangerous, so treacherous, I was tempted to dial 911 and have the ambulance standing by.
I peeled the squash with a knife.
Knives and I have been mortal enemies since the time I accidentally hacked off a piece of my fingernail while trying to chop onions for meatloaf back in my junior-high cooking class. And my knife skills have gone progressively downhill ever since. If I use a knife to peel an apple, for example, by the time I’m done, the apple is about the size of a golf ball...and I’m covered with Band-Aids.
Using the knife to peel the squash turned out to be a time-consuming process. I knew I was running late, and the last thing I wanted to do was show up at the party after the guests already were loosening their belts and belching. I put the squash on the stove to boil, then started to make the cream-filled chocolate cupcakes.
The directions on the box seemed easy enough to follow, so I breezed right along. The only part I had trouble with was filling each cupcake paper only one-third full. The rest of the batter, it said, had to be reserved for a later step.
By the time I finished pouring the batter into the cups, they looked more like half-full than a third. Next, I had to squeeze equal portions of the vanilla-cream filling onto the batter in each cup. My portions were anything but even. Some ended up with only a small dot of filling while others had big blobs of it.
The final step was to pour the remaining batter over the cream filling. When I got to cupcake number nine out of the dozen, I ran out of batter. Still, to my surprise, the finished cupcakes were delicious – moist and chocolaty with a nice creamy filling.
The squash, however, was another story. No matter how much I cooked it, it still seemed crunchy, with stringy threads running through it. I didn’t want to be late for the gathering, so I finally just drained it, tossed some salt, butter and pepper into it and whipped it with the electric mixer in effort to get rid of the stringy stuff. It came out looking like baby food. – or a squash smoothie.
I poured the squash into the aluminum container, shoved the cupcakes into a foil-lined box, and headed to the party.
“Hi!” my aunt, the hostess, greeted me when I walked in. “You look like you didn’t get any sleep last night!”
I’d spent so much time on the squash and cupcakes, I realized I obviously hadn’t spent enough time on myself. For all I knew, the way I’d rushed out of the house, I probably had cupcake batter on my face and squash in my hair.
I set down my masterpieces on the buffet table...right next to a big bowl of perfect-looking butternut squash. It was a deep orange color and was thick enough to form peaks on the top. My squash was pale and looked as if it could be sucked through a straw.
“Pete’s girlfriend brought that,” my aunt said. “And look what else she brought!” She opened the refrigerator door to show me a huge glass bowl heaped with layers of cake, pudding, fruit and whipped cream. “It’s an English trifle!”
I wasn’t sure what an English trifle was, but it definitely looked worthy of Buckingham Palace. In comparison, my cupcakes looked worthy of some pre-schooler’s lunch box.
I’m already planning what to bring to the party next year. I don’t want to reveal what it is, but it will come in a bucket that has KFC printed on it.