I have returned to work. Yanking the blind cord reveals only a square of sooty darkness. When I open the back door for Spencer, he slithers into the invisible nip of thin, crisp, air. There is a two-pound package of butternut squash in the refrigerator. It must be fall.
Jamie bought the squash partly for a Roman pasta recipe that he enjoys cooking, but he could have bought a smaller package if that were all he wanted. No, the unspoken request emanating from one-and-one-half pounds of Trader Joe’s quartered squash on the middle shelf in the refrigerator is for soup, my soup, the rich and creamy soup I make nearly every autumn weekend.
This shocks me. Jamie has rarely desired any food that he or a restaurant didn’t prepare. Oh, sure, once he threw a temper tantrum shouting something to the effect of “How come if I want anything to eat in this house I have to cook it myself?” (prompting me to look up from my book and remind him that the take-out menus lived in the far left kitchen drawer) but generally he avoids like the Black Death anything I cook and he has done since our earliest days together when, thinking that I might have inherited the Cordon Bleu gene from my mother and using my grandmother’s recipe, I made a huge pot of chicken noodles (uncooked, they absorbed all the soup).
I have always bewailed my inability to prepare the food I love and remember from my childhood – the savory pot roasts and tangy lemon meringue pies my paternal grandmother made; Aunt Grace’s lasagna and wedding soup, both crafted with tiny, identical meatballs; my maternal grandmother’s German chocolate cake baked lovingly for every cousin’s birthday. It’s not that I didn’t try but, to paraphrase my husband, my gifts lie elsewhere, usually in a book or a classroom or a jam jar. Even my mother, usually gently persistent in things she believes that I should know, surrendered after a particular grocery-shopping trip with me years ago. I don’t recall what she wanted to make but it required hazelnuts. We wandered through the produce aisles desultorily, unable to find them.
“I don’t think there are any, Mom,” I volunteered, bored.
She wandered past me, staring at the display, murmuring, “That’s just not possible. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts . . . “ She froze directly in front of me at an enormous cardboard bin filled to the top with small, medium-brown nuts. They were chubby yet oblong with one pointy end and one flatter, slightly discolored, one. Looking from the box to me she asked, “Didn’t you see these?”
I followed her gaze. “These? Yeah, I saw them.”
“Then why did you say there were no hazelnuts?”
“Are those hazelnuts?”
I blinked. “I didn’t know that.”
“What did you think they were?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Acorns without hats.”
My mother’s lips parted slightly and her right eyebrow lifted farther than I had ever before seen it. “Acorns without hats,” she repeated.
I ran my tongue over my teeth and nodded slightly, having just realized how idiotic that must have sounded.
She tore a plastic bag from the roll and held it aloft. “Here. Fill this with two pounds of acorns without hats while I go get the butter.”
I have never managed to live that down. When I bought a contorted hazelnut tree to plant in the garden, my mother observed that soon I could harvest my own crop of acorns without hats.
“It’s ornamental,” I replied snarkily.
That squash will not turn itself into soup so I had better get to Wegman’s for the rest of the ingredients. Maybe while I am there I will pick up a pound or two of acorns without hats for my mother.