Last night I was sitting on a concrete floor, getting a kiss from a big sweetie of a dog.
My husband called the pup over while I sat in the chair, listening to a shelter volunteer read bits of the dog’s history from a thick folder in front of her. Then he’d ask a question and I’d sink to the floor again, call to the dog and try to persuade her to give up her stuffed toy. By the end of the evening, she’d abandon it readily and wait for me to play with her.
After our visit I’m trying to figure out if the big dog I’m imagining is this dog.
The one in my mind drops into a sleepy heap in a corner of the room after a good run. She’ll sit with me while I write and sometimes tugs me away from the screen. She makes my kids laugh in a way I’ve never heard before.
It’s going to take awhile, I’m thinking. It’s going to take long enough that I need to pace myself. “Research dogs” needs to become one among many things on my to-do list. Patience, Jenni. Quick searches at area shelters and then, back to work.
No matter how much the kids’ faces light up whenever we mention the name of the dog I met last night, there are other things happening. New projects. Meetings. Wordsmithing. Food to consider.
I have squash going on. A beautiful kabocha and two delicatas from my husband’s co-worker are still waiting on the counter. But I bought this heirloom squash grown by Puddleton Farm anyway because I’d never heard of it before, something else that can fuel an online obsession.
A couple of participants in a gardening forum wrote that the Jaspée de Vendée is a raw foodist’s dream. You can make a salad of it, one said, composed of almost nothing but the one uncooked ingredient and a vinaigrette.
I couldn’t really imagine this until I split mine in half, scooped out the seeds and kept digging with a fork. The flesh breaks into strands, it turns out, like a spaghetti squash. Aha! The raw strands looked promising: they were the color of sherbet and kept their fried-Chinese-noodle shape. I imagined a salad with a wispy look, bits of squash and something minced and green in a pleasing tangle on the plate. Backlit, of course.
But raw Jaspée de Vendée, even salted and left to mellow, tastes like…raw pumpkin.
Never mind that then. All the other cooking commenters enthused that the flesh of this squash is sweeter than any other after a time in the oven, and it’s true. Roasted for a short time, the flesh relaxed and turned a deep orange. Much too pretty to try it raw again.
Its sweetness is enough to offset the sturdy, just-this-side-of-bitter collards and the cooked squash holds onto the lemon vinaigrette like a culinary Red Riding Hood with her basket, tucking into the forest for a good run.
Wait, no. That’s the imaginary dog that can’t wait to get out for a run. Ah, well. It will all come clear soon enough.
Blanched Collards with Cilantro and Jaspée de Vendée Squash
half of 1 medium Jaspée de Vendée or spaghetti Squash
one bunch sturdy greens, such as collards or kale
½ cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons minced shallot
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons roasted squash
½ bunch cilantro, leaves removed
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Cut squash in half and scoop the seeds out of one side. Place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes or until a fork goes through the skin and flesh easily.
While the squash bakes, wash cilantro, remove leaves and place in a large mixing bowl.
Bring a well-salted pot of water to a boil. Wash collards or other greens, trim the stems away and cut into bite-sized pieces. When the water boils, submerge and cook the greens until they’re bright green, about three minutes. Scoop them out and drain in a colander. Using a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, press the greens to extract as much water as possible.
Place greens in the mixing bowl, using your hands to combine them with the cilantro. Separate and fluff blanched greens as you go.
Combine lemon juice, shallot and garlic in a blender or a food processor fitted with a smaller bowl, if you have the option. With the motor running, pour in the oil in a thin, steady stream until combined.
When the squash is done, scoop out two tablespoons of roasted squash and add to the dressing, blending until combined. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the strings, saving a few to use as a garnish.
Mix gently into the bowl with the cilantro and collards. You may opt not to use all the squash. Pour the vinaigrette over the top and toss together until everything is coated. Taste and adjust for salt.
Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and a few extra strands of squash. Salt the top lightly and serve.