Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Murakami and Kabocha Squash Soup

I don't get to read for pleasure as much as I'd like these days, but I belong to a book group that provides me excellent external motivation to read at least one book a month, and right now, I'm reading Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

I think I picked up Wind Up Bird Chronicles long ago, and hated it, so I'd avoided Murakami ever since.  But there's something about Tsukuru that is astonishingly simple and lovely; I love the exceedingly polite and even awkward dialogue (which may or may not be a function of translation--I suspect the latter) that collides here and there with imaginative prose.  Not surprisingly, it reminds me of Tokyo, or at least, of what little I saw of it during my brief stay there eleven years ago: simple, clean, spare, but also elegant and complex, with a less-beautiful backstory that simmers just below the calm surface (or, in some neighborhoods, in its midst).  Behind Tsukuru's perfectly pedestrian exterior lies this shadow life, which he begins to unearth, realizing that one cannot have harmony without discord, that you can't fully realize passion for life until you know loss.  I've been thinking a lot about some of mine lately, for reasons I can't quite put a finger on, and I understand what he's getting at.

Tsukuru is precisely the sort of book that fits my mood at this time of year, when harvest dissolves into empty fields, when the wind blows small cyclones of leaves off the trees and down the street, leaving the world a little colorless, too, but at the same time, full of possibility.  I'm reminded of Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man":
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

To see like the snow man, to realize that winter isn't cold--only you are cold--you have to challenge your own assumptions, be willing to shift your perspective.  Our reality is, in the end, up to us: we can choose color, or shades of grey.

The other day, needing to get out of the office for a breath of air at lunch, I walked to the farmer's market downtown, which will close soon for the season.  I hadn't intended to buy anything, but I walked past the plump, squat kabochas, and thought immediately of vivid orange soup.  Maybe I was channeling Tsukuru, needing some more color in my life.

What are you reading?  Or cooking?  And what color is your reality right now?

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup
Kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash popular for its strong yet sweet flavor, which is somewhat like roasted chestnuts, and its moist texture.  In Japan it's used in a variety of dishes (including tempura); in some cultures it's revered as an aphrodisiac.

1 medium to large kabocha squash
1 T. + 1 1/2 T. olive oil, separated
2 small, or 1 large, yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 14-oz. can coconut milk (I used light coconut milk)
3 cups stock
1/2 t. cardamom
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut kabocha in half, scoop out seeds and stringy insides, then prick flesh with a fork. Brush 1 tablespoon of olive oil on flesh and set halves face down in baking sheet in approximately 1/2 inch of water. Bake for about 50 minutes until flesh is soft.

While kabocha is baking, caramelize onions in 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.

After kabocha is finished cooking, scoop flesh out of skin.

In a food processor, add kabocha, onions, coconut milk, stock, cardamom, salt, and pepper and process until smooth.
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  1. I have been patiently waiting to make this since you posted. Making it now. Squash (from my garden!) is cooling and onions are carmelizing.


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