Cinderella and the pumpkin

Cinderella is not going to the ball.  But she's daydreaming about one. Fall, 2002, Manhattan.  My shared apartment on East 20th Street was in a corner building, sheltered from taxi packed 1st Avenue by a basketball court and a playground.  It was close enough to work, that on the rare occasions exhaustion could pass for illness, I would walk home and observe the schoolchildren at play, untamed beneath my bedroom window.  I was far from the wilds of nature, but the shrill sounds of laughing children felt organic enough, and I looked forward to them.

Compared to nature, the wilds of Manhattan were less subtle.  After one long night of dancing and Stoli O & soda, I stumbled home and keyed into my building, already with a sense of euphoria, encouraged by the buzz of too much booze.  The glaring lights in the entry way were harsh for 3am, so I rushed around the corner to the elevator, brushing against a chestnut haired stranger headed out.  Our eyes met for a split second, and sparkled, I thought.  In the elevator I pressed on the 4th floor, my mind slowing in anticipation of my wide bed and simple cotton linens.  For a split second, I dosed, thinking about it.  And then his arm reached in, stopped the doors midway.  He said, simply, "hello", and met my startled gaze.  I took his extended hand as an invitation, to which I inexplicably responded, "going up?".

I may have grasped his hand and pulled him in; he may have entered of his own accord, but soon we found ourselves sandwiched in a tiny elevator, door closing, spontaneously exploring one another's lips (and hips).  We went up, we went down, the door opened, then closed, and we continued.  His phone, I discovered with pleasure, was in his pocket, on vibrate.  Someone was desperately trying to reach him -- over and over again.  The door opened and I pushed him out.  "You are so very beautiful...", he stammered, as the door closed.

I pressed 4 once again, smoothed down my hair, pulled my thrift store fur jacket tightly around me, and walked out.  I fumbled with my keys and made my way inside my apartment --my oasis in the middle of wild New York.  I sprawled across my bed, edge to edge, took a deep breath, and listened for laughing children.

***

There will be no ball tonight; but there will be pumpkin soup.  And it'll be hot, if not particularly wild.

There was many a year I picked up a pumpkin from the corner deli for $20, carved it, posed it, and deposed it a few days post holiday, without a further thought.  These were the same years I was drinking lots of Stoli and going to balls.  But this year, three beautiful, uncarved Cinderella pumpkins from a local farmer, sat on my porch, and each day, implored me to do something courageous with them.  I couldn't even carve them.  Carving would have meant wasted pumpkin; not to mention the destruction of their striped orange gowns and tall brown stems.  In New York, I would have carved with abandon, convincing myself with each nick that tradition lives on, even in Manhattan.  In later years, I set them on my windowsill without the slightest thought of pumpkin puree or pumpkin brûlée, knowing they'd be caked in soot from an afternoon embalming, courtesy of the building's innards, on my now back facing window.  But they looked good; and they meant well.  They were like the laughing children.

Those days are over; "wild" now means something altogether different, if not, altogether normal.  To the gals on my windswept Orcas porch, I gave in quickly, and did them justice by making something tasty, twice.  There is one more- the biggest of the bunch, holding court on the porch, content with her role as bearer of all things wholesome, pure, and wild.  She is the pumpkin that made a domestic goddess out of me, for better, or for worse.  She looks nothing like the man in the elevator... but she'll do.  I can hear her: "You are so very beautiful..."

Roasted Cinderella Pumpkin Soup

I didn't get fancy, but I channeled Cinderella, and got to work.  These orange beauties really don't need much dressing up - they are, as I like to think of myself and all my fellow lady wolves, best, in their birthday suit.  So I made soup, lots and lots of it, and roasted seeds, which I can't seem to get enough of.  If you still have some of these pretty girls on your porch (or at your farmer's market), here are a few simple ways to experience the wild, if you aren't close to an elevator.

Cinderella Pumpkin Soup
Cinderella Pumpkin Soup

Adapted from Alice Water's Vegetables

3 lbs Cinderella or Sugar pumpkin

4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (add more if you like)

1 qt chicken stock (homemade if you have it)

Salt and pepper olive oil 2 sprigs thyme, fresh Unsalted butter and/or heavy cream (optional)

Cut the pumpkins into quarters.  Scrape out hull and set aside seeds for roasting.  If using Cinderella pumpkin, which are larger, cut into chunks no wider than about 4 inches.  Lightly oil and season each piece.  Lay cut side down nestled over a clove of garlic and a sprig or two of thyme.  Roast at 350 degrees until very soft; this should be about an hour.  Cool completely.  Scrape flesh from skin and place in pot.  Squeeze garlic from skins and also add to pot, along with thyme.  Mash to break down larger bits.  Over medium-low heat, add chicken stock, and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, set aside remaining thyme sprigs, and puree in a food processor or blender until very smooth.  Check seasoning; add additional salt or pepper, or a tablespoon of butter, or perhaps a swig of heavy cream.  Reheat before serving.   Beautiful with a dollop of homemade ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Addy's Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds, rinsed and sorted

Salt and pepper

Merkin (Chilean pepper mixture) of chili powder

Rinse well and sort through the seeds, removing large chunks of pith.  Don't worry about the little bits; they add to the flavor and help 'catch' the seasoning.  Cover seeds with water in a small saucepan and boil for 8-10 minutes until slightly translucent.  Drain, pat dry, and spread evenly in a roasting pan, splash on olive oil to coat, sprinkle salt and pepper, and finish with Merkin, or your favorite dried spice or chiles.  Roast at 350 degrees for about an hour, stirring frequently to prevent from sticking to the pan.